Both Caroline Glick and Alex Joffe have devoted interesting columns to the decision to close the Yale Interdisciplinary Initiative for the Study of Antisemitism (YIISA) after five years of successful operation. It’s a little bit difficult to sort out what is happening. Both Glick and Joffe draw on circumstantial evidence to support their conclusion that something other than academic merit accounts for the shuttering of YIISA. Based mostly on the circumstantial evidence, Glick asserts “that politics were in all likelihood the decisive factor in the decision.” (Glick has now posted an addendum to her column along with a letter from prominent scholars opposing Yale’s closure of YIISA.)
Yesterday I turned to a source with first-hand knowledge of the principals for an assessment of the closure of YIISA. My source responded at length and in detail, but on the condition that I limit myself to paraphrasing his remarks, which I do below.
My source frames his remarks as partially disagreeing with the gist of the controversy over the closure, although I don’t read them quite that way. He directs attention to the principals in Yale’s actions, whom he identifies as Donald Green (Political Science and Institution for Social and Policy Studies, within which YIISA was housed), Ian Shapiro (director, MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies at Yale), and Gus Ranis (member of the review committee on YIISA and former director of the MacMillan Center). Green and Shapiro, he asserts, take a technocratic view of political science. The study of anti-Semitism is not susceptible to a technocratic approach and so YIISA was, in my source’s view, fundamentally alien to their understanding.
Then my source turns to the political angle (an angle that is consistent, in my view, with Glick’s and Joffe’s reading of the circumstantial evidence). He characterizes Shapiro as an ardent leftist and Ranis as all that and worse, adding a twist of poison to his politics. My source was surprised to learn that Ranis had been appointed to the YIISA five-member faculty review committtee. According to my source, Shapiro and Ranis see concern about anti-Semitism as basically conservative, and they don’t like conservatives. He adds that the closure of YIISA was fundamentally about the war within liberalism (a war that is especially sharp on the liberal Jewish end of the spectrum, where it qualifies as a civil war) over the meaning and import of anti-Semitism.
My source focuses on Ranis, Shapiro, and Green because he believes they accounted for the three votes that were necessary to produce the outcome, which was a surprise to some of the players at Yale. The core issue, according to him, is the toxic disciplinary ideology combined with the even more toxic political views of the responsible faculty. He does not discount other factors including Yale’s desire to raise funds in the Arab Middle East. Borrowing a term from Freudian analysis, I think it’s fair to say that the demise of YIISA was overdetermined.
UPDATE: Michael Rubin directs my attention to Ranis’s worldview on display in his January, 31, 2011, letter to the editor of the New York Times.
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