What has happened in Ann Arbor (Updated)

Posted in academic freedom, Michigan, University of Michigan, zionism by Deputy city editor on October 24, 2007

STOP PRESS: After I went to bed last night, the University issued a statement on Pluto and Overcoming Zionism. On first glance it looks good enough at least to have enraged the Zionist censors operating the self-styled Anti-Racist Blog, a ludicrous, hysterical publication which declares racist anyone they especially dislike. Including me! The blog is published under some kind of spiritual guidance from the grand zionist ayatollah Judea Pearl, who believes any criticism of zionism is racist. Make no mistake. This blog, mad though it might seem, has academic freedom at U-M firmly amongst its targets, the university having consorted with the “racists” of Pluto Press and its heretical anti-Zionist authors.

Here is the long-awaited U-M statement:

The University of Michigan Press Executive Board unanimously agreed to continue the distribution contract between the University of Michigan Press and Pluto Press under existing contract terms.

Distribution agreements are undertaken strictly as business relationships and have historically been a small part of the UM Press’s business. Currently, the Press distributes for five publishers. As is the case with all such commercial arrangements, books distributed on behalf of clients are not edited, reviewed, or produced by the UM Press, and they do not bear the imprimatur of the Press or of the University of Michigan.

University presses typically do not have stated guidelines for distribution agreements, but the recent controversy surrounding the contract with Pluto Press has underscored the need for them. In the coming year, Executive Board members will develop policy guidelines for distribution agreements. Underlying its deliberations will be the principle of freedom of expression, which is both fundamental to the University of Michigan ’s educational mission and integral to the UM Press’s goals.

This is robust if not exactly transparent but more will leak out. On the whole, I believe the University may even have done the right thing here. Forgive me if I sound shocked and amazed. I am not used to this happening very often. Now we must defend the university from further attacks from zealots. Because they are coming.

The Michigan Daily reports this news here.

My earlier story on this writen during the lengthy wait for the university’s statement follows:

The executive board of the University of Michigan press met last week to consider the problem of Pluto Press and Overcoming Zionism, the title that has annoyed the Zionists who think criticism of Israel is racism.

We still await a statement. The press office is briefing mañana. The latest is that the Provost wants a look at the dossier. This is going to be run past the president, also. What a mess! Maybe next week?

It is possible/likely some sort of negotiation is going on, or more likely several. I would guess there are personnel questions to be considered as well as contractural ones. Pluto is also quiet.

The Daily is not entirely hopeless and has asked to see the minutes of the U-M Press executive board, which are previously unreleased, and which might reveal more of the history of the deal with Pluto by which the University became the North American distributor for the north London publisher of radical, avante-garde and modishly leftish books. Few of which, unfortunately, anyone at the university has read.

Sorting out some of the contradictions and conflicts is taking longer than expected. President Mary Coleman can reflect that having no communications strategy other than raising money has not been the most farsighted of her policies. The university has been seriously exposed during this crisis lacking both policy and direction. To the question, “who speaks for the university?”, there has been a deafening silence.

One does sympathise with Mary and her legion of development officers. When every brick in the place is for sale, it might seem prudent to err on the side of caution, as far as donors are concerned. But there are other reasons why people give money to universities – and it is because they are universities and they guard values, such as academic freedom, that are uniquely their own to guard. If these are gone: why give money to a university, whose politics are for sale along with its monuments?

The university is at a very sensitive moment and not just in this case. Is it going to defend its values or allow itself to be taken hostage by one side in the ideological battle alongside the physical one in Israel and occupied territories? This is where the university has to be very plain. It must not give in to siren hysteria from anyone.

The university stands on the doorstep of America’s most signifiant immigrant population of Arabs as well as many Jews. It is a place where the hajib can and must always live side by side with the yarmulke. It must never be other than welcoming to both these communities and its great contribution can be to show leadership in this area – as Arab students recently demonstrated when they served humus and cider on the Diag.

Faced with fanatical right-wing pressure, American universities have often been weak in the past and have regretted it. This is a vital moment when the lights will either go out or they will not.


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