Two MLK Day Links

I’m a little late on the uptake for a couple of different reasons on Martin Luther King Day news, but two things I thought I’d share:

First, EMU’s MLK Day schedule of events. Technically, EMU isn’t closed today– it’s just that there aren’t classes– and there are indeed a variety of different events happening on campus. The keynote speaker for today’s event is Dick Gregory, and I have kind of mixed feelings about that. On the one hand, he is of course a giant of the civil rights movement. On the other hand, when I did a search just now of “Dick Gregory,” I came across this YouTube video (which is really 47 minutes of rambling audio from some kind of Internet radio show), “Dick Gregory speaks on Ebola Hoax, Obama’s Secret Service Debacle, and ISIS (CIA Agents).” I only listened to about 10 or 12 minutes of it, but as far as I can tell, Gregory has a lot of kind of crazy conspiracy theories. A LOT. So the open to the public 10 AM keynote in the student center auditorium could be a wild ride.

Second, from the blog Gin and Tacos, “Here Comes Santa Claus.” The guy who writes that blog is a poli sci prof who blogs quite a bit about a variety of things, and I think his point here– that Martin Luther King’s legacy and even the whole civil rights movement is being softened and misinterpreted as it becomes more historically distant– is probably accurate. And that’s a problem, especially given the last year or two and some rather high profile. A quote:

As I watched what happened in Ferguson, NYC, Cleveland, and too many other places to count last year – and particularly watched how white people reacted in many cases with an amount of bile and racist invective that would have made a 1920s Klansman blush – I wonder if America’s race problem is actually worse today than it was when Martin Luther King lived. Sure, we no longer have segregated theater seating and public bathrooms. But back in the days of Jim Crow, society didn’t even bother to pretend that black people were equal or treated equally. Somehow the widespread perception among whites today that black people (and other people of color) are treated equally despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary has made things worse. We’ve traded brutal, immoral honesty for a delusion that has made us more bitter by the day.

I don’t think I completely agree with this– I do think that there has been progress since the 1960s– but I definitely see GT’s point.

“EMU again earns Carnegie Foundation designation for exceptional community engagement”

Via Geoff Larcom, I learned the other day that “EMU again earns Carnegie Foundation designation for exceptional community engagement.” You can read all about it at the press release and/or watch this lovely little video; a quote from the press release:

Of the more than 4,500 public and private four- and two-year degree-granting colleges and universities in the U.S., only 240 received the Carnegie Foundation’s 2015 Community Engagement Classification. That group of 240 campuses joins 121 institutions that earned the classification during the 2010 process.

“Community engagement is one of the hallmarks of the University’s mission and success,” said Susan Martin, Eastern Michigan University president. “We believe the essence of a great, historic 165-year old public university is to create well-educated citizens who give back to their community.

“The University has long promoted and supported involvement beyond the campus as a way of improving the lives of individuals as well as the community, and as a means of enhancing learning. We take great pride in our role in the community, and I am thankful for the work of all of our faculty, staff and students that led to this recognition.”

So hey, good for EMU!


Did my mom get a hold of Geoff Larcom’s email account, or vice-versa?

Everyone (including me) at EMU gets a lot of email from beleaguered EMU Media guy Geoff Larcom, but I think yesterday’s message about the weather was kind of a chuckler for me. With the subject line “To EMU students, faculty and staff: Take precautions against severely cold weather,” it is exactly the kind of thing my mom would have said to me and my sisters when I was a kid, certainly the kind of thing my wife and I say to our son now. Heh.

The whole message after the break, but the short version is it’s really freakin’ cold out there and EMU isn’t closing today (at least so far) because of it, so bundle up, people!

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Ypsi cops to wear body cameras; Chris Rock interview raises a couple of interesting points to share here

This is kind of a tangent post (as I really try to keep this site pretty squarely about EMU most of the time), but given some of the conversation/campus events lately, I thought I’d go ahead and point these things out.

First, it turns out that “Ypsilanti police will be wearing body cameras by March.” This story is from mLive, but I’ve heard about it on NPR too. I believe Ypsi is the first place in Michigan where this is happening. No one should kid themselves into thinking that this is going to “solve” the problem of police shootings like what happened in Ferguson, but a) if Darren Wilson had been wearing a body camera, I think we would have had at least some additional evidence about what happened when Michael Brown was killed, and b) when cops have had to wear body cameras (notably in California), incidents of police brutality/shootings went down like 80% (though I don’t have that citation on that one right in front of me or anything).

Second, there’s a great interview of Chris Rock making the rounds now that is totally worth reading even if you are only sorta/kinda a fan. One loyal reader suggested I share it because of what he had to say about college campuses:

What do you make of the attempt to bar Bill Maher from speaking at Berkeley for his riff on Muslims?

Well, I love Bill, but I stopped playing colleges, and the reason is because they’re way too conservative.

In their political views?

Not in their political views—not like they’re voting Republican—but in their social views and their willingness not to offend anybody. Kids raised on a culture of “We’re not going to keep score in the game because we don’t want anybody to lose.” Or just ignoring race to a fault. You can’t say “the black kid over there.” No, it’s “the guy with the red shoes.” You can’t even be offensive on your way to being inoffensive.

When did you start to notice this?

About eight years ago. Probably a couple of tours ago. It was just like, This is not as much fun as it used to be. I remember talking to George Carlin before he died and him saying the exact same thing.

I think he kind of has a point, though I personally think Maher’s “riff on Muslims” was pretty ignorant.

Then there’s also a longer (too long for me to just cut and paste) and interesting take on the mess in Ferguson. Among other things, Chris Rock says if he was reporting on it, he’s interview white people because “We know how black people feel about Ferguson.” Smart stuff.

Ferguson Reactions and Protests

Maybe it’s because of the Thanksgiving break or maybe it’s because of the way the news cycle works nowadays, but it feels to me like the grand jury decision in Ferguson was a lot longer ago than it actually was. But I got reminded about all this twice today. First, EMU President Susan Martin sent around an email with her “Reaction to Ferguson decision” (see after the jump for the full email).

Second, there were some student protests on campus today, too. I just saw this on Facebook:

There were also some marchers through Pray-Harrold and Halle Library (I know about the library because I saw some video on Facebook). To be honest, my first reaction was “dang, that’s loud!” because I had no idea that there was going to be some kind of rally or protest, and I didn’t realize they were going to be coming inside.

Judging from Yik Yak, which is my new favorite app for getting some vague sense about what students are talking about, it seems like the protests’ reception was mixed. A lot of folks approved, a lot of folks didn’t, and a few were taken off guard, including one anonymous protestor who claims to have been interrupted in the bathroom by protesters chanting and screaming. I don’t know if that’s actually true, but I think it’s kind of a funny scene to imagine.

I’m glad President Martin wrote that email and I support the spirit of the protests, too. I just wish there was a better way to channel what is some very justifiable frustration about it all.

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“Activist rabbi to discuss faith and the struggle for social justice Dec. 2 at Eastern Michigan University”

Mark your calendars, folks: there’s another event being sponsored by our colleagues/friends of EMUTalk, the Jewish Studies program. Here’s a quote from the press release, “Activist rabbi to discuss faith and the struggle for social justice Dec. 2 at Eastern Michigan University:”

Modern Orthodox rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz, who first exploded onto the national scene in 2010 as one of the stars of the PBS Independent Lens documentary, The Calling, will be the next guest speaker in the Eastern Michigan University Jewish Studies program lecture series, Dec. 2.

The program. which begins at 7:30 p.m. in the EMU Student Center Ballroom, 900 Oakwood, Ypsilanti, is free and open to the public.

An activist and educator, Yanklowitz, 33, will discuss, “Jewish Ethics and Social Justice,” and will explore how faith must be bound up with the struggle for social justice.

“ZOOperstars! Set to Appear at Saturday’s Men’s Basketball Contest”

I’ve got plans and I won’t be attending the EMU Men’s Basketball game on Saturday night against UNC-Greensboro, but I was sort of struck by the headline announcing “ZOOperstars! Set to Appear at Saturday’s Men’s Basketball Contest.” As it says here, the ZOOperstars are “described as lovable, outrageous, zany, unpredictable and hysterical inflatable animalistic superstars that are sure to entertain all fans in attendance.”

I have no idea how the game will be. I know UNC-Greensboro has had some decent teams in the past, so I suspect it will be competitive. But this ZOOperstar thing– yikes. I am guessing it will be entertaining for the kids, but when I did a search and found their web site (warning, a video will start up!), I guess I thought two things. First, this is pretty stupid, people jumping around in inflatable costumes with punny animal names– Monkey Mantle, Yao Flamingo, Roger Clamons, LeBronco James, and so forth. Second, I noticed their schedule of upcoming appearances at other colleges and minor league hockey arenas all over the country, and I thought “what a shitty lifestyle that would be.” Get in the van, drive to some God-forsaken place, inflate the costume and dance around for a while, get back in the van. Probably not what most of those people were planning when studying drama at Juilliard.

What I wanted to ask Cary Nelson last night

Dang it! Just as I saw an opening for my question to Cary Nelson about his support of the unhiring of Steven Salaita from the University of Illinois, the night was over. I guess I could have hung around for the reception afterwards and tried to talk to him, but it was getting late and I felt like it would have looked like I was confronting the guy over juice and cookies.

Oh well. I guess I’ll ask it here and see what happens. But first a recap:

Cary Nelson came to campus last night to give a talk, “Bait and Switch: The Purpose of the Movement to Boycott Israel,” which was about his take on the efforts of some academic organizations to boycott, financially divest, and otherwise sanction Israel– the “BDS” movement. The crowd was mostly a friendly group, though there was a “boycott Israel” contingent up front. I snapped this picture that pretty much captured the spirit of the protest:


That woman stood there quietly for almost the whole 45 minutes or so Nelson talked. Then she asked the first question during the Q&A (though it wasn’t really a question so much as it was a sort of disjointed rant) and she left. But I digress.

Nelson started by saying that he was going to not stoop to emotional arguments about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and he then outlined in broad terms his position (in short, a two state solution where the Israelis are going to have to give up on some settlements and territory, where there is international support to the Palestinians since people who are making decent livings are a whole lot less motivated to bomb people, etc.) before moving to what he thought was wrong specifically with BDS.  Though as Nelson went on, he did get more emotionally caught up, his language became a bit less disciplined, and a lot of his criticism was pointed very specifically at two of the more active/outspoken academics in favor of BDS, Judith Butler and Omar Barghouti.  At one point he said “I would never say this in print, but I think [Judith] Butler is a lunatic.”

Still, Nelson’s overall take on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict seems pretty reasonable and pragmatic to me, and he was persuasive about the problems with BDS. Though to be fair, I haven’t studied the BDS position and I certainly haven’t studied the specifics of the Butler et al side of the argument. It would have been a different event, but it would have been interesting if there was someone there representing the BDS folks so this was more of a debate. And while I haven’t always agreed with Butler, I don’t think it helps Nelson’s credibility to describe her as a lunatic.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: my personal views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are very Milquetoast (“can’t we all just get along?”) and I have a enough imagination to have sympathies with both the Israelis and Palestinians in the region. But I’m not comfortable going a whole lot further than that because I don’t have a cultural/social/ethnic/religious dog in this fight (so to speak) as white agnostic on a good day/atheist on a bad day American of European descent, and also because this has become an incredibly polarizing “third rail” among academics. I have friends and colleagues around the country who feel very strongly one way or the other on BDS, and I’d just as soon not alienate and/or piss off either group.

Anyway, the question and answer time came and Nelson was more than game for some conflict and tough questions. He seemed to be encouraging it in a way I recognize among academics (including myself), basically saying “hey, let’s have an argument, it’ll be fun!” And just when I saw an opening to raise my hand, it was done. Dang it.

So if I could have asked a question, it would have been something like this:

“Just to change the topic a bit, I want to ask you about your stance on the unhiring of Steven Salaita from the University of Illinois. Because I have to tell you, given what you’ve said and demonstrated here about the importance of engaging and debating people who hold opposing views like the folks down front who are in the “boycott Israel” camp, and also given what you’ve said in the past about academic freedom, I have to say your strong support for the Illinois administration’s move to stop Salaita from being hired into a tenured position seem strange. You’re clearly encouraging free and open debate here on the question of BDS, but not when it comes to hiring faculty with different views.

“So I guess this prompts for me several questions:

  • “You have said before that if Salaita had sent his various offensive tweets after he had been hired into his tenured position, then he would have kept his job because he would have been exercising his right as a tenured professor to academic free speech. Let’s set aside the question of whether or not Salaita was actually hired or not because I think that’s something the courts are ultimately going to decide. What is the “magic” about the tenure switch? What is it where one minute, anything a non-tenured academic says can be held against them, but the next minute, once the tenure switch is flicked, anything goes?
  • “Are there any logical limits to academic free speech? That is, is there anything a tenured professor might say that could cause them his or her job?
  • “Shouldn’t non-tenured members of the academic community be afforded at least some level of protection? After all, non-tenure-track faculty are steadily increasing in numbers and it seems problematic to me that we don’t extend any sort of academic free speech to them.
  • “What’s the role of things like social media and other non-official channels and academic free speech? I’m personally very concerned about this because I have a pretty extensive presence online (this blog, my own blog, Twitter, Facebook, etc.), and I think it’d be very problematic if something I wrote in one of these “unofficial” spaces was used against me in my job. As an academic, am I not allowed the chance to express myself on Twitter without it potentially coming back to haunt me in my day job?”

I’m not expecting Nelson to answer any of these questions, but hey, who knows? Maybe someone else who was there can offer their thoughts?

Mark your calendars: Cary Nelson coming to EMU on November 19

Mark you calendars, folks: Cary Nelson is going to be giving a talk at EMU on November 19 at 7:30 in the Student Center Auditorium.

It ought to be interesting because of what this poster says Nelson is going to be talking about, the efforts of various academic organizations to boycott, financially divest, and otherwise sanction Israel. But it ought to be interesting because of what Nelson will probably have to spend most of his time talking about, which is his rather outspoken defense of the firing/dehiring of Steven Salaita for his offensive (depending on who you ask, of course) anti-Israel twitter rant last summer.

I blogged about it a couple of times here already– for example, “Chancellor Phyllis Wise Explains the Firing of Steven Salaita” (or, U of Ill “doubles down” on a pretty indefensible position). Personally, I find Nelson’s position on this confusing and ironic (given that he’s an “outspoken advocate for academic freedom”) and just kind of wrong. So I’m kind of curious to hear what he has to say about all this in person.