War on two fronts, Ukraine and U.S.

Right now, we are watching two wars on TV: the top 3/4 is about the new war, the advent of WWIII, which is where we’re headed with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine; the bottom 1/4, on the crawl, is the old war, the war against democracy that was unofficially begun under Reagan, but ramped up beyond reckoning during the Trump presidency.

The two are linked, of course. Both are waged on peace and equality by people who believe–and often have reason to believe–that they profit more from war and hate. Any lie can be told, any murder committed, any beating administered, on the slightest pretext, and the war-makers walk away unscathed. Just like the world is currently “standing with Ukraine” by sitting back and doing nothing as Russia invades a sovereign state. As Garry Kasparov puts it

This is already World War III. Putin started it long ago & Ukraine is only the current front. He will escalate anyway, and it’s even more likely if he succeeds in destroying Ukraine because you have again convinced him you won’t stop him even though you could.

We are witnessing, literally watching live, Putin commit genocide on an industrial scale in Ukraine while the most powerful military alliance in history stands aside…

There is no waiting this out. This isn’t chess; there’s no draw, no stalemate. Either Putin destroys Ukraine and eventually hits NATO with an even greater catastrophe, or Putin falls in Russia. He cannot be stopped with weakness.

Unfortunately, doing nothing or responding to violence with weakness is well-ingrained in too many Americans by now. The million-front war on our democracy is hard to track and easy to ignore in its more invisible phase, and by the time our next elections are held, it will be too late for the realization that so many gerrymandering, voter suppression, and vote-overturning laws are now in place in the majority of U.S. states that they are unlikely to be authentic.

The war of attrition is over in Europe and in the U.S. Outright war on the ground is happening in Europe, and war through state legislatures and the judicial system is happening in the U.S. If ever there were a time to actually stand, and act, for democracy here and abroad, it’s now.

It takes courage and it will bring hardship. Fighting for democracy costs money, jobs, and lives. It always has. But there is no alternative. Brave people everywhere in this country are risking everything because they know that in the big picture, there’s really nothing to lose. The links between fascism in Europe and the attack on democracy in America are too clear, as Indiana state senator Scott Baldwin made clear during the testimony of K-12 history teacher Matt Bockenfeld during a Senate Education Committee hearing on pending anti-CRT legislation:

During the hearing, Indiana history teacher Matt Bockenfeld testified regarding a requirement in the bill that teachers “remain impartial in teaching curricular materials.” Bockenfeld said he was teaching “the rise of Nazism right now” and “we’re not neutral on Nazism. We take a stand in the classroom against it, and it matters that we do.”

State Senator Scott Baldwin (R), the author of the bill, replied that he believed Bockenfeld and other teachers had an obligation to be “impartial” when discussing Nazism. “I believe that we’ve gone too far when we take a position on those isms… We need to be impartial,” Baldwin said.

Bockenfeld told the Indianapolis Star that he was “shocked” by Baldwin’s comment and he will “oppose Nazism until they fire me.” Baldwin, facing an avalanche of criticism, partially backtracked, saying he “failed to adequately articulate” his point. The Senate Education Committee, however, decided not to move forward with its plan for a vote later that week.

Let’s add to that avalanche of criticism. Let’s not tell ourselves that Baldwin misspoke, or is a nutty outlier or anomaly. Let’s not assume that Bockenfeld hasn’t received an avalanche of hate mail and death threats. And let’s not tell ourselves that the war is over because of one successful battle. Let’s actually stand up and fight in the courts and the classrooms, and the school board meetings and the legislatures, and march in the streets for the democracy that is under such sustained attack in this long and brutal war on what can make America great.

Fuchs is leaving UF – will censorship remain?

Back on November 1, 2021, we first posted about president Ken Fuchs at the University of Florida and his rationale for preventing three political science department faculty members from testifying against Florida’s unconstitutional voting restriction law, which was that “despite the economic challenges faced by the State of Florida due to Covid, our elected officials invested even more in the University of Florida this past year, for which we are incredibly grateful.

We continued on by commenting that

So “incredibly grateful” is UF that it is paying back the favor by refusing to allow its faculty to testify against state voting policy. This inevitably leads one to wonder if that state financial support for UF was predicated on the State of Florida’s understanding that the gift would make UF (even more) unwilling to criticize any state laws. Fuchs has made no secret of his own sense of being a figurehead, saying in the same August 26 address that he could not issue a mask mandate: “I literally don’t have that power… within hours, another message would go out from someone to everyone, again saying we’ve been informed that there will be no such mandate. We’re part of the state government.”

There was intense outcry against this censorship, but outcry from academics generally has very little or no impact on politics. This time, however, due to whatever behind-the-scenes actions may have been going on along with academic outcry, UF reversed its policy on November 5. And due to that, perhaps, and whatever else might be going on behind the scenes at UF, President Fuchs announced on January 5, 2022 that he will be stepping down “in about a year”.

He’s claiming victory:

“When I was appointed in 2014, I was asked to make three commitments to the Board of Trustees and the Board of Governors,” Fuchs said in the video. “First, that I would work to raise the stature of UF to be among the nation’s top 10 public universities. Second, that UF would launch and complete a $3 billion fundraising campaign. Third, that UF would not increase its tuition while I served as president. Those promises were made and those promises were kept.”

It seems that Fuchs, like many other people, defines “stature” as “rich” – a university with $3 billion is a university of high stature. But a university is supposed to be measured by the learning it makes possible, and its fidelity to objective investigation and free debate. It’s depressing to read that he will remain at UF as faculty in the engineering department.

Let’s hope this is a victory, and that the next UF president will be dedicated to the traditional definition of stature.

“A Template for Academic Freedom”

A shorter note than usual this time, to refer you all to a new weapon in the battle against censorship in education in the U.S.

Three faculty members–Valerie Johnson of DePaul University, Jennifer Ruth of Portland State University, and Emily Houh of the University of Cincinnati–wrote this two-page template for an Academic Senate Resolution that faculty at any institution can adapt to present to their own Academic Senate. The goal is to “get as many faculty senates as possible to adopt a resolutions called ‘Defending Academic Freedom to Teach about Race and Gender Justice and Critical Race Theory.'”

You can see the actual template here–it’s a Google doc that faculty can download to a local computer and edit for presentation to their own Academic Senate.

It’s refreshing to see the legalese of “WHEREAS” used, for once, in the name of fighting censorship:

WHEREAS state legislative proposals are being introduced across the United States that target academic discussions of racism and related issues in American history in schools, colleges and universities.

WHEREAS the term “divisive” is indeterminate, subjective, and chills the capacity of educators to explore a wide variety of topics based on subjective criteria that are inapposite from the goals of education and the development of essential critical thinking skills;

WHEREAS educating about systemic barriers to realizing a multiracial democracy based on race or gender should be understood as central to the active and engaged pursuit of knowledge in the 21st century to produce engaged and informed citizens;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that Senate resolutely rejects any attempts by bodies external to the faculty to restrict or dictate university curriculum on any matter, including matters related to racial and social justice, and will stand firm against encroachment on faculty authority by the legislature or the Boards of Trustees.

That’s just a short excerpt. If you are a faculty member at a higher-ed institution, go to the link and download it. If you know a faculty member, point them to it. This is a way to help do our part in this battle against censorship meant to shut down education on racism, sexism, and other ongoing human problems that have and do exist in the U.S.