Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Attempted character assasination

Sigh, it was inevitable. The first attack on Biddy Martin has come, from a national source, not a local one. The National Review dropped a little doggie doo on our collective doorstep, produced by Travis Kavulla, "a Gates Scholar in History at Cambridge University". The story has been circulated, apparently, by Steve Nass among his Republican colleagues. Alas, if you read the piece, it's toothless and clawless bluster.

I've been overwhelmed with work today so have only had a post floating at the back of my mind. In the meantime, Kavulla's tiny little article is reprinted in full over at Fearless Sifting (here), so that you don't have to sully your browser by visiting NR. Our young friend Fearless gets the conclusion just right:
There is nothing in that article that in any way reflects upon her ability to be the next chancellor of UW-Madison and it entirely discounts her experience as provost … .
Bingo. What's more notable is that Kavulla makes no real points at all. He quotes some jargon-laden passages, but even I — a vocal critic of current 'theorizing' in the humanities, as readers of this blog know — don't find them particularly damnable. And as Mr. Sifter says, it's utterly irrelevant. The real information a reader would get from the article is mostly from the quotes, and they reveal mostly that she's, gasp, a lesbian. (Travis, you need to get out more.)

In the end, it shows more about the author than about her. Here's a guy who trumpets his academic credentials, yet his research appears to have been reading the one sentence quoted from a review of her book on (where the image is from). For a hoity-toity Harvard man those buzzwords surely can't be so 'obscure' or scary, can they? Her book, by the way was published by Routledge, one of the best academic presses in the world — hardly the trademark of a mediocre academic, and Biddy Martin of course rose through the ranks in a top department.

There's a tiny language hook, too, as it happens, a little peevology. In that regard, NR hasn't changed much since the Buckley days. Here's a quote from an essay of Biddy Martin's:
Something in my language and speech at the end of a year in college seemed to have changed me and make me [sic] an infidel [to my family].
I think good editors use 'sic' only when there's actually a clear error, but this isn't such a case. For me at least, it's easy to get this structure from this fuller form:
Something seemed to have changed me [and seemed to] make me …
But that syntax won't work for lots of English speakers and who knows, maybe it was a typo. They happen.

Overall, Kavulla is background noise: no argument, no evidence in any serious sense, just innuendo and ill-will. Weak, very weak.

Folks, we have a chance, a real chance, with Biddy Martin coming in, to save this university from its death spiral. Let's focus on the work we need to do.


The Stranded Preposition said...

What is important is the fact that the cap times reports that this article is being circulated by Nass' minions. This is the part that is irritating. Was this author, not from WI, writing on behalf of someone? What connection is there and why was this such a big deal to the author to write such a short and contentless piece if it wasn't designed to have some conservative cache to be used as fodder in the political machinery against Martin. I'm generally not a conspiracy theorist, but it looks very odd.

Mr. Verb said...

First, it's helpful to see what the National Review really is. I think a lot of people associate it still with William Buckley (while forgetting his support for segregation and such), and don't realize that appears in its pages. Don't expect journalistic standards and expect stuff like this, not on every page, but very often.

Second, it seems like Kavulla is finding a chance to scream 'political correctness' here, so that nothing else matters. For example, he declares Biddy Martin to be "an obscure" scholar, but if you look at her record, it's a distinguished one in literary studies. So, that's simply false. I really doubt he understands the job, the academic world, etc.

Anonymous said...

Let's be honest, though: Martin's scholarly record isn't exactly earth-shattering. Other candidates, especially Rebecca Blank, were much more distinguished in their scholarly and real-world achievements.

I'm a little bit afraid that Martin was the comfortable choice for the internal academic community -- especially in the humanities and social sciences, who have been crying in their beers a lot lately. But I'm not sure she will really be a good executive, which is what the Chancellor job is. Provost or Dean, yes, Chancellor, maybe.

Don't get me wrong: I'm rooting for Martin. But this static (from Nass et al.) is just a sign of how she will be initially viewed in the Legislature -- as a PC post-modernist, who could only make it in academia, never spending a minute in the real world. That doesn't give us much credibility with them, I'm afraid.

Again, I hope she can turn this place around -- but I fear that this was a very, very bad choice for the UW. It will further alienate us from the constituents we need to win over. Gosh, I hope I'm wrong.

Thanks for keeping this great blog, Mr. Verb. Nice work.

Mr. Verb said...

Thanks, Anon. Your concerns are real, I think. Any chancellor coming in the door at this point has a lot of bad people lined up ready to bring them down. (I mean 'bad people' in a basic way: Many Republicans in the legislature are simply doing everything they can to damage the UW,)

But I am more hopeful than you are about her chances of success. Politically, the way that Wiley handled things was about as bad as it could have been. The stories I've heard from political insiders would make my hair stand on end if I had any. Just talking to the Other End of State Street in some reasonable way would be a vast improvement.

And Martin's record in the relevant area -- as an administrator -- suggests that she can do some real good. By god, I hope so.

Anonymous said...

The problem with Blank was her anti-labor stance. That would have meant serious tension from day 1 with key groups on campus.