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Something About Yale’s David R. Graeber


In a recent interview with the embattled—and on the verge of becoming a former—Yale University Assistant Professor of Anthrolopogy David Graeber, Joshua Frank reported that in early May, “Prof. Graeber was informed that his teaching contract at Yale would not be extended.” But, Frank continued, “it was not Graeber’s scholarship that was ever in question; rather it was his political philosophies that may have played a heavy hand in the administration’s unwarranted decision.”


In the interview, Frank asked Graeber to “talk a little bit about the circumstances leading up to Yale’s decision not to renew your teaching contract,” whether Graeber believes his case may be “symptomatic of a larger problem in the U.S. where radical professors are being targeted for their unpopular political views”—the cases of Ward Churchill at the University of Colorado at Boulder and that of Joseph Massad at New York’s Columbia University also were raised—or whether Graeber believes that all of these may be “isolated incidents.”

According to Graeber (and please note that I am being selective here, so I urge you to read the complete interview):

[S]omething’s changing. I mean, I’m sure it’s not like there’s someone giving orders from above or anything, but there’s a climate suddenly where people feel they can get away with this sort of thing, and the Ward Churchill and Massad cases obviously must have something to do with that. I’ve been hearing a lot of stories, in recent weeks, about radical teachers suddenly being let go for no apparent reason. They don’t even have to dig up something offensive you’re supposed to have said any more – at least, in my case no one is even suggesting I did or said anything outrageous, in which case, at least there’d be something to argue about.

Joshua Frank’s interview with David Graeber was followed by some additional information, including a link to an online petition that readers are invited to sign “In Support of David Graeber” (the petition had attracted 3,217 signatories as of this Wednesday afternoon, May 18); Graeber’s email address; and the email addresses of several of the principals at Yale involved in determining the Professor’s fate.

The link to the Professor’s email address—which you’ll have to access via CounterPunch or the Anthropology Department at Yale, as I’m not reproducing it here—is one item that I find particularly worthy of note. Perhaps I should write to the Professor, and express my support? Perhaps you should too? But if one or both of us write to him, what should we say? Should we follow Joshua Frank’s lead, and make the Professor out to be the latest link in a chain of demonized leftist (or, in the Professor’s avowed case, anarchist), anti-American, racist, terrorist-supporting and even bomb-throwing academics who have been campus-watched right out of their classrooms and jobs—and into the unemployment lines? About whom, let it be affirmed straight away, there are many authentic cases worthy of our support. Beginning, for example, with Professor Massad at Columbia and Professor Churchill at UCB. And extending onward, if you like, to Newsweek‘s Michael Isikoff—who very well could lose his job at the behest of the regime in the White House, far less for getting his facts wrong than for getting them right.

Maybe not. Because when, in mid-May, 2004, a friend of mine sent an email message to a number of his friends, colleagues, and acquaintances, among whom was the aforementioned anarchist Professor at Yale, including the copy of a little manuscript that my friend had just completed, bearing the title, “The Cruise Missile left (Part 5): Samantha Power and the Genocide Gambit,” the Professor was none-too-pleased to have found the document in his Inbox. As a matter of fact, the Professor was enraged over this particular manuscript, and responded to my friend with the following email (May 18, 2004):

That’s disgusting. Get me off your fucking list, asshole I didn’t ask to be bombarded by letters explaining why simply slaughtering the entire male population of a certain ethnic group isn’t genocide because they don’t kill all the women and children too. I don’t care what sort of point your source is trying to make about Western bias – anyone who writes this kind of apologia has lost their humanity, and I must say I have zero respect left for you for reprinting this – apparently, you would be sending off excuses for the Brownshirts of [sic] KKK too if US foreign policy happened to tactically align itself against them at some point. I almost wish some Nazi would rape and mutilate your daughter because of her ethnic or religious affiliation so as to see how you’d feel to see some self-righteous asshole scream about how some of her coreligionists did something bad too so she had it coming. Except of course she wouldn’t deserve it. You do. People like you defile the left and everything it stands for.

Of course, one never can be quite sure as to the reasons why the esteemed Professor adopted the forensic style that he used in response to my friend’s manuscript. And far be it from the Professor to ever say or write anything offensive or outrageous. To anyone. For whatever reason. Even in hastily drafted emails. Or to hurl good old-fashioned cuss words in place of learned discourse. Or even to almost wish that some Nazi would rape and mutilate the daughter of one of his interlocutors—whether inside academia, among his students at Yale, or the general public. Much less to accuse anyone of defiling the Left and everything it stands for. And so on.

With or without cause.

Without Cause: Yale Fires An Acclaimed Anarchist Scholar,” Joshua Frank, CounterPunch, May 13, 2005

The Cruise Missile left (Part 5): Samantha Power and the Genocide Gambit,” Edward S. Herman, ZNet, May 17, 2004

When Students Complain About Professors, Who Gets to Define the Controversy?” Jon Weiner, Chronicle of Higher Education, May 13, 2005 (Accessed via the Academics For Justice website.)

Columbia University and the Joseph Massad Case (Homepage), Censoring Thought

Ward Churchill: Letters of support from the CU academic community (Homepage), Colorado Communities for Justice and Peace

Behind the Newsweek Retraction,” Danny Schechter, News Dissector, May 18, 2005

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