Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Quick Call for Comment - NEH Summer Seminars

UPDATE - 10/07/2014: I am still collecting comments focused on how being abroad in an NEH seminar or institute made a difference to your teaching and scholarship. I am now waiting on FOIA requests to be delivered and am sticking on this story as long as I can. If the comment page doesn't work for you, email me at lollardfish@gmail.com

COMMENT MODERATION IS ON. I will publish your remarks ASAP.


The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) sponsors summer seminars that bring groups of scholars from all stages of their careers together. They meet in an appropriate setting, engage in discussions, hear lectures, work on their own projects, and engage in what we call "experiential learning" of various sorts. For medievalists and early modernists, the people I know best, there's also usually plenty of time in the archives.

In the past, they have been hosted around the world. But here's a surprise in the current call for proposals [my emphasis].
Prospective applicants to direct a Summer Seminar or Institute in the summer of 2016 (application deadline, February 24, 2015) are now encouraged to submit to program staff an optional preliminary sketch of their proposals (deadline, December 15, 2014). You can find the form for the preliminary sketch (in MS Word) under "Program Resources" in the sidebar on the right. NEH staff will also continue to provide feedback on partial or full application drafts (deadline, January 24, 2015). Both opportunities for receiving feedback are optional.
Please note also that projects outside the U.S. and its territories are no longer supported.
I am writing a piece about the consequences of closing off the world. I think it reinforces prestige culture and is based on this criticism from Senator Sessions, a man who is not fond of the humanities in any context.

If you have a comment on why the programs are important to you, please leave it here, on Facebook, on twitter, or via email. Email me at lollardfish@gmail.com if you want anonymity or have trouble with the comment system. Please let me know who you are as I may choose to quote you directly in my piece [Still writing!].

UPDATE - Here's the letter sent out to some past program directors last week.


The Empty Room - Indifference to Disability is Ordinary

One of my absolutely favorite writers on disability, Lydia Brown, is at Georgetown. She's an increasingly well-known voice on disability issues and, not surprisingly, was asked to provide a training to student organizations about accessibility. She agreed.

No one showed up.

In a powerful post, Brown explains what the empty room means.
Nothing demonstrates more clearly the utter disregard that disabled people face every day at Georgetown than this. That of literally hundreds of student organizations with hundreds (possibly even creeping into the low thousands) of students involved on their boards or other leadership positions, not even one person deemed it worth their while to learn about access and inclusion.
She then acknowledges that yes, people at Georgetown are busy (aside - also jaded if they turn down free pizza), but it was a huge pool, and not one person decided that disability issues might possibly matter to their groups.

There is hate and scorn for people with disabilities out there, yes, but that's not the problem. It's the casual, structural, ableism, in which disability issues vanish, in which when we talk about diversity on campus, we mean race, gender, and class, not ability. Even when we throw ability into the list, we don't actually act on it. When we act on it, unless it's mandatory, no one comes. When we make it mandatory, we build resentment, hate, and scorn.

Here's how Brown finishes:
The empty room means that our fight is less against willful hate and more against the easy ignorance cloaked in the privilege of never having to live a disabled experience -- the privilege of never being guilted and shamed into going to an event that you lost the spoons for but had requested an interpreter for beforehand -- the privilege of never having to decide days in advance whether you will go to an event or not -- the privilege of never having to wonder whether you'll be able to access the handouts, presentation slides, or speech of the presenter -- the privilege of not worrying whether other attendees' perfumed products will induce an allergic reaction, meltdown, or physical illness -- the privilege of not sitting on edge in case something triggers a seizure -- the privilege of not thinking about whether something will surprise you by triggering a panic, anxiety, or PTSD attack -- the privilege of not having to think about whether you can even get into the fucking building -- the privilege of being able to go to any event you like, anywhere, with little difficulty or inconvenience except perhaps finding parking --

The empty room means that this state of affairs, a state of affairs in which our completely avoidable and unnecessary yet routine exclusion from programming on campus is simply ordinary.
I don't have an answer except to share Brown's writing and to share her frustration. Right now, I am editing our ADA documents to try and make them more robust. We will end up with stronger rules, clearer guidelines, and more resentment for the "special perks."

Today, I have no solutions for this.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Transphobia and Miscegenation - Won't Somebody Think of the (Cis-gendered) Children

My first ever op-ed was published in the Minneapolis/ St. Paul Star Tribune. It was in 2006 and on the use of medieval rhetoric to talk about modern problems in the Middle East, a situation that continues today.

Over the weekend, the Star Tribune published this full-page ad raising the worst kind of fear-mongering about transgendered children. It says:

"A male wants to shower beside your 14-year-old daughter.
Are YOU ok with that?

So, that's pretty hateful. The context is that the MN high-school sports league is considering passing a transgender inclusion policy, and good for them for doing so. Of course, any attempt to take a step forward like this is immediately met with bigotry.

Here's a few points. 

1) Nowhere does the full-page say "paid advertisement." That seems unethical. In fact, it seems like they went out of their way to re-format the sports page to fit the ad, as shown here.

2) More importantly, while I understand that newspapers are broke, the decision to run this kind of bigotry - patriarchal (protect the daughter!) as well as transphobic - speaks poorly of the newspaper. The ad reminds me of this:

Or perhaps this

Or any number of other anti-miscegenation propaganda, as stored here on this excellent archive.

It's long been observed that the anti-gay-marriage arguments mirror the anti-interracial arguments almost exactly (fun site: Can you tell whether these quotes are anti-gay or anti-interracial marriage?). 

So congrats, Star Tribune, someday you too may be featured in an archive of bigotry so that we can look back and shake our heads and feel vaguely smugly superior to our ancestors. 

Or, perhaps you could decide not to publish transphobic, patriarchal, fear-mongering, hate speech.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Sunday Roundup - Cops, Ableism, Job Market

This week I had one published piece and a blog on the conference interview in academia, a practice that puts financial pressure on those with the fewest resources. It must end. My next step will be to try and understand why it isn't ending.

I wrote a piece using the language of "presume compliance." As a police officer who reads my blog commented (and who I learn a lot from), the presumption of compliance would lead law enforcement officers (LEOs) to absorb too much risk; and yet, how do we get to a sensible middle-road position without pushing hard in the other direction. So as a thought experiment, not as a real policy position, I will continue to think about a presumption of compliance as a principle. 

Meanwhile, South Carolina cop presumed non-compliance, shot someone, and was arrested and fired promptly thanks to video-camera evidence. Good work SC.

I shared a set of negative comments from CNN demonstrating Ableist Abuse. Grim, but it's important to see the evidence.

Finally, Special Olympics Washington sponsored a Run From the Cops event which demonstrated both privilege and ignorance. They eventually changed it and offered a non-apology explanation for the event.

Did you know that white suburban America has "run from the cops" or "cops and robbers" or related events for fundraising all the time? More on this to come.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Presume Compliance - Miller, Hunt, Crawford

In the world of Down syndrome, we talk about "presuming competence" (hey, go buy a shirt!). That instead of "awareness," we'd like to see a shift to a general presumption of competence first. More on this in pieces to come.

I've been working, though, on ways of re-describing the strategic problems with police procedure as it feeds the cult of compliance. Police operate on a presuming non-compliance basis, so as soon as they get any evidence to confirm that presumption, they too often strike.

What would "presume compliance" policing look like? How dangerous would it be? I keep thinking that to roll back the proto-police state, we have to ask police to assume more risk, and that's going to be a very hard argument to make.

Here are three stories, though, of when presuming non-compliance leads to fatalities.

On Saturday a deaf man was shot and killed by Florida deputies, allegedly because he didn't comply with commands quickly enough. Here's the story:
Hernandez, 35, fired his service weapon, killing Miller, because he perceived a threat, a sheriff's office spokesman said.
The sheriff's office and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement are investigating the shooting, and would not release further details.
Miller's 25-year-old son witnessed his father's death. He told the Ledger that his dad, who only had two percent of his hearing, was further impaired because his hearing aid was broken at the time. He denies that his father was a threat.
“I kept telling them that he can't hear them,” the 25-year-old, who's also named Edward Miller, told the Ledger. “I kept telling them he can't understand them.”
The son told the Daytona Beach News-Journal that Hernandez shot his father six times while his dad sat inside a vehicle in the tow yard.
Meanwhile, there's John Crawford. The surveillance video of his death has gone viral just as the Grand Jury has declined to convict the officers that shot him. Attention has rightly focused on the 911 call in which Ronald Ritchie told police Crawford was waving the gun around, including at children.

Crawford wasn't. He was on the phone, distracted by the call, and likely didn't hear the police until just seconds before they shot him to death.

Then there was Darrien Hunt, the man with a sword shot in Utah as he ran away. Most recent reports think he was cosplaying from . The Guardian says [my emphasis]:
Attention was swiftly drawn online to Hunt’s remarkable resemblance as he walked around on the morning of 10 September to Mugen, a swordsman character in the short-lived Japanese anime series Samurai Champloo. The Comic Con convention had also taken place in Salt Lake City, about 35 miles to the north, the weekend before the shooting.
Hunt’s aunt, Cindy Moss, previously told the Guardian that a witness to the confrontation with police had told the family that Hunt “had his earbuds in, and was kind of doing spins and stuff, like pretending he’s a samurai”.
These three stories are obviously very different. Miller was white, Hunt mixed race but appeared black, and Crawford black. Crawford had a fake gun and a lying 911 call (which is probably criminal in Ohio, I'm told). Hunt had a sword and was acting "weird." Miller had been shouting a lot and that was interpreted as anger, rather than hearing loss.

The differences matter and what I am about to say does not erase them.

These are also the same story. A man with a permanent or temporary hearing impairment - deaf, phone, earbuds - gets the attention of the police, doesn't respond to verbal commands quickly, and so the presumption of non-compliance leads to death.

Being deaf in front of the cops is dangerous. That's long been clear. But just as we all move in and sometimes out of different stages of disability, putting on earbuds or listening to a phone call also renders you less likely to process verbal commands, functioning like hearing loss in terms of creating a vulnerability to a trigger-happy law enforcement officer.

The only solution that I can see is to change the strategic approach on a fundamental level to "presume compliance."

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

South Carolina Shows How to Handle Police Violence

In South Carolina, a state trooper pulled over a man for a seat belt violation. The man got out of the car, as he was heading to a gas station, when the trooper confronted him. The man ducked his head into his car to get his license and the officer opened fire. The man leapt backwards, shot in the hip, hands up, apologizing.

The victim is black. Fortunately, he's fine. The trooper is white. This is a story we've seen before.

Here's the twist.

The shooting took place on September 19th. Today, 9/24, the officer was arrested on a charge of "assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature." He was also fired.

Here's a report on the initial shooting and the arrest, and here's a link to dashcam video.

We give police enormous powers, but they can be held accountable. Now, the officer may not be found guilty, but I applaud the Department of Public Safety and the DA for doing the right thing.

The Academic Job Market - Fundamental Premises

Yesterday I had a piece at Vitae on ending the conference interview and last week I had a blog post on the same topic, as a sort of prequel.

Today, I offer a few fundamental premises.

1. The job market today is about adjuncts, not graduate students.
A lot of my friends and colleagues and random internet commentators suggested graduate-training programs offer to fund sending their students to conferences if they get interviews; in fact, many programs do just that, if they are wealthy enough. But not only does it encourage another level of have/have-not, unless the programs are offering to fund grad student trips to conferences for 4-5 years, often long after they've finished their PhD, such a proposal doesn't solve the problem.
In modern academia, fewer and fewer people go straight from graduate school into a tenure-track job. Most adjunct for awhile or, if they are lucky, get post-docs or fixed-term positions. Any system has to protect them from financial exploitation.
Departments should send their graduate students to the annual disciplinary conference, though, in order to take advantage of all the professionalization and networking opportunities (and learning how to pitch books) that one can find there.
2. The conference interview is already dead.
We have a reliable technological fix that is only getting more reliable. My cellphone is better at video conferencing that the highest-tech suites of 10 years ago. Academic interviews will all turn into a round of video (or phone) followed by on-campus. This is not neoliberal. This is not corporatization. It's just efficient and smart. We don't need to be in the same meatspace to do a set of screener conversations.
It also has the benefit of being cheaper for the adjuncts and grad students. See point 1 (and pretty much every essay on this topic).
So the choice is this - take command of the funds used to send interviewers to conferences or see them lost to the general budget.  
3.  The video interview protects from certain forms of bias.
I didn't say this in my essay, but I've heard from a number of people - women who were pregnant in particular - that they are more comfortable concealing potentially bias-worthy features about themselves over video interviews (or phones). Pregnancy, in particular, is notorious red flag for departments, raising the specter of the "mommy track." It's true that on-campus such things may be visible (or there may be a baby or pumping breaks), but by that point the seachers are more invested in the candidate as a whole person. 
More to come on this topic. I am going to work very hard to get information from people doing conference interviews. I want to hear why. I want to hear what they think I'm missing.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Highlights from CNN comments - #AbleistAbuseIs

Ableism in Action - These are comments from my recent CNN article on Kanye West. These are not trolls. These are people genuinely trying to express their thinking. Italics are me. Many of the issues here relate back to my post on "Hidden Disabilities," featuring longer comments from readers.

hgflyer lollardfish7 minutes ago
While I can appreciate your article, and while I am mostly sympathetic, I cannot get on board with handicapped parking. I feel that item should be removed from the ADA, thinking that if you're disabled to the point that you need a special parking spot, then you probably shouldn't be behind the wheel of a car.
If you need a special spot, you shouldn't drive

zzlangerhans34 minutes ago
Aaarghhh! These kinds of articles are so irritating. It's obvious to anyone but the most rigidly humorless that George Takei wasn't accusing a woman of faking a disability (who would choose a wheelchair over walking?) but rather MAKING A JOKE! Kanye, clumsily, was doing the same. Part of the reason that people recognize those names (along with those like George Carlin, Jerry Seinfeld, and hundreds of others) is that they don't conform to your uptight standards of what is verbally permissible. A real society needs that, not your neverending list of nonos and restrictions.
People give dirty looks to people who walk comfortably from their handicap spots because they support the handicapped, not because they think they are all faking. Many of those people use their relatives' handicap tags, some of whom have already died. The bureaucracy is lax and we all know it. As the son of a person in a wheelchair, I had to park many times in a regular spot and struggle to get her out because the handicapped spots were full. I didn't give the young healthy people in the handicap spots dirty looks, but I had a few choice thoughts for them. If you actually know a person with a serious physical handicap, they will tell you being "forced to prove their handicap" is the least of their worries.
Please stop trying to correct everyone's behavior and stop comedians from making jokes. You're a bore and an annoyance.
Interestingly, the people with serious hidden disabilities tell me that being forced to prove their disability is one of their most stressful worries. "It was only a joke," furthermore, is the cry of the abuser or the enabler of abuse.

FactsRBad35 minutes ago
Few months back, I saw some young adult park in a handicap spot at the grocery store, get out of his car and run into the store as he was apparently in a hurry. This is not an isolated incident. Getting a handicap sticker for your car is very easy - and I've seen too many folks who get out of there car and move just fine abusing the process. There should be some stricter standards.
Again, parking is the the thing everyone focuses on. It has a semiotic value that's fascinatingThe wheelchair symbol carries power but limits our understanding of what disability /is/.

Lilly Que44 minutes ago
Stupid! I've never seen or heard ANYONE question a person's disability. You are making a problem where one does not exist. And Kanye is nothing but a pathetic narcissist. Those people paid for their seats not the other way around and if someone wants to sit, lie, or jump up and down on that seat, or not, it's none of his business.
Kanye is the problem, not society

Howda Yadooan hour ago
It's a two way street. There are those that claim disability that are not disabled so they can get free money. In turn, this causes many to question the actual disabled because of the stigma associated with it. Claiming disability has been the new form of welfare since the late 90s and many of us that have worked in the field have seen it first hand. It's unfortunate but it's also real. I feel bad for those with "invisible" disabilities but I believe you're pointing the finger at the wrong people. It's those that abuse the system that have caused the crooked stares.
Come to my Facebook page, read the comments from people with hidden disabilities, and you'll see that these people above are mistaken.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Update - Special Olympics Washington Apologizes, sort of.

Special Olympics Washington tweeted to me this:
Special Olympics WA@SO_Washington
@Lollardfish Our apologies. The intent was not to glamorize or offend. The name has been changed to “Run with the Cops”. Plz read below:
They then deleted that tweet (hence no link), but later re-confirmed that they are changing the name.

Here's their statement in full. I offer a few thoughts.

It was started by a police officer. I believe in his good intentions.
Since the first “Run from the Cops” here in Kennewick, other LETR programs in the US have contacted us soliciting the specifics of the run in order to create their own “Run from the Cops” SO fundraiser. I personally have been contacted by three other US state programs who have started their own events.
The Run was not intended to be a negative reflection of law enforcement, nor was it intended to glamorize the act of “running from the police.” It is solely designed to be a fun, family‐oriented event, ultimately benefitting Special Olympics. In the three years we have hosted the “Run from the Cops”, we have raised gross funds of approximately $28,000, and touched at least 1000 people, just counting the actual participants.

On a personal note, had it not been for the “Run from the Cops” here in Kennewick, I would not have had the opportunity to meet Joshua. The attached photo shows Joshua competing again this year at our Run. He has competed every year, and absolutely loves the opportunity to be involved. His mother has expressed to me her personal gratitude as Joshua looks forward to our event all year long.       
I believe that he and Joshua have a good relationship.I believe that they have raised money. I am sure that other privileged communities think, "oh, that's fun and funny!" That's wrong.

I want you to imagine a group dedicated to relieving poverty in minority communities held a "run from the cops" event.

So, with protests of having meant well, Special Olympics is changing its events. It's a small start. I hope they think long and hard about what it means that so many communities don't see running from the cops as something that's funny.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Special Olympics - Run From The Cops; Fund-Raising Based on Privilege

In Washington State, the Special Olympics organized a number of "Run From the Cops" events, with the final one taking place next week. I'll let them explain.
Grab a “partner in crime” and support the more than 10,000 Special Olympics Athletes across the state in this unique nighttime 5K. Walkers, runners, kids and costumes are welcome. All participants will receive an event t-shirt!
Special Olympics Slammer!

Law enforcement will be staged throughout the course “encouraging” participants to finish in under 45-minutes to avoid being corralled and placed in the Special Olympics Slammer! Those not finishing in under 45-minutes will be ticketed for not out running the cops.
I know this is meant to be in good fun, but it reflects a lack of understanding of the fraught relationship between police and people with disabilities in this country. Moreover, it embodies a kind of privilege that needs to be called out. More on that at the end.

Most of all, it offends me on behalf of all the dead bodies of people with disablities, bodies of men and women who ran from the cops, or didn't obey the cops, and were killed by them. This is not a joke. It's life and death for the people we are and the people we love.

First, as readers of this blog know, running from the cops is among the most dangerous actions a person with disabilities can take. Running from the cops violates compliance, violating compliance leads to tasing, beating, and shooting. At least once a week, I find a new story about someone with a disability failing to comply properly in the eyes of the police, and gets hurt. So this event is lampooing a behavior that results in death for far too many. There is, for example, speculation that Darren Hunt in fact had special needs (though this as not been confirmed). He was shot repeatedly in the back while running from police. Linking disability to running from the cops is not, in fact, fun or funny.

Second, the whole "slammer" language also bothers me. Prisons are intensely dangerous places for people with disabilities, while also becoming the default place to put an "unruly" person with psychiatric disability.  The Rikers Island cases, reported by the New York Times, focus heavily on the such abuse. Linking disability to being thrown in the slammer is not, in fact, fun or funny.

EDIT: Third, as Walkersvillemom says below, all the false confessions from people with intellectual disability, resulting in unjust convictions, jail terms, and even death sentences. Some have died. Others, like in North Carolina, were released after 31 years.

I have asked Special Olympics Washington for comment and will publish it if they respond. I'd like to know who came up with this event.

To me, the whole thing emerges from privilege, and it's a privilege I share. Today I was walking with my kids towards a playground. A police officer left her car and came walking quickly towards me. I never panicked. I never got defensive. I never ran. She gave us free "slurpee" coupons, then, as my son (a 7-year-old boy with Down syndrome) approached the police cruiser, she asked me if he would like it if she turned on the lights. He did. He made his "lu-lu-lu" siren sound and was difficult to pry away from the car so the police officer could go back to looking for motorists using their cellphones. Only a passing train took his attention away.

This is normal in the white middle class suburban world in which we live, and I am grateful for that. I am grateful to the police and would rely on them to help if my son ever got lost. I am so very privileged in my relationship to law enforcement. I know this, and the goal is to extend that privilege to every community, of all races, classes, genders, and levels of ability.

But I would never make the mistake of thinking everyone shares that privilege, or that being thrown in jail or running from the cops was funny.

Because it's not funny. On the other hand, if Special Olympics Washington wanted to get attention for their event, they got it! We're all paying attention and the next move is yours.

Sunday Roundup - Disabilities and Proof

This week was focused on what the Kanye West incident tells us about disability in our culture.

  • I wrote a brief blog post about it here, linking it to another post on the "pencil test."
  • It got a very good response, so I wrote another piece about it for CNN, building on the argument.
  • That too got a big response, so I wrote another piece about disability as a spectrum, rather than a simple either/or binary. 
  • Finally, at the end of the week, I took two emails (which were emblematic of another hundred emails and comments), and wrote them into yet another post about Hidden Disabilities. In some ways, that may be the most important piece of the week, highlighting the voices of a skeptic who wants to be a good person, and a person whose disabilities cannot be seen.
This week embodies what I value about the blog. Any individual post might get from 100-2000 readers, but the posts are iterative, linking together, building a more complex argument or set of examples than any single piece of writing, and periodically poking through to mass media. I am grateful to each reader, each share, each comment.

I also wrote two other little posts.

  • One about #JusticeForEthan, a topic to which I return again and again, and the terrible brother of the sheriff who wants to deny people with disabilities and families of people with disabilities their independence.
  • Another about conference interviews, a practice in academia that perpetuates inequality. More on this next week when Vitae publishes an essay of mine. 

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Hidden Disabilities; or, You Have No Idea What You Are Seeing

Last Tuesday, CNN published an essay of mine that took the occasion of Kanye West's bad behavior, in which he demanded fans prove their disabilities, to talk about the way that this happens to people with disabilities all the time. 

Response was mostly very positive, but I always pay attention to criticisms, even though I don't let them wound me. The two interesting ones were:

1) I was letting West off the hook for his ableism. I wasn't, and most people saw the clear condemnation of his actions in the essay, but I could have said a more clear KANYE WEST WAS BEING BAD clause, I guess to make it more obvious to casual readers. That's actually a good note for me as a writer - never assume a point is too obvious. 

2) The second criticism basically agreed that West was a bad man, and that people with disabilities have it rough, but then try to shield themselves from my criticism of their suspicion and doubt. They say - and I had roughly 25 of these comments and emails and tweets - there's so much fraud! What can we do but doubt? (and no doubt more in the 1300 CNN comments, but I have not read those carefully, as there's so much noise it's hard to find signal there).

To this, I point to the many more people who took time to write about their experience with disability and the way that the suspicions affect them. I'm going to quote two emails, identifying marks removed, with permission of the senders. And then offer a few more comments at the end.

Email 1: Criticism. I have bolded a paragraph I find interesting.
Dear Dr. Perry,
I read your essay on CNN’s website, "Kanye West and proving your disabilities.” So many of your comments were spot on, but you failed to mention at least one motive for why people want to see proof of disability: that many people are abusing the system. Those of us who have to cope with genuine disability issues resent the abuse. In my opinion, the number of people who are abusing the system is growing.
My mother is 85 years old, has Alzheimer’s disease, depends on a walker for balance, and cannot walk far. She has had several accidental falls. We carry a handicap hang tag in our car for the times when she is with us. My mother loves to go out on errands with me. It is a marvelous treat for her to leave her “Reminiscence” residence and spend time together. I take her out when I can (about once a week), even though her mobility problems, cognitive impairment, and incontinence slow me down a lot. It is my gift to her. My wife’s 89 year old father is also disabled with arthritis and gout. He uses a walker and sometimes must resort to a scooter/wheelchair. We use the hang tag when he is with us. We do not use the hang tag unless my mother or father-in-law is with us. 
All too often when we arrive at a destination, EVERY handicapped parking space is occupied. All too often, I see people who appear to be abusing the handicapped parking spaces. I am not so callous that I do not give them the benefit of the doubt. I do not glare or stare or judge or express disapproval. You are right, there is no way to know for sure. 
Nevertheless, I have seen many people who are unquestionably abusing the system. They do not have invisible disabilities. I am not a doctor. Obviously I do not have access to their specific diagnoses. I do have basic common sense. I have seen young mothers swinging and tossing their children as they all skip to their cars in the handicap slots. Trust me, none of them were disabled, invisible or otherwise. I have friends who have worked as insurance investigators. They have told me about cases where they photographed “disabled victims” doing decidedly non-disabled activities. I can cite other examples, but you get the idea.
In my opinion, there are two types of abuse: 
I recognize that our populace is aging. Furthermore, a growing percentage faces worsening health issues, some of them due to poor lifestyle choices. Both are contributing to an increase in the number of individuals who genuinely need and qualify for disability accommodations. The growing numbers of the genuinely disabled are a contributing factor to the declining availability of accommodations, such as handicapped parking. With that understanding, I also believe that more people than ever before have recognized the advantages of disability accommodations and found ways to game the system in order to qualify and use them even though they do not require them.  
Normal, healthy people abuse the handicap hang tag that belongs to a parent or other disabled person. I believe that the number of people who do this is also growing. 
I am not an expert in the field. The basis for what I have written is my personal observations and the observations of those whom I trust. I cannot cite specific data or research, but I believe that a well-run scientific study would confirm my assertions.
I believe that many people are abusing disability accommodations. I feel frustrated and angry about it because of the direct impact it has on my mother and father-in-law. I recognize that many people have invisible disabilities that are not readily apparent, but I also believe that I have seen numerous examples of abusers, too. 
Those with invisible, latent disabilities have a right to feel oppressed and angry at those who would judge them and their situation. Your essay provides good examples of why we must avoid judgement or expect proofs of disabilities. I hope that those who have invisible disabilities share my frustration and anger at the people who abuse the system, for those disabled individuals must also deal with similar lack-of-available-accommodation situations. 
Sincerely yours...
So there we have it. One of the interesting things about this is that it opens with a discussion of fraud, but quickly turning to the thing we all focus on most: handicapped (or rather accessible) parking. I'd like you to notice that paragraph I bolded. It starts with "unquestionable," but then says, "I believe..." He perceives, he trusts his perceptions, and he judges. This is just one of the reasons I work so hard on how we portral/represent disability in our culture. People think they know what disabled looks like, but they have no idea. People think they know what "disabled activities" look like, what disabled people can do. So let me set you straight - disabled people, as a group, can do everything. Some can do some things. Some can do other things. Some can do some things some of the time, other things none of the time, and all things most of the time.

The author and I had a highly productive email exchange in which I talked about the ways in which our perceptions deceive us and ended on a good, open-minded note. I like this emailer and hope he's reading this blog (he said he'd check in). But rather than let me go on, here's email #2:

Dr. Perry,
Thank you for writing about those that have physical issues that can't be seen. 
I suffer from pulmonary fibrosis, my lungs are so scarred that breathing is pretty difficult when I'm in motion. I also have polymyositis and my muscles weaken pretty fast when I use them for anything. Up until about 5 years ago I did triathlons and was in terrific shape. Fortunately that is one of the major reasons that I am still alive today - that I conditioned my muscles and lungs so well. The problem though is that I look to be in top notch shape but my insides aren't worth a cuss! 
When I go to public places and am unable to find parking relatively close, I park in the handicap space. I've had a handicap permit for two years now. There have been times when I get out of the car and people give me the meanest looks. Just last week a lady approached me, she was so angry that she was practically spitting when she spoke to me. After I pulled out my iPhone, showed her my medical info with all of my conditions, the meds that I take, the team of doctors that take care of me and all the procedures that I've had, she was in tears. She was a nurse and knew very well how debilitating my condition could be. Also as I talked with her it became very apparent that my breathing was becoming very labored - at rest I get that way when I'm stressed and talking long. Anyway, she thanked me for teaching her a valuable lesson.

My son plays for the COLLEGE SPORTS TEAM REDACTED. Just this past weekend I attended the game, had to park far from the stadium. A golf cart drove by, with handicap sign on it for those that needed a ride. I put my hand out to signify that I needed them to stop for me, twice the people driving said no, wouldn't even listen to my explanation. The third guy stopped because I stood in his path. I explained my condition, he begrudgingly let me ride but made it very apparent that he didn't believe me and was pissed that I was even in his cart. 
I hope many read your column and think twice about judging those that look to be perfectly fine because they may very well have life threatening issues like I do.

Well thanks for letting me vent in the middle of the night - can't sleep because of incredible pain from all of my medical issues. I will be forwarding you column to my friends, who understand but hopefully they'll share with others that are not sensitized to this issue.
So here we have someone who had to prove her medical condition to a total stranger in a parking lots. This is the quotidian version of the Kanye concert.

In my comments, in my email, I have dozens of these comments, these stories, in which a challenging medical situation becomes harder because of our suspicion and doubt, because even a smart nurse educated in disability issues still feels the right to demand a diagnosis in the parking lot. Not even the right - that nurse with her medical knowledge felt a duty to question, to challenge, to force proof.

I offer three conclusions.

1. Disability is not a binary, it's not a yes/no, disabled/abled. Disability takes place along a spectrum, or rather multiple spectra, as we move in and out of disability over our lives or even over the course of  a day. Read more on this here.

2. There is fraud. There will always be fraud. The question is how much fraud are you willing to tolerate in order to make sure people get the accommodations that they need? In the context of situations like social security, we have procedures in place designed to make it hard to get qualified. People do cheat the system, but there's lots of evidence that people with hidden disabilities actually have a hard time qualifying, even if they need it. Any system doling out benefits will have fraud. It's just a question of how much do we tolerate.

3. As for parking. Reader 1 is angry because it's a scarcity model. There are only a few parking spots, his mother and father-in-law sometimes can't use a spot, and that makes him mad. It intensifies his suspicion. Instead, we need more spots, more accessible parking, more golf carts for rides, more universal design. The scarcity model causes problems.

Also, I think, the symbol causes problems. We have formed a link in our minds between the wheelchair and the parking spot. Even Kanye West said, in his definition of disability, "Unless you got a handicap pass and you get special parking and s**t." The wheelchair, the parking pass with the wheelchair on it, these are the symbols of disability in our minds. That's a problem of representation too.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

#JusticeForEthan and the Election of a Sheriff

I started writing about police violence and disability because of the death of Ethan Saylor. I had read stories like this for years, but when Ethan died, unlike during previous tragedies, I had a few links to media.

I first wrote this piece for The Nation.
I then wrote this widely-read piece for CNN and did a lot of radio after.

I began to study police training in earnest, first wrote the words "cult of compliance," and have now published repeatedly on this subject. It's always in Ethan's memory.

Right now, in Frederick MD, there's a sheriff's election about to take place. The men who killed Ethan were deputies. In the wake of his death, the right-wing tea-partier anti-immigrant pro-income-inequality Sheriff Jenkins made it clear that his boys did nothing wrong in his eyes. He got support from the local government, too (this is my piece on the villains of the story).

He's up for re-election. Karl Bickel is running against him with the full support of the Saylor family and the disability community. Follow this link for a Saylor-family online fundraiser for Bickel.

That's not actually why I'm writing this blog. I'm writing because Sheriff Jenkins' brother, Gary Jenkins, put a letter about Ethan Saylor in the local paper, which I will quote in full.
It is unfortunate that Ethan Saylor lost his life in a preventable situation. With that said, I for one am tired of hearing all the theories of who is to blame, especially the security officers (who happened to be off-duty deputies). According to The Frederick News-Post, all witnesses conveyed that security did not act inappropriately or mistreat him in any way.
Some people tried to blame the movie theatre staff, saying they could have let him stay for free. These are mostly young adults doing what they are told and afraid to lose their jobs. Patti Saylor blames Sheriff Chuck Jenkins, again misplaced.

I would suggest Patti go to the bathroom, look in the mirror and face the blame. What was she doing that night so important she could not accompany Ethan to the movie? I know we all need time alone, however, she should have known better to send him out in public with someone ill-equipped to handle him. If she couldn’t go, keep him home in his comfort zone or send him with someone properly trained. According to The News-Post, she directed his care provider to leave him alone in the theater, another mistake for which she is to blame. Her poor choices are to blame and she should accept responsibility.

Then we have Karl Bickel show up with a political agenda and criticize our sheriff over the incident, while he has no clue what happened as he did not bother to read the report, according to an article in the Aug. 28 News-Post (“Saylor endorses Bickel”). Here again, he is trying to capitalize on the death of a young man. Disgusting and shameful behavior; certainly not what I would expect from a candidate for sheriff.
I want to focus on that this paragraph, the one that blames Patti Saylor for her son's death. To Jenkins, society cannot adapt to people with disabilities; rather, people with disabilities must be kept contained at all times or their parents are to blame for what happens. Patti and her aide made reasonable decisions.

The only people who made unconscionable decisions were the deputies who decided that Ethan's non-compliance justified throwing him to the ground and handcuffing him, a process during which he asphyxiated. They have never been held accountable for their actions.

These are the stakes in the battle for inclusion. These are the stakes in the battle to support the ADA and its continued implementation. The stakes are high.

Good luck to Karl Bickel.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

End the Conference Interview, Take 47

On Chronicle Vitae, today, I will have a new essay about ending the conference interview. In it, I offer ways to make the shift into a positive rather than a surrender to austerity.

Listen. The conference interview is, in fact, already dead. Video interview technology is getting better and better, funds are limited, and like all traditions this one is going to fade away. It might take 20 years. But it's not going to last forever. The question is whether we, as faculty, manage this transition or whether it is eventually simply done to us by cost-cutting administrations.

Some background.

  • I wrote these two blogs on the topic last November. They were by far not the first pieces pointing out the flaws in the system.
 For example.
Not long after I wrote my blogs, though entirely unconnected to them, the issue thoroughly exploded as a result UC-Riverside's job offer which promised to offer all-of three days of warning to candidates they wanted to interview. Rebecca Schuman's wrote an anti-interview piece, there was a backlash to her tone, then a backlash to the backlash, and so forth.
 Ok, caught up?

After all this was over, last February, I thought to myself. Next fall, early in the semester, I will write another piece on the conference interview. I will really think about how I might persuade skeptics and holdouts, people who believe the interview does more good than harm, people who are not bad or callous, who understand the financial issues, but who just are resistant to change.

Today's piece in Vitae, exploring how we might take control of funds once used to send people to the conferences for interviews, and re-purpose them, is my attempt at that.

I've spent a lot of time thinking about and listening to reasons that the conference interview is good. To my mind, they boil down to the following:

1. Skype sucks.

I deal with this in my piece. Low-rent skype using lousy hotel-room wi-fi does, indeed, suck. Professional video conferencing is pretty reliable. And as I describe at the end of this piece, face-to-face interviews, whether in the cattle call room, the hotel-suite sitting area or (NO NO NO!) on the hotel-room beds, have their problems too.
I try to think of it like math. Video interviews - free vs Conference interviews - thousands of dollars. There's no way that equation doesn't work out for video conferencing.
2. Going to the conference shows that we, the hiring department, are serious.

In this age of precarity, no department needs to prove they are serious. There is no school that will not have plenty of qualified candidates for any position. There are other ways to indicate your seriousness.

3. Conference interviews provide networking etc. to young PhDs.
I believe this can be true. Graduate training programs should budget in sending a senior grad student to their disciplinary conference, and then conferences should build programming designed to serve this population. In fact, they already do, but imagine of they were just there for the conference, not amid the interview madness. The experience will be so much better.
4. We've always done it that way

Well, not really, it was in the 60s and was a good thing too, as it helped break the "old boy's network." Before that, people just called up friends and asked them to send over a graduate student.
That time has passed. Moreover, video conferencing will do just as good a job and keeping the process "honest."
My next step is this - I am going to start calling search chairs that state they are going to hold interviews at conferences. I will ask them why. I will offer them anonymity in exchange for honesty.

I will publish the results, both here and, if interesting enough, at Vitae.

As I said almost a year ago - we can't fix most of the problems in higher ed very easily. They run deep, they tie into big issues in our society, and they involve millions of dollars.

But this one just takes an act of will. We can solve it tomorrow. Let's solve it tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Disabilities and Identity - Spectrum, not Binary

Today I have a new piece on CNN about Kanye West. I build on yesterday's blog post, expanding my argument that the Kanye West's behavior is a magnified celebrity egotistical version of the kinds of skepticism and suspicion faced people with disabilities all the time. In the piece, I write:
Reaction to this incident throughout social media and in numerous publications was swift and condemnatory. West, in return, lashed out at the media. But in fact, although West's celebrity magnifies the story, the bigger issue here is that his demand that his fans prove their disability is entirely typical.

Every day, in every context, people with disabilities get challenged to prove how disabled they are. This constant questioning isolates people with disabilities, increases stress and shame, and can lead directly to verbal or even physical abuse
I finish the piece with these thoughts:
Thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act, to claim disability is to ask for reasonable accommodation -- accessible buildings, more time on tests, audible formats for books, Social Security disability payments, and more. Too many people seem to regard the request to accommodate as a burden and meet such requests with suspicion. The not-disabled exercise their privilege by demanding that people prove their disabilities; then, all too often, proof just generates pity, not understanding or inclusion.
By demanding everyone rise, by calling out the disabled members of his audience even as he grudgingly tolerated their inability to stand, West was being totally normal. If you think what he did was wrong, remember that the next time you are tempted to stare down someone walking from a handicapped spot at the grocery store. Remember that the next time someone managing pain can't make it into work. Remember that the next time a student needs a little more time on a test.
One key takeaway from the piece, I hope, is the understanding the disability is not a binary. People are not either perfectly disabled or perfectly abled. Rather, we are all at the most temporarily abled, moving in and sometimes out of states of disability throughout our lives, or even just in a single day as we expend whatever strength we have and then need accommodations.'

I like to think about disability, especially physical disability, as overlapping spectrum that people might move along it as conditions change or just when they've used up all their spoons (read about the "But You Don't Look Sick" spoon theory here, it's a useful analogy). It's more complicated for intellectual/development disability because one doesn't want to normalize "typical," but that's a topic for another post.

That's not how our culture sees it. That's not how Kanye West sees it. For them, you are either disabled or not. You can't need accommodations just some of the time, in such a perspective.

But that's not how disability actually works. And everyone who has ever been sick or had an operation knows this. Disability works in many ways. An inclusive society accepts all of these ways and tries to build an accessible world, for whoever, whenever, under whatever circumstances.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Kanye West and Testing Disability

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog that was pretty widely read and shared (compared to my other posts) on the "Pencil Test" for disability. It focused around a man flung to the ground by Florida police, to see if he was really disabled or just faking it.

There's actually a lot of discourse on faking disability lately, from Bieber in a wheelchair at Disney to George Takei mocking disability and a desire for liquor. We question disability, wonder who is parking in the wheelchair spots who then gets out and walks, scowling at those folks who pick up their social security checks, and so forth.

To claim disability is to ask for reasonable accommodation, and some folks just seem to hate that idea, or at least regard it with intense suspicion.

Moreover, the privilege of the abled is, under almost any circumstance, to demand a person prove their disability, whether psychiatric or physical. 

And now there's Kanye West.
The setting was the Qantas Credit Union Arena in Sydney, Australia, and Westreportedly announced, “I can’t do this song. I can’t do this show until everybody stand up… Unless you got a handicap pass and you get special parking and shit. ‘Imma see you if you ain’t standing up, believe me, I’m very good at that.” Then came the foot-in-mouth moment. Most of the fans got up and boogied, but soon West spotted a pair of concertgoers who’d remained in their seats, and refused to continue the show until they stood up and danced like the rest. One of those two singled-out fans raised a prosthetic limb, thereby proving that she did in fact “get special parking and shit,” to which West replied, “Okay, you fine.”
West then homed in on Fan No. 2, who was still seated. He stopped performing the tune “The Good Life” and declared, “This is the longest I’ve had to wait to do a song, it’s unbelievable.” The crowd was reportedly trying to clue Kanye in to his epic blunder, with the entire section making wheelchair signals with their arms. But to no avail. West sent his bulky bodyguard Pascal Duvier into the crowd to confirm that the seated fan was, in fact, in a wheelchair. When it was confirmed, West said, “He is in a wheelchair? It’s fine!”
There's approximately 4 million posts up now on this incident, all of them focused on West being wrong and way out of line.

West is being totally normal. This is what we do. We shame. We examine. We demand to see proof. And then, grudgingly, so grudgingly, first we accommodate, then we shame those who questioned, shame those who were slower than us to react, and elevate the person with the disability onto to the Inspiration Pedestal.

There's a lot of focus in the posts on fan #2, who had to prove he was in a wheelchair to a bodyguard.

I'm thinking of #1, who had to HOLD UP HER PROSTHETIC LEG to prove herself disabled enough to be "fine."

That's the pencil test - intrusive, revealing, demeaning, dehumanizing.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Sunday Roundup - Boycotts: NFL, GoFundMe, University of Illinois

Get it? It's a roundup! 
Today is Sunday. I am not watching the NFL. 

For me, being a football fan was a major part of my identity, one that intensified with the advent of Fantasy Football. As the concussion scandal intensified, I began to scale back my engagement with the game. First quitting fantasy, then we moved the TV upstairs in a (failed) attempt at less screen time for the kids, so I just didn't have the games on all Sunday.

You can say, as someone did on my Facebook wall, that my moral compass is lacking because I didn't stop watching football earlier, but it's hard to shed pieces of your identity. I was a fan. 

The domestic violence issue - not just Rice, but the people who beat women NOT on video tape who happily are playing today, followed by the Adrian Peterson story of beating his child with a stick, has made me finally turn off the NFL. I cannot promise I won't turn it on again, but not today.

My feeling is that the NFL enables a culture of violence, through its embrace of pain and fear as motivations, it teaches that pain and fear of pain is how you solve problems: With kids. With spouses. With each other. The NFL glorifies violence and it shouldn't surprise anyone that the violence extends outside the stadium. I have no idea what they can do about it, either, so I'm not watching.

Not watching is different than demanding a boycott. I think it would be good if everyone in America turned off the NFL for an hour on Sunday. I have no expectations that will, or can, happen. I'm not saying what ethical decision you make if you turn on football today, but I hope more people think hard about it.

Other boycotts have a better chance of effect.

I will not contribute to any GoFundMe campaigns started after 9/9/14 until they treat abortion the same way they treat all other personal medical procedures. 
Now this pledge I think you SHOULD make. I'll write more about it this week and try to drum up more awareness about the problem.

I also wrote three posts about Steven Salaita and the boycott of UIUC: Reactions to his press conference, which I attended. Thoughts on duality of the position of Israel as a superpower and the Jews as an oppressed minority, which I think lies at the hearts of our debates about whether Salaita is punching up or down.

Finally, I am crowdsourcing information on how the final rubber-stamp approvals work at universities with which many of my readers are associated. I said:
I am shifting my attention to an issue on which I think we can all agree: Final approval for a job cannot take place weeks after a professor has started his or her classes.
Can you please, in a comment, in an email, on my public facebook thread, or even on twitter tell me the timing of your final reviews for new hires at your school? I need to get a sense of how common this kind of delayed rubber stamp is.
I think this is really important and now is a moment we can focus on these practices and, at least in some case, change them.

Finally, I had a brief Q&A with John Scalzi on his newest book, last Monday. Feels like a long time ago before all my writing descended into this fairly grim place. Yay interesting speculative fiction. Reading fun stuff - Now that's a good way to spend a Sunday.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Crowdsourcing: Hiring Timelines with Boards of Trustees/Regents/Visitors Approval

As surely all of you know by now, the hiring then unhiring of Steven Salaita at the University of Illinois has highlighted many important issues for higher education. Much of the discussion has, correctly, focused on how we may and may not discuss Israel and fundamental questions about academic freedom and faculty governance.

As the case heads to the courts, I am shifting my attention to an issue on which I think we can all agree: Final approval for a job cannot take place weeks after a professor has started his or her classes.

Whatever you think of Steven Salaita, there is no way that an acceptable system can involve having to quit your job, prepare to travel across the country, start teaching, and then find out a few weeks later whether you're actually hired. Ian Bogost has thought through some of the consequences in his piece on "Academic Paydom," (a play on academic freedom).

Meanwhile, boards are getting more active, as discussed in these two pieces.


I will be spending the next week doing some research on the timing of final reviews of hires at universities. I am going to be calling Midwestern state schools (just to keep the project doable), but I need help with the broader context. Crowdsourcing is notoriously unscientific, but it does provide with a way to get a sense of the scope of these practices.

Can you please, in a comment, in an email, on my public facebook thread, or even on twitter tell me the timing of your final reviews for new hires at your school? I need to get a sense of how common this kind of delayed rubber stamp is.

Thank you.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Language and Power: Israel and Salaita

As indicated by the header of my blog, I focus on language, power, and privilege. One principle that I have consistently applied, whether talking about gender, race, academic life, whatever, is that when you have privilege and power, your speech is more constrained than if you do not.

I wrote about this kind of issue most recently in my rules for talking while privileged in regards to gender, but it's much bigger than that. One way of perpetuating power is to control the discourse of the people over whom you have power. Demanding people be polite or civil, as has recently happened all over college campuses is a way of insisting that people don't upset structured power dynamics. Change often requires incivility.

Problems arise, however, when the power dynamic is not clear or contested. Right-wing white Christians like to claim that Christianity and whiteness are both under attack; ergo, as victims, they justify their incivility. A similar process takes place with Men's Rights Activists. In both cases, I am entirely comfortable saying that their assessment of the power dynamic is wrong.

Which brings me to Israel.

Steven Salaita, would-be-professor at Illinois (here's one link among hundreds) is the case in question. Here's the key dispute [my emphasis]
Mr. Kennedy’s statement argued that several of Mr. Salaita’s tweets about Israel "can be easily interpreted as basically anti-Semitic." The Chicago Tribune, in an editorial supporting the board’s vote, asserted on Thursday that Mr. Salaita had crossed the line into hate speech with tweets that said Zionists had been "transforming ‘anti-Semitism’ from something horrible into something honorable" and "I wish all the [expletive] West Bank settlers would go missing." The newspaper suggested that no faculty member would be given license to direct similar comments at black people, gay people, or women.
Many of Mr. Salaita’s supporters, however, argue that such comments are not anti-Semitic but fair, if emotional, expressions of opposition to Israel’s actions and to those who allege anti-Semitism in response to criticisms of the Israeli government.
There is, of course, a counter-argument, that no faculty member would be harassed at all if they directed similar comments at Russia or the Ferguson Police Department, just to pick two powerful forces that received plenty of uncivil commentary, including from academics, this summer.

The problem is this: Is Israel a military superpower, at least in the context of its region, and a political superpower in terms of its influence over American discourse? If we see Israel (and perhaps Likud and its allies) in such a context, then angry uncivil criticism becomes much more justifiable. We can say there is no analogy to black people, gay people, or women.

Or, does Israel carry with it the persecuted minority status afforded to Jews throughout history? Israel is surrounded by enemies, awash in antisemitic hate, that would eradicate it if they could. Antisemitism is on the rise worldwide and to deny its terrible power to threaten the lives and livelihoods of Jews around the world, including in America, would be naive. In such a context, to attack with uncivil speech is akin to spouting venom at blacks, gays, and women.

The answer, of course, is that both positions can be true at the same time.

I know that Steven Salaita is not antisemitic. I know it because a Jew and a scholar of Judaism recommended me to him (which eased my initial concerns), we've spoken, I've read his work, I've read more of his Twitter feed than the cherry-picked tweets, I've listened to him speak. I know he is very angry at Israel and challenges the premises and consequences of Zionist thought. I know he he used angry words as he was watching Twitter fill up with the faces of dead Palestinian children. I cannot fault him for this.

Here's a post by Jerry Haber, an orthodox Jewish studies and philosophy professor, who divides his time between Israel and the US. He writes:
I would like to address the content of what one writer considers Salaita’s “most hateful tweets”, and, as an intellectual exercise, pose the following question to his detractors.
Had Salaita tweeted or blogged the following:
a. By conflating Jewishness and Israel, Israel is partly responsible when their disproportionate attacks on civilians are followed by regrettable anti-Semitic incidents in Europe.
b. If criticizing Israeli treatment of and attitudes towards Palestinians is anti-Semitic, then insofar as that criticism is justified, and indeed, commendable, so is anti-Semitism. But of course, criticizing Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians is not anti-Semitic; it is “anti-Semitism” only in the eyes of the Zionists, who conflate Judaism and Zionism.
c. The IDF spokesperson appears to justify violence committed against the Palestinian people, using techniques that are reminiscent of apologists for ethnic cleansing.
would his detractors still have argued that he is unfit to teach at the University of Illinois? No doubt many would. But I agree with much of those sentiments. So why do they go after Salaita and not go after me?
Either because Salaita’s language is more blunt and vulgar than mine, or because he is a Palestinian American, rather than an American Israeli. I have the creds that he lacks, and so I am protected in ways that he isn’t.
I think this analysis is sharp. To some extent, it's fine. When people on the inside - Jews in this case - criticize their own groups - Israel - it carries different weight than when an outsider does it. But here again, we have to analyze the relevant power dynamics.

In Salaita's perspective, in the context of this summer's war, Israel is the superpower. Whether or not you think the war and Israel's military strategy was justified or not, I find this perspective persuasive.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Boycott GoFundMe - Silencing pro-choice voices; Enabling anti-choice voices.

I have a pledge. I hope you'll join me and take it too.

I will not contribute to any GoFundMe campaigns started after 9/9/14 until they treat abortion the same way they treat all other personal medical procedures. 

I have contributed to many campaigns in the past, including just last week (funeral expenses for an unexpected death). I watched as the Darren Wilson GoFundMe campaigns soared into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, as the campaign profited off of racists (based on the many comments on the pages before they were deleted).

Now, another story breaks. GoFundMe refuses to let any abortion-related campaigns start - not to fund abortion, not to fund pro-choice messaging. Pro-life groups though; they're fine.

Salon has the story.
Last week, crowdfunding platform GoFundMe pulled a campaign to raise money for an Illinois woman’s abortion. In a message to the woman, identified only as Bailey, GoFundMe said that the fundraiser was not “appropriate” for the site because it contained “subject matter that GoFundMe would rather not be associated with.” In an earlier comment to Salon on its decision to shutdown the campaign, a “customer happiness” representative said that each review is handled on a “case-by-case basis” and, “In this particular case, GoFundMe determined that the fundraising campaign titled ‘Bailey’s Abortion Fund’ would be removed from the site.”
But as of this week, the site will no longer handle campaigns to fund abortion on a case-by-case basis. According to GoFundMe’s updated guidelines (“What’s Not Allowed on GoFundMe“), abortion fundraisers are banned without exception. In addition to prohibiting crowdfunded abortion campaigns, “content associated with or relating to” abortion is also banned.
Clear enough. No abortion. Unless you're pro-life. The article details numerous groups fighting against choice who are fine with GoFundMe. And then there's this one intended to "help" "Bailey" with her pregnancy if she doesn't have an abortion. 

I could have accepted, grudgingly and barely, a decision to stay out of the abortion issue altogether. Now that they have taken sides, I have offered my pledge.

Abortion is a personal medical decision. 

GoFundMe must treat it that way or it deserves to be boycotted, to lose revenue, and to fade into internet oblivion. Or maybe it can reinvent itself as "crowdfunding-for-bigots." I'm sure that's a fine business model, but count me out.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Steven Salaita's Press Conference - My reactions.

Today Steven Salaita gave a press conference. I was there. Full video here.

Salaita spoke, along with with his constitutional lawyer Maria LaHood, one of his employment lawyers, Robert Warrior (chair of American Indian Studies), and Michael Rothberg from English (who read a statement from the MLA).

You can read Salaita's statement here.

I'd like to offer a few key thoughts as an initial summary, in chronological order.

  1. LaHood said that in just the last few years, there were over 200 cases of people at universities being reprimanded, fired, or even litigated against for making anti-Israel statements. She argued that this is sign of a persistent attempt to silence critics of Israel in American higher education. Palestine Solidarity Legal Support will be publishing a study on this in the next month. 
  2. Salaita's lawyers also call this a termination. Their legal strategy is that Salaita was, in fact, already hired, so this is unjust firing.
  1. Salaita himself said many things in his statement worth noting, but you can just read it. His comments on twitter, the real-time nature of it, his teaching record, his concern about academic freedom as a principle, and more. Seriously, it's not long, go read it.
  2. I am struck by how committed he remains to UIUC and his lifetime of scholarship spent challenging orthodoxies. So, here he is now, challenging orthodoxies.
  3. He also revealed that his offer letter specifically references UofI adherence to the 1940 AAUP principles of academic freedom. I've confirmed this is standard. Everyone associated with the AAUP today agrees the UofI violated those principles. Are they going to keep sending that out in the offer letters when they are under AAUP censure (if it comes to that)?
Robert Warrior

In a few ways, his comments were more informative about the process than Salaita's statement
  1. Chancellor Wise didn't engage with Salaita's whole twitter stream, but accepted the cherrypicked inflammatory statements as proof positive that Salaita was not acceptable for UIUC.
  2. Wise initially said that Salaita's social media use "would be monitored" so as to make sure he wasn't using university property to tweet about Israel. Chilling.
  3. Most disturbing, Wise said that Warrior needed to tell Salaita (video here), "We live in a town, we have to shop together, at Target, at Sam's Club, we have to follow a different set of rules." Collegiality is, I think, barely an acceptable norm on which to judge colleagues - i.e. can we function together as a body. Whether we're nice at Target is no way to run a major university hiring decision. In fact, it's not an acceptable way to decide about who to include in anything, not even your country club (though in fact it's just how such things work and perpetuate bias).  
Question and Answer Time
  1. Salaita and his lawyers are not considering any option other than reinstatement, including the possibility of a court injunction mandating reinstatement. He absolutely wants to work at Illinois, even after all this.
  2. His employment lawyer looked eager to do some document discovery and deposing of people. Given the lack of care with some of the statements already made public, I'd be worried if I were in the Chancellor's office. After all (this is me, not the lawyer), they can just settle and avoid discovery, but it takes two to settle. Salaita might choose not to do so anytime soon.
  3. "Do you support the boycott?" - A long long pause, followed by the answer, "I do." After, Salaita explained that he just didn't want to say anything that made it sound like it was his action. He supports all free speech, the freedom to dissent in any number of cases, not just his.
  4. If this case is really not about the donors, but about civility, then the chancellor and trustees should sit down with Salaita and have a dialogue, rather than reading angry tweets and angry letters from donors and letting them decide the situation.
Let me add a few thoughts. As of August 1, I hadn't really heard of Steven Salaita, although I knew something vaguely was going on at Urbana-Champaign.  Like many others, I read his tweets and thought they were harsh, but defended his hiring on the grounds of academic freedom and public engagement. I still believe in those grounds.

But it is increasingly clear that Salaita is an open and engaging teacher who welcomes all evidence-based arguments regardless of viewpoint. UIUC would be lucky to have him in the classroom. As a taxpayer of Illinois, I certainly don't want the state paying hundreds of thousands (or whatever number emerges) in order to have him NOT teach.

More on this to come. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Brief Q&A with John Scalzi - Disability, Lock In, and #WeNeedDiverseBooks

Lock In is the newest book by the well-known sci-fi author John Scalzi. In my review at Huffington Post, I wrote:
On a certain level, this is a story about "wheelchairs," or rather assistive mobility devices. That's unusual. While many science fiction stories depict advanced technological responses to plagues or injuries, such stories usually involve seemingly miraculous cures. To my knowledge, this is the first science fiction novel based largely around the complexities of providing reasonable accommodations for disability.
The essay I wrote had to cover a lot of ground. It had to feel like a review and it had to engage the complex issues that are invoked by the book. It's a place to start with the conversation, not at all a place to finish. Still, I am encouraged.

Over the last many months, the hashtag #WeNeedDiverseBooks has been floating around twitter. And we do - our books tend to be so western, so white, so hetero, so reinforcing of perceived normative values. My particular focus, of course, is disability as diversity, but to write about that is not to ignore the pressing needs of race, class, gender, sexuality, religion, and more. 

I am, however, pleased with Scalzi's new book. I felt he wrote right up to the limits of his knowledge of disability issues and nicely wove that material into the book. 

I asked him two questions which he kindly answered.

1. You raise lots of issues about disability in Lock In. What research into these issues as you wrote? Are they issues which you were interested in before trying to flesh out the politics of your premise?
​Some of it I knew, in a very basic sense, from having friends engaged in various communities, in particular the deaf community. This gave me a lay of the land that I could then backstop with additional research. I was casually aware but not deeply engaged in disability issures prior to the book, but once I developed the idea for the novel it was important for me not to just blunder through imagining the development of the Haden culture -- I wanted it to have some resonance with disability cultures that exist today. As I've noted elsewhere, I still run the risk of missing things, but if so it's not for lack of effort. ​ 
2. In Old Man's War, you deal with age (which can be seen as a form of disability) and a new body. In Lock In, it's disability and a new body. Is this a Scalzi theme? Technological responses to the body as it doesn't work as expected? Is that an intentional theme, or more something that I, as a disability writer, detect?
​I think it's true that I am interested in how the body can be extended and as a result what that means for the identity of the person who is "extended" in that fashion -- and obviously as a science fiction writer, the path of that extension will be through technology (rather than through magic, as it might be for fantasy). I don't intentionally work the theme you identifiy -- but that doesn't mean it's not there. Writers often miss themes in their work that others detect.
The main theme in Scalzi's work is his engagement with re-purposing classic genres, this time murder mystery. It's also, in a way that appeals to me, an anti-zombie premise. Zombies are stripped of their mind, their identity, and their bodies just churn forward, based on a simple need to feed. Hadens, on the other hand, retain their identities and minds even as their bodies cease to respond.

Finally - I totally blew it in my review in two instances. The minor one was that I revised the review just before publishing, and I forgot there's a hilarious appearance of a wheelchair in the book. Just one. Originally, though, I wrote, "Technically, no wheelchairs appear ..." Oops.

More interestingly, I entirely missed that the main character, Chris Shane, is intentionally gender neutral. Scalzi uses no pronouns. There's no description of a human body. But I, a man, reading a book written by a man, with the surname Chris, assumed male. That was my mistake.