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Saturday, October 20, 2007

Political monoculture in Iowa City 


Power Line writes about the decision of the University of Iowa's department of history to reject Mark Moyar's application without so much as an interview. A university's hiring decision would not normally get much attention even from conservative blogs, but Moyar is both extremely qualified -- Moyar has degrees from Harvard and Cambridge and is the author of the outstanding revisionist history of Vietnam, Triumph Forsaken -- and obviously not a typical academic liberal. Meanwhile, every single one of Iowa's professors of history are (supposedly) Democrats.

Moyar appealed the summary rejection of his application to the University's Office of Equal and Opportunity and Diversity, but -- not surprisingly -- learned that actual diversity of attitude is not part of Iowa's compliance program.

This is one of those times that I desperately wish my father were still alive. He was chairman of the University of Iowa's History Department in the early eighties, and he was (by then) a fairly committed Republican. Moreover, he wrote thoughtfully on the importance of ideolgical diversity on campus more than thirty years ago. Nevertheless, he was a strong supporter of faculty prerogatives in hiring, ultimately rejecting the idea that universities should have anything akin to affirmative action for political conservatives. If he were still alive I would be fascinated to know what he thought of the Moyar case and its implications for academic freedom. I am quite certain, though, that he would have loved Triumph Forsaken.

CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.


13 Comments:

By Anonymous Tory, at Sat Oct 20, 01:15:00 PM:

"Triumph Forsaken" appears to be an interesting read, and may make my list if I can find on the cheap. There is one issue that is mentioned in the Publisher's Weekly review which seems very pertinent to today, one which I would like some elaboration on from those people who are familiar with either prong of the issue. I frequently hear from some of my more ardent Vietnam-supporter friends that "victory was possible, but the troops were stabbed in the back by [X]," where X is usually some nebulously defined category of "liberal." This runs in nice parallel to our current situation in Iraq, where cartoons making just such an accusation run with some frequency on townhall. The question I would like answered is this: in either case, what is “victory” defined as, how do we know that it is possible (answering any obvious objections to the justification,) and how do we know that the cost/benefit analysis comes out in favor of remaining in the country?

The issue that usually bothers me when people claim “victory is possible” is that it's a rather empty claim. I am willing to grant that victory is almost always possible; if everyone in the United States bought some kind of firearm and moved to Iraq, it would be relatively stable in short order if only because there will be ~750 people per square kilometer and 688 of them will be Americans with guns, according to my fifteen second approximations. Of course, this solutions runs the risk of all fifty states being taken over by Canadians, Mexicans, and whoever can get to Hawaii first, but “victory” is still possible, even under the strongest definitions of approximately 0 violence. Perhaps we could achieve “an acceptable level of violence” by pawning California to the Chinese, but that also feels suboptimal. Until I hear claims of what exactly people are advocating, I can't do the cost/benefit or determine if what they're advocating is even reasonable or possible, which leaves me in a place of being fundamentally unpersuaded. When this position is compounded by the people who ask questions being called unpatriotic or, better yet, traitors, I am more even disillusioned with the just-be-normal-and-shop “war effort.” Does anyone care to lay out the parameters and inform me as to what the hell people are/were advocating in either place, beyond “we'll stay 'til we win?”  

By Blogger Purple Avenger, at Sat Oct 20, 02:10:00 PM:

That screed relates to a university hiring decision in precisely what way?  

By Anonymous MarkJ, at Sat Oct 20, 03:06:00 PM:

Come now, Purple Avenger. You may be sarcastic and cynical, old man, but you really can't truly be that stupid as to not understand what happened at Iowa, can you?

I work at a large Midwestern university and I assure you the faculty hiring process for Liberal Arts departments often makes "Skull and Bones" look like the epitome of transparency.

Can we say "self-selection," boys and girls?  

By Anonymous Tory, at Sat Oct 20, 05:20:00 PM:

Assuming "screed" was directed at me, a one liner for purple avenger, without nuance, detail, or current events:

What is this guy's detailed thesis of "winning"?

Nuance and detail for all the others that like it:

Perhaps this Moyar's book, while thorough and detailed and generally awesome, includes sections which will fundamentally rankle a good fraction of the donating alumni. This can happen regardless of literal content, with exhibit A being Larry Summers's notable comments.

As an aside, I too have been in a position to observe university hiring decisions, and sadly it appears that there does exist a pretty distinct slant to one political perspective. I am fully in favor of more inclusive hiring practices that embrace ideas and deal with them honestly rather than dismissing them out of hand, perhaps under the label of "screed."  

By Blogger SR, at Sat Oct 20, 05:33:00 PM:

California to the Chinese. Now there's an idea whose time has come.  

By Anonymous FacultyBrat, at Sat Oct 20, 09:11:00 PM:

My guess is that Moyar will be able to take advantage of this controversy to get an appointment at another university- perhaps George Mason or Pepperdine.

There will be no short-term consequences of the Iowa History Department ideological cleansing. The ideological uniformity and conformity of university faculties, especially in the Humanities and Social Sciences, is too deeply entrenched to quickly stop. One would have better luck standing in front of a runaway semi on the Grapevine pass between LA and Bakersfield, in the hope of trying to stop it.

The greater public is becoming more aware every day of the ideological uniformity and conformity of university faculties. One long-term result may be the further discrediting of such degrees in the marketplace. On the other hand, since for many years a degree in History or English has had little credibility in the marketplace, speaking of further degradation may seem absurd.

Another long-term result may be that state legislatures may be less willing to fund the faculties in such departments. This is similar to the way that state legislatures reacted to funding state universities in the wake of the Vietnam protests. There will be reduced funding of tenure-track positions.

Similarly, increased skepticism towards many university faculties as a result of this ideological uniformity will result in further degradation of the institution of tenure. At the same time, with the increased use of adjunct and part-time faculty, tenure has become increasingly more tenuous in the last 30 years.  

By Blogger Purple Avenger, at Sat Oct 20, 09:39:00 PM:

can't truly be that stupid as to not understand what happened at Iowa, can you?

I'm smart enough to know that Tory dodged a pretty simple direct question.  

By Anonymous Iowa_John, at Sat Oct 20, 10:23:00 PM:

I had offers for both the Iowa MBA and History PHD programs. Took about one minute's worth of interview to recognize that I would not be welcome at the History department.

Moyar would be an excellent professor anywhere, but I'd guess that the personal price he'd pay at Iowa would be pretty steep.  

By Anonymous Tory, at Sun Oct 21, 02:09:00 AM:

Apologies, I simplified the question but left the justification outside of your section. I won't partition this time.

Perhaps this Moyar's book, while thorough and detailed and generally awesome, includes sections which will fundamentally rankle a good fraction of the donating alumni. This can happen regardless of literal content, with exhibit A being Larry Summers's notable comments. (Repetition/Elaboration: this could come about because Moyar's concept of winning is perceived [X], where X is a very bad thing, such as racist or fascist. This might upset alums or other people associated with funding. This is bad. If any one of the myriad examples is what you so desperately crave, here's a hypothetical: Let's say Moyar advocates stricter policies for dealing with civilians during wartime, specifically punishing dissenters during wartime as traitors. Any number of groups, ethic or otherwise, get pissed off in Moyar advocating the suppression of free speech, the killing of Vietnamese, whatever. The university has to deal with this and perhaps lose money. Thumbs down.)

For this reason, knowing the content of Moyar's victory and his proposed alternate method of prosecuting the war would be good. I think it's trivially simple to come up with a justification for the question “Why is this iconoclastic book's thesis important to know when judging what happened to the author,” because I'm merely challenged to provide one example of how the book's thesis could cause problems. I included current events because the parallels to our current situation have been highlighted by our President, and are in my opinion also in the realm of the blindingly obvious.

Perhaps I need sunglasses before I use that standard again.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Sun Oct 21, 08:07:00 AM:

Moyar's book is about the early war, through 1965. A second volume covering the rest of the war is on the way.

The basic thesis of his book, played out in great detail, is that two forces played out to derail American policy. First, key reporters for national newspapers, including Neil Sheehan (who later wrote "A Bright and Shining Lie") and David Halberstam covered the war by paying particular attention to people who opposed Ngo Dinh Diem's government and in fact wanted to subvert it. That did not so much raise the mass of American popular opinion against the war, but in a much less transparent day it caused American foreign policy elites, particularly in the State Department, to turn on Diem's government. This effect was magnified because the American ambassador to South Vietnam during the Kennedy years was actually a Republican with presidential aspirations, Henry Cabot Lodge. Lodge was close to Halberstam and Sheehan, and also hated Diem. Kennedy should have fired Lodge, but did not because he was worried that Lodge would accuse him of partisan motives.

Moyar's thesis, which is very challenging to the conventional view of Vietnam, was that Diem's tactics were winning the war in the early sixties and that our support of the coup against him was a fatal error. From Diem's fall onward the South's war effort weakened tremendously for a bunch of reasons that Moyar also explains at great length.

So, at this point in the war Moyar does not argue that the press "stabbed us in the back," but he does believe it stabbed Diem in the back.

In any case, the book is very well written, very heavily footnoted, published by Cambridge University Press -- hardly some vanity shop or right-wing imprint -- and extremely challenging to the left's orthodox view of Vietnam in many respects. Apart from his view of our prospects for winning, Moyar builds an extensive case that Ho was not the Vietnamese "nationalist" so often depicted on campuses, but a died-in-the-wool Communist taking orders from Moscow and Beijing. In my experience, few academic liberals over the age of 45 or 50 have so inculcated the idea that Ho was basically a nationalist rather than a Communist that to argue otherwise is equivalent to Holocaust denial. I suspect this is the aspect of Moyar's book that most irritates them.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Sun Oct 21, 08:09:00 AM:

Oops. Delete "few" from the penultimate sentence in that last comment.  

By Anonymous Tory, at Sun Oct 21, 01:23:00 PM:

Thank you TH. I can see that perspective, and might buy it if I sat down and did research of my own in addition to reading both books. However, I can also see such a position upsetting quite a few people, as it is believed by at least some that Diem was not necessarily the nicest of people or the most inspiring of leaders:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ngo_Dinh_Diem#Rule

Further, given that University of Iowa has a good number students that fall into the Asian/Pacificish category,

http://www.uiowa.edu/admissions/undergrad/diversity/students.htm

I can plausibly imagine a firestorm erupting if the school chose to employ someone who took the position of supporting Diem. This is not to make claims as to whether such a firestorm would be warranted, (in fact I loathe such indignant protests as counterproductive on principle most of the time,) but it does factor into the decision calculus of most universities these days. I would prefer that people stop being hysterical, sit down, and address ideas in an orderly and respectful fashion, but until that day comes I don't know that we can act as if that is the world we live in.  

By Anonymous sirius_sir, at Sun Oct 21, 06:03:00 PM:

I think a legitimate case can be made for asserting that a "change in direction" occurred in Vietnam with the replacement of Westmoreland with Creighton Abrams in Vietnam. From 1968 to '72 U.S. forces were reduced from 530,000 to 30,000 while S. Vietnamese forces were being trained to take up the slack. One of Sheehan's most strident criticisms of U.S. policy was that under Westmoreland we had taken over the war and not required the South to defend its own interests.

Abrams changed the balance of that equation while also changing the war from a body count contest to a counter-insurgency operation which was largely successful. The South Vietnamese became more vested in their own defense as we drew down. If not for the defeatist spin which our media put on the Tet Offensive (which ended up a resounding military defeat for the North) and the refusal of a Democratic-controlled Congress to continue promised support, there is good reason to believe the South could have remained a viable and appreciative ally.

Perhaps if we remember this history we will not condemn others to repeat it.  

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