More idiocy from Joe Stiglitz

How do you destroy a country’s economy? Well, here are a few ideas. Hike taxes. Overregulate. Ratchet up government spending. Increase welfare entitlements. Make it your goal not to achieve greater prosperity for everyone but to achieve greater income and wealth equality.

Joseph Stiglitz

This, after all, is how the chavistas ran Venezuela, once one of the world’s most prosperous nations, into the ground. And, believe it or not, these are the prescriptions offered by economist Joseph Stiglitz, whom we profiled here at some length in October 2015 and whom we’re revisiting now because of a characteristically wacky article by him that appeared in the Guardian on May 30.

But first, a reminder: this, as we noted four years ago, is a man who has taught at Yale, Oxford, Stanford, Princeton, and Columbia; who served as chief economist at the World Bank; who was a top advisor to the United Nations; who was named one of the world’s 100 most influential people by Time magazine; and who, yes, won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 2001.

Paul Krugman

How, you may ask, did a man with such cockeyed economic ideas win a Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics? Well, remember, Paul Krugman won one too. And Yasir Arafat won the Nobel Peace Prize. Not every decision they make in Stockholm or Oslo is a brilliant one.

If you think it’s unfair to compare the economic philosophy of a Nobel laureate with the cockeyed socialist ideas that ruined Venezuela, consider this: Stiglitz is a socialist – an actual member of the Socialist International who, in 2008, headed up a Socialist International commission charged with figuring out a solution to the global financial crisis. He’s an enemy of the nation-state and particularly of American-style democratic capitalism, and would replace the current world order with a socialist global government, complete with a new global currency and a global income tax.

Georg Papandreou

But while we still have nation-states, Stiglitz isn’t above profiting from some of the more poorly run ones in ways that call into question his professional integrity. For example, he weighed in repeatedly in places like Time magazine on the Greek financial crisis, which he blamed entirely on Germany, not on Greece; what he failed to mention was he was a paid advisor to Greek prime minister George Papandreou. In 2014, when New York judge Thomas P. Griesa ordered Argentina to pay its creditors, Stiglitz badmouthed the judge, called the creditors “vultures,” pronounced that “America is throwing a bomb into the global economic system,” and passionately defended Argentinian president Cristina Kirchner; again, he omitted to inform his readers that he had long been on the Kirchner payroll, supposedly serving as an economic advisor, although to many observers it certainly looked as if he was selling his name and reputation to whitewash a kleptocracy.

Cristina Kirchner

Which brings us to Stiglitz’s recent piece for the Guardian. There’s not really anything new in it; what’s remarkable is the timing. Here’s the headline: “Neoliberalism must be pronounced dead and buried. Where next?” And here’s the subhead: “For decades the US and others have pursued a free-market agenda which has failed spectacularly.” An incredible thing to say at a time when the American economy is stronger than it has been in decades and is the world’s most competitive, with record employment and income levels for pretty much every population group and every category of job.

Donald J. Trump

Many people credit President Trump for this extraordinary boom. Not Stiglitz. He not only pretends that the boom isn’t happening; he smears Trump as an avatar of “far-right nationalism,” which to him is even worse than plain old neoliberalism or the “centre-left reformism” of Tony Blair and Bill Clinton. In Stiglitz’s view, all three of these approaches should be junked in favor of a “radically different economic agenda” that he calls “progressive capitalism,” under which free markets would be a thing of the past and state-run economies would be the order of the day.

Stiglitz’s picture of what “progressive capitalism” would look like and how it would work is heavy on abstractions and light on specifics. “Governments have a duty to limit and shape markets…. government [should take] a more active role than neoliberalism prescribes.” Yet by the end of the article it’s clear what he‘s calling for. To be sure, he’s careful not to use the word Communism or even socialism, but those are the generally accepted names for what he prefers to call “progressive capitalism.”

Again, how weird to encounter a brief for socialism at a time when the chavistas’ Venezuela is dying and Trump’s America is thriving! But that’s old Joe for you.

The man who was America’s “most dangerous Communist”

Herbert Aptheker

Very few members of the general public remember him now, but in his time Herbert Aptheker (1915 – 2003) was a very big deal indeed, and to this day he is a revered figure in the academy. He is considered a pioneer in the historical study of slavery in America – more broadly, in the general history of black Americans, and, more narrowly, in the history of slave revolts.

But he was not just a scholar. He was a devout Communist. David Horowitz called him “the Communist Party’s most prominent Cold War intellectual.” J. Edgar Hoover once said that the FBI considered Aptheker “the most dangerous Communist in the United States.” In 2015, Harvey Klehr, the historian of American Communism and of Soviet spying in the US, described him as “an ideological fanatic who squandered his talents as a historian, gave slavish devotion to a monstrous regime, and lacked the intellectual courage to say publicly what he wrote privately.”

Harvey Klehr

Indeed, as Klehr noted, Aptheker “joined the American Communist party (CPUSA) in August 1939, after the Nazi-Soviet pact, just as thousands of other disillusioned Jewish Communists were leaving.” And good Stalinist that he was, he parroted Uncle Joe’s calls for peace with Germany and, when the Nazis violated the pact in 1941 by invading the USSR, immediately reversed his position, calling for the US to fight shoulder to shoulder with the USSR and UK.

Aptheker’s whole adult life revolved around the CPUSA. As a student he was active in CPUSA front organizations, taught at the CPUSA’s New York Workers School, and was a regular reader of the CPUSA’s Daily Worker and New Masses and a contributor to other CPUSA rags. After the war, in which he fought on the European front, Aptheker settled in the American South, becoming an “education worker” (which is something like a “community organizer”) and working for yet another CPUSA front. From 1948 to 1953 he was a staffer at the CPUSA’s literary journal, Masses and Mainstream; from 1953 to 1963 he edited the CPUSA’s ideological monthly, Political Affairs; and from 1957 to 1991, he was a member of the CPUSA’s national committee, on which he was considered was the party’s leading “theoretician.”

Aptheker, Hayden, and other Hanoi travel companions

While the USSR lasted, nothing shook his devotion to it. He was always prepared to defend Stalin’s atrocities, and when the Soviets invaded Hungary in 1956, he wrote a book justifying the invasion. He also penned a defense of the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia. If the Kremlin was incapable of doing anything of which Aptheker would not approve, the U.S., in his view, could do no right. For him, the Marshall Plan amounted to “renazification.” And of course the Vietnam War was, in his eyes, a pure act of imperialist aggression. In 1966 he and Tom Hayden – the California radical who was then Jane Fonda’s husband – made “solidarity” trips to Hanoi and Beijing.

Eldridge Cleaver

In 1966, while remaining a CPUSA stalwart, Aptheker ran for Congress as a member of the Peace and Freedom Party, whose candidate for president of the U.S., two years later, was Eldridge Cleaver, the Black Panther leader and convicted rapist who would later become involved in a shootout with Oakland police and flee the country to escape a murder rap.

Eugene Genovese

Under the pro-Marxist dispensation on post-Vietnam American campuses, Aptheker’s academic career thrived: he taught at Bryn Mawr, at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, at CUNY, at Yale, at Berkeley, and at Humboldt University in Berlin. Yet he should never have been considered a serious historian: he consistently twisted or suppressed or invented facts to suit his ideological purposes. (Recall that a habit of focusing on the worst of America, including its history of slavery, was a key CPUSA activity.) Klehr acknowledges that “Aptheker deserves credit as a pioneer in the field of African-American studies,” but notes that “his work later came under sustained attack by far more accomplished historians who argued that he had overemphasized the significance of slave revolts and misjudged the militancy of most slaves. Even his fellow Marxist, Eugene Genovese, who praised Aptheker and sought to integrate him into the historical profession, offered a devastating critique of his thesis.”

Bettina Aptheker

Aptheker did not quit the CPUSA until after the Soviet Union had fallen, leaving him without a lodestar. To be sure, once the USSR was dead, and exposed to the world as, indeed, an Evil Empire, he felt obliged to cough up a few public recriminations, admitting, for example, that the CPUSA (contrary to his decades-long claims) had always been controlled and funded by the Kremlin. “In short,” wrote Klehr, “he confirmed much of what the ‘right-wing reactionaries’ had said about the CPUSA and the Soviet Union for decades.”

There was more. After his death, in 2003, it emerged that this man who had spent most of his life celebrating a monstrous tyranny had himself, in his private life, been a monster: his daughter, Bettina, in a memoir, revealed that he had sexually abused her from the time she was a three-year-old toddler until she was thirteen years old.

Evil takes a variety of forms.

Juan Cole, jihad apologist

Juan Cole

How can it be that, in all the time Useful Stooges has been around, we’ve never written about Juan Cole? How could we have managed all this time to overlook one of America’s most credentialed “experts” on – which is to say, one of its most shameless apologists for – Islam?

This is a man who, after the Boston bombings, denied that the Tsarnaev brothers could be Muslims because “[b]eing a fanatic is, contrary to the impression both of Fox Cable News and some Muslim radicals, not actually the same as being a good Muslim; in fact, the Qur’an urges the use of reason and moderation.” To get away with writing such things, of course, you have to assume that most of your readers have never so much as glanced at the Qur’an.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev: not a real Muslim!

“If the motive for terrorism is religious,” Cole added, “it is impermissible in Islamic law. It is forbidden to attempt to impose Islam on other people.” On the contrary, it could be argued that the main point of the Qur’an is to explain to believers that their primary obligation as Muslims is to spread Islam to the infidels. “Islamic law forbids aggressive warfare,” Cole insisted. Oh, is this why the Qur’an refers to the non-Muslim part of the world, which the faithful are urged to conquer by the sword, as the “House of War”?

Cole was equally quick to try to de-Islamize Omar Mateen’s massacre of 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. “I don’t think it probably was terrorism in any useful sense of the term,” Cole said. “To put all this on Muslims and Islam in general is frankly absurd.”

Omar Mateen: Not a real terrorist!

This is a man who has routinely blamed Islamic terrorism on America – and, secondarily, Israel. If terrorists attack the U.S. it’s because “the United States is a superpower and is always sticking its nose in other people’s business.” But why, then, do terrorists attack pretty much every country in Western Europe? Why do they attack targets in Thailand and India and even in the Muslim world? He relies on ad hominem nonsense to discredit his opponents: in one lecture, he “insinuated that [Rudy] Giuliani had no standing to use the term ‘Islamic fascists’ because he was an Italian-American” and that Charles Krauthammer “probably doesn’t even know a Muslim and therefore is not credible on Middle East issues.”

Rudy Giuliani: no right to speak about Islamofascism

A writer who attended another Cole lecture noted that if one didn’t know any better, “one would have departed the lecture believing that Iran justifiably protects its own interests; that America is a malignant and aggressive force and Israel its trigger-happy satellite; that Turkey’s Islamist Freedom and Development Party (AKP) is headed by a practical and liberal Prime Minister Erdogan who promotes ‘Middle Eastern multiculturalism’; and that a moderate Islamist party in Tunisia called Ennahda does the same.” While arguing that the term “Islamic terrorism” is offensive, and “Islamo-fascist” even worse, Cole regularly uses the phrase “Zionofascism.”

The Ivy League colleges have hired a great many anti-Americans, anti-Semites, apologists for Islam and Communism, you name it – and we’ve written about several of them on this site. But Cole was a bridge too far even for Yale. When Cole – who has spent most of his career at the University of Michigan – was considered for a teaching job at New Haven, the appointment committee found him too “divisive.”

Cheney-Lippold: fellow Israel-hater

Given all this (and much more), it’s hardly any surprise that, after his UM colleague John Cheney-Lippold was disciplined for refusing to write a recommendation letter for a student who planned to spend a summer term at Tel Aviv University – a case we covered in October – Cole wrote a letter supporting Cheney-Lippold. In defense of Cheney-Lippold’s hard-line support of the BDS movement, Cole noted that that position has been “adopted by the Democratic Socialists of America, an increasingly significant caucus in the Democratic Party.” He proceeded to pile on to Israel, cataloging the ways in which it has supposedly violated UN rules, calling its occupation of conquered territories “criminal,” likening the Israeli system to apartheid, and comparing Palestinians to “slaves.” In other words, more of the usual. Juan Cole may be many things, but he’s certainly not unpredictable.

Loving the Black Panthers?

She studied PR and “Leadership Studies” at Hampton University, then got a Master’s Degree in “Music Business” at NYU. She’s now at Yale, earning another Master’s – this one in Divinity. She “loves good music, down time with friends, & ice cream!” Sounds like a good life.

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Gabby Cudjoe Wilkes

And she seems like a good person. Last year she and several other Yale Divinity School students went to Flint, Michigan, to “hold a pastors roundtable conversation on the intersection of ecology and theology and distribute water filters and hygienic items.” She explained her motivation as follows: “As a Christian, I find that everything I do is affected by my faith. In this instance, I wanted to see the Christian community rally around these residents to make change. I was seeing assistance here and there from other organizations but I didn’t see any support from the church universal. While the church does overseas mission work well, we sometimes ignore the needs of our own nation. I didn’t want to see that happen any longer.”

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Wilkes on The O’Reilly Factor

So it was a shame to hear what Gabby Cudjoe Wilkes had to say in mid February during an appearance on Fox News’s The O’Reilly Factor. Wilkes, a bright-eyed young black woman who exuded cheer and charm, was there to talk about a couple of Yale-related news stories. The first story concerned an effort by students and faculty to remove the name of John C. Calhoun from one of Yale’s residential colleges. Calhoun was one of the great statesmen of the nineteenth century, serving as Secretary of State, Secretary of War, Senator from South Carolina, and as Vice President under John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson. Unfortunately, he was also a slave owner, which is why a movement arose to change the name of that college. When asked by host Bill O’Reilly, Wilkes affirmed that she supported the change. But that’s fine – something that reasonable people can argue about.

On May 2, 1967, Black Panthers amassed at the Capitol in Sacramento brandishing guns to protest a bill before an Assembly committee restricting the carrying of arms in public. Self-defense was a key part of the Panthers' agenda. This was an early action, a year after their founding.
Armed Black Panthers take over the California State Capitol on May 2, 1967, to protest a gun-control bill

It was what she had to say on the second topic that was so disturbing. Wilkes, it emerged, was one of a group of students at Yale who wanted to hold a campus event marking the fiftieth anniversary of the Black Panthers. Some of them, including Wilkes, had recently crossed the country to attend what was apparently a sort of learn-in at the Oakland Museum. Their goal was “to learn the history” of the Panthers; they went, she said, “as student archivists.” “Did you come away with a favorable impression of the Black Panther movement?” asked O’Reilly. “Oh, absolutely!” gushed Wilkes. O’Reilly then played a tape of Black Panther co-founder Stokely Carmichael ranting about “the honkey” (a Black Power-era term for white people). After also mentioning the killings and violence committed by the Black Panthers, O’Reilly asked: “How can you look favorably upon that group?”

Not entirely seeming to grasp the question, Wilkes started to comment about the “long history of racism in this country.” Interrupting her, O’Reilly suggested that the Panthers themselves were racists. She rushed in quickly to insist that they weren’t anti-white but pro-black. “It makes me a little uneasy,” said O’Reilly, “that a very intelligent woman like yourself could even think that these people were worthy of being considered in Black History Month.” Wilkes either was genuinely surprised by this point of view or did a very good job of feigning surprise – or perhaps she was just mocking him: “Oh, that’s INTERESTING!” she replied. “Oh, REALLY?”

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The Black Panthers in their heyday

And that was pretty much the gist of it. O’Reilly was kind and respectful to Wilkes, apparently having pretty much the same reaction to her that we did: that while it’s disturbing to hear anybody praising the Black Panthers, it’s especially disturbing to see a young black woman who seems so decent and well-meaning celebrating their memory. Perhaps instead of devoting so much time to the study of PR, the music business, and so on, she would have done well at some point to read one or two honest, comprehensive histories of the Black Power movement. She wouldn’t have even had to go all the way to Oakland to find copies of them.

The talented M. de Man?

“In his writing, abstruseness, bristling abstraction, and a disorienting use of terms make his essays often difficult to penetrate. This was part of the key to his success: to his American admirers, with their cultural inferiority complex, it seemed that if things were difficult to grasp, something profound was being said.”

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De Man (left) with poet Theodore Weiss and Renee Weiss

That’s critic Robert Alter writing about Paul de Man (1919-83), the lit-crit god who, as we saw last week, came crashing down from Olympus four years after his death when an archivist ran across pro-Nazi articles he’d written during the war. In 2014, a CUNY prof named Evelyn Barish finished off the job, demonstrating, in an excellently researched biography that we examined yesterday, that de Man was not only a wartime Nazi and anti-Semite but a lifelong thief, user, and master of deceit.

As Alter pointed out in his review of Barish’s biography, de Man, famous in his lifetime for the supposed “rigor” of his criticism, was in fact a slippery customer not just in real life but in his work as well,

playing fast and loose with the texts he discussed, misquoting, inventing quotations, and mistranslating. The British Renaissance scholar Brian Vickers has demonstrated in a trenchant article that de Man, discussing Rousseau, at one point inserts a ne absent in the French, thus converting a positive assertion by Rousseau into a negative one that suits his own purposes. Again, as Vickers shows, de Man emphatically claims that “rhetoric” in Nietzsche has nothing to do with persuasion whereas Nietzsche repeatedly says the opposite.

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Robert Alter

But in 2014, just as in 1987, de Man’s old friends did their best to fudge the facts and kill the messenger in an effort to salvage his reputation. Reviewing Barish’s book in the New York Review of Books, Peter Brooks, an old Yale buddy of de Man’s, played an especially slick game. From the very first sentence of his review and right up until the end, Brooks toyed with the conceit that the de Man of Barish’s book was not unlike Tom Ripley, the brilliantly deceitful antihero of Patricia Highsmith’s famous novel The Talented Mr. Ripley.

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Peter Brooks

Brooks’s point: Barish’s de Man is not the real de Man, but just a character cooked up by Barish in an effort to reduce the complexities of a real man’s life to the crude outlines of the protagonist of some cheap thriller. Brooks’s approach to Barish’s biography was so transparently dishonest – so obviously an effort to avoid the questions raised by de Man’s lifelong duplicity and instead indict Barish herself for deliberate misrepresentation – that David Lehman replied with a splendid letter in which he reminded readers of the objective fact that de Man was, like it or not, “a cheat, a liar, a forger, a thief, a bigamist, a cad, a swindler, a moocher, not to mention an enthusiastic Nazi propagandist, whether out of conviction or opportunism.”

The “sleight of hand” Brooks employed in his review, wrote Lehman, “should fool no one,” although Lehman did express the concern that readers might come away from Brooks’s review “with the opinion that the biographer is the criminal for not recognizing that de Man’s is, in Brooks’s words, ‘a story of remarkable survival and success following the chaos of war, occupation, postwar migration, and moments of financial desperation.’” Lehman added, eloquently:

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David Lehman

Those of us who lost family in the Holocaust have the right to insist that actions freely undertaken have consequences; that unquestioned brilliance of intellect does not justify misdeeds of the magnitude of de Man’s; and that special pleading in the face of overwhelming evidence is a species of dishonesty. No one forced de Man to write anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi articles—he did it on his own, and whether out of conviction or opportunism is beside the point.

De Man’s deceptions

They were called the deconstructionists, and a few decades ago they were the stars of academic literary studies in the United States. Based largely at Yale University, the critical school was founded by Jacques Derrida, whose fame and influence were almost matched by the group’s second most important member, Paul de Man.

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Paul de Man

During his lifetime, this is what was generally known about De Man’s background: born in Belgium in 1919, he moved to America in 1948, taught at Bard, studied at Harvard, then joined the faculty at Cornell. At a 1966 conference he heard a speech by Derrida, whom he befriended and whose critical approach he began to adopt in his own work. His star rose steadily during the last years of his career, which he spent as chair of Yale’s department of comparative literature.

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Ortwin de Graef

He died in 1983, fêted and respected around the world. And then the roof caved in. In 1987, a Belgian grad student and de Man devotee, Ortwin de Graef, was poking through some old archives when he ran across two hundred or so articles that de Man had written for a couple of Nazi-run newspapers, Le Soir and Het Vlaamsche Land, during the war. Now, it had never been entirely clear what de Man had done during the war. He had led people to believe that he’d belonged to the Resistance, but the details had always been sketchy. De Graef’s discoveries showed that de Man, far from standing up to the Nazis, had worked for them, written for them, and supported them. Although his topics were mostly literary, he managed to bring to them a political – which is to say a consistently pro-Nazi – approach. As lliterary critic and Harvard professor Louis Menand has put it, de Man “championed a Germanic aesthetic, denigrated French culture as effete, associated Jews with cultural degeneracy, praised pro-Nazi writers and intellectuals, and assured Le Soir’s readers that the New Order had come to Europe. The war was over. It was time to join the winners.”

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Louis Menand

The New York Times reported on de Graef’s findings in December 1987. The mainstream press, for the most part, crucified de Man. But many of his friends, colleagues, and fellow practitioners of literary theory tried to find a way to declare de Man innocent. To do so, they employed the slippery “logic” (which is anything but le mot juste here) of deconstruction itself, which revels in complexity, obscurity, and incertitude, and is eager to find ambiguity everywhere – even (or perhaps especially) in flat-out, perfectly clear statements that contain no real ambiguity whatsoever. In some cases, indeed, deconstruction essentially goes so far as to turn day into night, up into down, and wrong into right. We’ll look at a couple of those cockeyed defenses tomorrow.

Hugo’s fans: where are they now?

The headlines don’t mince words. “Socialism in Venezuela: No toilet paper, TV, or long distance call service.”  Venezuela nearing total ‘collapse.’”  “Venezuela’s Collapse Brings ‘Savage Suffering.’” “Venezuela has a crazy new plan to save electricity.” (The “plan” is to change the country’s time zone.)

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Nicolás Maduro

It was only a couple of years ago – but seems much, much longer – that celebrity fans of chavismo in the U.S. were still proudly proclaiming their support for the so-called Bolivarian Revolution. Consider the March 2014 letter written by a bunch of Hugo’s stateside admirers to members of the U.S. Congress, chiding them for the passage of H.R. 488, a bill expressing support for Venezuelans “as they protest peacefully for democratic change and calling to end the violence.” The letter fiercely defended the chavista government, stating that it “may have legitimate reasons for arresting and detaining” many opposition members, and accused the U.S. Congress of “politicization of human rights.” In a classic change-the-subject gambit, the letter asked why the Congress was exercised about human rights in Venezuela and not, say, in Colombia or Peru? And in conclusion, the letter warned that “Congressional resolutions steeped in hyperbolic rhetoric that portray Venezuela as a repressive government or even a dictatorship threaten to undermine the integrity of the U.S. Congress in the eyes of our Latin American neighbors.”

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Hugo with Danny Glover

Who were the signatories of this missive? The big names were actor Danny Glover, director Oliver Stone, and aging hippie Tom Hayden. But there were also several academics, some of them pretty big names in their fields – George Ciccariello-Maher, a political scientist at Drexel; Arturo Escobar, an anthropologist at Chapel Hill; Dan Kovalik of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law; Miguel Tinker Salas, a historian at Pomona; Sinclair Thomson and Greg Grandin, both historians at NYU; John Womack, Jr., a retired Harvard historian and economist; Gilbert M. Joseph, a historian at Yale; and Gerardo Renique, a historian at CUNY.

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Dan Kovalik

Where are these champions of chavismo now? Where, c’est-à-dire, are the schmoes of yesteryear? A few quick Google searches suggest that, of all these admirers of the Bolivarian Revolution, Kovalik is one of the two or three buffoons on the above list who’ve weighed in most recently on Venezuelan affairs. And what did Kovalik have to say? Scribbling in the Huffington Post in December, he lamented the opposition’s victory in the parliamentary elections: “Ultimately, it is the impoverished people of Venezuela who suffered the biggest loss in the recent elections, for the Chavista revolution has been focused on improving the once-neglected poor of Venezuela.” Kovalik was, at that point, still making great claims for the economic results of chavismo: “the Chavista government has done a laudable job in greatly reducing poverty and in reducing economic inequality.”

Then there’s Grandin. We’ll get around to him tomorrow. 

Fortune cookies: U.S. colleges in China

ci2We’ve been looking at NYU, Yale, and other major U.S. universities that have sold their souls for Arab petrodollars. Another top source of dirty money for these schools’ ambitious, ethically challenged administrators is the People’s Republic of China, which sponsors so-called “Confucius Institutes” – centers for the study of Chinese language and culture – at around campuses in the U.S. The American host universities for these centers, as Shaun Tan has noted, “must sign a ‘memorandum of understanding’ endorsing the ‘one-China policy’ that precludes recognition of Taiwan as a state.” As Jim Sleeper wrote earlier this year, the Confucius Institutes

ci1sometimes muscle out American host universities’ own independent scholars on China, not only by offering them free Chinese language instruction but also by pressuring them to disinvite uncongenial speakers and cancel public discussions of “forbidden” topics, including Tibet, Taiwan, and Tiananmen. CI directors monitor the work and pronouncements not only of their own teaching staff but also of their nominal American colleagues, who, if they criticize China, may suddenly find it difficult to obtain visas to continue research there. The effect is to “intimidate and punish” scholars, Chinese and Western, who challenge Beijing’s agendas.

Tan recalls that when Chinese Premier Hu Jintao spoke at Yale, audience members weren’t allowed to ask questions and protesters were kept away from the site of his speech, lest he be inclined to “rethink his recent decision to allow Yale to be the first foreign university to trade on China’s heavily regulated stock market.”

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NYU-Shanghai

We’ve already seen how John Sexton, the simpering fool who runs NYU, has kowtowed to UAE sheiks in order to establish NYU-Abu Dhabi. But that’s only one chapter in the shameful history of Sexton’s selling out. In 2013, he also presided over the founding of an NYU branch campus in Shanghai. Sexton was plainly not troubled by China’s severe limitations on academic freedom. Indeed, he seems quite happy to help enforce them not only in China but in New York: in June 2013, Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng said Sexton’s administration had yanked his NYU fellowship and his Manhattan apartment in order to placate his former torturers in Beijing.

Earlier this year, notes Sleeper, China’s Education Minister forbade the country’s universities from using “textbooks promoting Western values…in our classes” or permitting classroom “remarks that slander the leadership of the Communist Party of China” or “smear socialism.” How can any university worthy of the name operate under such restrictions?

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Xia Yeliang

Then there’s the Xia Yeliang incident. In October 2013, Xia, an economics professor at Peking University (PKU), was fired, apparently in retaliation for his “outspoken” opinions. Members of the faculty at Wellesley College, which had just signed a deal with PKU, wrote a letter of protest to that university’s president, calling the dismissal “such a fundamental violation of academic freedom” that they “would find it very difficult to engage in scholarly exchanges with Peking University.” Impressive. But Wellesley, alas, was the exception that proved the rule. As Peter Ford reported in the Christian Science Monitor, almost fifty American institutions of higher education had deals with PKU at the time of Xia’s firing, but only two (the other was the University of Virginia) spoke up about it.

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Susan Reverby

What does it mean for us to rent our reputation abroad?” asked Wellesley history prof Susan Reverby. “At what point does one side go over a line that the partner organization does not think should be crossed?” Sleeper, noting that Stanford University “has a $7 million center at Peking University,” quoted Stanford dean Richard Saller‘s less-than-stirring statement on Xia’s dismissal: “We went into our relationship with Peking University with the knowledge that American standards of academic freedom are the product of 100 years of evolution. We think engagement is a better strategy than taking such moral high ground that we can’t engage with some of these universities.” (Translation: ka-ching!)

And Xia himself? He told Ford that fifteen years earlier the administrators of PKU “thought they should listen to the West….But today so many famous universities want to cooperate with PKU…[that] they think they can set the rules.” On that point, the folks at PKU would seem to be entirely correct.

No gays, no Jews, no worries: NYU in Abu Dhabi

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John Sexton

In a revealing 2008 New York magazine piece about NYU’s sellout to Abu Dhabi, Zvika Krieger quoted dopey NYU president John Sexton‘s blithe admission that students and faculty at NYU-Abu Dhabi would be subject to “the normal laws of that society” – for example, the UAE’s criminization of homosexuality and its ban on Israelis. As one NYU math professor, Sylvain Cappell, noted, “Israelis are gigantic figures in academic life, and if we held conferences in certain disciplines, it would be an embarrassment not to be able to have Israeli participation.” Krieger wondered “how the Jewish members of NYU’s board of trustees engaged the mental gymnastics necessary to process the U.A.E.’s disconcerting tolerance of anti-Semitism.”

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NYU-Abu Dhabi

Sexton, however, refused to see any problems here: “I would say to any student here that wants to go to the Abu Dhabi campus, ‘Go.’ Gay students, Israeli students, I refuse to think in those categories.” Never mind that the police and courts and prison authorities in the UAE do think in those categories. Mubarak Al Shamesi, Abu Dhabi’s education honcho, told Krieger that “NYU was aware of our local culture and rules and guidelines, and our policies on Israelis or homosexuality were clearly not a concern for them.”

This, as Krieger underscored, from a university that had been named the most gay-friendly in the United States.

Recently, Jim Sleeper, who teaches poli sci at Yale, wrote an article in which he expanded on Shaun Tan’s and Zvika Krieger’s criticism of Sexton. Noting that the campus of NYU-Abu Dhabi “is the product of a kleptocracy,” Sleeper pointed out that the compromises entered into by Sexton & co. “involve not just academic life but the virtual indentured servitude of thousands of laborers from Southeast Asia who have been imported to construct the campus.”

Nasser bin Ghaith, one of the five political activists pardoned by the United Arab Emirates, speaks to Reuters at his home in Dubai November 30, 2011. REUTERS/Nikhil Monteiro
Nasser bin Ghaith

Although NYU-Abu Dhabi is still a relatively new institution, it’s already been the locus of several major compromises. In 2011, Nasser bin Ghaith, who taught at the Sorbonne’s Abu Dhabi branch, was arrested and tried “for supporting democratic elections.” Human Rights Watch urged NYU and other UAE-based Western colleges to come to Bin Ghaith’s defense; but, as Jackson Diehl reported in the Washington Post,

NYU joined with the Sorbonne in throwing Bin Ghaith overboard. A Sorbonne statement said the university had “no authorized means to express an opinion” because the charges against the professor were “external to his academic activities.” NYU also declined to make a statement; a spokesman said it fell outside NYU’s “core mission.”

In 2012, Ursula Lindsey, a reporter for the Chronicle of Higher Education, paid a visit to the NYU-Abu Dhabi campus. Among her observations: faculty members “use caution in broaching topics such as AIDS and prostitution; the status of migrant laborers; Israel and the Holocaust; and domestic politics and corruption. Any critical discussion of the Emirates’ ruling families is an obvious no-go zone.” In 2014, Matt J. Duffy, who had taught in the UAE, called NYU-Abu Dhabi’s “pledge of ‘academic freedom’ …essentially worthless because powerful figures [in the Emirates] can make arbitrary employment decisions with absolutely no recourse.”

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Andrew Ross

Sleeper has cited the case of NYU American Studies professor Andrew Ross, who publicly “called attention to the labor abuses” in the UAE and who consequently was banned from Abu Dhabi in March of this year. That’s not all: “In the United States, Ross was followed by a private investigator; and a reporter who had worked with the New York Times on a story about the Abu Dhabi campus said that a representative of the United Arab Emirates had offered him payments to write more positively about the government.” Worst of all, “President Sexton’s handling of reports about those abuses and of NYU’s complicity in them are troubling.” Quelle surprise!

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Sorbonne-Abu Dhabi

No, NYU isn’t the only university to engage in this kind of whoring. But at least some other whores are honest about what they’re doing. “Sexton,” wrote Krieger,

is unwilling to concede that he is in thrall to petrodollars. But the Sorbonne, which opened a campus in Abu Dhabi in 2006, is quite open about having sold itself to the highest bidder. “It is a pity, but I must say that we are only in Abu Dhabi because Abu Dhabi proposed to pay for all of our expenses,” says Daniel Balland, director-general of the Sorbonne in Abu Dhabi. “If we got the same offer from Doha or Cairo, we probably would have said yes, too.”

NYU: The Big Apple of academic sleaze

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John Sexton

In his devastating 2012 article “Dangerous Liaisons,” about the moral and intellectual compromises that major American universities have made in order to squeeze money out of rich foreign autocrats, Shaun Tan devoted a few paragraphs to NYU president John Sexton. If virtually all of America’s major universities have been known to sell out their principles as long as there’s enough cash on the table, NYU is arguably the most notorious offender in this regard. Often it seems to be a money-making enterprise first, a real-estate operation second, and a university (at best) third. And when it comes to licking the boots of creeps with deep pockets, the suits at NYU are especially quick to drop to their knees.

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NYU’s Bobst Library

But even for those familiar with NYU’s history of sleaze, the story of Sexton’s sellout to Arab fat cats is a head-turner. First, get a load of this, from a 2008 New York magazine article by Zvika Krieger entitled “The Emir of NYU”:

John Sexton’s office, which sits on the top floor of NYU’s Bobst Library and boasts an impressive view north to Washington Square Park, has recently begun to resemble a shrine to Abu Dhabi. The university president has installed a massive Oriental rug, a gift from the crown prince, on one entire wall. On another hangs a framed portrait of the sunglasses-clad founder of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. In the center of the room is a large framed photograph of an Emirati woman, hand covered in a henna tattoo, gazing provocatively from behind a sequined veil.

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Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan

The reason for this nauseating display? Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, had plunked down $50 million to establish NYU-Abu Dhabi, which, on its opening in 2010, became “the first liberal arts college outside America.” Bankrolled completely by the Abu Dhabi government, NYU-Abu Dhabi was, in Tan’s words, “Sexton’s brainchild, conceived through his mad obsession with dethroning what he calls ‘the holy trinity’ – Harvard, Yale, and Princeton – from their perch at the pinnacle of American education.”

Back to Krieger’s 2008 piece: Sexton “has taken the thirteen-hour flight to the desert emirate four times over the past two years to personally broker the deal with the crown prince of Abu Dhabi. He refers to his trips there as a ‘spiritual experience’ and sees the project as honoring his late wife.” Sexton even planned to teach a course of his own in Abu Dhabi, flying back and forth every other weekend:

“I can’t wait to teach my class over there,” he exclaims, his face flushed with excitement as he throws his feet up in the air and falls back in his chair.

Don’t worry. There’s more.