Document Type

Article

Publication Date

12-16-2016

Abstract

Message from President: Ingeniously positioned in a way that can only be accomplished through centuries of cultural evolution, Christmas occurs near the longest, darkest night of the year so as to suggest that even a small ray of light shines brightest when piercing the gloom. However severe the shortage of light around the yuletide, it never rivals the acute dimness of that social counterpart to night, blacklisting. With the advent of web sites such as Professor Watch List, an organization that stigmatizes dissenting professors and encourages students to reconnoiter them, blacklisting is much in the news these days, and rightly so. Yet honest scholars ought to ask whether the pot ought to accuse the kettle of blacklisting before examining its own practices. Sensational web sites like the aforementioned practice an obvious, blatant sort of blacklisting— the equivalent of shouting imprecations through a megaphone. Academe offers more delicate ways of identifying those who, in the majority estimate, walk among the damned. Almost every academic professional knows that one colleague in the department or college who has been collectively stereotyped as the guy or gal whose career didn’t quite work out or whose glory was of another day and who is now regarded as a necessary liability and test case of the sanctity of tenure. Then there are those colleagues who have fallen into the academic equivalent of a black hole: who, after a period of inactivity, can never produce enough scholarship to make up for the hiatus and who are the targets of knowing nods and grimaces. Still another, less daunted subset of blacklisted persons include those who have taken a controversial pose and who have therefore been designated as the official department/college/institutional dissidents—the go-to persons in the midst of a broil who are never otherwise taken seriously. Blacklisting habits can develop early in careers, as occurs when young members of the profession, in search of mentors and seeking advancement, are subtly steered away from oldsters who, for one reason or another, are too hot for handling. Career advancement is the most common cloak for blacklisting. Often enough, aspiring academics latch on to senior sponsors who, in turn, signal their disciples as to who is “in” and who ought to be “out.” Then there is the scholar who suddenly takes up an unusual interest—one thinks of the late John Mack at Harvard University, who faced persecution after daring to investigate popular belief in alien abduction—and who thereby draws ridicule rather than approbation for daring and curiosity. One reason that Louisiana universities seldom make progress is the prevalence of blacklisting by the influential. Having qualifications, asking questions, or at least trying to iron the emperor’s non-existent clothes are all reasons for exclusion from the power structures that undergird academe. Doing what one ought to do, whether being interdisciplinary (and thereby trespassing over “unit” boundaries) or whether exploring the work rules within the allegedly noble academy, are all reasons to put a glass ceiling in place. A visit to any management board meeting in Louisiana will demonstrate that conventionality is king. Which brings us around to Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and whatever else might be celebrated during the dismal days. What is the best present that could be given to a colleague? A vocal affirmation that such a person should be removed from the blacklist. Stand up wherever one can stand up—in a department meeting, at a management board meeting, outside the doors of the downtown law firms that do the unseen deviltry of universities—and announce that you support blacklist victim A, B, or C. Join your faculty Senate and propose a resolution of commendation for that person who tried to help you. The Star of Bethlehem, after all, was a conjunction of small luminosities, which just shows what influence comes from shedding even a few rays of hope.

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