Bullies and career-wreckers target professor Joy Karega at Oberlin College. Professor Tony Hall takes on the thought police in defence of free speech and academic freedom.
Sunday August 21, 2016, 21:47 DST
An Open Letter to Marvin Krislov, President of Oberlin College, Following the Suspension of Dr. Joy Karega for Publishing References to Alleged “Anti-Semitic Conspiracy Theories” on Facebook
Dear President Krislov;
I want to include my voice among the many that have chosen to comment on the treatment extended to Dr. Joy Karega, Assistant Professor of Rhetoric and Composition at Oberlin College. Dr. Karega is a promising young Black scholar with a new PhD. She finds herself in her present dilemma employed at an institution that advertises itself as a champion of Black equality ever since Oberlin’s involvement in the anti-slavery struggle before the US Civil War.
A report published in Israel on the simmering Karega-Krislov affair includes the text of a letter said to emanate from 174 Oberlin faculty members. All but a few of those that ratified the statement criticizing Dr. Karega’s controversial Facebook posts chose to remain anonymous. This wish to exact professional retribution by colleagues not willing to accept their own personal and professional accountability for a career-wrecking collective intervention speaks of a serious problem in Oberlin’s academic culture. It also illustrates a more pervasive ethical malady plaguing the halls of North American higher education, a sickness that extends far beyond your school or the scope of the Karega-Krislov affair.
Florida Atlantic University is one of those schools where the collapse of academic integrity is far advanced. Central to this collapse is the demise of the core mission of higher education, namely independent inquiry aimed at distinguishing truth from falsehood no matter how threatening this process might be to the status quo.
Tenured Communication Professor, James Tracy, is engaged in suing FAU in a dispute originating in unsubstantiated accusations treating the academic’s important original research and publications on the Sandy Hook debacle as “conspiracy theories.” The creep of the weaponized term, “conspiracy theory,” into academic useage is a telling marker of the insidious submission of universities to masters intent on suppressing those truths incompatible with their agendas of profit and power.
The terminology of “conspiracism” creates the basis for arbitrary blockage of academic work that might menace entrenched power.
With an eye towards Oberlin’s treatment of alleged “conspiracy theorist” Dr. Karega, Prof. Tracy has written about imposed “strictures” that characterize and define the modern state of academe and its often gutless approach to today’s most urgent social and political problems. Intellectuals recognize as a right of passage how they must tiptoe around concrete geopolitical and historical realities, lest they draw the ire of today’s thought police and face the potential consequences: financial deprivation and professional ruin. In this way what was once higher education has become yet another racket for high finance.
Israel’s Haaretz newspaper has published the text of the Oberlin professors’ letter that is advertised as emanating from a “majority” of faculty members. The supposed majority has opted not to remain silent even as most of its members “tiptoe around concrete geopolitical and historical realities.” Their irresponsible refusal to allow their names to be published amounts to an unwillingness to accept personal accountability for their group action directed at discrediting an academic colleague. The core of the faculty members’ statement is that Bigotry has no place on the Oberlin campus (or anywhere). It sullies the values of equality and mutual support that are embedded in our institutional DNA as the first coeducational college and the first to admit students of all races as a matter of policy. It undermines our classrooms as places where students and faculty accord each other the deep respect required for the exercise of free and open expression and the development of reasoned analysis grounded in evidence.
Your school’s decision to suspend with pay Dr. Karega’s teaching and advising responsibilities does not seem to me to be in line with the conditions required for “free and open expression and the development of reasoned analysis grounded in evidence.” I have looked long and hard through the considerable volume of information published on this matter on-line to discover that there is not yet much serious discussion of the actual evidence supporting or negating Dr. Karega’s pronouncements in the highlighted Facebook posts.
This neglect of issues of evidence and proof is especially stark in The Tower, an aggressively partisan publication created by “The Israel Project.” I have not been able to find a coherent explanation on-line of what The Israel Project, also referred to as TIP, actually is. The Tower has tended to lead and arguably also to create the Karega-Krislov story.
The Tower’s narrative is then picked up by other larger publications like The New York Times, The New York Post and Haaretz. One Tower headline presented a summary of Dr. Karega’s contested posts, indicating “Oberlin Professor Claims That Israel Was Behind 9/11, ISIS, Charlie Hebdo Attack.” Another biased and sensationalistic headline in a publication entitled Forward proclaims, “Inside the Twisted Anti-Semitic Mind of Oberlin Professor Joy Karega.”
This pattern of condemning Dr. Karega without any proof that she is wrong in her assertions extends to the anonymous Faculty letter and to a similar statement by Oberlin’s Board of Trustees. You yourself, Dr. Krislov, mirror and replicate this propensity. Even before you decided to suspend Dr. Karega’s teaching you introduced your own unsubstantiated assumptions that Dr. Karega is necessarily misguided and unjustified in all her assertions. Why is she wrong? The answer seems to be…. Well she just is. Everyone knows. How does everyone know? Well…. We just do. Where is your evidence to back up your conclusions? Where is the evidence on which to base “reasoned analysis”? Where are proper definitions of the language you deploy like juridical markers of a proven crime?
What do you mean when you associate Dr. Karega with “anti-Semitic conspiracy theories?” What is your theory of conspiracy and of anti-Semitism? Are theories about conspiracies ever legitimate in your view? What are the criteria? How can the mission of the Liberal Arts be accomplished without the development of theories, including those theories that speak to issues of power and how it is exercised? Who can deny that influential interests, entities and individuals sometimes conspire secretly and outside the law to achieve shared goals? Aren’t you guilty of deploying a propaganda term that has been deviously engineered to block, rather than promote, reasoned exchange on subjects of core importance to the future of higher education and of civilization itself?
Prof. Tony Hall is Professor of Liberal Education and Globalization Studies, University of Lethbridge, Alberta Canada
(Courtesy: American Herald Tribune, August 10, 2016)