Tuesday, September 02, 2014

The Textbook Problem - Reimagined

When I first started researching Guam History and writing about contemporary Guam issues, the natural things you'd expect always popped up. If you asked people about the problems on Guam today, they would say the same sorts of things most societies say. Improve the economy. Fix the infrastructure. Fix the educational system. One thing that makes Guam different is that political status issues can be a significant problem that is brought up. One thing that makes the entire discussion over Guam and its problems and possible solutions is the way in which people don't understand that political status affects everything and is generally tied to everything else.

One thing that was always irritating was to hear people go on and on about the problem with our school system as being tied to a lack of textbooks or having "old" textbooks. The lack of money and the decrepit nature of the system is manifested in the fact that students don't have enough textbooks or they have old textbooks. I understand that this position can be commonsensical, because everyone wants their children and their students to have the best. But the "best" is never universal, there are always problems with it, depending on which context you are imagining that height. So my problem with people imagining that the best for Guam's students was to have the most up to date and shiniest, brand new textbooks, is that it doesn't question where the textbooks come from and what their real value is if any to people on Guam.

The textbook industry itself is a serious educational racket. Textbooks are not necessarily published as needed, but often times more regularly than necessary in order to entice schools to keep buying new books. The prices can also be very high. But all of this is beside the point, we should consider the source of the textbooks. Sure it might seem nice to get the glossiest pages and have students get them right off the presses, but are these brand new sleek tomes of knowledge even relevant for students in Micronesia? What good does it do to have old or new textbooks for our students that don't even address the world around them, but teach them that whatever exists on the other side of the world is what they are supposed to know about?

For so many academic disciplines this is the problem. If you follow the textbook DOE has purchased, then chances are good the newness of it is actually irrelevant, it will teach you the same colonial stuff. What is needed is to recenter our textbook industry so that our students use textbooks that we produce here or empower teachers to produce their own materials. This is why I really enjoyed this column from Joe Sanchez below from this weekend's PDN.

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"Schools No Longer Need Textbooks"
Joseph Sanchez
Guest Column
PDN
8/31/14

On Aug. 12, the Pacific Daily News editorial asserted that the Guam Department of Education should move in the direction of e-books and take advantage of the fact that they are digital and offer a lot more interactive features than a printed textbook.

Yes, this is a good start, but it still misses the point.

To be effective educators, we need to broaden our thinking. E-books are good, but they are just the "digital forms" of the same concept, a collection of information that some textbook publisher believes we should be studying. Textbooks (even in their e-book forms) still tend to take on a North American/European slant on the world -- very biased and selective. It's no secret that textbook content is largely determined by California, Texas, Florida and New York.

Thus, it's not so much the mode of delivery or the availability of the material that is the problem, it's the lens and manner in which the material is screened (censored, if you will) and selected.

Are textbooks needed?

Previously, even as early as 15 years ago, teachers needed textbooks for two reasons. First, to determine what needed to be taught in the classroom, since schools lacked "content standards" to set student expectations in each subject area and grade level. Secondly, they served as a compiler of information and documents because content materials were not readily available.

For example, back then (as far back as the 1990s) for government or history teachers, it sure helped to have a copy of the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence, otherwise, they would have to go to the library and photocopy the text from an encyclopedia or other reference book. A textbook was a very practical resource.

Today, teachers have content standards that outline what the expectations are for students in each subject and grade level. With the Internet, educators have every major government document available instantly. Literature and informational materials are available in every content area of study.

We no longer need textbooks to provide us these.

A year ago, I asked a group of seventh-grade geography teachers how much time they spent on studying Micronesia and the Asia-Pacific Region. The most was a month, the shortest was less than a week. When I asked why they spent such little time on the region that we live in and are most affected by, do you know what the resounding response was? "It's not in the textbook."

This is a prime example of the weaknesses and limitations of published textbooks, particularly in the areas of social studies, literature and even science.

Do you think a science textbook published in the mainland is going to write a lot about the environmental issues affecting the Pacific Islands? By omitting, or even passively failing to include, content related to Guam, Micronesia and the Asia-Pacific region, publishers send the message that it's of lesser importance. Even if included, limiting the content implies that information pertaining to our region is of "lesser value" than those nations or regions that receive prime coverage in the text.

Not essential any more

Yes, we must accept that there are still a lot of people out there who think that textbooks are an essential part of learning. Well, they are not.

They are a convenient resource to have, but certainly not essential. In fact, their outdated and sometimes biased views and information can actually be a hindrance to teachers who want to really teach and students who actually want to get a good education.

Many of our most effective teachers in Guam DOE have moved beyond the textbook and bring into their classes a variety of rich resources.

Textbooks are more than just a delivery system for information. They send a strong message about what is "legitimate" information or what knowledge is of value. E-books are good because they take advantage of the Internet, but if they are just the "e" version of the same limiting texts, then we are still missing the point.

We need to take control of our curriculum content and make conscious, deliberate decisions about what materials we choose to cover with our students.

Now, this question always comes up and is a legitimate concern: What about students who don't have access to a computer or a device to read the digital material?

To answer that, we must remember again that it's not just the delivery mechanism of the material that is the problem. If our teachers, schools and district do research and compile materials and texts that are of high quality and relevant to our context, it would be a much better investment to print out those documents or materials for the students instead of spending $100-plus on a textbook containing potentially outdated, irrelevant, biased information.

Joe Sanchez is deputy superintendent of Curriculum and Instructional Improvement at the Guam Department of Education.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

An Epidemic of Sexual Violence


For the recent exhibit I worked on, Sindalu: Chamorro Journey Stories in the US Military, I wanted to make certain that the story we told included the experiences of Chamorro women in the US military. This turned out to be more difficult than I initially imagined.

Chamorro women have served in the US military since the Korean War, but it is only recently that people really recognize that they are a central part of the military. This isn't just on Guam, but throughout the United States, women have served for a long time, but are always thought of as being supplementary, extra bodies, hence there is often ridiculous irritation when they demand certain rights or demand to be treated fairly. For most people the military is a man's domain, and so women are generally seen as weakening the grand military phallus of the nation, with their complaints about harassment, rape and lack of equality. Women who have served in the US military for generations have endured so much disrespect, physical and sexual violence and discrimination. Even if on the surface there appears to be more equality for women now, as every woman who reaches the highest ranks of the armed forces is lauded as a pioneer and women can now serve in elite combat units, it is important to not forget the structure that led to so much abuse and discrimination. Especially because the system may continue to exist, even if the rhetoric and the formal rules have changed.

Rape has never been something legal in the US military, but it is so pervasive and the hiding of it has become so second nature, some reports have called it an epidemic. Different studies show that at least one out of ever 10 women who have served in the military, reported not being raped or sexually abused, but being gang raped. In my research I was hoping to find out if Chamorro women had some experiences such as this, but few were willing to share. Many were willing to share being discriminated against on the basis of race, but few wanted to share any details or admit to being discriminated or harassed because of their gender. It was interesting, because even if abuse actually did happen and they would talk about it, they wouldn't name it discrimination, not wanting to use certain labels to give what happening meaning, even if clearly called for it. In some ways I can really understand this unwillingness. For so many people, the institutions you were or are a part of give you so much of your identity, and by using certain labels it can make you feel as if the problem is not what happened, but the entire system itself. If you refer to the abuse you received as a barrier to be overcome, or obstacles, or a way of proving yourself, and proving you are as good as everyone else, it gives voice to some aspects of your struggle, but also protects the system itself and in fact reproduces it. Although the system led to you being treated in terrible ways, it was all for the best, because it made you tougher, made you who you are, and all worked out in the end. But if you really focus on what happened and how the system enabled your trauma or the violence against you, it becomes difficult not to see the entire system itself as being corrupt or as being the problem.

Chamorros and other non-white men faced similar problems before and also struggled with whether to recognize the system as the problem or individuals as being the problem. Was the trauma they experienced something that could change or was it inherent? For most, things would change if they just proved that they were just as good as white men. But for others they held on to their mistreatment and judged the entire system and sometimes the United States as being racist and not worth their patriotism.

I collect Guam mentions, or instances in media where Guam is mentioned, usually briefly and without any real substance and sometimes analyze them. In my dissertation for example I utilized this quiet a lot in order to talk about the paradoxical fullness and emptiness of Guam. How it can be full of military value and strategic importance, but empty in terms of much else, and that being one of the reasons it continues to be a colony of the United States, that most have trouble recognizing as a colony. I came across one from several years ago, in an article by Ralph Nader on the website Common Dreams. It doesn't go into Guam in details, as with most Guam "mentions." But it is simply invoked as a site where a woman on her way to Iraq was raped by her fellow soldiers. 
 
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Outrageous Words, Outrageous Deeds

Published on
by
Commondreams.org
 
Now that the Don Imus flameout has once again demonstrated that vile words energize many activist groups and many media more than do devastating deeds, it is useful to revisit this strange dimension of public furor.

The latest three word outburst in Mr. Imus' practice of sexist and racist remarks may be compared with the continuing sexist and racist behaviors that civic opponents would argue should at the very least receive equal time from those who become indignant over cruel, bigoted language.
On March 18, the New York Times ran a lengthy cover story in its heralded Sunday Magazine about widespread sexual harassment and rape of female U.S. soldiers by their male colleagues in Iraq. Written by a reporter, Sarah Corbett, the article combined the available official studies, and statements of specialists, with poignant narratives by women soldiers whom she interviewed intensively.

The evidence she amassed included a report in 2003, funded by the Department of Defense (DOD), which declared that nearly one-third of a nationwide sample of female veterans seeking health care through the V.A. said they experienced rape or attempted rape during their service. Of that group, 37 percent said they were raped multiple times, and 14 percent reported they were gang-raped.
A change in DOD policy in 2005 allowing sexual assaults to be reported confidentially in "restricted reports" led to the number of reported assaults across the military rising 40 percent.

There are still many reasons why female soldiers are reluctant to report sexual violence, especially in combat zones. Solidarity is survival. Complaining about your superior or soldiers of comparable ranking ruptures the working hierarchy and its military mission. In addition, it is often the woman's word against the man's word. As one sailor told Ms. Corbett, "You just don't expect anything to be done about it anyway, so why even try?" She said she was raped at a naval base on Guam before being deployed to Iraq.

Female soldiers coming back from Iraq relate their fears of even going to the latrines in the middle of the night for the fear of being sexually assaulted.

Sexual violence is often dismissed as fabricated, exaggerated or consensual. It is important not to tarnish many upstanding and respectful male soldiers and sailors with sweeping generalizations.
Abbie Pickett, who is a 24 year old combat-support specialist with the Wisconsin Army Naitonal Guard, told Ms. Corbett: "You're one of three things in the military—a bitch, a whore or a dyke. As a female, you get classified pretty quickly."

Particularly since the Tailhook episode in 1991 which involved sexual violence against women at a naval party, the Pentagon has become more concerned about such assaults. There are far more women in areas of combat now as well. Over 160,000 women have seen active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan already.

Bottom line to all the reports—official and individual—was summarized by the New York Times this way: "Many have reported being sexually assaulted, harassed and raped by fellow soldiers and officers." (For more information see http://www.democracyrising.us)

Assault and rape are crimes, deeds of devastating impact on the lives of these young women. They are not just vile words. Yet in the month since the New York Times article was published, there has been almost no public outrage and no demands for more investigation, more corrective action, more law enforcement.

The members of Congress—women and men—have not mobilized for action. The press did not follow up on the article—"The Women's War" by Ms. Corbett. The National Organization of Women (NOW) condemned Don Imus in no uncertain terms. They have not yet demanded multiple actions to be taken on this continuing violence against women.

Aside from the indifference of the male legislators, Congress is now graced by the largest number of women lawmakers in its history. The Speaker of the House is a woman—Nancy Pelosi. Sure, she has her hands full with the Iraq war. But this is an internal war against many women who need her leadership and her status to spark remedial or preventative action.

Words inflaming more than deeds is also too often the case when racial epithets are uttered by public figures. All those groups and civil rights leaders who conquered and ended the Don Imus media empire should ask themselves what have they done in any sustained manner, given their power and media access, about the brutality of racism by commercial interests in the urban ghettos. Deaths, injuries, disease and loss of livelihood are a daily occurrence, apart from raw street crime and drugs. Little children seriously poisoned by lead, asbestos and other toxics. Whole neighborhoods redlined without adequate corporate police protection. Predatory lending, predatory interest rates, marketing shoddy products and contaminated food proliferate.

Where have been the cries of outrage, the demands for removal of these conditions and prosecution of these crooks and defrauders? The abysmal conditions are daily, weekly, monthly. They have been occasionally reported in gripping human interest terms and statistics and maps.

If only the offenders used words, instead of committing these awful deeds. Maybe there would have been action, front page headlines and prime time television and radio coverage. If only they used words!

Friday, August 29, 2014

Stop Killing Us

Why the People of Ferguson Can't Trust the Cops

Thursday, 21 August 2014 16:04 
  By Mike Ludwig
Truthout | Report 


Several African-American men share with Truthout their stories of abuse at the hands of police, and after 12 days of continuous demonstrations against the shooting of an unarmed teen, Michael Brown, it appears that the community is in it for the long haul.

After hours of peacefully marching up and down the sidewalks on Ferguson's now-
infamous South Florissant Avenue on Tuesday night, several dozen protesters formed a thick circle in a parking lot to conclude their demonstration with a prayer lead by a local minister. It was getting late, and it seemed that, after several nights of unrest and police crackdowns, the protest might end in peace.

I sat down on a curb to jot down some notes, and a young man with dreadlocks asked me if I was a reporter. He called to his friends, and soon several young black men from Ferguson joined us, each with his own story to tell.

A young man named Christopher Lane told me police had beaten him up three times since he moved to Ferguson in 2007. The beatings happened well before a local officer fatally shot an unarmed teenager on August 9 and sparked the protests that now occur daily in Ferguson. "These cops are real prejudiced," Lane said, later adding, "Ferguson is an old slave town, if you know your history."

Lane asked if I had noticed that many of the side streets in Ferguson do not have sidewalks. I had. He told me that police regularly harass and even cite young black folks for failing to walk on the sidewalk, even when there is none to be found.

Lane's friends said they once became burglary suspects for simply visiting a friend's house. One young man said the Ferguson police regularly stop and harass him about crimes he doesn't know anything about, hoping that he might "snitch."

"It's like, I don’t know who's stealing cars, man," he said.

One said he spent 32 days in jail for failing to pay a traffic ticket. Another was locked up for 30 days for drinking in public.

Darren Wilson, the Ferguson police officer who fired six shots from his gun to kill 18-year-old Michael Brown after an altercation that is now subject to a grand jury probe and federal civil rights investigation, has not spent a single day in jail since Brown's body sat in the street for hours after his death.

While the militarization of the police has been a highly visible issue during the ongoing protests in Ferguson, residents like Lane are emphasizing that the criminal justice system's deep grounding in racism must be addressed first and foremost. On Tuesday, one man held a sign that read, "I am a man, not an animal."

Black people make up about 67 percent of Ferguson's population, but only three of the city's 53 police officers are black. Black residents over the age of 16 accounted for 86 percent of the traffic stops in the city last year, and racial profiling data from the past decade shows that black drivers are far more likely to be pulled over than any other race, according to the state attorney general.

Clearly, the racism embedded in the criminal justice system is not just a problem in Ferguson and the St. Louis area. Across the country, a white police officer killed a black person about twice a week in a seven-year period ending in 2012, according to recent a USA Today analysis of federal data. While only 12 percent of people who regularly use drugs in the United States are black, 32 percent of those arrested on drug charges are black, according to the NAACP.

On average, blacks serve virtually as much time in prison for nonviolent drug offenses as whites serve for violent offenses.

Lane and his friends disappeared back into the crowd. Lines of police in riot gear had been attempting to clear people from parking lots and disperse the protesters for about half an hour, and tension was building. A young man shouted, "We're stronger than them!"

A plastic bottle was thrown toward a line of cops in the street, and the police reacted violently, plunging the situation into chaos. They shot tear gas into the crowd and chased young protesters down the street. Armored trucks quickly rolled up. Frantic crowds of cameramen and reporters attempted to dive into the thick of the crowd.

At one point, a police officer pointed an assault rifle at protesters and threatened to kill them. He was later taken off duty and suspended indefinitely.

The police loudspeaker ordered the media back into the "designated media area" known as the "media pen." Anyone else would be arrested if they did not disperse, the police said.

Peacekeeping community members linked arms between a line of riot police and the media pen, where protesters were now mingling with reporters. Medics poured water and Maalox into the eyes of protesters blinded by pepper spray.

Several community groups have demanded that the police "de-escalate" the militarized policing of protesters to help keep the demonstrations peaceful, but these demands have fallen on deaf ears.

"De-escalate," it seems, is not a word in the policeman's vocabulary.

Over the next hour, the lines of riot police slowly pushed back the crowd south toward the police command center, arresting anyone in their way. A legal observer with the National Lawyers Guild and journalists were among the dozens arrested.

"I'm just trying to help people," a street medic said, as the cops led him away.

Groups of national guardsman, wearing camouflaged military gear and pointing their pellet guns, would periodically charge into the crowd, sending journalists scrambling and enraging protesters.
Protesters slowly dispersed as the police continued pushing back the crowd. Anyone who did not move fast enough was arrested. I watched as a young, shirtless protester stood in front of me on the tree lawn of a side street at the edge of the protest area. He put his hands up as a group of national guardsman approached with their crowd control weapons and tackled him to the ground. He quickly disappeared under a pile of camouflaged bodies.

The police soon succeeded in their mission, making at least 47 arrests in the process. I watched as the crowd of journalists, with a few protesters still among them, retreated to a parking lot near the police command center. The lit-up traffic sign in the parking lot indicated that the crowd had finally reached the "approved assembly area."

For Ferguson residents, protesting is now part of daily life.

Before the police forcibly cleared the streets on Tuesday night, organizers were spreading the word about a demonstration planned for the following morning at the Buzz Westfall Justice Center in nearby Clayton, Missouri, where a grand jury was meeting for the first time to investigate whether Wilson should be charged for killing Brown.

About 50 people protested outside the grand jury on Wednesday. Many were parents of Ferguson youth. The crowd demanded that Darren Wilson be indicted and arrested and that the county prosecutor on the case, Robert McCulloch, recuse himself.

McCulloch has refused to step down despite criticism that he has a history of siding with the police. Several members of the prosecutor's family have worked for the Ferguson police, including his father, who was shot and killed by a black suspect in 1964, a fact that McCulloch has called "irrelevant," according to reports.

Gwen Stewart, who held a sign reading "McCulloch step down," told me that the political system is unfair in Ferguson, where black residents are in the majority but most city and law enforcement officials are white.

"Has an African-American cop ever shot a white teenager?" Stewart said. "We just wouldn’t do that."
McCulloch has angered his constituents by failing to bring criminal charges against Wilson. If a black cop killed a white person, Stewart said, that officer would surely be in jail.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Eric Holder arrived in Ferguson to meet with community leaders and federal investigators conducting a separate civil rights probe into Brown's death. The nightly protest on West Florissant Avenue on Wednesday was relatively quiet, in stark contrast to prior days.
Just because the protests were calm, however, does not mean that momentum is winding down. Temperatures hovered in the 90s on Wednesday afternoon, but a few protesters still gathered on West Florissant to march and chant during their lunch breaks. A vigil in front of the Ferguson police station maintains a constant presence. The protest movement in Ferguson is becoming more organized, and after 12 days of continuous demonstration, it appears that the community is in it for the long haul.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Exceptional Ways

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I've spent quite a bit of time this past week talking about the term native inhabitants. It is something which is at the crux of how decolonization law is written in Guam, but is confusing since it is different than the way that most people feel or talk about decolonization. There is a spiritual and human movement and process which is wide-reaching and brings together anger, resentment, dreams, hopes, practical concerns and justice. This is decolonization in general, and it is something that more and more people on Guam accept as being an important and necessary part of life. It has not been an easy conversation, many people resisted it in certain forms, such as cultural for a long time. But we can thank the last two generations of Chamorro/Guam activists for helping create the conditions whereby "self-determination" is an acceptable and positive part of daily discussion, wrapped up in the feelings that people have for an improved, more prosperous and better respected community. 

All this is different than decolonization as a political process and on political process in particular, the self-determination plebiscite or vote. This process is not as free-forming and not as inspirational. It is something guided by old Government of Guam rules, current Government of Guam commissions and is being challenged in a mass of contradictory and self-serving legal decisions. This is a process that can be changed, as laws change, but the wishes and dreams of people don't necessarily change it, although they can influence it. There are aspects of this that have to be attended to, even if people don't immediately understand it. 

There is a requirement that 70% of people who are eligible to vote in a decolonization plebiscite be registered for it, before the Guam Election Commission can set the date for a vote. There is the issue that this vote is written into law as being "non-binding" meaning that it isn't the action that will effect change or determine things, but just the expression of a wish. Finally there is the term "native inhabitant" which in general is used to mean Chamorro, but is actually much more complicated than that. 

While you could argue that Chamorros are the native inhabitants, the legal definition is not cultural and based on blood, but is determined based on the presence of one's family in Guam when the  United States took over, or when they passed the Organic Act. This includes mainly Chamorros, but is also filled with non-Chamorros. This legal category is the group of people who, according to international law and based on the decisions and laws the US as passed or agreed to, have been historically denied their right to self-determination. International law is clear on this issue, but US law, like many national legal mazes, is denied to protect the interests of the wider nation, not necessarily make the right decisions or act in order to right historical wrongs or even seek obvious forms of restitution. 

A case over whether the self-determination law and plebiscite is "unconstitutional" has been going on for years, with an appeal being heard now in the 9th Circuit Court of Guam. There are so many frustrating things involved with this case, most of them so obvious that anyone who isn't a manipulative, selfish child could see them. A self-determination plebiscite by definition isn't supposed to follow national laws, but international laws. But the US like many large powerful nations, only likes international laws when they conform to their interests, the rest of the time international laws are nothing but distant irritants. To have a "decolonization" vote follow the rules of the colonizer is so mind-bogglingly stupid it should make people go cross-eyed simply by thinking about it. All of this connects to the unfair and unjust nature of being a colony. As a colony, you are expected to play by the rules of another and follow all of their orders, while not being allowed to help make any of those rules. You are an exception, whereby the colonizer gets to pick and choose what applies to you. The colonizer has named you an exception, and so naturally, you should be treated in exceptional ways, especially in terms of fixing your colonial situation. 


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Thursday, 17 Oct 2013 03:00am

BY MAR-VIC CAGURANGAN
VARIETY NEWS STAFF 



SO, who exactly are the “native inhabitants” of Guam? Who are eligible to be listed in the Decolonization Registry?

As discussions on Guam’s quest for self-determination start taking center stage again, the recurring question as to who are eligible to vote in the self-determination plebiscite remains a hotspot of confusion, if not alienation.

Some refer to the decolonization process as a “Chamorro-only plebiscite.” This is pure misconception, according to University of Guam professor Michael Lujan Bevacqua, a columnist for Variety.

“The native inhabitants are maybe 95 percent Chamorros and maybe 5 percent non-Chamorros. If you look at the Decolonization Registry, you will find people with no Chamorro blood in them that are registered,” Bevacqua said, speaking before members of the Young Men’s League of Guam yesterday.

“If you look at all the laws, there’s nothing that says this (plebiscite) is for Chamorros only,” he said.

Under the Guam Decolonization Registry law, “native inhabitants” is defined as “those who became U.S. citizens by virtue of the 1950 Organic Act and their blood descendants.”

But what exactly the definition means remains elusive to some.

“Is ‘native inhabitant’ the same as ‘native American Indian?’” one of the group members asked.

Bevacqua explained that “native inhabitants” has a specific application in the context of Guam decolonization.

Lawsuit

The exclusive provision of the plebiscite law is among the key issues raised by Guam resident and Variety columnist Dave Davis in his lawsuit currently pending appeal in the Ninth Circuit Court.

Davis is challenging the Guam law, which he said is “racially discriminatory.”

“But what Dave Davis is complaining about is something that the United States created. Everything that the Guam law uses is what the United States created. The Chamorros have nothing to do with it,” Bevacqua said.

Complexity

And yet, the “native inhabitant” reference can be more complex than it seems.

In an Aug. 12, 2012 letter to President Barack Obama, the U.S. Commission on Human Rights cited more plebiscite exclusions based on the Organic Act.

“The pertinent section of the Organic Act extended U.S. citizenship only to people who resided on Guam on April 11, 1899 and their descendants,” the commission wrote.

“Therefore, a person who was a resident of Guam in 1950 but who already held U.S. citizenship is excluded from registering. A person who moved to Guam between 1899 and 1950 and acquired American citizenship is excluded from registering.”

Likewise, the commission added, “a resident of Guam who acquired U.S. citizenship after June 27, 1952, when Section 4 of the Organic Act was repealed, is excluded from registering.”

By this definition, the commission said, “an American citizen soldier who fought to liberate Guam from Japanese occupation during World War II and who has continuously resided on Guam since the end of World War II would be ineligible to register to vote in the political status plebiscite.”

All-inclusive

While the political status vote is restricted to native inhabitants, the process that will complete the decolonization of Guam will ultimately be an all-inclusive exercise, according to Ed Alvarez, executive director of the Guam Decolonization Commission.

“A lot of people don’t understand, but I have made it crystal clear: The plebiscite is reserved for native inhabitants, but everyone gets a chance to vote in the ratification of the Constitution, no matter where they are from,” Alvarez said.

“It is embarrassing that in this day and age, there are still colonies in the world. The list is increasing instead of decreasing,” Alvarez said, noting the recent inclusion of Tahiti that brought to 17 the number of colonized territories in the world.

While the commission’s awareness campaign has been gaining ground, Alvarez said the panel can do more if funding resources were available.

Education arm

Tony Rabon, public affairs officer of the Young Men’s League of Guam, said the organization is seeking to contribute to the government’s plebiscite education campaign.

“We are actually looking at the possibility of becoming an organization, whose efforts (the government) could use to promote awareness,” Rabon said. “We will decide what type of role we would like to play in furthering the decolonization effort.”

In the yet-to-be-scheduled plebiscite, voters will be asked to choose among three political status options: statehood, independence or free association.

Rabon said his organization will have to reach a consensus on what option it would seek to advocate.

“We will be making our official position known once we get a better gauge of where we stand as a group,” he said.


Sunday, August 24, 2014

Colonial Privileges or Why Chinese People Don't Visit Guam


“Guam, Where America’s Day Begins” has always been a slogan that doesn’t sit right with me. When I was in school and learned the slogans or nicknames or different states, I was always struck at how different the others were from the one I would hear on Guam. New Mexico is the Land of Enchantment. New York is the Empire State. Then there’s the Volunteer State, the Granite State, the Show-Me State, etc.

For those communities that are full and real parts of the United States, their mottos are a commentary on how they entered the union or what they bring into the American family. With the exception of Maryland, which sometimes is referred to as “America in Miniature” none of them use the word “America” in their nickname. In an interesting way, the 50 states are the real pieces that make up the American whole, they don’t have to say they are America’s this or America’s that. They are included. Guam on the other hand, which is “foreign in a domestic sense” isn’t really a part of the United States, but something that belongs to it. The inclusion of the 50 states is an assumed fact, no one needs to be reminded about it (except sometimes in the case of Hawai’i). But for the colonies, you always have to find some way of asserting that you belong, or reminding your colonizer that you are a distant and regularly forgotten part of them.

I always found it intriguing that this slogan “Where America’s Day Begins” is used as a selling point for Guam, a marketing mantra to bring others, such as tourists here. But the truth of it is, that this mantra exists just as much for ourselves, in order to help convince ourselves that we exist as more in relation to the United States than we really do.

Guam is a colony. Calling it where America’s Day Begins doesn’t change that fact, but it does provide a means of helping people forget the colonial truth. Perhaps if we say we are “Where America’s Day Begins” enough times, and put it on enough t-shirts, throw it into enough videos or speeches, we might actually become a part of America! This is not how the world works, but rather a convenient means of allowing one to obscure the truth and accept a wishful patriotic fantasy instead.

I am currently working on an academic article about the relationship between Guam’s colonial status and the development of its tourism industry. The “Where America’s Day Begins” slogan plays a big role in providing the theoretical framework for understanding how Guam’s relationship to the United States has both stimulated the growth of tourism, but also inhibited it at times.

As a colony of the United States, Guam has gotten to market itself as “America in Asia” so travellers from Asia can travel just a few hours, for just a few hundred dollars and experience this lovely 212 sq. mile sliver of America. Guam is able to promote itself as an exotic location that can provide an American sense of stability, which other “exotic” and faraway locations may not be able to pull off. Traveling to some paradisical third world country might get you stuck in the middle of a coup, but not if you come to Guam, where you can rely on good old American consistency!

The downside to this however is that, the relationship to the United States comes with military bases and is based heavily on strategic importance. The United States has been involved in more wars and more conflicts than any other country since World War II, and this does have an affect on our tourism industry. US involvement in conflicts in Vietnam, the Middle East and even 9/11 all affected visitor arrivals. Increased visibility as a military bastion can inevitably lead to decreased viability as a tourist destination. We have been fortunate thus far in this regard, but even the Guam Visitor’s Bureau in 2010 admitted to the possibility that a significant increase in the size of US military bases on Guam and the number of military personnel could have severe effects on Guam’s desirability as a tourist destination. Jet skiing next to amphibious assault training tends not to make treasured memories. 

While people are always quick to point to how the relationship to the United States supports and sustains and stimulates, we should never forget the ways it also constricts and inhibits. Being a colony means that basic elements of self-governance are absent here, or as we were reminded recently by the Obama Administration, things such as having a local government or citizenship or being able to benefit from US Federal programs are privileges, not rights. We find examples of this in the realm of tourism both in the past as well as today.

Most people today don’t remember that after World War II, everyone coming in and out of Guam required clearance by the US Navy. Even Chamorros returning to their homeland required the permission of the US Navy for entry. This restriction, which fell into the hands of the US Navy and was not under local control, limited economic development on the island, included any tourism. It was eventually rescinded in 1962 after the recently appointed governor of Guam, Bill Daniels complained.

What we find today is that Guam’s ability to grow certain new tourist markets is severely hampered by the lack of local control over immigration. Local leaders have been seeking a Guam only visa waiver for mainland Chinese for decades, but have been unable to get anywhere because of the conflict with national and diplomatic interests. Some may point to the fact that in 2012 Homeland Security exercised its parole authority to allow Russian citizens to visit Guam without a visa, as an example to how things are not that bad. But this only ignores the fundamental issue, namely that it was not our decision and it is a privilege that can be taken away. The basic rights and abilities that a community needs to develop itself are not in our control. 

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Machete That Never Needed Sharpening

When I have my students do oral history projects with elder Chamorros, they often times groan and moan. They knew that Chamorros suffered in World War II and don't need to interview an old person to know it. They know they speak Chamorro fluently and don't need to ask them about it. I generally have my students focus their questions on certain things that elders may have heard or been exposed to when they were very young, which wouldn't necessarily be the things an ethnographer or anthropologist or historian would ask them.

For example, one topic I am always interested in hearing about are legends or children's stories. What were the stories that the elders of today were told when they were kids? My students often groan about this because they assume that the stories that were told then were probably the same stories we tell today. So kids today can hear stories about Sirena, Gadao, Fu'una and Puntan and Duendes, these must be the same stories that people told their kids 100 years ago?

One of the reasons I have my students do this is because this is hardly true. Many of the stories that we take for granted today as being a central part of how Chamorros tell creative or mythical stories are not tales that Chamorros have been telling continuously for centuries. Some of these stories survived in fragments, but not in the comprehensive ways we understand them today. Some remained in the culture only in particular words, or in particular villages. Many legends that we accept as "Chamorro" today, were really only told by a certain Chamorro, usually from a certain part of the island. Or different parts of the island tell the same story in radically different ways. The White Lady from Ma'ina is the most infamous of all the potential white lady stories on island, and tends to hegemonize the possibilities, but the white lady of Tumon, the white lady of Malesso, the white lady of Umatac are all very different. Some of them have no back story. Some of them are more like omens than anything else. Some of them are nastier than others. Some of them are simply looking for someone to hear their stories.

What is very interesting about the stories that some of my students have been able to collect is the harshness of them. Some of them are very violent and very casually violent in the way some old fairy tales are. They are also at times very patriarchal and misogynistic. This meaning that women do not fare well in them and this means that the tales probably aren't from ancient times, or were at least drastically altered during the Spanish colonial period. Some of these tales were adaptations from legends brought in from Europe, such as Sirena or Cinderalla. Interestingly enough each of these stories differs wildly from the way the legends are generally conceived elsewhere. Sirenas in other parts of the world are Sirens who tempt sailors, and are not to be messed with. They are a metaphor for so many of the dangerous things (human, natural, animal, chemical) while traveling that can lure men into situations they can't escape from. Guam's story of Sirena is very different, focusing on family drama and how children should obey their parents or parents should be nicer to their kids. I should note that there are local versions of the Sirena story that do focus on them as being a race of mythical creatures that sing and tempt people, but this isn't the one that is most told or well known.

Cinderella holds a similar difference. The Disney version that so many people are accustomed to features meanness from the step-family of the protagonist, but is not particularly violent. The Chamorro version of Cinderella is quite violent. One that was recorded in the CNMI decades ago included the step-family of Cinderella being boiled alive in tar.

On his blog Pale' Eric Forbes featured one tale he titled "I Kadidok na Machete," which I've included below. I was very excited to see this because it was a story that one of my students have collected in their oral history research. Most of the stories that I've come across are unique, meaning it was most likely something invented from the storyteller or particular to that family. It is always exciting when you find more than one elder who shares the same tale. It means there may be some larger significance to it. The one my student recorded however was a bit longer, and went into the machete being magical, and able to cut through anything. Both tales however have the same anti-women theme unfortunately.

***********************


An old Chamorro tale.

Un taotao matåtå'chong gi pettan iya siha,
(A man was sitting at the door of their place,)

ya ha li'e mågi i asaguå-ña na ginen umo'mak.
(and he saw his wife coming who had bathed.)

Ya ma sosotta i gapunilu-ña* ya ma såsådda' i lipes-ña.
(And her hair was hanging down and her skirt lifted up.)

Nina' bubu i taotao ya ilek-ña :
(The man got angry and said :)

"Tai mamahlao!  Håfa na un bebende hao!"
("Shameless! Why are you selling yourself!")

Ya ha hakot i gapunilu-ña ya ha utot todo ni macheti-ña,
(and he grabbed her hair and cut it all off with his machete,)

ya ayo na machette tåt nai ha nesesita ma guåssa' desde ayo.
(and that machete never had to be sharpened since then.)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Insular Empire Screening

Come this Thursday for a screening of the Insular Empire organized by the Hope for Guam Committee. Check out the flyer below for details:


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Echoes in Okinawa

From "Ten Thousand Things"

An informative and touching article on Okinawa and the way the traumatic past weaves its way into the present. This is one of the dynamics that Avery Gordon refers to so poetically and so aptly as "ghostly matters." The way in which boats off the coast of Okinawa today don't simply remind people of the horrors of the past, but keep that past and all the injustice that comes with it, alive. Protestors of the past and those of today can have the same ghostly threads about them. They represent stories, memories and dreams that refuse to die, even if governments do their best through force, through coercion, through tokens, to make sure they are forgotten.

The article is below:

************************


Henoko on August 14, 2014. (Photo: Chie Mikami on FB)

Film director Chie Mikami on August 14, 2014, on location at Henoko : "I saw so many boats in the sea around 7a.m. It reminds me of the history of Okinawa, year: 1945."

Today the Japanese government sent a military flotilla to Henoko, Okinawa, to put up buoys and patrol an "exclusion zone" in their plan to force drilling, dredging, landfill, and construction of another US military base at the beautiful Okinawa dugong and coral reef habitat.  Observers say there were so many vessels, they were uncountable.

Local residents have been protested and staved off repeated attempts at drilling for 18 years.

They are led by the Henoko elders, child survivors of the Battle of Okinawa, the Pacific War's worst battle, and the only battle fought on Japanese territory. The Japanese government used Okinawa as a sacrificial pawn in a battle of attrition, in an attempt to garner better surrender terms. The fighting destroyed all the material culture on Okinawa Island and killed around 140,000 Okinawans, one third of the Okinawan population.

The islands have been a part of Japan only since the late 1800s, when the Meiji government seized the Ryukyu Kingdom and renamed it Okinawa Prefecture. After the San Francisco Peace Treaty and the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty were signed in 1951, Okinawa Prefecture was under U.S. military rule until 1972.  Even after reversion to Japanese rule, the military bases remained.  While Okinawa constitutes only 0.6 percent of Japan's land area, more than 70 percent of U.S. military bases in Japan were built there.

Okinawans are comparing the forced expansion at Henoko to the traumatic "Bayonets and Bulldozers" period of the 1950's, when the US military used coercion and violence to seize  entire villages, the best farmland, the best coastland, utaki (sacred sites), and cemeteries throughout Okinawa prefecture to make way for base expansion and new bases. Both Futenma in the middle of Ginowan City and Camp Schwab next to Henoko were built on forcibly acquired Okinawan private property. This was also the period that the all-Okinawan nonviolent movement began. The ongoing struggles are not new "anti-base" protests, but, instead, part of the latest chapter in a seventy-year struggle for property rights, human rights, environmental protection, democracy and peace in the islands of Okinawa.

Between 1954 and 1955, US military forced owners from homes and rice farms in 
the former village of Isahama, to make way for the construction of Futenma, a weapons training base. 
(Photo: Okinawan Prefectural Government)

Okinawan author Tatsuhiro Oshiro has written about Okinawa as a "sacrifice zone" where state power imposes sacrifice upon the weak.  In 2011, Oshiro published Futenma yo (To Futenma), a book of short stories. In the first story, Oshiro addresses the history of Futenma through a family whose home and land was taken to expand the training base. The story ends when the musical accompaniment to a traditional Ryukyu dance is drowned out by the noise from U.S. aircraft training, but the heroine continues to perform. Her determination symbolizes the local culture that refuses to be defeated by the heavy burdens of military bases. At the same time, the heroine's grandmother's plan to find a family heirloom buried on ancestral lands taken by the U.S. military ends in failure. Oshiro explains. "My intention was to write about the identity of the Okinawan people who want to weave our history together and regain the land that's steeped with memories."


Okinawan women protest US military seizure of their homes and land in Isahama (Ginowan) in July 1955.
(Photo: Okinawa Prefectural Government)
Oshiro's story reflects the roots of the fierce struggle over Henoko, which may be viewed as a continuation of the post-1945 battle against the civilian Okinawans, a traditionally pacifist culture, over land and local determination.  Postwar U.S. military rule followed the Imperial Japanese pattern of using force to impose a militarist culture upon the islands.  After the Pacific War's destruction of almost all material culture, all that was left was the natural environment and intangible culture.

Okinawans are fighting for their soul at Henoko, a place steeped in what little of traditional Okinawan culture survived: the living sea and the living Okinawa dugong, a cherished, sacred icon. The Henoko sea fed the elders during the Battle of Okinawa, when there were no other food sources. The dugong and the sea both reflect and symbolize the Okinawan core value of Nuchi du Takara: the sanctity of life and the right to life for nature that nurtures life, and human right to live in peace.  This has been the Okinawan message to the world for 70 years, their unstoppable witness for Nuchi du Takara was borne out of the devastation they suffered.

Like Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Okinawa has become a focus for the study of peace because of the Battle of Okinawa, and  because Okinawans continue to appeal for relief from U.S. military bases and US military expansion in their prefecture. Former Governor (1990-1998) Masahide Ota, a child survivor of the battle, created  Okinawa International Peace Research Institute to study war and peace,  to introduce traditional Okinawa peace culture to the world, to lead Okinawa's transformation to "islands of peace" and build a global peace network, and to promote positive peace, peace education, and a peace economy.

Upper House Member of Parliament, Ms. Keiko Itokazu, 
protesting the Japanese government's installation of buoys to create an exclusion zone 
for drilling into and landfilling over live coral and dugong habitat at the Sea of Henoko.

Henoko residents had been supported by an all-Okinawa political coalition until late last year, when under claimed duress by the Japanese government, the governor broke his 2010 campaign promise to protect Henoko, and signed an approval for landfill that was predicated on environmental protection information certified by engineers, not marine biologists or ecologists.  The engineers admitted their lack of expertise.  This is one example of the long, corrupt road to today's flotilla invasion of Henoko.

Henoko residents have been supported by global peace, democracy, faith-based, and especially environmental advocates who repeatedly praise the wetlands, mangrove forests, rivers, unique and delicate biodiversity of the Sea of Henoko's ecoregion. Its coral reef, the best in Okinawa, is renowned among marine biologists for its vitality and unique species. Most of the coral reefs on Okinawa are dead from landfill, pollution, and disease. The Sea of Henoko also has the largest and best sea grass beds, thus habitat, for the Okinawan dugong.
The dugong, a sacred icon, is of great cultural and historical significance in Okinawa.
(Image: Ryukyu Postal’s stamp to commemorate the Okinawa dugong's designation 
as a natural monument in 1966 (Via Save the Dugong Campaign Center)


In 2004, the American environmental law firm, Earthjustice, on behalf of Okinawan, Japanese, U.S. environment protection groups, and Okinawan residents filed a federal lawsuit , the "Okinawa Dugong versus Rumsfeld," in San Francisco, asking for protections for the dugong. The case  is still open; after a 2008 ruling that the defendants must negotiate with the plaintiffs regarding environmental issues and protection of dugong habitat. The plaintiffs are still waiting for this discussion. Therefore on August 1, Earthjustice filed a new lawsuit in the same court,  asking the US government to halt construction plans.  The critically endangered Okinawa dugong is a protected natural monument under the National Historic Preservation Act.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Salaita Case

The Salaita case and Cary Nelson’s use of “academic freedom” to silence dissent

14 August 2014
 
Books and papers lie amid rubble at the Islamic University of Gaza on 2 August, after it was hit by an overnight Israeli air raid.
(Ashraf Amra / APA images)
 
Cary Nelson, retired University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) English professor and past president of the American Association of University Professors, has been busy.

From the moment that the story broke of Chancellor Phyllis Wise’s underhanded nixing of Steven Salaita’s de facto hiring in my department, Nelson has rushed forward as the administration’s biggest cheerleader and defender against condemnations, protests and what amounts to a growing boycott of UIUC from scholars and academic associations.

In the interest of disclosure, I co-chaired the search committee that recommended Salaita’s hiring.
In live media and in an 8 August essay for Inside Higher Ed, Nelson has argued that Salaita’s case is not about academic freedom after all, but about bad scholarship and poor qualifications. This, I should stress, by an individual who is not himself credentialed in comparative indigenous studies, the area in which Salaita was hired.

But the unqualified Nelson is not merely overreaching, as we might say of certain external letter writers on a candidate’s dossier, but is stretching to the point of perverting and undermining the very meaning of academic freedom. Sloppy and contorted to the point of nonsense, Nelson’s thinking would also be comical were it not predicated on racist, calloused and morally reprehensible views toward Palestinians and toward other indigenous peoples and the political and analytic claims on which they stake their existence and survival.

Certainly when it comes to the issue of criticism of Israel, Nelson cannot be trusted to furnish neutral, dispassionate analyses. If anything, his pretense to objectivity, especially through a forced argument about the “exceptionality” of Salaita’s case, to which I will return shortly, barely conceals his political motives or his zeal to take center stage in this huge story.

A weapon to silence dissent

Ultimately, Nelson’s involvement in this case shows more than an assault on Salaita; when it comes to Palestine and Israel, he is selective and hypocritical in his views about academic freedom, transforming it instead into a weapon to silence dissent.

While Nelson may have refined it, this is a tactic that has been widely deployed before. We have seen it, for instance, from university presidents who rushed to issue condemnations of calls to boycott Israeli academic institutions while remaining silent about the systematic violations by the Israeli occupation of the academic and other freedoms of Palestinians.

Hence, I say, let’s do what we academics are supposed to do with letter writers who either have an axe to grind, or who lack standing on the subject matter, or who are less than forthright and honest in their evaluations; in short, I say we disqualify — set aside, to be more civil — Cary Nelson’s assessments of this case.

I did not know Steven Salaita personally (nor do I know Cary Nelson beyond familiarity with his scholarship of the late 1980s and his more recent record of activism against the call to boycott Israeli universities). I had heard Salaita present at academic conferences, and had read a handful of his academic articles prior to the search process. I also followed him on social media. Like many scholars inside and outside our respective areas of expertise — his in comparative American Indian and Palestinian indigeneity, mine in the Pacific Islands — Salaita and I share a somewhat unpopular analysis of Israel as a modern occupying settler and military state, seeing it in large part as an expression of Zionist ideology that does not represent all Jewish people outside or inside Israel.
I should stress that such a view is also widespread in critical studies outside Native Studies proper. In our case, this shared critical analytic owes to our overlapping research interests in topics like linkages between colonial and religious discourses, and US colonial discourse on indigeneity in particular.

Hiring process duly followed

Upon reading Salaita’s dossier, we (the search committee, and the American Indian Studies Program) were convinced that his research interests not only complemented but also strengthened our unit’s profile in the area of comparative global indigenous studies and in a growing movement that treats indigeneity as an analytic category itself. Indeed, we were convinced and excited that his hiring would strengthen any claim we might have to program leadership in these two areas.
On Salaita’s “extramural utterances” — those tweets, blogs and other public opinion statements that are explicitly protected by specific conventions of academic freedom — the committee was fully aware of their controversial nature and regarded them appropriately: not as part of his record of academic productivity but in relation to questions of collegiality and teaching.

On this point I should add that we sought guidance and approval from our college. But my principal purpose here is not to defend Salaita’s scholarship and academic credentials, or his fitness as a colleague, or the excellence of his teaching record, or to justify our decision. That process was duly followed and completed. It was approved and “confirmed,” meaning all it lacked was the “technicality” of the UIUC Board of Trustees rubber-stamping that the chancellor preempted with her decision.

Sloppy and self-serving

Instead, my aim is on the tenuousness, suspiciousness and tellingness of Nelson’s argument and assertions. Here’s how I see them:

Axes to Grind. Nelson had a history and reputation for defending the rights of faculty that have been violated, but it is not consistent. This sketchy record is especially evident when the issue at hand concerns Israel, particularly in the context of the global call to divest, boycott and sanction Israeli universities and other institutions.

Where he once defended the underdog, Nelson now defends the corporate entity. Even if one doesn’t endorse academic boycotts, one can readily see how Nelson’s vociferous opposition in the name of academic freedom cannot so easily be detached from his apparent defense of Israel.

Of course, Nelson is entitled to his own political views; the trouble is that his argument is both predicated on and motivated by protecting them in a thinly veiled attempt to objectively evaluate the case before us. In fact, his is a twisting and contorting logic of invoking academic freedom and academic excellence to exercise censorship and legitimize punishment of dissent and difference.
Sloppy, Self-Serving and Disingenuous Thinking. In summary, Nelson’s argument goes like this: the University of Illinois is correct in its actions because at the end of the day, Salaita’s case is about scholarship and qualifications, not about academic freedom. More specifically, Nelson asserts that Salaita’s tweets and blogs — the “extramural utterances” — are not only repulsive and hateful in tone, but cross over to incite violence, thereby justifying the university’s action.

Moreover, Nelson argues that Salaita’s is an “exceptional” case in this regard: when read alongside his academic record, the tweets help demonstrate that Salaita’s scholarship doesn’t rise and actually casts doubt on his qualification for the job. This is why he is calling to include the tweets as part of the academic record.

But really, just what is it that impels Nelson to declare that this case is exceptional, an anomaly? What is it, other than a rhetorical move to posture total command over the topic, or underscore the exclusivity of his interpretation over and against those of his opponents or detractors? The force, clearly, is criticism of Israel. To put it another way, the threshold of his logic on academic freedom is Palestinian and Palestinian-supported criticism of Israel, which for him, as for Zionism, equates to anti-Semitism.

This faux neutrality betrays itself in some sloppy and nonsensical thinking that is no less insidious. For example, and again, as if to be faithful to the principle of academic freedom, Nelson insists that, while this is not a case of academic freedom, he would without reservation defend Salaita’s academic freedom had he in fact been hired.

For Nelson, Salaita is not deserving of such protection because he was not yet hired, technically speaking. Technically speaking? We know how lawyers and politicians spin technicalities to their favor. We know that it is “technicality” that permits the chancellor to operate so secretively and why she did not furnish specific reasons for her action. We know that the case will turn on technicality — Cornell University law professor Michael Dorf has argued that the university’s termination of Salaita is in all likelihood illegal under state and federal law.

Nelson himself may end up a paid consultant, if he hasn’t already been advising the university on how to build an academic case against Salaita. We need to stay tuned on this count, because in fact Nelson is on record as saying he has not been in conversation with the administration.
At the level of process, then, Nelson hides disingenuously behind hiring technicalities to skirt the real spirit and intent of measures to safeguard academic freedom. The upshot of this logic is the nonsensical idea that academic freedom can only obtain through its violation, in this case, after Salaita is rubber-stamped.

Only then would Nelson defend Salaita, but defend him from what? From Chancellor Wise’s refusal to send Salaita’s case up for board approval? But academics aren’t supposed to spin technicalities; we are supposed to be precise and honest, not willfully circular in our thinking, or do logical acrobatics with technicalities when it suits us.

We are in fact held to higher, more rigorous standards. Salaita’s case was duly vetted; for all intents and purposes, meaning, with regard to the scholarship on hand, it was done. Period. In clear disregard for the process, Nelson seizes on the university’s gross violations to insert himself into the fray, call attention to his own idiosyncratic viewpoints for his own purposes and politics, to legitimize taking pot-shots at Salaita and at our vetting process.

For instance, Nelson opines that American Indian Studies was not sufficiently “equipped” to assess the lines around scholarship and politics, and has since gone on to question the process itself.
In fact, the evidence of Nelson’s disingenuous, self-serving antics are present from the get go, when the story first broke, that concerns timing and deception rather than truth. In a remarkable instance of sloppy and careless thinking that also raises the question of academic fit and scholarly sensibility (if judging scholarly fitness is the game he wants to play), Nelson rushed to the defense, the “correctness,” of the administration’s actions when the administration had not even, and still has not, furnished its reasons for why it did what it did.

How can someone defend another’s actions as correct in the absence of the reasons for that action? Ulterior motives pop up again. An opportunity presented itself for Nelson to take center stage and to legitimize his own agenda. Salaita clearly has his politics, but he’s not mobilizing it to police academia. Nelson has his politics, and uses academia to lock out the likes of Salaita.

Let’s play ball

If in fact Nelson is serious about protecting academic excellence and the processes and conventions that safeguard them, then let’s play ball: Nelson has no qualifications in this case; he has no research or teaching or published record in comparative native studies, of indigenous cultural and historical studies. I know of no colleague or scholar in my field who cites his work for how it helps us better understand the complex and fraught histories, struggles, perspectives, expressions of indigenousness as a category of existence and category for analyses, or as a category for analyzing the fraught line between power, politics and academic inquiry.

Nelson is not credentialed to be evaluating Salaita’s qualifications. Ultimately, Nelson’s zeal to delegitimize Salaita, and in the process salvage his own radical reputation or one-up his contenders or detractors, ends up itself doing the work of disqualifying Cary Nelson altogether.

Besides not being trained in American Indian Studies or comparative Native studies, and therefore not qualified to evaluate Salaita’s scholarship, Nelson’s own insistence that the case is not about academic freedom but about Salaita’s scholarly credentials unwittingly removes him from commenting on matters he would typically be qualified to discuss and evaluate, and plops him squarely into a domain over which he has no proven standing.

At the end of the day, it is not surprising that Nelson chooses to aid and abet the administration, joining it in a very dangerous disregard for academic freedom and integrity and continued erosion of academic governance. In fact, academia guards against such gross and brazen violations and there’s nothing exceptional or special about the Salaita case, at least not in the sense that Nelson argues.
What we have in Nelson’s sloppy, contorted, disingenuous and self-serving argument are plenty of red flags, too many, in fact, for us to not do the appropriate thing, which would be to set aside, once and for all, anything Cary Nelson has to say on this, or any other case involving academic freedom and faculty governance.

Vicente M. Diaz is Associate Professor of American Indian Studies and Anthropology, Affiliate Faculty, History and Asian American Studies, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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