Individualism is the enemy of collectivism and vice versa.
When criticized, the academic/literary establishment was all so predictable—the inevitable deafening silence. Partisans of the establishment overwhelmingly rejected vigorous debate regarding their openly expressed thoughts and ideas. When a rare partisan responded, she or he would inevitably not respond to the counter arguments put forth, but rather employ an arsenal of unoriginal epithets.
My creativity, as a cartoonist, was more often than not provoked by comments devoid of reason, replete with vacuity. One such comment stemmed from an open letter in the Washington Square News, the student newspaper of “elite” New York University, penned by members of the collectivist Liberal Studies Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Working Group. Even Orwell couldn’t have made up a better name for it. A more honest name would have been Collectivist Studies Uniformity, Inequity and Exclusion Working Group. But academe alas was not known for honesty.
The open letter was written to castigate Michael Rectenwald, an untenured NYU Clinical Assistant Professor of Liberal Studies, whatever that might entail. Rectenwald had made anti-PC comments on the internet. Oddly, he argued he was not right-wing but rather “left communist.” Go figure! No matter. What grabbed my attention was the following statement made in the open letter:
“We fully support Professor Rectenwald’s right to speak his mind and we welcome civil discourse on the issues that concern him. But as long as he airs his views with so little appeal to evidence and civility, we must find him guilty of illogic and incivility in a community that predicates its work in great part on rational thought and the civil exchange of ideas. The cause of Professor Rectenwald’s guilt is certainly not, in our view, his identity as a cis, white, straight male. The cause of his guilt is the content and structure of his thinking.”
First, I contacted Rectenwald, asking if he’d write a short essay for The American Dissident. He chose not to respond. After all, he was a tenure-tracker, seeking to climb up the establishment ladder and into a professional safety cocoon. The idea for a cartoon then materialized, and I began sketching. When I finished the cartoon, I sent it off to Editor-in-Chief Alex Bazeley and Managing Editor Bobby Wagner of the student newspaper. Unsurprisingly, neither responded. Such editors usually proclaimed independence while simultaneously being in lockstep with their journalist professors, and otherwise quite dependent on the thought-pabulum dished out at their respective universities.
Next, I posted the cartoon, “In the High Court of Civility,” on The American Dissident blog site and sent notice to the targets depicted in it. Because of space limitations, I did not sketch student Working Group members Asha Kuziwa, Felipe Gomes, Marsha Ho, and Tiger Kneller, though did include mention of their names at the bottom of the cartoon. My email was the following:
To NYU Professors et al of the Liberal Studies Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Working Group (i.e., Suzanne Maria Menghraj, Sean Eve, Robert Squillace, Marion Thain, Elayne Tobin, Jonathon White, Hannah Pingelton and Michael Rectenwald):
A new cartoon depicting each of you was just posted on The American Dissident blog site (see wwwtheamericandissidentorg.blogspot.com). About a week ago, I wrote to Prof. Rectenwald, hoping he might submit an essay RE his current battle with PC-academe. He chose NOT to respond. Likely, he is now cowering with regard to his career as a lifer academic. So be it. I then contacted the editor-in-chief of the Washington Square News. He did NOT respond. It seems to be the norm nowadays that such editors tend to be in lockstep with reigning professors, while, of course, boasting independence. With his regard, I could be wrong. Maybe he’ll respond in a week or maybe two or maybe next year. Alas, VIGOROUS DEBATE tends NOT to be a cornerstone in most corners of academe. Feel free to respond and even post your comments on the blog site. Comments are NEVER censored. I do not bite! But I do tickle. Nevertheless, my long experience with academics like you leads me to assume not one of you will respond. BTW, it was the mind-numbing statement repeated in the cartoon that grabbed my full attention. How not to question and challenge such inane statements? Enjoy!
A sketch at the bottom of “Literary Letters for the Public Record” appearing in each issue of The American Dissident features P. Maudit fishing and catching an academic on a hook. Now, how not to think of that sketch when Clinical Assistant Professor of Liberal Studies Elayne L. Tobin responded?
The Working Group was echoing Mr. Rectenwald's claims that he was "guilty of being a cis white male”—I assume before you posted this you read his original interview with the University newspaper, the Washington Square News, right? As a writer, I assume you did that?
If not, here is the paragraph from the interview:
WSN: Could you talk a little about your thoughts on the entire push for diversity in general then?
MR: A cis, white, straight male like myself is guilty of something. I don’t know what. But I’m fucking sure I’m guilty of it. And I am very low on the ethical totem pole, you know? People who are doing different things, it’s like, “we are the most precious souls,” you know? The most beleaguered are the best, and the worst is the best. So there’s a one-downmanship that goes on. I despise it for the status seeking, the seeking after the most oppressed people position status that it involves, which is just utterly and completely eradicates any possibility of solidarity. But one thing I want to make clear is that I am not against diversity. What I’m against is the policing of identity that’s going on — the policing of behavior with reference to diversity. I’m not against diversity. I’m against the university using diversity as an ideology to make themselves look ethical..
Also, you are naming 18 and 19 year old students in this cartoon. Most of whom are minorities. You want to do that in a magazine about dissent? When they were actually dissenting? Free speech goes both ways. You say something and someone can say something back. That is how it works, as you know.
I am speaking for myself, not the Working Group. I want to make this clear. They are smart, empathetic people who I am sure will have their own responses, or not.
Mr.Rectenwald is on a paid leave that he requested.
And I am respectful of Cuba, unlike you. I have no idea what your site is about in general, except nastiness and the bizarre "tickling" comment.
Thanks, but not very much, for the head's up. I stand with these people.
Dr. Elayne Tobin
From there, the two of us engaged in what the French term a dialogue de sourds. However, I responded to every point Tobin made, while she chose not to respond to any points I made. Perhaps that sums up the new academic modus operandi.
In my response, I congratulated Tobin for actually responding, while noting my doubts that any of her colleagues would also respond. And indeed not one of them ever did. And of course I had read the interview and had not found an iota of illogic or incivility in the paragraph she presented from it. But then I was not one who looked through ideological glasses. And logic would never/could never be the forte of an ideologue. I noted I would have taken it much further than Rectenwald, as in eliminate the costly diversity ideology centers with their overpaid deans of diversity that served to indoctrinate, not educate, and replace them with First Amendment centers that would educate students on the importance of freedom of speech and expression and vigorous debate. One would be hard-pressed to find just one university in America with such a center and equally hard-pressed to find just one university without a diversity center. Sadly, academe and academics had a strong monkey-see, monkey-do tendency. Tobin of course ignored my comments.
Now, the sentence that had provoked my satirizing of Tobin and her group was, as noted above: “But as long as he airs his views with so little appeal to evidence and civility, we must find him guilty of illogic and incivility in a community that predicates its work in great part on rational thought and the civil exchange of ideas.”
The “civil exchange of ideas” was of course code for mandatory groupthink. Criticize the group and be judged uncivil. The growing emphasis on civility in academe was a thinly-veiled anti-free speech ploy. Why Tobin could not see that was easily explained by her position and ideology.
Regarding Rectenwald’s request for a paid leave of absence, I would have thought such a request would be very difficult to obtain. The norm would be that administrators dictate the paid leave because of unwanted controversy. In fact, that happened to me once upon a time. Moreover, I asked Tobin why she referred to Rectenwald as Mr. rather than Dr. After all, he did possess a doctoral degree and she signed her email with Dr. because she had a doctoral degree. Might that be subtle “nastiness” on her part?
If Tobin were so respectful of Cuba, then she evidently did not respect that most basic of human rights, freedom of speech and expression. Cuba was a dictatorship. Poets and artists were in jail in Cuba for having simply expressed themselves openly. Thousands and thousands of Cuban citizens had fled Cuba because of the ruthless Castro dictatorship. For a writer, Tobin certainly did not seem to care about them or the absence of freedom of expression in Cuba! Of course, when I brought those things to her attention, she did not address them.
Furthermore and unsurprisingly, Tobin did not seem to understand what free speech encompassed. Her statement on the students, bizarre in itself, emphasized that lack of understanding: “Also, you are naming 18 and 19 year old students in this cartoon. Most of whom are minorities. You want to do that in a magazine about dissent? When they were actually dissenting? Free speech goes both ways. You say something and someone can say something back. That is how it works, as you know.”
So, if someone were dissenting, then I shouldn’t question and challenge that person? How aberrant! And if that someone were 18 or 19, then I should give him or her a pass? How aberrant! How did that possibly jive with the concept of free speech? Were minorities somehow exempt from questioning and challenging? Oddly, Tobin evidently thought they should be.
An 18 or 19-year old student was no longer a child, but officially/legally an adult. Whether or not those students were minorities was immaterial. Why should minorities be treated differently… and like children? Was Tobin against equality? If those students wanted to be safe and cocooned, they should not have joined her Working Group and become signatories of an open letter. Surely, Tobin could agree with that. But she didn’t.
Tobin’s ”nastiness” comment served to deflect away from my message by killing the messenger. Aberrantly, she dismissed the entirety of The American Dissident website, which was composed of numerous pages, including essays by Thoreau, Emerson, Orwell, and Solzhenitsyn, as well as poems by Villon, Lorca, Mandelstam, Neruda, and Cuban dissident Raul Rivero. Were they "nastiness"? Tobin would not stipulate. Moreover, without precise examples to back such a general “nastiness” criticism, it became meaningless.
Regarding my “tickle” comment, well, it was clearly meant to be humorous. Tobin would not specify why she thought it was “bizarre.” Well, I did not expect responses to any of those questions because I’d be surprised if Tobin had any logical retort to offer, besides the “nastiness” non-argument. Perhaps somebody should judge Tobin guilty of “illogic and incivility” and not for having contravened the ivory-tower community modus operandi but rather for having contravened that of the freedom-loving community beyond the tower walls. Tobin responded with another non-response.
George, some of what you say I agree with, some things I vehemently disagree with and find quite knee-jerk, frankly. I didn't think the Working Group's letter was perfect, but then, nothing ever is. I simply can't talk about employee issues in any detail here, as it is not my realm nor my right.
You can assume what you will, but your journalistic knowledge about this is, of course, severely and problematically limited by your lack of knowledge about the specifics. Painting Michael Rectenwald like some sort of religious martyr in the cartoon seems odd, at the very least. He claimed he was "guilty" in the most desperate and straw man way. He has been given all the benefits of employment at an elite university. You know nothing about our program and are distinctly out of line with the facts of the situation.
I am sorry you were asked to take paid leave once, but that only sours me to your objectivity on this issue.
As does your bio:
G. Tod Slone, aka P. Maudit (cartoonist sobriquet), is the founding and sole editor of The American Dissident, which was created in 1998 as a direct result of the corruption experienced first-hand at Fitchburg State University in Massachusetts (see genesis). At that institution, I was a tenure-track professor of French and Spanish. After arbitration hearings during my fifth year overwhelmingly pointed to intrinsic institutional corruption, I was offered a year's salary as settlement, but not further employment and, of course, no apology whatsoever.
Many personal conflicts and events helped to form my critical nature and passion for the First Amendment. The following include a small sample of them.
—Permanent trespass w/o due process from McKay Campus (Fitchburg State) due to the complaint of one professor, friend of chairperson DeCesare who wanted me out, that she was afraid of me
—Three-month Trespass w/o due process from Watertown Free Public Library due to the complaint of the reference librarian (one hell of an uptight bitch!)
—My arrest and incarceration in a Concord jail cell for a day for having had a non-violent dispute with a Walden Pond State Reservation Park ranger
—Permanent trespass from Sturgis Library due to written criticism of Lucy Loomis, its fascistic director (another hell of an uptight bitch!)
But good luck With your cartoon and article. I had never heard of your publication before, and probably won't again. Maybe I am, your words, "An uptight bitch"?
Then came a brief PS.
Also I just found this [from The American Dissident website], so now I am laughing out loud at your free speech arguements [sic] and your cartoon, mocking us as a "J'accuse" Centered group.
Public Citizen has been publishing a list of questionable doctors. In vain, I've requested that it also publish a list of dubious professors and college administrators. After all, public higher education shapes the very soul of the nation. At Fitchburg State College, a list of those apathetic to truth and justice ought to be topped by presidents Riccards and Mara, Dean Shirley Wagner, Emeriti Semerjian and DeCesare, former Director of Personnel Mary Scott, former Director of Academic Advising Joan Niehaus, former Dean of Continuing Education Michele Zide (who had been evaluating her teaching husband, a local judge), Professors Nan Wiegersmeier, Charlie Hetzel, Jane Fiske, Louis Lorenzen, Robert Champlin, Robin Dinda, Carol Sickul, James Colbert, Walter Jeffco, Richard Glidewell, and Maria Jaramillo. The list ought also include the lawyers and administrators of the MSCA professors' union (part of the all-powerful Massachusetts Teachers Association, which is part of the National Education Association), The Boston Globe, The Boston Herald, The Sentinel, The Concord Journal, The Worcester Telegram, Thought & Action, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Adjunct Advocate, Lingua Franca, Academe, College English, as well as former Poet Laureate of the US Congress Robert Pinsky and Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, both Fitchburg State College graduation speakers who preferred collecting their big taxpayer-paid speaking fees to responding to my correspondence regarding the corrupt administration inviting them.
Now, should I be surprised that Tobin would be laughing out loud regarding the diverse injustices listed on my website? Not in the least! Her academic career depended on her having that kind of pitiful reaction. I hadn’t thought of adding her to that list of dubious professors because I’d forgotten it even existed. I’d composed it in the 1990s. And again, Tobin essentially and unsurprisingly ignored the precise points I’d made in my response. What points she found to be lacking in objectivity she, of course, did not mention. I do not knee-jerk respond. In fact, I carefully proofread and contemplate my correspondence prior to sending it. She would not state on what precisely she agreed with me.
Oddly, I hadn’t thought of the “martyr” aspect at all. The main thought was the JUDGES. I did not consider the inquisition idea. I did NOT view Rectenwald as a martyr. Not in the least! If I had had the martyr thought, I would have depicted him in chains and dressed Tobin and the others as holy inquisitors. Instead, I simply had them all wearing the chevroned regalia. Again, my critique was focused on the Working Group statement, not on Rectenwald. That was clear, though evidently foggy for Tobin.
The items listed from my bio certainly helped turn me into an individual who questioned and challenged what perhaps most people did not have the courage to do, let alone the thought or interest. My college degrees certainly did not form me in that sense. From those events (i.e., listed items), I obtained so much grist for my creative writing mill: poems, essays, plays, a couple of novels, hundreds of cartoons and aquarelles. A dissident was always formed by conflicts with power. Tobin would not/could not understand that because rather than question and challenge power, she instead chose to be part of power. Only when one tested the waters of power and democracy did one truly come to realize just how murky they tended to be.
Regarding my use of the term “bitch” to characterize library director Loomis, I was very much against ad hominem, though in that instance it was clearly not simple ad hominem because the case for labeling Loomis a “bitch” was presented in full detail. Ad hominem was really the use of such terms with little if any backing at all. It served to kill the messenger in a clear effort to avoid the message. That was not what I did. Loomis was someone who could not take any criticism of her little library fiefdom. She hated free speech and hated due process, two vital cornerstones of democracy. I wasn’t surprised Tobin had chosen to focus on the “bitch” comment and didn’t give a damn that someone could be banned for life from his neighborhood library without due process and for the crime of having written a critical open letter devoid of prohibited vocabulary, sexual innuendo, and physical threats. Tobin’s pathetic reaction was typical apathy.
Clearly, Tobin had never heard about The American Dissident because it was next to impossible for me to interest gatekeeper librarians like those at her university to subscribe to it and thus heed the ALA’s library bill of rights, as in “libraries should provide material and information presenting all points of view.” That statement formed an integral part of Loomis’ collection development statement and was the focus of my open letter. Why was Tobin so indifferent to that? Well, she wouldn’t say.
The academic/literary establishment hated criticism with its regard. As for college libraries, normally I had to find a professor willing to suggest the journal to the college librarian. Now, finding an open-minded professor willing to counter the taboo on vigorous debate and diversity of opinions was next to impossible nowadays. Since founding the journal in 1998, I’d managed to bump into one such professor. And I’d contacted so many, many of them. Also, Poets & Writers magazine and NewPages.com amongst others refused to even list the journal. Also, the NEA and state cultural councils refused to accord it any grants, despite its 501c3 nonprofit designation. Institutional subscribers, however, did include New York Public Library, Concord Free Public Library, as well as Harvard, Yale, Johns Hopkins, Michigan, Buffalo, and Brown universities. Tobin would not respond to any of those things.
Again back to the “bitch” deflection ploy, I would not call Tobin an “uptight bitch.” However, I would call her an ideologue who didn’t give a damn about the principles of democracy. That would be much more appropriate… and civil. Also, she evidently placed career on a much higher pedestal than bold truth telling. For those inflicted with ideological indoctrination, fact and reason were immaterial.
And thus Tobin wrote her final non-response, addressing little if anything at all addressed in my responses, and manifesting total lack of appreciation for debate.
Sorry, but don't have the time or inclination to respond to you anymore. Not because of my career, or because you call women "bitches" with crazy frequency ( a simple Google search reveals this, to answer your origin question), but mainly because my gut politics that say you are a nutcase, and my intellectual instincts say, given the hilarious ironies of each thing I read from you, that you are just not worth arguing with. It is a waste of my time, entirely.
Well, the crux of the Rectenwald controversy at NYU was debate and free speech. Tobin and her Working Group wanted to turn both cornerstones off. Period. I did not have the habit of dismissing women with whom I disagreed with the term “bitch.” Yes, I called one woman a “bitch.” And now and then I might have used the term. How nonsensical of Tobin to turn that into “you call women ‘bitches’ with crazy frequency.” How the hell did she come up with that one? I did not hate women. Did Tobin hate men? When reason failed, employ ad hominem! That’s something I never did. Now and then I might include ad hominem but always accompanied with reason. I spoke freely. Tobin spoke PC-career and ideologically. There was a world of difference between the two. I sought truth; she sought ideological compatibility. Sadly, she refused to even contemplate the reality that careerism was inevitably a muzzle on free thought and speech.
She labeled people who disagreed with her ideologically mind-forged manacles, to use Blake’s term, “nutcase.” How original! I’ll have to add that to the list. When one couldn’t out-reason an opponent, just call him a “nutcase.” Demonization 101 was the course Tobin should be teaching. Was calling me a “nutcase” any different from my calling Loomis a “bitch”? Well, yes, because I included plenty of reason to justify the latter, whereas Tobin did not regarding the former. Tobin’s evoking my "bitch" comment clearly served to deflect away from Loomis’ misdeeds. One word, “bitch,” eliminated any intellectual curiosity on Tobin’s part to examine the evidence put forth. One word, “bitch,” enabled her to remain in her intellectual safe-space cocoon. Beware the Word Police are out there! Well, I for one would not be intimidated by them. In fact, using prohibited vocabulary now and then served to fight against the dictates of the Word Police.
Tobin failed miserably to provide any cogent examples to back her assertions. She failed to respond to the points made, for example, about her treating 18-19 year old minority students as children, who had to be protected from free speech. Intellectual discussion was not a waste of time, unless of course one was on the intellectual-losing side. Well, it was fun while it lasted. I informed Tobin that our “dialogue de sourds” would appear in the next issue of The American Dissident and told her to check it out next April at the New York Public Library. Sadly, NYU’s student newspaper would never publish it! Moreover, I knew I had the legal right to use her emails. I’d already checked.
Furthermore, unlike academic literary journal editors, I not only brooked criticism, but encouraged and published the harshest received with my regard and that of The American Dissident in each and every issue. I suggested she walk down to the New York Public Library and request the librarian to cancel the subscription because she was offended and so nobody can read it at that library. That’s the kind of thing the Tobins tended to do, wasn’t it? Shut people up with whom they did not agree. Wasn’t that what she and her Working Group wanted to do regarding Rectenwald? And thus I concluded in my email response:
These things said, I am not in the least bit angry or surprised by your responses and non-responses. I’ve had much experience with academics like you over the past several decades. Unlike you, I found our “conversations” intellectually stimulating. I always find such “conversations” stimulating. Attached, I include another such "conversation" I had a few years ago with another ideologically-manacled female. It forms part of my manuscript, “Dissident X—Conversations with the Established Order and Other Parodias de Discursos and Diálogos con Sordos.” Perhaps you could help me find a publisher? And, oh my, I hope I didn't use the word "bitch" in it...