Dissert’ Menu

The British begin their withdrawal from Aden, 1967.

So in case anyone wasn’t aware, I’ve been working on my master’s dissertation – for which I finally have a pretty solid topic. The work right now is all archival research, which I have no problem with, but finding sources specific to my area is proving a little bit of a challenge.

That area is the Aden Emergency of 1963-67, in which the British fought a counterinsurgency in the Aden colony and the East and West Protectorate ‘up country’. Specifically, though, I want to focus on the RAF and the use of airpower in COIN strategy.

Starbuck at Wings Over Iraq has been doing some great work on counterinsurgency airpower, and I definitely recommend checking that out and contributing if you can. Many thanks to Shlok Vaidya for pointing me in that direction. In the meantime, my research is mostly being conducted in Liddell Hart Library at King’s College London, but I’ll also be dropping by the RAF archives and others. Any help would be appreciated.

I’ll also from time to time be posting little gems I manage to unearth, so stay tuned for those.

Down That Road Again

If you thought the LSE (and Britain in general) was bad at curbing extremism and hatred (and I do, see here, here, and here), then Oxford University will knock your socks off. From The JC:

Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister was met by a protester screaming “slaughter the Jews” as he spoke at the Oxford Union.

Antisemitic and anti-Israel abuse was shouted throughout Danny Ayalon’s speech on Monday evening, with students causing numerous disruptions to the event.

During the hour-long session one student ran towards Mr Ayalon shouting the Arabic phrase “Itbah Al-Yahud” [Slaughter the Jews].

As many as 10 others, carrying Palestinian flags, made attempts to attack Mr Ayalon but were intercepted and removed by security.

Unlike when Ayalon spoke at LSE, the administration in this situation sprang to his defense as a speaker and contributor of ideas. No faculty petitions up north (to my knowledge). In their statement (PDF), the Oxford Union said:

Whilst the vast majority of the audience behaved in an orderly and responsible fashion, some members continually interrupted the speech, and one individual in particular appears to have made a directly anti-Semitic remark. These individuals exceeded the principles of free speech that the Society upholds…

…This morning, the Union’s President launched an investigation aimed at identifying the
Members who disrupted the event. The Union will be taking disciplinary action against these
Members, in accordance with the Society’s rules…

…The Oxford Union believes in the rights of free speech and protecting our invited speakers’ ability to express themselves in an orderly and disciplined environment…

…Last night was unprecedented. A disorderly minority disrupted and prevented the speaker from holding the floor where he had been invited to speak.

It’s nice to see an apology, or even an admission that something at the event had not gone as planned. Certainly no such statement was issued at LSE. Because what’s the point of debating when you can just wave your flags, shout some cheers, and win the argument? You don’t even need to make a point.

It’s a perfect storm of the western recoil, its love for countries-in-waiting (see: the Free Tibet movement), and willingness to attend a rally. I really do feel for Ayalon and any other Israeli officials who seek to engage in a back-and-forth with the community in Britain. It won’t do a thing: the minds of this country are made up.

The London School of Embarrassment

Once again, the London School of Economics continues to embarrass itself and its reputation with an unequivocal defense of Reza Pankhurst. The Islamic Society and countless others have sprung to his defense, and Pankhurst himself has denounced the “McCarthyite witch-hunt” of recent disclosures of his membership in Hizb ut-Tahrir. However, the only reason the story broke in the national press was because the LSE Islamic Society failed to address the concerns of some members over Pankhurst’s affiliations.

Those few students who have bothered to criticize the school for its recent failings have been dismissed as “pro-Israeli loons” and “morally blinkered propagandists.” I know at least one has received a number of threats from those who disagree with him. Whatever happened to respectful debate? There is nothing ‘illogical’ with concerns over an academic institution lending a member of an extreme organization a platform and respectability, especially when the individual holds private indoctrination sessions with selected groups of students.

The mind reels on a number of levels, but I’ll try to categorize my thoughts in a fairly logical order.

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Antisemitism, Dissent, and the LSE

The face of “new antisemitism

Every time I think I’m disgusted by my school, it gets worse. I thought we’d reached a low when the London School of Economics voted to twin (my personal conspiracy is that the vote was scheduled on American Thanksgiving so none of the ‘Israel-loving’ Americans would show up) with the Islamic University of Gaza, which was founded by Ahmed Yassin. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because he also founded a little organization called Hamas.  Aside from hosting Hamas’s R&D program for the Qassam rocket, IUG’s ‘distinguished’ faculty has referred to gays as “perverts” and “morally sick,” and proclaimed the university to be an absolute reflection of Hamas and its philsophy.

Ridiculous as it is, maybe it ends there? Not so fast.

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The Church of Knowledge

Kevin Carey writes in Democracy Now about the ‘quality’ of colleges in the United States. Comparing higher education to the Catholic church, he describes the modern university as in institution terrified of actually trying to evaluate how well they’re teaching. Answerable to no one, accountable to none, non-profit colleges try to maximize reputation rather than profits, including gaming the U.S. News & World Report rankings. I can speak from experience here: my own undergraduate college was unceremoniously dropped from the list in 2005. This came solely because we stopped looking at S.A.T. scores, which were a quantifiable measure of – I don’t know, something – an ability to take tests, and we were duly punished. Yet, the college flourishes, admission has only grown more selective, and I don’t for a minute think less of Sarah Lawrence for her absence from the USNWR tables.

After moving from the unique style of an SLC education to that of the British university, the biggest difference is in fact the alumni donation/endowment-based system of private American colleges. It seems like a bad idea from the start – too close to a business/consumer model, but not actually responsible in the same way. The British schools can count on receiving their funding from the Exchequer each year; they have the benefit of stability. But it’s in fact the endowment system that allows students to change their educational experience while it’s happening. Schools that rely on alumni donations (especially true for those with smaller endowments) must address the needs of current students, whether they be shortages in the curriculum or draconian alcohol policies. Otherwise they risk losing a lifelong source of income, in a state of even further dependence than a business.

Carey misses this almost entirely: “If bad teaching created negative publicity or materially affected the ability of college presidents to recruit students and raise money from alumni, presidents would have much stronger incentives to tackle reform head-on.” So then, is the problem that the alumni of prestigious schools are all idiots, unable to realize they were fleeced? Not sure how to remedy this.

It could be pointed out that the future alumni donation model merely ensures that the wealthiest students have the loudest voices, but I’d have to disagree. A college doesn’t know who’s going to be wealthy or not down the road. It could produce a world-renowned director/producer or a White House Chief of Staff who majored in dance. It’s the ultimate equalizer, and the inverse relationship between the size of a college and its dependence on alumni donations means that the most supportive, responsive colleges will be the tiny liberal arts ones. The big universities are too big to learn. Lectures tell you, seminars engage you (even if some smart people think otherwise).

Carey’s prescription is for new modeling and quantitative assessments of teaching quality and other intangibles. The problem with this (as with all sociological attempts at structuring human behavior) is that it’s too individualistic and subjective a measurement to boil down to a formula. The NSSE and the CLA, even if accurate, merely tell you how a given college is. What’s truly needed is an instrument to change how that college will be. Students should affect their own destiny.

What it comes down to is a need for decentralizing higher education. Harvard as the Ma Bell of universities?