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Preview: RealClearPolitics - Articles - David White

RealClearPolitics - Articles - David White

Last Build Date: Thu, 03 Aug 2006 07:04:35 -0600

Copyright: Copyright 2007

Juan Cole and Yale: The Inside Story

Thu, 03 Aug 2006 07:04:35 -0600

As members of the Baha'i faith--a 160-year old religious organization that proclaims the unity of all the world's religions--both Cole and Amanat took strong issue with the leadership of the religion as it entered a tumultuous phase in the 1980s and 1990s. As this criticism entered the public sphere, Cole emerged as one of the most eloquent defenders of liberal Baha'ism. And when Amanat was excommunicated from the Baha'i faith by the international governing council of the Baha'is, Cole supported Amanat publicly and vigorously. As Cole wrote to an online forum of Baha'i academics at the time, "In the good old days...the only way to be removed from the rolls of Baha'i membership once you were entered on them was to write a letter explicitly renouncing belief in Baha'u'llah. Professor Amanat has never done so." In addition, Cole and Amanat's politics are so close that after Cole's January 2006 Yale lecture, the Yale Daily News's Charles Gariepy characterized their arguments as indistinguishable: "Cole said the decisions of the U.S. government upon entering the [Iraq] war were misguided," Gariepy wrote. "Abbas Amanat, a professor of history who concluded the event, reinforced the themes in Cole's speech." Considering their long-standing, extra-academic relationship and their shared politics, it was hardly surprising when Cole emerged as the search committee's top choice a few months after Cole's January lecture. As a Yale history professor explained, "Generally speaking, a good deal of the fight over who ends up getting a university position is who ends up on the search committee's list of contenders; because that's who the candidate is compared to. In this situation, Cole was the only recognizable, prominent figure on the search committee's list... So what happened here? It was rigged." As the search committee's top choice, the sociology and history departments were tasked with reviewing Cole's scholarship and voting on his appointment. In May, Cole was approved, but he still needed the blessings of the Senior Appointments Committee, a small group of Yale professors who serve as one of the final steps in the appointment process. According to several insiders, Cole's scholarship, which several professors deemed insufficient, was the decisive factor in the final decision against his appointment. Cole faced strong opposition from some of the most senior, influential, and highly-regarded members of Yale's history department, including prominent Yale historians Donald Kagan and John Lewis Gaddis. And that was kiss of death, because the Senior Appointment Committee wants a faculty vote that's nearly unanimous. This fits well with what Paula Hyman, a tenured professor of modern Jewish history, told the Yale Daily News shortly after the story broke: "Generally," she said, "when you're hiring a tenured professor you want real enthusiasm on the part of everybody." Regarding the role played by Cole's often polemical blog, sources close to Yale's decision argued that although it opened the eyes of many professors, it hardly killed Cole's chances. As Yale political science professor Steven Smith explained, "It would be very comforting for Cole's supporters to think that this got steamrolled because of his controversial blog opinions. The blog opened people's eyes as to what was going on. He was a kind of stealth candidate. I didn't know anybody that knew about this coming in; he was just kind of smuggled. And I think the blog opened people's eyes as to who this guy was, and what his views were.... It allowed us to see something about the quality of his mind." This was a mind that, in July 2005, claimed that the September 11 Commission report cited the "Israeli attack on the Jenin refugee camp" as a motivation for the terrorist attack, even though the Jenin attack didn't happen until seven months after 9/11. And in May of this year, Cole justified his notion that Iran is harmless by declaring, "We don't give a rat's ass what Ahmadinejad thinks about European history or what pissant speech the little sh*t gives." Smith's [...]