Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Black lists in Academia

This morning I started seriously reconstructing my cover letter. I have been attempting to follow the advice I got from fellow bloggers. Two of their suggestions were to describe my arguments and how they were different than that of potential competitors and to write about future writing projects. I think this poses a problem given the ideological composition of most US academia.

The approach of my Ph.D. dissertation was comparative. I tried to show how Soviet policies towards the Russian-Germans, Crimean Tatars and Meskhetian Turks resembled other cases of ethnic cleansing and racial exclusion throughout history. One of my outside comparisons I used alot in my dissertation and one that fits the region into the Greater Middle East is with the Palestinians. It works well for two reasons. First, the founders of Israel started citing the Soviet deportations as precendents to follow regarding the Palestinians as early as 1943. Second, both the Crimean Tatars and Meskhetian Turks compared themselves to the Palestinians in the 1970s. Although the cases have a number of differences, the similarities were pretty significant both on the perpetrator and victim sides. Prehaps even more interesting is given the great number of similarities how does one account for the differences that did exist.

My dissertation tackled the above question with regards to the Crimean Tatars, Meskhetian Turks and Russian-Germans. But, the comparison can be extended to other areas of the Greater Middle East outside Kazakhstan and Central Asia. At SOAS a number of people encouraged me in this direction. In particular they inspired me to look at the connections, similarities and differences between the Soviet and Palestinian cases. I outlined the core ideas of this comparative study in a paper I presented at a conference at Lebanese American University in Beirut in May 2004. It got a good reception there. I later extended it and edited it for publication as a journal article. Human Rights Review accepted it and gave a publication date of May 2006. Unfortunately, the editorial staff of the journal was based at Loyola University in New Orleans. So I have no idea what the current situation is regarding their publication. I think that this direction of research in terms of topic, method and conclusions is pretty unique.

I am also quite aware that such a direction of research both in terms of topic and conclusion is not very popular among American academics for purely idelogical reasons. In countries like the UK and Lebanon where there is not an ideological political correctness prevading the university one can rationally discuss such things. But, for US applications I am afraid if I do mention exactly what makes my arguments unique and how I would like to pursue them in the future that it puts me on an automatic black list. Or as my father likes to say, "in Finkelstein's basement" in reference to Professor Norman Finkelstein who lost his job at Hunter College for criticizing Israel. I have one personal anecdote on this. I initially submitted the abstract for the paper I gave in Beirut for a Graduate Student conference in Pittsburgh along with my CV. It is the only conference from which I have ever had an abstract rejected. I do not know exactly why it was rejected, but I can guess. My inclination is to just be honest and go with it. But, I am thinking that it might not be the best way to get a job in the US given the increasingly crowded space in Finkelstein's basement.

Does anybody have any thoughts about this? How prevelant are idelogical black lists in academia? Is it possible to avoid the intersecting sets of black lists that would seek to prevent the type of research I detailed in this post? Or given other reasons not to hire me such as no teaching experience does it even matter?


Camicao said...

I can see how your research might touch on some nerves here. Perhaps at research 1 universities, powerhouse type places, including liberal arts colleges, such issues can be a factor in hiring. But in different types of institutions, and maybe those in the west and southwest, I'm not sure all of those nerves are operational in the same way as in the northeast. I thought of you when I read Confessions of a Community College Dean's post on community colleges, inspired by Academic Coach's most recent post. If you haven't read those posts yet, I recommend them; they may help you target a different kind of institution.

J. Otto Pohl said...

Thanks for this feedback, Camicao. I went and reread the posts you mentioned. I have applied to a few community colleges. Although given their emphasis on teaching they are even more problematic than research positions. To be honest I think I need to start seriously thinking about an alternative career.

Disillusioned kid said...

Don't let the bastards grind you down. The role of the intellectual is to speak truth to power and all that...

John Ruberry said...

Perhaps you might have heard of Thomas Klocek, who in essence, was "blacklisted" from DePaul for speaking up for Israel. Anti-Israeli Norman Finkelstein is a professor at DePaul.

See the irony?