Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said Professor at Columbia, gave an interview to the Radical History Journal, and it’s a gem. The interviewers wanted his take on Title VI reform, but they got a lot more: a rambling compendium of excessive statements on a wide range of issues. In a new Sandstorm column, I look at one of the most bizarre assertions in the interview: Khalidi’s insistence that universities and their faculty are conservative.
But alongside the wild claims are some astonishing confessions. In the rush of questions and answers, Khalidi inadvertently concedes many of the very points made by academe’s critics. Here he is on scholarly objectivity: “Now, I’m with Edward Said. There’s no such thing as opinionless, objective scholarship.” Here he is on the tenure process: “It is in some sense a corrupt system, but I can’t think of what the alternative would be.” And here he is on faculty indoctrination: “It has to be admitted that this issue of abuse of authority, which the Right is using as a stick to beat us up with, is not entirely illusory. I mean, there is an issue there…. There’s probably a way in which the academy is forcing a kind of mindless conformity on students.” It’s not every day that a chaired professor admits that scholarship is biased, the tenure system is corrupt, and students are forced to conform. These statements are smoking guns, and they suggest that we’ve just scratched the surface at Columbia.
The interview also includes an enraged tirade against proponents of Title VI reform. “They are political, and we’re not political,” he tells his fellow radical historians a statement that shouts its absurdity to the heavens. “We’re never going to be as good at the kind of mudslinging and the kind of deceitfulness that these people are masters of. There’s just no way that we can get so far down in the gutter as them successfully…. These are people going for the jugular. These are people who want to destroy things…. They’re operating on a level of a kind of slimy attack politics, which actually has become a very important part of the right-wing arsenal in the United States…. It’s Karl Rove, and the Christian Right, and the neoconservative right wing that really is behind this. The Middle East and the specific concerns of these people have an important role. But this is bigger than that…. Reality bears no relationship whatsoever to the lies and falsehoods that they’re putting out.”
Well, I don’t sit atop the Olympus of truth and apolitical virtue that is the Edward Said Chair. And I’m sure the gutters at Columbia are so clean that its students can eat out of them. But read my column, and decide for yourself whether reality bears any relationship whatsoever to Khalidi’s depiction of it.