Out Cole


So, Juan Cole will not be going to Yale University after all. While Cole would not go into the details of his rejection in an email exchange with Scott Jaschik of the Inside Higher Ed Web site, he did explain: "These vicious attacks on my character and my views were riddled with wild inaccuracies." Criticism of him, he added, was "motivated by a desire to punish me for daring to stand up for Palestinian rights, criticize Israeli policy, criticize Bush administration policies and, in general being a liberal Democrat."

Cole, I think, utterly misses the point here: His political positions since the outbreak of the Iraq war are what turned a nonentity parked out at the University of Michigan into a liberal celebrity, thanks mainly to his Informed Comment blog; far from damaging Cole's reputation, his persistent criticism of the Bush administration pushed him into the limelight. The thing is that Yale was probably looking for someone with more academic weight, and on that front Cole is as light as a baby's conscience. His last book was published in 2002, on Iraq's Shiites, and his output in the past three years has mainly been chapters in books and some articles, several on the rather marginal topic of the Bahai faith.

Cole did himself no favors by failing to see the dividing line between the two worlds–academia and the foul vale of Net disputation–in which he navigates. Yale said it would not consider his non-academic pursuits in any hiring decision, but that position became increasingly untenable as Cole launched a petition calling on the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations to "forthrightly condemn the castigation of Professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt as anti-Semites for their academic paper, 'The Israel Lobby and American Foreign Policy.'" The petition, which was aimed solely at academics, turned into a fiasco. Cole failed to reach the relatively modest goal of 2,000 signatures, and most of those who did sign are either unknown in the Middle East studies field, or come from other fields.

He also responded to a critical piece in Slate from Christopher Hitchens by launching a bizarre tirade in which he accused Hitchens of being a drunkard, while also peppering his blog post with passages like this: "We don't give a rat's ass what Ahmadinejad thinks about European history or what pissant speech the little shit gives."

Both episodes could not have made Yale more eager to hire Cole, and I will bet a platinum mortarboard that stuffy Yale dons surreptitiously surfed his site to see just what they might get themselves into by offering him a job. There was too much excitement here, particularly after the Yale Taliban affair, and it was Cole's mistake not to play politics and stay low for awhile. One person who knows how academic appointments at Yale happen told me that it was not unprecedented for the senior appointments committee–usually a rubber stamp–to turn appointments down, but that someone pretty high up had to be involved in Cole's rejection.

So Juan Cole is not a victim of a conspiracy by the political right (after all he is still happily ensconced in Ann Arbor at a premium university, with tenure); he's just a victim of his own record, and, I would venture, creeping boredom with academia amid all that publicity that comes with playing public intellectual.

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  1. Cole has a right to be upset about not being selected by Yale. On the application, under the question, “Are you fluent in any Middle Eastern languages? If so, please list.” There was only room for one, ONE; and Juan Cole speaks at least three.

  2. after all he is still happily ensconced in Ann Arbor at a premium university, with tenure

    “I’m only a professor at Michigan, wah wah wah.”

    There’s only like a million people who would love to have your job. After all, Harvard is the Michigan of the East. Get over it.

    I’ve attended both schools. Maybe more presidents have come from Yale, but from the discussion sections of the classes I took, there are just as many dumb kids at Yale as at Michigan. Lateral move.

    Oh wait, professors just care about prestige and research. They don’t give a shit about the kids. My bad.

  3. I have to agree. Cole is pretty good on some basic intelligence from Iraq, but he goes way off the reservation when he responds to criticism. I read his blog, but I read it with a very heavy filter.

  4. We frequently see long posts by Michael Young, in which he takes issue with Juan Cole.

    I don’t know much about Juan Cole, but I’m guessing there’s some kind of grudge between these guys. I mean, there are probably lots of people that Young disagrees with (I mean, doesn’t every libertarian disagree with lots of people?) yet he’s always posting about Juan Cole. And the only place I hear about Juan Cole is on Hit and Run.

    Is there some blood feud that we should be aware of?

  5. I haven’t followed this story at all, and I’ve never been too enthusiastic about Cole as a “public intellectual.” And Michael Young is probably right that Cole’s rants did him no favors: university hiring committees are notoriously risk-averse. Still, don’t blame Cole’s output for his not getting the job. He’s really pretty prolific, and I doubt any university would hold his publication record against him. Most of Cole’s books are either edited collections or translations, but leaving that aside he has written four monographs since 1991, all for top-shelf academic presses, and since 2002 has published about a dozen articles. In academic terms this is a lot. If you’re not going to write complete piffle it takes time to do the research, and there’s no shame in not having written a book since 2002. No, I suspect that the Yale department that considered hiring him didn’t want to be stuck with a rageaholic publicity hog for basically forever. When you hire someone with tenure you’re making a decision partly based on academic merit and partly based on who you want to sit next to in faculty meetings. In a field crowded with blowhards and prima donnas, this is not a small consideration.

  6. Dr T,

    I think that Mike Young is particularly interested in ME affairs. And as such the crap that Cole puts out would probably be particularly irritating to him. He reads Cole, or hears friends quote him, and is irritated because he knows the dude is crap.

    That would be my take.

  7. “a nonentity parked out at the University of Michigan… he is still happily ensconced in Ann Arbor at a premium university, with tenure”

    So is University of Michigan a “premiere university” where achieving tenure would presumably take some considerable academic credentials and qualifications, or is it a place where “nonentities” get “parked”? Because it seems to me it’s perfectly possible for someone to be more than qualified within the world of academia and yet not have come to Michael Young’s attention within the world of second-tier political punditry.

    Cole’s complaint, after all, is that he was qualified academically for the position but was rejected for extraneous reasons (in this case, his political beliefs as expressed on his blog). This may be a naive complaint (and in fact it strikes me as such), but to harp on Cole for being in basically the same position Dan Drezner was in with the University of Chicago – whom I don’t think Mr. Young ripped into for six paragraphs – is fairly petty.

  8. So in other words, all of those commenters who assured us that Cole’s anti-Bush, anti-Iraq War political advocacy would make him a shoo-in at this easter, liberal university were – how to put it? – dressed with an infusion of fecal matter prior to roasting.

  9. Yale is more likely to turn someone down for not “standing up for Palestinian rights, criticizing Israeli policy, criticizing Bush administration policies and, in general being a liberal Democrat than for doing so.

  10. Yale is more likely to turn someone down for not “standing up for Palestinian rights, criticizing Israeli policy, criticizing Bush administration policies and, in general being a liberal Democrat than for doing so.

    Yes RC — and this episode proves exactly that.

    The thing is that Yale was probably looking for someone with more academic weight, and on that front Cole is as light as a baby’s conscience.

    Wow…talk about showing that you have an axe to grind.

    Uhmmm…both academic committees approved Mr. Cole for the position. It was the tenure committe specifically that rejecteded him.

    From this article:

    In two separate votes in May, Cole was approved by both the sociology and history departments, the latter the university’s largest.

    The only remaining hurdle was the senior appointments committee, also known as the tenure committee, a group consisting of about a half-dozen professors from various disciplines across the university.

    Also from the article:
    Political science professor Frances Rosenbluth, who was part of the search committee, said that Cole emerged as a clear choice.

    “The committee read his work very thoroughly, in conjunction with the work of other scholars,” Rosenbluth told The Jewish Week. “We interviewed other people, we sent out letters to the field of contemporary Middle Eastern studies, and [Cole] is very highly regarded as a scholar. That’s why the committee made its recommendation.”

    Mr Young also said:
    So Juan Cole is not a victim of a conspiracy by the political right

    Continuing from the article:

    When Cole’s potential hiring became publicly known, several of his detractors, including the American Enterprise Institute’s Michael Rubin and Washington Times columnist Joel Mowbray, took various steps to protest the decision. They wrote op-ed pieces in various publications and Mowbray went as far as to send a letter to a dozen of Yale’s major donors, many of whom are Jewish, urging them to call the university and protest Cole’s hiring.


    But before Cole was even named as a candidate, some opponents took to the op-ed pages of various newspapers to press their case.

    Writing in the Yale Daily News on April 18, Rubin, a neoconservative who often writes about the need for a strong U.S. policy against Iran, accused Cole of having “abandoned scholarship in favor of blog commentary.”

    The same day, Eliana Johnson, a Yale undergraduate, and Mitchell Webber, a Yale graduate who is now a law student and a research assistant for Alan Dershowitz at Harvard Law School, published an op-ed in the conservative New York Sun. Echoing many of Rubin’s points, Johnson and Webber referred to Cole as the “professor best known for disparaging the participation of prominent American Jews in government.”

    Then Mowbray went a step further. He drafted a letter, which he forwarded to a dozen of Yale’s prominent donors, most of whom are Jewish, urging them to make their disapproval of Cole’s hiring known.

    This may not be a “conspiracy” in Mr Young’s mind, but when multiple sources are penning multiple op-eds using the same taking points in multiple right wing publications, I don’t think it would be wrong to characterize that as conspiratorial.

  11. Chicago Tom, be serious. I too attacked Cole on several occasions; am I part of a conspiracy? If so, no one told me. Before making such a claim, you have to prove to me that Joel Mowbray, Michael Rubin, Christopher Hitchens (whom you forgot to mention), and two Yale undergraduates somehow colluded. The fact that they raise similar issues is irrelevant; what are they going to mention about Cole except the issues that he writes about–necessarily meaning they’re going to say roughly similar things about him if they don’t like him.

    Also, tell me since when is the Yale Daily News a “right wing publication”? Or Slate?

  12. As someone in the Middle East Studies field, in my experience Juan Cole’s work as a historian and in languages is pretty well respected. I wouldn’t consider him an A-Lister, but Cole is recognized as having done very solid work.

    Michael Young, on the other hand, clearly doesn’t know what he’s talking about, just in case his snide little post didn’t tip you off to that fact already.

  13. Is this the same Juan Cole who said that the Battle of Jenin (which happened in 2002) was the cause bellus for 9/11 (which happened in 2001).

  14. “nonentity parked out at the University of Michigan”

    I never heard of the University of Michigan; is that near Cal State Fresno?

    Also, is it even disputed that Hitchens is a drunkard? Everytime I’ve seen him on C-SPAN he’s tanked and all the stories about interviews with him always weirdly take place in bars…

  15. “I too attacked Cole on several occasions; am I part of a conspiracy?”

    May I hazard a guess?

  16. I recall last year, there were several stories in the press, which Reason blogged to, about the Pentagon and CIA paying Middle Eastern journalists to publish stories favorable to the United States and the Iraqi government.

    I kept waiting for Mr. Young, who is Reason’s journalist in the Middle East, and who writes quite a bit about Iraq, Middle Eastern politics, and journalism in Arab countries, to write a piece commenting on the subject. I even wrote in the comment threads of several stories that it would be interesting to get Mr. Young’s take on the issue.

    Yet, as far as I know, he never got around to writing a single word about the issue.

  17. nonentity parked out at the University of Michigan

    Look, I know nothing about Juan Cole, but when you sneer at somebody’s affiliation with a very respectable research university, well, I have to wonder if this isn’t more about petty grievances rather than substantive disagreements.

    My opinion of U. Michigan: I know nothing about their department of Middle Eastern studies, but their science faculty are hardly “nonentities”. This fall I’ll be teaching a course for physics Ph.D. students at a major Jesuit university, and the textbook I’m assigning was written by a professor in Michigan’s engineering school.

  18. I didn’t want to play the “My academic pedigree is so huge!” game, but when somebody sneers at his opponent’s academic affiliation, I have to figure that there’s something dishonest going on. That’s when it’s time to pull out the can of whoopass and be all like “Ain’t nothing wrong with that school! You wanna piece of this? Huh?”

  19. Come to think of it, that academic dick waving was uncalled for.

    I apologize.

  20. You’re dancing with yourself, thoreau.

  21. ChicagoTom,

    A conspiracy, by definition, acts in secret, does it not?

  22. Michael Young writes: “Also, tell me since when is the Yale Daily News a “right wing publication”? Or Slate?”

    As far as Slate goes, it happened when the Washington Post bought it.

  23. I don’t know about Cole, but Michael Young is clearly diving into the deep end of ideological blindness, as his shallow snide attacks on Walt and Mearsheimer make clear. For that matter, anyone who name checks Hitchens at this point has forfeited the right to be taken seriously. A more realistic conservative appreciation of Walt and Mearsheimer can be found at this link: http://www.thewashingtonnote.com/archives/001431.php

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