Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Medieval Academy and Arizona Politics: An Update

UPDATED with more info for people who have already submitted abstracts: scroll down to the bottom of the post.

Dear Readers,

I reproduce here without comment a note to a listserv from Professor Monica Green, regarding current debates in the Medieval Academy's governing body over whether to pull out of this year's meeting in Arizona. I've blogged about this briefly, but there is a much bigger discussion going on. I encourage my medievalist readers especially (and even more those who are Medieval Academy members) to read below, take a look at the links, and get involved, according to their own political or scholarly priorities:

I wish to bring to your attention the fact that the Council of the Medieval Academy of America (MAA) is currently debating whether to continue with plans to hold the 2011 meeting in Arizona, as had originally been scheduled. [...]

As I said, the MAA Council is at this very moment debating the issue amongst themselves and is due to vote on the matter by next Wednesday, June 15. As would be expected, there is a range of opinion about the matter. If you would like more information, there is a notice on the blog "In the Middle" (you'll need to scroll down a bit to the section headed 'Important Update RE: MAA in AZ'). Included there is a statement by one of the current Councilors, Connie Berman. She includes a link to the list of the full current Council, where you can find e-mail addresses in order to contact them with your opinion. There is also a petition calling for a boycott of the meeting if plans are not made to move it elsewhere: for discussion, go to

If you have not yet heard about the law that was passed in April, probably the easiest thing to do is just Google "Arizona immigration law". There have been tens of thousands of news reports about it worldwide.

[T]his is a matter of academic politics of concern to us all. I encourage you to read the blog statement and contact the MAA Council with your opinion.

UPDATED: reproducing below a section of the letter from MAA program officer Professor Constance Berman (which I shamelessly ganked from the "In the Middle" post Professor Green references above):

I would like you all to know that enough Councilors of the Medieval Academy of America have indicated that we will not attend a meeting in Arizona to have called a virtual meeting of the Academy which will, I hope, take place within the next two weeks. One of the arguments being used to have the meeting continue in AZ is that there are 120 abstracts. While I'm morally opposed to having a meeting in Tempe, I'm trying to use the more easily made "practical" argument, that if we hold a meeting, no one will come. So, if you have submitted an abstract, but will not attend if it's still in AZ, then it would be good if you so indicate to medieval academy officers and council -- whose names have recently been sent out on the MAA list-serv

It'll make it easier for those who oppose it from inside the Council without having your abstract used against us. Thanks and hang in there,

Connie Berman, Prof. of History, University of Iowa

So there you have it. I wonder: are any of my readers people who have submitted abstracts? Are you planning to pull out? Would you be willing to share here why or why not?


Jeffrey Cohen said...

Thanks so much for bringing attention to the open letter. I am sorry to say that the MAA is moving very slowly on this, so every signature helps bolster the case. It is depressing to me that there is not more outrage.

Joe said...

I am of the opinion that if you want more politics in the Academic environment, than you allow the situation to effect what it is that you are doing. If you want less politics in the Academic environment, than you should ignore what is going on and do what you are supposed to be doing there. Ultimately, the MAA is meeting in Arizona to have a conference on the topic of Medieval History and not there to support or not support a particular state's individual laws. If the MAA is going to select its locations based on potentially abrasive political ramifications to any particular member or future member of the organization, than you might as well have every conference in Switzerland every year. Just my two cents.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Joe, I couldn't disagree more strongly. Though medieval studies may not bear directly on the current political affairs (a point that I will stipulate without conceding), part of what work in the Humanities teaches us is to be critical thinkers. If we, as representatives of that goal, don't take a stand on what's going on around us, one way or the other, we are just as irrelevant as our critics claim we are.

I respect the right of thinking people to hold opposing views, and to thoughtfully advocate for those views. But I think we have a real responsibility here, either way.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Joe, I also disagree. We do not do our scholarship in a vacuum. Everyday politics and governmental policies impact what happens in our classroom and in our research. To pretend that academics and politics are somehow separated is just plane mistaken.

PeterK said...

"There have been tens of thousands of news reports about it worldwide."

rather than reading second hand sources members of the Academy would do better to read the actual legislation. too many people are basing their opinions and decisions on what others have written. I highly suspect that many in the academy have not read the law and its update
and because some people apparently were unable to understand a clearly written law they modified it to make it even clearer

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Thanks for the links, P. I've got to both and browsed them, and I encourage my readers to do the same, if they have not already. And let's not assume that the MAA officers have not. People do not willingly toss years of work in conference organizing out the window without serious consideration and research. Primary sources are what we are all about, after all.

The updates, however, do not address the major concern of the law's critics:

1. That "reasonable cause" to believe that someone is illegal is not defined; critics fear (with some justification, based on similar laws in the previous decade) that being obviously Latino/a, or not speaking English well, will be defined as "reasonable cause," which will result in a law that disproportionately and unfairly targets members of a specific (and sizeable) subset of Arizona's population.

2. It mandates that already overburdened law enforcement officers are further charged with doing the work of immigration officers -- something that they are not currently trained, equipped, or funded to do.

I do not see that the updates to the law address either one of these objectionable provisions.

Jennifer Goodland said...

Of more pertinent interest to all in the academy is Arizona having outlawed ethnic studies. Do we wish to support a state that does not support the academy? Can we as academics bring money to a state that does not value what we do?