"If I had to get analytical about it, maybe I’d put it this way. We’re moving from the neoliberal university to the imperial university. Or at least people are trying to move us there. It used to be as long as you didn’t challenge the corporatization of the university, you’d be basically okay. But the neoliberal project - where the politicians would all prattle about "free markets and democracy" and what that would actually mean was that the world would be run by a bunch of unelected trade bureaucrats in the interests of Citibank and Monsanto - that kind of fell apart. And of course the groups I’ve been working with - People’s Global Action, the DANs and ACCs and the like - we had a lot to do with that. It threw the global elites into a panic, and of course the normal reaction of global elites when thrown into a panic is to go and start a war. It doesn’t really matter who the war’s against. The point is once you’ve got a war, the rules start changing, all sorts of things you’d never be able to get away with otherwise become possible, whether in Haiti or New Haven. In that kind of climate, nasty people start trying to see what they can get away with. "Fire the anarchist for no particular reason? Maybe that’ll work."
David Graeber, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Yale University, and the author of Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value: The False Coin of Our Own Dreams and Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology, among many other scholarly publications. Last week Prof. Graeber was informed that his teaching contract at Yale would not be extended. However, it was not Graeber’s scholarship that was ever in question; rather it was his political philosophies that may have played a heavy hand in the administration’s unwarranted decision. Graeber, a renowned anarchist scholar, recently spoke with CounterPuncher Joshua Frank about the fiasco. As one of our other favorite anthropologists David Price put it, this "is a ghastly look under the hood at how academic knowledge is manufactured at America’s ’finest’ institutions."
Joshua Frank: Prof. Graeber, can you talk a little bit about the circumstances leading up to Yale’s decision not to renew your teaching contract? How much of their decision do you think was based on your political persuasion and activism?
David Graeber: Well, it’s impossible to say anything for certain because no official reasons were given for the decision and I’m not allowed to know what was said in the senior faculty meeting where my case was discussed. In fact, if anyone who attended were to tell me what I was accused of, they would themselves be accused of violating "confidentiality" and they would get in trouble, too. But one thing that was repeatedly stressed to me when I was preparing my material for review is that no one is really taking issue with my scholarship. In fact, it was occasionally hinted to me that if anything I publish too much, have received too much international recognition, and had too many enthusiastic letters of support from students. All that might have actually weighed against me. Again, I have no way of knowing if that’s really true, because everything is a secret. But I’d be willing to say this much: What happened to me was extremely irregular - almost unheard of, really. It happened despite the fact that I’m one of best published scholars and most popular teachers in the department. Does it have anything to do with the fact that I’m also one of the only declared anarchist scholars in the academy? I’ll leave it to your readers to make up their own minds.
JF: If I am not mistaken, you have been up for review at Yale before, correct? What has changed since those reviews were held?
DG: I had an official third-year review and I had no problems with that, they told me I was doing fine. Then, after that, I started writing essays defending anarchism, and getting involved in big mobilizations against the IMF and G8 as well organizing with the peace movement. When I got back from my sabbatical, everything had changed. Several of the senior profs wouldn’t even say hello to me. I was assigned no committee work. When I came up for review in my sixth year for promotion to term associate - normally a rubber stamp - suddenly, several senior faculty virulently opposed my promotion on the grounds that I didn’t do any committee work. Not surprising since they refused to give me any. They also produced a whole panoply of petty charges - "he comes late to class," that sort of thing - which, as usual, I was not allowed to know about much less respond to. Of course I was acting exactly as I’d acted for the first three years, too, but suddenly it was a terrible problem. The vote deadlocked so they took it to the Dean who told them they couldn’t fire someone without a warning, so I was given a letter telling me I had to do something about my "unreliability" and do more service work. My contract was extended for just two years instead of the usual four, and I was told they would vote at the end of the next year to see if it would be extended (so that I would be able to come up for tenure.) So this year I’ve been running the colloquium series, doing all sorts of extra teaching - this term for instance, I effectively taught three courses instead of the required two because I had one weekly class with undergraduates who were all taking independent studies with me - taught one of the most popular courses in Yale (Myth and Ritual, with 137 students) ... But on Friday May 6, I was informed that they had voted not to renew my contract anyway and offered no explanation as to why.