Friday, February 10, 2006

AAUP Conference on Academic Boycotts: The organizers blunder... this time

Just when one whirlwind seems to be dying down or at least maintaining its equilibrium [e.g. the Danish cartoons] another rears its head.

The AAUP [American Association of University Professors], an old mainstream association of professors, recently announced plans to hold a conference in Ballagio on academic boycotts.

The conference was funded by the Ford Foundation, at whose villa it was to be held, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Nathan Cummings Foundation.

When the list of invited participants was released it was revealed that about a third of the participants were active supporters of the academic boycott against Israel.

Then -- to the utter amazement of many people -- the advance material distributed for conference participants included an article from a journal which publishes much Holocaust denial material. The journal was founded by Willis Carto, a long time Holocaust denier and right wing extemists who was one of the founders of the Institute for Historical Review, the Holocaust denial operation in California.

The article makes wild and historically invalid accusations about secret agreements between the Nazis and the Zionists. The article states that Hitler's actions against Jewish people were "a defensive -- not an offensive -- measure," and were a response to Jewish leaders' call for an economic boycott of Germany.

The AAUP said it would hold the conference anyway. Now they have announced its postponement.

Those people behind the conference must be kicking themselves that they did not wait until everyone was there to hand out the article.

AAUP General Secretary Roger Bowen explained that, "The article had been collected during our research for the conference. But it was never intended for distribution to the participants or indeed to anyone else."

My question: why was anyone even looking the in The Barnes Review for articles? Was the person assigned to collection information for the conference some low level researchers who just did a Google search on "boycotts"? It's hard to believe that this is what happened, given that this was being organized by the AAUP.

I loath the inclination of people to always jump to conspiracy theories when often the real explanation is just plain stupidity.

This time -- given the nature of the organization behind the conference and the fringe nature of The Barnes Review -- I wish, but am skeptical, that the explanation is just stupidity.

I doubt that the AAUP itself was behind the distribution of the article. But it seems that someone who wanted it out there made sure it was included in the packet. [Could it be one of the invited participants?]

To paraphrase the late Abba Eban: Some people never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. Though I would not count on them committing the same mistake next time.

[p.s. For a vigorous debate about the non-conference see http://insidehighered.com/news/2006/02/09/aaup ]

1 comment:

Dave said...

This incident sort of proves my occasionally-held theory that academic folks with massive degrees can lack common sense.

When I was in high school and college, all my teachers and instructors cared about was that my term papers had footnotes and bibliography, and didn't call for the assassination of the principal. After flipping through a few pages, my teachers went to the back, saw that I had footnotes and a bibliography, and gave me an A or A-minus.

This was the same thing. Nobody read the bloody papers...they just glanced at them, saw they looked scholarly, had bibliography and footnotes, and tossed them in.

This is exactly what Holocaust deniers want to do...if they look scholarly, have all the required bells and whistles, maybe somebody besides the IHR will take them seriously and give them recognition.