Some quick thoughts on the MAA thing (updated)
I have an internet connection at the moment, so thought I'd belatedly say my piece on the MAA going to Arizona. To sum it up, I'm pissed off and disappointed, but mostly, I'm upset at being surprised.
I'm NOT surprised that the meeting is going on. A big chunk of money had been spent already, and I can see that the organization's leadership might have felt that they could not simply write off that kind of investment. I can even see that they would think that it was important to some of the putative presenters' careers to give papers at the meeting, although at this point, I doubt it would have affected anyone's funding for travel.
What I AM surprised at, and what really guts me, is that the letter, written by committee or not, expressed absolutely no reference to the laws that those of us who opposed holding the meeting in Tempe objected to, except as some sort of bullshit "collective political action." This upsets me, I think, because to me, the laws are clearly wrong in a moral sense (and in a constitutional one), and are not at all "political." And to a certain extent, because I am acquainted with a couple of the members of the Executive Committee, I feel a little sick at not knowing if they willingly characterized racial discrimination as 'political' or if they were somehow argued down. It's not a good feeling.
I'm also upset and, perhaps naively, surprised at how this entire thing has been characterized by some, especially in the Inside Higher Ed comments, as being a 'leftist' issue, or a case of 'political correctness.' I don't know how people who have read the US Constitution and know anything about US history can see a support of equal rights and equal protections as being 'leftist'. Admittedly, I have a dog in this fight -- my family includes people of color who are Southeast Asian, African-American, Afro-Caribbean, and Latino. Some of my family members are also gay. But of all of those people, only the Latinos are likely to be personally affected by SB1070. This is a big country, though, and it's not all about my family -- it's about anybody. I don't see that this is any different morally than making ethnic minorities wear identifying clothing or denying people of a certain skin color the right to eat with Anglos. Shouldn't we have reached a point where civil rights are seen as patriotic, rather than partisan?
So that's why I'm saddened. Not so much about the decision to go on, but about the apparent unwillingness of the leaders of an organization to which I belong to publicly recognize that this is a moral issue at all, or even, at the very least, to publicly recognize that this is a moral and ethical issue for a fair number of the membership. This lack of acknowledgement of something clearly very meaningful to at the least a sizable and vocal
Today, Jeffrey Jerome Cohen posted a piece on his reactions and why he is maintaining his membership in the MAA. It is thoughtful, and very convincing. Jeff also noticed something that I had not in the CFP that came out yesterday: an acknowledgement of the moral concerns for some of us. It's a far cry from the condemnation that I feel is necessary, but it's something. And, as Jeff says, it probably indicates that there are rifts on the council. Again, knowing that some of my senior colleagues seem not to think it is one is disturbing to me. And I hope I shall one day find out who argued which way, because that would at least relieve the sick feeling of wondering, but would replace it with the sick feeling that colleagues whom I respect didn't find Arizona's racist laws (and I'm talking about the whole passel of them, not just SB1070 -- a law that requires teachers to have 'a correct accent' seems ludicrous at best to a left-coaster who's lived in the Deep South, and we know it's code for non-Anglo English) morally objectionable. In the meantime, I have been informed via a listserv that three members of the local program committee have resigned, because they cannot give their support to a meeting in the state where they live as long as the laws are racist. They also point out, for those who have forgotten, that a boycott worked to get Arizona to recognize Martin Luther King's birthday as a holiday. So yeah, I'm boycotting, but not quitting.