THE SPINE NOVEMBER 3, 2007
Judging tenure battles from the outside is a dangerous business. But some of these procedures are so obvious that the facts are there in open air for the informed public to judge. The denial by DePaul University of tenure to Norman Finkelstein was a self-evident proposition; it was already an intellectual scandal that he had been hired to teach at any rank. Similarly with Juan Cole who was denied a full professorship at Yale (from an already tenured post at the University of Michigan; I assume approved by Lee Bollinger, now the hapless president of Columbia University but then president at Ann Arbor.) Cole is a propagandist, and Yale as an institution felt that his politics, whatever it was, is no substitute for scholarly work. In its own inimitably serious way, Yale made a statement about what tenure means. Its History Department, perhaps the greatest of all such departments in America, would not compromise its distinction for an appointment that had no distinction attached to it at all.Well, it's no longer "Hail Columbia." And it hasn't been that for a very long time. It is now suffering from the enthronement of Edward Said at the university, so that any appointment touching on the Middle East becomes just another round in the struggle of his heirs for domination of the field by partisans of the Palestinian cause, particularly, and the Arab-Muslim cause, more generally. In the academy, of course, this automatically translates into a vulgar hatred of America. In any case, Bollinger did not make this much. He fell into it. But he has certainly added to its odor. I wonder how he makes his decisions.Nadia Abu El-Haj, an assistant professor of archaeology at Barnard College, Columbia's women's college, was up for tenure, which requires the approval of the university's president. Apparently, it has been given. I've looked at the book, Facts on the Ground: Archaeological Practice and Territorial Self-Fashioning in Israeli Society. I guess that these days you can write a book about a country whose language you don't know, at least if your tenure decision depends on a man like Bollinger, cowardly and self-important at once. The thesis of El-Haj's 2001 study is that Israel has skewed its archaeological practice to distort the history of the Jews in the ancient land, to put Jews where there were not Jews and to retrospectively eliminate others who had been there. This is nonsense.I happen to know a tiny bit about this. First of all, I know several truly eminent Israeli archaeologists of different historical viewpoints. El-Haj is gravely impudent to doubt the scrupulous honesty of the profession in Israel itself, an argumentative bunch worshipping no sacred cows. Secondly, when I was chairman of the Jerusalem Foundation, we had partially financed the excavation of the southern side of the temple mount. It is an instance of historical probity. The layers unveiled are so differentiated as to give every period from near Davidic times to the coming of Islam and the Crusades their distinct, yet intermeshed place. And now there is the fright that archaeologists continue to unearth sites in the ancient hub of Jerusalem that seem not only to be of David's era but of David's kingship. A tragedy for the trumped up history Palestinian nationalists have been peddling. Of course, the history of Christianity depends on and derives from the Jewish presence and Jewish kingship and a Jewish priestly caste in the sacred city. Is the whole story of Jesus just bobe mayses, grandmother's tales? Well, if you believe Professor Al-Haj, whose new work is mirabili dictu in the genetic history of the Jews, it is. From ignorance to ignorance. Maybe President Bollinger can get this lady a professorship in the Biology Department.But maybe not. He'll soon be looking, I expect, for another job himself. How long will the Columbia board of trustees tolerate such intellectual mayhem at its university? Maybe they'll palliate their consciences by giving him a big severance package.