Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Protecting the Public Academic in the Age of Trump

Ben Carson is not going to be Secretary of Education. This is good. I've been guessing Michelle Rhee or someone similar, which is not good. Honestly, there's no one that Trump would consider for any major cabinet position who I suspect I would endorse - that's why I didn't vote for him.

But as Carson's name was being floated, this quote on the DoE re-surfaced.
“I actually have something I would use the Department of Education to do,” Carson explained. “It would be to monitor our institutions of higher education for extreme political bias and deny federal funding if it exists.”
Meanwhile, yesterday MSNBC invited David Horowitz onto the air to defend Steve Bannon against anti-semitism and attack Keith Ellison (because for Horowitz all Muslims are immediately suspect. That's a separate blog post). Horowitz is well known to academics as the initiator of the late-90s attack on professors who dared to criticize Israel in public, who were deemed the indoctrinators of the young. It used to require sending conservative students to classrooms with video cameras, but now of course we all have video on our phones. Better yet, for their purposes, our discourse has often moved into public spaces like Twitter, where they can track us.

It has never been more important for academics to speak, to write, to engage, and to push. I actually don't think it was less important a year ago, 5 years ago, 15 years ago, and so forth. It's always critical. But the rise of Trump mandates regular public engagement, while also elevating the risks of backlash.

So be careful out there. Write, tweet, talk, teach as if your words are being tracked by people who want to destroy you. But also write, tweet, talk, listen, and teach as if your words can make a difference guiding us through what I believe will be a difficult slice of American and global history.

Meanwhile, the libertarian intellectual wing at places like FIRE need to swivel their focus from their preoccupation with lefty students and "PC" culture, which was almost always nonsense, and fix their gaze firmly on the would-be authoritarians now running DC. Academic bodies - the AHA, MLA, ASA, CAA, APA, and whoever else - need to get their lawyers and committees engaged and proactively sketching out defenses of academic freedom that include tenure/promotion standards for public work. The more we make it clear that public engagement is protected intellectual activity, the safer it will be for marginalized people to engage in it.

Because we can't just elevate the voices of tenured white guys.