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The Chronicle of Higher Education Re-Invents Cole

Speaking about James Risen’s single-source allegation that nefarious forces sought to blacklist University of Michigan professor Juan Cole, The Chronicle of Higher Education‘s blog wrote this :

In 2006, Yale University denied him a teaching post after faculty in the sociology and history departments had voted to hire him, a move that many supporters alleged was the result of divisive political opinions on his blog…

Sometimes, details matter. I happen to follow Yale’s history department closely (having spent four undergraduate years and five post-graduate years there, and counting many faculty members among my friends), and here’s what The Chronicle omitted:

  • The posting to which Cole applied was for someone that could combine policy experience with academic depth. Cole has the academic depth, but he does not have the policy experience.
  • While the history and sociology departments did vote in favor of Cole’s appointment, faculty members in the departments say they did so by unprecedented slim margins. This led senior officials to raise eyebrows at the lack of consensus.
  • Stripping away his politics, Cole is a scholar of the 19th century Middle East. Yale already has a tenured faculty member who focuses on the 19th century Middle East and so to maximize the department’s reach, the administration did not consider Cole a wise choice.
  • While Cole trumpets his rejection by Yale to project himself as a martyr, The Chronicle ignores that around the same time, Duke University rejected Cole. The multiple rejections suggest perhaps something else was to blame for Cole’s rejections (perhaps Cole himself).

Now, Alana raises some fine points here, and Cole complains that perhaps some mysterious blacklisting caused the number of invitations he received to curtail. Cole wants to be a martyr, but sometimes there’s a simpler truth: Cole might know Iraq’s history — even if he filters it through a theoretical prism — but at the time he had not been to Iraq and, as far as I know, he still has not been. Back in 2003 and 2004, he might have gotten away lecturing to analysts who knew far less than he did. But as more and more people had on-the-ground experience in Iraq, many came to conclude that bombast and turn-of-phrase did not substitute for precision, nor did mutlilingual compilation of news translate into accuracy. Simply put, CIA analysts and others — Risen, perhaps, excepted — concluded the professor had no clothes. No mysterious government conspiracy was needed to discredit Cole; he did a pretty good job himself.



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