Friday, December 31, 2010

New year's celebration of wiki leaks

Hal Pepinsky,,
December 31, 2010
No one questions that WikiLeaks are genuine, i.e., honest trustworthy. The controversy is over whether the public ought to know what diplomats and military are honestly reporting among themselves. It’s a question of whether the government ought to be allowed to lie to the people, of whether that threatens national security or supports it.
On my third try, I had a faculty who wholeheartedly supported my tenure. The college committee turned me down. I remember coming home to tell Jill the news that I would not become the next chair of the department, but would have to fight to keep my job. Happily, a colleague set me up with her senior husband who walked me through a successful appeal in 1980. Three years later, on appeal while I was in Sheffleid, England on my first sabbatical, I had counseled enough other candidates from dossier preparation through grievances and appeals that a majority of the campus promotion committee voted to give me tenure primarily for service.
I knew I had solid department support for tenure, but not even the chair could see the outside letters the college dean had solicited, let alone his letter of transmittal of the committee’s written recommendations to the campus level. I requested a meeting with the dean. He was very sympathetic and gave me what in writing would have amounted to a paragraph synopsis of the tenure committee’s report. I remain grateful to Howard Spicker for teaching me that the key to appeal was documentation of how my work had been cited, explaining that if my teaching evaluations were low (in evaluations more than one student called me a Communist agent), I was teaching controversial subjects, basically documenting every public activity.
When I got tenure in 1980, ten percent of the Bloomington faculty belonged to a chapter of the American Federation of Teachers. I joined and set up a “promotion and tenure counseling service” to help candidates prepare (or prepare to prepare) their dossiers, and to be their advocates when they appealed being turned down. I was elected to the campus faculty counsel, where I spurred an AFT campaign to open promotion and tenure records to candidates’ inspection. As union local president in 1981, I had a friendly local representative pass on a question to the state attorney general as to whether university financial records were public. The press called me to tell me the ag was on my side. I called him to thank him and he (a Republican) wondered why I thought I needed to ask such a no-brainer. In 1984, the general assembly amended the public records law to grant state employees full access to their own records. For several years, the campus faculty council permitted promotion and tenure candidates to waive access to their records, then repealed the experiment. I count these openings of information as my crowning academic service achievements in my 33 years at Indiana u.
I was on good terms with administrators at the time. I lobbied them for opening p&t records. I specifically remember the campus academic dean’s assurance that confidentially of outside letters and even college recommendations was necessary to keep evaluations honest. Bullshit. For one thing, I knew that asking my name and contact info to journal editors be passed on to authors had/has never inhibited my criticism. Being known to authors has encouraged me to make even my emphatic rejections responsible and constructive. Talking about people behind their backs promotes backbiting and distortion. It promotes covering what you are really doing and feeling in distortion and outright deceit. WikiLeaks draws our attention to the fact that in international affairs, as at home, at work (including academe), confidentiality of social business corrupts our relations at all social levels. Forcing a child to keep secrets about his or her relations with an adult is the essence of child abuse traumatization. At all levels, saying things behind people’s backs about them that you will not say to their face erodes the foundation of trustbuilding and maintenance of trust: open honesty.
My year as AFT local president, I had a slogan that still works for me: Fairness, Openness, Equity, FOE for short. This is the attitude that seems to work for me and mine.
WikiLeaks has revealed that US foreign policy is largely a matter of making fun and degradation of foreigners including publicly proclaimed important allies. The main threat of wiki leaks is not that adversaries find out low-level stuff they probably already have long since know. It is that the US government’s own people stop believing in government spin like, hey, we are winning the war in Afghanistan with the support of our Pakistani brothers.
Fact remains that the US is the world’s leading abuser of power. Fact remains that the greater our abuse by secrecy, the more we all are led further astray from one another. Hope remains that we can study and learn from the openness and honesty of leaks like wiki’s. Love and peace, and happy new year--hal

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