Palestinians wave national and PFLP flags during a protest in the West Bank city of Ramallah Sunday, July 28, 2013. Some two hundred supporters of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine protested against the resuming of the peace talks with Israel. Credit: AP
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A professor's Middle East junket for purposes of political militancy and meeting with infamous terrorist Leila Khaled at taxpayer expense sparked outrage. But her university president endorsed the trip, showcasing the reality of higher education.
On June 24, 2014, San Francisco State University President Leslie Wong sent a note to State of California Controller John Chaing asserting that the university had investigated complaints about a faculty member's misuse of funds.
How the investigation was conducted and what standards were used went conspicuously unmentioned. Wong simply informed the state controller that there had been an investigation, there had been no wrongdoing, and inserted a hyperlink to the university’s boilerplate press release.
Lois Lerner must be salivating with envy.
Palestinians wave national and PFLP flags during a protest in the West Bank city of Ramallah Sunday, July 28, 2013. Credit: AP
At the center of this controversy is Professor Rabab Abdulhadi, who used public money for an activist political junket to cement relationships in the Middle East with like-minded people in an effort to further her obsession with enhancing the campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel.
As part of the trip, Abdulhadi met with convicted airline hijacker Leila Khaled. Her Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine created the tactics of airline hijacking, shooting up airports, and killing tourists who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.
In 1972, 28 Puerto Rican tourists on a Christian pilgrimage met their deaths in the Lod Airport baggage claim area at the hands of the Japanese Red Army in an operation orchestrated by the PFLP.
In a presentation at SFSU on March 6, 2014, Abdulhadi showcased the unrepentant Khaled as an iconic figure of resistance and a true feminist, having earned the distinction of being the first woman airline hijacker, a role to which SFSU women might aspire as part of their immersion in resistance studies, which Abdulhadi teaches.
Wong believes California tax payers should pay for her pursuit of “justice” because at an institution like SFSU, the line between private political advocacy and faculty responsibility was obliterated decades ago.
So, if you want an idea of why the social sciences and humanities are producing millions of unskilled and uneducated college graduates who have been immersed in leftist visions of social justice and political correctness and are totally incapable of ever paying off their student loans on minimum wage, then you just have to look at SFSU and its disingenuous defense of using public money for private political advocacy.
Abdulhadi is just the most recent symptom of what has become of higher education in American universities.
Because of its unique history and its struggles in the 1960s, SFSU was early to the fusion of left-wing advocacy with the institution’s educational mission, but that fusion is now commonplace on most campuses.
In the mid-1960s, Jimmy Garrett, of the local Black Panther Party, under took a campaign to create a unique black studies department, one that would abandon “white” scholarship, as he called it, and use the resources of the university to organize the black community.
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to Israel's parliament in Jerusalem, Oct. 14, 2013. (Image source: AP)
After a five-month strike and seemingly unending chaos, the university capitulated. Garrett got his department and a waiver from having curricula and hiring issues supervised by the university hierarchy. Garrett had in effect managed to take public money for his political cause without having public accountability. From the perspective of political advocacy, it was a tremendous achievement. From the perspective of the traditional meaning of the university, it was opening Pandora’s Box.
Traditional scholarship is an exhausting and demanding business. It requires not only the personality of an introvert but the ability to function in an insular environment. Even cooperative scholarship is generally the product of independent research products fused together. For people who obtain doctorates, the persistent loneliness of the life of the mind can be a challenge that is difficult to overcome.
Garrett, and others like him, provided an exciting and alternative career track to traditional academia. One could use one’s academic skills for being an advocate for social justice. The classroom, after all, contained a captive audience of the naïve, empty vessels waiting to be filed with leftist ideology.
For residential colleges and universities, there was another captive audience in the residence halls, where offices of resident life created their own mandatory indoctrination and sensitivity sessions. A parallel university, a shadow university, grew up in the residence halls with its own curricula and its own instructors, not professors, but guides who would inculcate these forced attendees in the correct attitudes about politics and social life.
For some obscene tuition, colleges and universities would now take the progeny of the successful middle class and reeducate them against the very values that enabled their parents to send them to college. Even the engineering and science students have to submit to compulsory orientation sessions to make them sensitive to a leftist political dogma.
Students’ heroes are no longer the professors who develop an important theoretical scheme or teach them how to assess knowledge but tho ones who challenged them to storm the barricades of the oppressive racist, sexist, and homophobic culture in which they had been socialized and whose chains they must break.
A Palestinian man waves his national flag and shouts slogans during clashes with Israeli forces at the Nahal Oz crossing with Israel, east of Gaza City, on September 27, 2013. Credit: AFP/Getty Images
Faculty indulged challenges to the mantras of social justice only to the point where students saw their grades falling into some abyss. Speech and decency codes, generally illegal, always selectively enforced against conservative students, furthered the Orwellian education.
Some faculty members became caricatures of themselves, as one I knew whom students parodied by saying, “I’m a progressive. I believe in social justice. I’m a member of Amnesty International and you better be too, if you want a decent grade in this course.”
Against this backdrop, Abdulhadi is fulfilling the mission of the contemporary university. She symbolizes why students emerge with mountainous debt and no skills. Is her personal foray into boycott, divestment, and sanctions really teaching students anything for which they should be paying or for which she should be a faculty member?
Abdulhadi is living her political activism at taxpayer expense, and she is doing so in the context of how universities redefined themselves as institutions of social change, no longer as institutions pursuing knowledge and teaching students how to ascertain the difference between fact and opinion.
To her colleagues, she is probably an academic role model, a voice for the oppressed, a person who recognizes that a just cause - the Palestinian cause - not only requires moral license, as exemplified in terrorism, but it also demands violence as a human right.
Abdulhadi is the contemporary university, at least in the social sciences and humanities. No administrator is going to interfere with her activism because her partisans, who believe she personifies the real mission of the university, will shut the place down. And the politicians have long ago abandoned the universities, at least in certain departments. As one major employer told me, no one hires those people anyhow.
Several administrators told me directly that in the current climate it is necessary to play triage, to let the leftists play in their sandbox while the real work of the university goes on in real academic departments.
But if you stop and think that those who passionately believe that they can change the world by diverting the course of history are the ones who do so, maybe we all should have another look at what the left is doing in the sandbox we bought them.
Abraham H. Miller is an emeritus professor of political science, University of Cincinnati. He also served on the faculty of the University of California, Davis and the University of Illinois, Urbana.
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