Monday, December 24, 2012

Erik Loomis' Twitter Timeline Available Dating Back to June 2012

I wrote earlier, quite seriously, of Professor Erik Loomis:
No one's as stupid to violently rattle off the death chants while still an untenured assistant professor at a research university. "Dim bulb" is charitable.
Thinking back now, that's even an understatement, a big one. It's possible that no one --- no academic faculty member at a major college or university --- has ever acted as stupidly vis-à-vis his or her own viability as an employee. Loomis is behaving stupidly and recklessly, as if he's got a "termination wish" (like a death wish, but meaning instead a pathological need to get fired in pursuit of romantic martyrdom in some larger cause of crusading labor unionism, perhaps harking back longingly to an earlier, valorized era of violent class struggle).

In any case, see Robert Stacy McCain's report, "The Vocabulary of Professor Erik Loomis: ‘Motherf–ing F–kheads F–king F–k’."

Folks should be sure to read the whole thing at The Other McCain. Read it carefully. And then check the full Twitter timeline (available in pdf). Note especially how Loomis indulges in using the f-word quite a bit. Indeed, "overindulge" might be the better verb form (his f-bomb usage is clearly overdone and all too frequent, transparently uncomfortable as if a poorly-offered cover for insecurity). But it's always the context of things that's even important (an importance Loomis' defenders have proved beyond a reasonable doubt with their systematic omission of any of Loomis' statements outside of the key "metaphor" at issue). Rattling off death chants as an untenured faculty member isn't smart. But it's as dumb as one can possibly be to diss your own job responsibilities --- more so with so much obvious contempt for your institution and its structure of hierarchical authority. Here's a surprisingly revealing tweet as to Loomis' state of mind:

Again, read the full timeline for the context.

Committee service is a major part of serving as a professor --- and of the collegiate life of a university more generally. It's an especially important function to untenured faculty members because such work is a key manner in which unfamiliar and untested colleagues pay their dues. And it should be obvious, but when you're dissing committee work as pointless you are dismissing as useless the work of a great many of the leaders on a given campus, people who have put in enormous numbers of hours in attempting to have a voice in the institution's decision-making --- and to hopefully have a greater voice in final outcomes affecting the institution, the faculty, students, and the curriculum. Some faculty members earn most of their professional self-esteem through the work they provide on committees. It's a deeply embedded aspect of the academic culture. So, the kind of opposition to the norms of collegiality that Loomis demonstrates is utterly astounding --- even exponentially astounding, again, given that Loomis lacks the security of tenure. He is demonstrating that he is, by definition, as dumb as an ox. The problem with that, clearly, is that research universities are supposed to be populated with smart people. Really smart people. And a public university such as the University of Rhode Island is tax payer supported, so there's a particularly high level of public accountability. People on the outside, taxpayers as well as moneyed players supporting campus foundations, and so forth, want to think their support is in furtherance of an elite and respected body of scholars and practitioners. Educators at these places are cut tremendous independence because they are society's most esteemed role models. They are the masters of the (knowledge) universe who're transmitting society's essential values and learning to the next generations. But there are limits.

For someone like Loomis to show such outward contempt for all of this is simply mind-boggling. It's even more astounding given that Loomis spends so much time online. He should know better. The norms of academic hiring and promotion may have changed since 2005 when Daniel Drezner was denied tenure (largely on the suspicion that blogging was taking up too much of his time). But they haven't changed that much. It's just not well-advised to be so outspoken --- virtually all the time --- on social networking sites and on widely-read partisan blogs. For a lot of elite power-brokers in academe, such patterns of behavior are unscholarly. And to be so stridently unscholarly goes 100 percent against what the ideal candidate for tenure is supposed to be like. I would personally advise anyone entering the job market or working on becoming tenured to avoid hard-core partisan blogging and tweeting. To do otherwise is to court trouble, the kind of trouble that could ruin one's career. This is why I sense that what Loomis lacks in brains he more than equals in social insecurity. All that tweeting, and blogging too, is designed to buff this guy's creds among the hard-left commentariat. But for what? So the communist freaks at Crooked Timber will post a couple of huzzah! blog posts in solidarity. That's manifestly not worth it.

In any case, if anyone were really, truly looking to get Loomis fired this is the argument they'd want to make to the administration of the University of Rhode Island. One could contact the university and make the case that is isn't a matter of freedom of speech, or of academic freedom. It's a matter of basic professionalism toward one's vocation and the standards of institutional and professional decorum. Loomis reflects badly on the university. He reflects badly on the hiring committee that brought him there in the first place. Folks on the outside, the tax payers and other supporting constituencies will ask, "How could they have possibly hired this idiot? He's making the university look like a bloody circus." And they'll be well warranted to ask such questions. A lot of money goes into to recruiting and investing in productive academic colleagues. These are people who're expected to be teaching, publishing and performing community service. There are very high standards involved, or there should be. Which is why if people of professional standing raised these points to university president Dr. David Dooley it's quite possible the administration will reflect even more deeply on the problem in the days and weeks ahead. I mean, it's been well over a week since this story first broke and the university now has a huge and extremely prominent posting of the administration's condemnation of Professor Loomis. And looking at this again, President Dooley has updated the language since I last check over at the university's homepage:

Statement from URI President David M. Dooley

Over the past several days we have heard from many individuals concerning statements made or repeated by Professor Erik Loomis. Many writers forcefully expressed serious concern about his statements and many others expressed very strong support for Professor Loomis, especially in regard to his First Amendment right to share his personal opinions. In the statements at issue, Professor Loomis did not make it clear that he was speaking solely as an individual, and that the views he expressed were his alone and did not reflect the views of the University of Rhode Island. This was the rationale for our original statement.

The University of Rhode Island strongly believes that Constitutionally protected rights to free expression are the foundation of American democracy, and central to our mission of imparting knowledge and promoting the exchange of ideas. It is our conviction that Professor Loomis's personal remarks, however intemperate and inflammatory they may be, are protected by the First Amendment, as are the views of those who have contacted us in recent days.
Here's the link to the scanned document now available at the website.

I quoted and screencapped the president's initial comments at the time, dated December 18th, "University of Rhode Island Condemns Violent Labor Historian Erik Loomis." No doubt the backlash escalated enormously since then. In no time the Chronicle of Higher Education reported on the story, "‘Head on a Stick’ Tweet Lands U. of Rhode Island Professor in Hot Water." And Inside Higher Ed also took it up, "Who's Overreacting? Professor's tweet and university's reaction stir debate on academic freedom."

So my sense is that this issue is far from over. It's Christmastime. That's the slowest time at the university. And if the administration feels it needs to have its statement placed so largely and prominently at the website, it's clear that the backlash isn't close to subsiding. People on campus will be dealing with these matters when business gets going again in the new year. Opponents of Loomis' tenure bid might not relent in their vocal outrage at this man's outward violence and incivility. But the more troublesome issue, on a practical working level, is Loomis' clear propensity toward uncollegialty and unprofessionalism. All together, the profanity-laced death chants, etc., and the dissing of the university's committee service responsibilities, could very well create a picture for outside constituencies of unworthiness for the honorific of academic tenure. As I've said, Loomis is really dumb. He's joking all about it over at Lawyers, Guns and Money, but when your professional future is so seriously on the line, this is hardly a laughing matter.