I can’t shut up about academics and the culture wars with @ayjay:

I may be focusing on separate areas of the essay than you are, but I don’t think I’m reading things into it. Koganzon seems to be arguing against much more than simply snarking on Twitter:

Confronted in a gentle way with objections to institutional rules whose modification would not imperil these purposes, their revulsion against scandal led them to gradually abandon these rules. The alternative is, obviously, public protest, which works precisely to outrage and inflame, so that the university’s internal workings are submitted to public derision and its self-governance is thereby undermined.

This reads like a pretty blunt statement that public protest is not good for the academy. Rather scholars should confront injustice “in a gentle way”.

She makes another ridiculous claim about how inequity is overcome:

Institutional perversities can be rectified from within and with minimal disruption by focusing on and exploiting commonalities and agreements—as Gray did with Heston—instead of inflaming disagreements.

Integrating universities in the American South was never going to happen with “minimal disruption”. It took federal troops to allow James Meredith to enroll at the University of Mississippi. If the men at Harvard reacted as the whites at Ole Miss did, Gray would have never gotten a chance to become a scholar—she’d likely have been killed first.


I also think the comparison of Hanna Gray to MLK Jr. fails. King was anything but gentle and minimally disruptive. He aimed to performatively disrupt the surrounding society—he wanted to get images of whites attacking blacks on TV and in the papers. In Chicago, he would pressure Daley by threatening to march into Cicero and provoke a riot. All the criticisms used against BLM were used to attack him too. He worked for coordination within the movement, but was uncompromising and impatient in his demands for change. I would argue that his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” is a direct counterargument to Koganzon’s essay—it’s all about the fierce urgency of now that she doesn’t want to infect the university.

I agree that simply snarking on Twitter is no substitute for substained movement building. On the other hand The Women’s March began with a Facebook post and is now doing a ton of organizing and direct action. If anything, scholars should be backing up their snark with public action, not quiet policy making. Gray would have never been accepted to Harvard if it hadn’t been for the disruptive work of the Women’s Rights movement in the decades before her birth. There’s an uprising of energy in our country right now. A lot is coming out in pretty silly ways, but much is also acting as a catalyst for social change. I think this is a moment to ride and embrace that energy, not to tamp it down. Lenin did a lot of organizing, but part of the reason the October Revolution succeeded is that he wasn’t hesitant to act.