To the Editor:
Before reading Stanley Fish’s “Everyone, Just Shut Up Already” (The Chronicle Review, November 30), I would have said that he and I couldn’t agree that a white piece of paper was white. But I now see some common ground. Unlike faculty — and this is where I continue to disagree with Fish — whose version of the truth could never be separated from their political experiences and views, administrators have the technocratic job of policing the conditions in which knowledge unfolds. They thus have to refrain, as Fish rightly points out, from giving in to current political winds and concentrate on protecting the educational mission, which is to create and impart knowledge.
Right now, the Israeli government and its lobby here in the United States is waging a full-court press to get universities to denounce the atrocities of October 7. At my own university, the president, Eric Kaler, has gone further than most leaders, not just in denouncing the assault by Hamas and articulating support for the state of Israel, but in committing the university, en masse, to that position, signing a letter written by the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, not in his own name, but in the university’s name instead, with no discussion and input from the campus as a whole. It helps to know that the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, whose mission, in part, is to “support Israel as a Jewish and democratic state,” is a major university donor whose representatives have sat on faculty search committees.
Imposing a universitywide stance threatens to make support for the state of Israel into a core value and silence alternative Palestinian viewpoints. Adopting a “foreign policy,” as Fish puts it, is not what a university is for. At a minimum, taking such a policy position militates against the job of a history professor. That job is to specify the historical context that explains why the Palestinians and Israel are engaged in a struggle in the first place, opening up a discussion, not foreclosing on matters by reflexively supporting a foreign power.
Adeline Barry Davee Distinguished Professor of History
Case Western Reserve University