It very much feels like we should be having this discussion in black-and-white, with a smoldering cigarette between the fingers and a fedora tilted slightly down and to the right.
Last Saturday, an editorial column in the Marietta Daily Journal – carrying the triple byline of Otis Brumby, Bill Kinney, and Joe Kirby – unloaded on a new hire announced by Kennesaw State University.
Timothy Chandler, a British-born academic from Kent State University in Ohio, was recently named as KSU’s new $228,000-a-year provost, the university’s No. 2 administrator.
The MDJ trio had discovered a 1998 research paper co-authored by Chandler that cites Karl Marx, five times over 22 very dense pages. The column accused Chandler of having an “obvious fondness for Marx and vehement dislike of capitalism.”
Late last night, KSU issued a statement from Dan Papp, the university president and former Sovietologist:
”Over the course of the last several days, I have engaged in extensive discussions with Dr. Tim Chandler about his 1998 co-authored article that aroused such debate. After these discussions, I am convinced that Dr. Chandler is neither Marxist nor anti-American, as some have alleged.
“During these discussions, Dr. Chandler also expressed appreciation for the support for his appointment that he has received from the academic community, and declared that ‘attacks on my character, including the suggestion that I am undemocratic, are baseless.’
“Further, Dr. Chandler said that he is ‘not inclined to withdraw from the provost position under the cloud of a Red scare.’”
Shades of Whittaker Chambers and Alger Hiss, of Richard Nixon and Joe McCarthy and Ed Murrow.
The MDJ had already posed to Chandler the same question asked in that era:
“I am certainly not a Marxist,” he said. “I see it as one way of looking at the world. It’s not the way I personally choose to look at the world. But as an academic I have to be open to a variety of points of view. It’s not my own personal point of view. I would consider myself anything but a Marxist, but I think there’s still good reasons to think about it from a variety of perspectives.”
“….Certainly there are aspects of that paper where we looked through a Marxist lens, and I think that’s perfectly acceptable in academic circles to do that,” he said.
Papp, who is about to become Chandler’s new boss, was the founding director of Georgia Tech’s Sam Nunn School of International Affairs. For years, if you were a journalist headed for the wrong side of the Iron Curtain, Papp was the fellow you had a chat with before you left.
He knows his Marx, Lenin and dialectic materialism.
“Speaking as a national security expert – the guy is not a Marxist and not anti-American,” Papp said in a conversation Wednesday. “The tone of the discussion so far has taken unfortunate quotes out of context from a 13-year-old co-authored article and leaped to some extreme conclusions that I believe are unwarranted.”
Let us pick our way through some of this fuss:
– First, the 1998 article in question was published in the Journal of Higher Education, a local product of Ohio State University Press. Not the prestigious Chronicle of Higher Education. We would post the entire 22 pages for your reading pleasure, but the publisher wanted $500 for reprint rights. It probably would have been the only money ever made off the article. We’ll offer you some excerpts instead.
– The article is truly, truly terrible. Badly written. Boring and self-reverential. Marx be damned – from a writer’s point of view, here’s the worst non-thought in the entire piece:
… [C]hange can and often does have both negative and positive outcomes, or either one.
The purpose of the paper appears to be an attempt to theorize on the organization of universities, and the economics that surround their operation. But it is hard to say.
Indifferent writers often move into management (a very un-Marxist thing to do). We assume that’s the case here.
– As in journalism, double bylines on academic papers mean something. The author named first generally has the larger role. Chandler’s writing partner in 1998 — the first author named — was Walter E. Davis of the same university, whose political leanings appear to approximate those of former U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney. Since Sept. 11, 2001, Davis has achieved some notoriety as a conspiracy theorist who believes President Bush was responsible for the attacks on the World Trade Center. But the fact that Davis’ expertise is in sports education theory deprives him of any real authority on the matter.
– Today’s MDJ states that the article is “saturated” in Marxist ideology. Marx is mentioned five times – twice to refute the economic philosopher. Thomas Hobbes also rates a mention.
Papp concedes that much of the wording in the paper is “unfortunate.” One of the more problematic passages:
Capitalism is hierarchically structured and characterized by a high degree of inequity and an extreme disproportioned distribution of wealth and power (see Sklar, 1995 for recent data). As a result, masses of people are forced to succumb to the economic system in order to survive. An asymmetric distribution of resources guarantees high levels of competition, greed, and violence (Nagel, 1995; J. W. Smith, 1994). These three outcomes are important explicit goals of capitalism.
Yet, as Papp points out, Thomas Jefferson was also a critic of the excesses of capitalism – as were the men who went on to form the Confederacy. But quoting Jeff Davis would have caused another form of trouble. Possibly, Chandler would have been better off citing a few popes.
– Some have found themselves upset by this passage from the 1998 article:
The connection of the university to power and violence is straightforward in that without scientists in the physical sciences, weapons of mass destruction would not be built…[Overly complicated and largely meaningless academic jargon] ….While the United States has the most sophisticated propaganda apparatus ever assembled, it is also the most violent nation-state in history.
Emphasis added. Again, it is an uncomfortable sentence. But it is also an ironic one, if you realize that Chandler is about to move to the spot where William Sherman, another product of Ohio, perfected the concept of total war.
– Critics have overlooked a very non-Marxist bit of philosophy expressed by Chandler – one that’s no doubt important to Kennesaw State:
The goal of universities is learning in its various forms and purposes, but it is very much limited as well as enabled by the economic context in which the university is embedded. Because monetary resources are required to operate a university, securing these resources is a necessary goal.
When resources are scarce, they become more important than scholarship. Today, universities are run like businesses, driven by “the bottom line,” and knowledge is a commodity for both the university and for the individual scholar.
What capitalist can argue with that?
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider