Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Guess Who Is Coming to the Faculty?

Here's a tidbit to turn the stomach right before the final days of the holidays.

Guess who Yale is thinking of appointing as as Faculty in the Middle East department?
Yale University is on the verge of offering a faculty appointment to the University of Michigan Professor Juan Cole. That is the word around the campus here in New Haven. If Yale proceeds with the appointment, it will bring in one of the few professors in the United States, perhaps the only one, who has publicly endorsed the recent paper warning against American support of Israel by John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen Walt of Harvard.

A professor of modern Middle East and South Asian history at the University of Michigan, Mr. Cole rose to national prominence in the wake of September 11 when reporters and journalists began seeking him out as an authority on the modern Middle East. It is on similar grounds - seeking a scholar of the contemporary Middle East - that the Yale Center for International and Area Studies and the Yale History Department have sought out Mr. Cole.

The prospect of Mr. Cole joining the Yale faculty is disturbing for many reasons. His "scholarship" in this area consists entirely of crude polemics, and his outlook is colored by a conspiratorial view of history. Mr. Cole has used his modicum of fame not to participate in the realm of respectable scholarly debate but to express his deep and abiding hatred of Israel and to opine about the influence of a Zionist cabal on American foreign policy.

Unfortunately, this particular appointee, who is more extreme on Israel even than Noam Chomsky, will have the effect of making Van prophetic rather than satiric in his recent sally at Kesher Talk.

[ UPDATE: Check out Martin Kramer's Sandbox for his extensive coverage of Juan Cole, starting with his article on Cole and Yale. The rest of his articles are grouped together in Juantanamo, on the right side of his blog, towards the bottom of the page.

Here's a sample of his Juanalysis from The Colephate.
Juan Cole is a virtual storehouse of misleading, absurd, and false "juanalogies," which cut against more than a century of scholarly efforts to explain Islam in its own terms. It's thanks to those efforts that no one calls Islam Mohammedanism anymore. When Cole draws analogies between Saudi Arabia and Amish country ("Saudi Arabia is an extremely conservative society; going to Saudi Arabia is kind of like going to Amish country in the United States"), or between Al-Qaeda and David Koresh, he functions as an anti-expert, obscuring the very complexities whose elucidation we expect from someone who's spent years studying Islam. Cole's only possible excuse is that he's talking down to his fans, because they're not smart enough to grasp the intricacies. Well, maybe they aren't: after all, they're his fans.


Here's Michael Rubin's opinion of Juan Cole in the Yale Daily News. ]

MORE: Here's Michael Rubin's opinion of Juan Cole in the Yale Daily News.
Professors should choose their words carefully. Early in his career, Cole did serious academic work on the 19th century Middle East, although his books did not have lasting historiographical impact. He has since abandoned scholarship in favor of blog commentary. Perhaps YCIAS is not looking for academic rigor. But unlike prominent professors at Princeton, Columbia or Tufts, Cole cannot bring real-world policy experience to either the classroom or research.

Cole is a major public figure. But political popularity and punditry should not substitute for research, accuracy and experience. Bush criticism may be trendy and perhaps even valid, but the reputation of Yale's faculty and the future of YCIAS should be based on more. Now, it is time for YCIAS to decide whether it prioritizes academics above politics.

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