El-Haj Update

Nadia Abu El-Haj is getting tenure. For those who came in late: El-Haj is a Palestinian-American anthropologist who teaches at Barnard College. She is also the author of Facts on the Ground, a controversial book that argues, to quote the publisher's description, that "archaeology helped not only to legitimize [Israel's] cultural and political visions but, far more powerfully, to reshape them." Many pro-Israel activists opposed giving her tenure, and it looked for a while like the debate might burst into a full-fledged Norman Finkelstein-style war. My small contribution to the ferment came in August, when I pointed out that the petition against El-Haj included at least two distortions of her views.

As I said in my original post, I'm not qualified to judge the quality of El-Haj's book and I have no opinion on whether she deserves a post at Barnard. She has some serious scholarly detractors and she has some serious scholarly defenders, and until I take the time to learn more than the bare minimum about Israeli archeology I'm going to leave it at that. The good news is that future arguments about her work will now have to center on her work, and not on whether some activists can gin up some outrage by yanking some lines from her book out of context.

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  • iih||

    Thank you Jesse for the update on this. I think Columbia made the right decision.

  • iih||

    ... And I say this because of:

    The good news is that future arguments about her work will now have to center on her work, and not on whether some activists can gin up some outrage by yanking some lines from her book out of context

  • Chuck||

    One more example of why tenure is not an obsolete concept.

  • ||

    For every "controversial" scholar tenure protects, it allows about one thousand lazy assholes sleep through their office hours.

    You tell people they can't be fired and they don't work as hard. What a shock.

  • thoreau||

    The good news is that future arguments about her work will now have to center on her work, and not on whether some activists can gin up some outrage by yanking some lines from her book out of context.

    How does that follow? No doubt activists who want to can continue to gin up outrage.

    As far as the general issue of tenure: I don't think it's the only way a university could be (or should be) run, but tenure isn't the end of motivation. Those who want pay increases and summer salary from research funds still need to stay on top of things.

    I will say this much: I didn't join the faculty union at my school. We've already got the security of tenure (well, I don't have it yet, but I hope to), why the hell do we need a union.

  • ||

    One more example of why tenure is not an obsolete concept.

    How is that?

    As far as the general issue of tenure: I don't think it's the only way a university could be (or should be) run, but tenure isn't the end of motivation. Those who want pay increases and summer salary from research funds still need to stay on top of things.

    Hmm i dont think the issue with tenure is the motivated/good professors, its all the others douchebags who should never have been teaching in the first place.

  • Jesse Walker||

    No doubt activists who want to can continue to gin up outrage.

    And El-Haj can ignore them.

  • thoreau||

    its all the others douchebags who should never have been teaching in the first place.

    Hence we have committee assignments.

    Those douchebags can chair the Committee on Assessments of Outcomes of Assessments by the Assessment Committee.

  • iih||

    No doubt activists who want to can continue to gin up outrage.

    And El-Haj can ignore them.


    Right, but she can't ignore the scholarly critics of her work because her career rests on her academic reputations. And, no, one's career does not end at getting tenure. You can be reduced to nothing in an serious institution if you are an unproductive tenured faculty.

  • iih||

    Those douchebags can chair the Committee on Assessments of Outcomes of Assessments by the Assessment Committee.

    Not in top tier and Ivy League schools. They do care about their tenure process.

  • thoreau||

    iih-

    My observation is that there are a lot of old blowhards in my school who long since ceased innovating in teaching or research but chair all sorts of committees.

    The talented and innovative folks have better things to do.

  • iih||

    thoreau-

    I guess it also depends on the school/department administration. If they care about their reputation, they'd make sure that those who chair the tenure committee are not douchebags. I do not know about your institution, but where I am the carefully pick the committee.

  • ||

    The talented and innovative folks have better things to do.

    And are probably quite glad that the sluggards chair the bullshit committees so they don't have to. It's a win-win!

  • VM||

    "The talented and innovative folks have better things to do."

    Like go to Farmers' markets and buy local?

  • thoreau||

    The chair of our tenure committee is a very energetic and innovative guy.

    The chairs of some other committees? Not so much.

  • thoreau||

    Oh, the chair of our tenure committee is also a perfect gentleman, an impeccable dresser, a great humanitarian, and a scientific genius of the first order. I can honestly say that there is no finer human being on the planet.

    :)

  • iih||

    thoreau:

    Haha! Let me guess, you are either him, or you are still not tenured ;-) Just joking, of course.

  • ||

    Are you up for tenure, thoreau? ;)

    All fooling aside, has anyone here read El-Haj's book?

  • thoreau||

    This has nothing to do with my tenure status, iih, and everything to do with the fact that the guy who will be reading my tenure application in a few years is the finest human being on the face of the earth.

    :)

  • Major Marco||

    the Chair of the Tenure Committee is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I've ever known in my life.

  • ||

    I don't understand her point.
    Archaeologically helped Isreal?
    Something scientific was faked?

    BTW iih, all the Egyptians that I have talked to seem to think that Egypt won the 1973 war. Which is kind of interesting. Not having looked at the conflict in detail, I was always under the impression that Israel won all 3 wars.

  • thoreau||

    Speaking of Egyptians, the chair of the tenure committee has made contributions to human knowledge and culture that rival even the construction of the pyramids.

  • iih||

    kwais:

    Most do believe Egypt won indeed, which is not entirely false but not entirely true either.

    thoreau:

    Speaking of Egyptians, the chair of the tenure committee has made contributions to human knowledge and culture that rival even the construction of the pyramids.

    Very clever. You are changing the subject and still suck up to the tenure committee head ;-) I won't fall for that. Sure, he did of course.

  • R C Dean||

    Maybe tenure had a function when there were only a relative handful of educational institutions around, and being blackballed at one would effective end your career as an academic.

    That hardly describes the thousands of schools in the US, though, many of which thrive on controversy.

    I think the original justification for tenure is long gone, so that tenure now probably does far more to weigh down the academy with deadwood than to advance it.

  • ||

    Amazing amount of contention over such a nasty little shithole. Wal-Mart should just buy Israel/Palestine and turn it into a store with a nice big parking lot.

    As to tenure at a private institution, that is the institution's problem, not mine.

  • Chuck||

    I just woke up from my office hours. Did I miss anything?

  • Robert||

    What does Gary Greenberg say?

  • ||

    The real lesson behind the Abu el Haj affair is the degeneration of her nominal "field", cultural anthropology. Her work has no serious anthropological content; it is mere journalism, and sloppy at that. The only "anthropological" aspect is her appeal to the doctrines of "science studies", which, to be blunt about it, is a litany of anti-scientific attitudes compiled by a bunch of bluffers, e.g., Bruno Latour or Sharon Traweek. But, since cultural anthropology has renounced western science and its rigors, this stuff plays well with that crowd.

    These days, to automatically assume that a tenure evaluation reflects traditional scholarly values is a mistake. One has to check what field is involved and how beholden it is to questionable agendas and trend-mongering "insider trading." In this instance, Columbia screwed up badly--but they've done so before and don't bet that they've learned their lesson.

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