The intimidation factor

There has been no shortage of articles in the last week on the decline of the NBA.  As a basketball fan with some historical perspective, I found the assault on the league both accurate, and a bit overwrought. There has also been a series of articles in the last two weeks on  ugly events at Columbia University and San Francisco State University, both involving anger directed at students who supported Israel, or who were accused of such. The two sets of stories— on NBA violence, and campus violence — do have a common thread— the importance of intimidation in so many spheres of American lives.

This week, I watched part of the tape of the game known in Boston as the Memorial Day Massacre— the first game of the 1985 NBA finals between the then—champion Boston Celtics and the challengers, the Los Angeles Lakers. Massacre it was, as the Celtics trounced the Lakers 148—116. This was the golden age of the NBA. The Celtics sported a front court of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parrish, arguably the best in NBA history. The backcourt were no slouches either, with Dennis Johnson and Danny Ainge. The Lakers countered with Kareem Abdul Jabbar, James Worthy, and Kurt
Rambis, paired with Magic Johnson and Byron Scott. These were not lineups full of players who had entirely skipped college to jump to the pros, or were making rap albums in the off season, or getting arrested for DUI,  drugs, or weapons violations.  

But what struck me most about the game were the comments just before the opening tip—off by the play—by—play team of Brent Mussberger and former Celtics great Tommy Heinsohn. Mussberger pointed out how the Celtics Lakers rivalry was a great one, but that said, a very one—sided one, in that the Celtics had won  all 8 previous head—to—head match—ups between the teams in the playoffs. The Lakers won this series, casting—off the Celtics' curse. For Laker fans, this was almost equivalent to the satisfaction shared by members of the Red Sox Nation, who finally exorcised their demons in late October this year, when the Red Sox erased a 3—0 deficit, to come back and beat the New York Yankees, and then went on to win the World Series.

But the most interesting pre—game comments were offered by Heinsohn. The Hall of Fame player and coach, with his gravelly voice, intoned that at some point in the series, the Celtics would apply the intimidation factor. Some Laker would get knocked down and hit with a very hard foul. How the Lakers would react would tell the tale of the series. In essence, Heinsohn was saying the Lakers needed to prove their manhood, and only then could they climb the mountain to victory.  To prove his point,  Heinsohn showed video of the prior year's series, when the Celtics 'fought' back to overcome the Lakers in 7 games. Heinsohn traced the turnaround in the series to a vicious 'clothesline' shot on Laker forward Kurt Rambis in Game 2 in the Boston Garden that knocked him off his feet as he went baseline.  In Heinsohn's eyes, the Lakers never responded to the hit, and were therefore psychologically unable to win  in Boston the remainder of the series.

Let us not forget that the infamous 'Malice at the Palace' began with a hard foul by Ron Artest on Ben Wallace of the Pistons. With the Pacers comfortably ahead in the game played on the Pistons' home court, and less than a minute left, the hard foul was either Artest's basic madness (certainly possible) or delivery of a message — that this year the Pacers would take down the Pistons, the team that beat them in 7 in the Eastern finals the previous year. Artest's hard hit  could then be seen as an exclamation point on a big road win for the Pacers. 

While the blowup with the crowd was what attracted all the media attention, the idea of a hard hit on a player going in for a basket is now an accepted part of the game, as is the brush—back of a baseball hitter who has homered in his previous at bat, or a defensive safety or linebacker 'ringing the receiver's bell' when he catches a pass thrown over the middle, or a hard body or stick check on the opposing team's best skater in a hockey game. All of these are examples of intimidation: making the other guy think twice about repeating his behavior.

George Will wrote yesterday about how anyone interested in a career in academia does not have to think twice about toeing the single party line that is now enforced with Stalinist control and logic in American colleges. If you are a  conservative graduate student in the humanities, you will not get a job; and if you are already in an academic position, you are unlikely to get promoted. It was not by chance alone that the only two graduates of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government who were unable to find teaching jobs two years back, were the students who had written their theses under conservative Professor Harvey Mansfield. Academia's loss translated in both cases here to the students taking government jobs. The Republican majority appears cemented for the next generation, even as the radical leftists on college faculties become ever more distant from the society in which they operate, and on whose largesse they depend.

It is not true, as an arrogant, and foolish Duke philosophy professor claimed last year, that smarter people seek college teaching jobs and that is why liberals predominate.  The Duke professor would not do well were he forced to match wits with the people working at ebay or Google or Microsoft, or in the labs of America's drug companies, or on Wall Street, or in America's largest law firms. The market determines the winners  in the business world, and success skills include competitiveness, energy, creativity, leadership, and intuition, in addition to intelligence. And let us not forget one other factor required for success: hard work, something with which too many academics are not familiar, what with 30 weeks a year of classes, six to nine hours a week of class—time, a few office hours, and some class preparation time for those who still make the effort.  On a per hour basis, college teaching for full—time tenured faculty at major universities is one of the highest paid  jobs in America, and one of the cushiest, since after tenure is achieved there is little accountability backed by sanctions. It is easy to play intimidator in those circumstances.

In academia, the lock step mindset that predominates today guarantees that 'research' in many fields follows a guided path, like a cruise missile launched at a specific target, directed by an internal computer.  When there is no intellectual diversity or competition of ideas, people become lazy, since their ideologies do not have to win out in a marketplace of ideas. They need only hew to the party line to succeed.   And when you get lazy, the quality of the product declines. It is no wonder that teachers' unions across America fight so hard to prevent even the smallest experiment with vouchers. Their concern is not that religious schools might get some government money from these programs. That is an excuse on which to hang their legal theories. It is that the public schools will be forced to compete, and they fear the accountability that market forces would bring if education funding were spent by parents.

Wills describes an intimidation process that keeps potential faculty in line and on the ideological plantation. It is the same process at work when black conservative voices try to make themselves heard or blacks are appointed to government jobs in Republican administrations. These writers and intellectuals, or government officials, are derided as black in name only, as Aunt Jemimas, or Step'n Fetch—its.  Free—thinking people are dangerous to the black civil rights establishment, and the white liberals off of whose guilt it feeds, since they challenge the orthodoxy which lives off favoritism as a ticket to success, rather than black achievement. Those who deride the black conservatives might want to read the advice that Booker T. Washington  and William DuBois gave to the blacks of their generation about how to succeed in America.  These men were not afraid of competition, and they believed that blacks could earn respect, and success, whether with trade skills, or  academic achievement.

The particular events at Columbia and San Francisco State are also glaring examples of intimidation at work. At San Francisco State, the closest American equivalent to Montreal's horrific Concordia University in  terms of the attitudes that exist towards Jewish students and Israel supporters, it is simply not physically safe anymore to be a vocal supporter of Israel. In years past, Jewish students were physically attacked by Muslim students and their supporters.  Now those who might be seen to be supportive of Israel, even indirectly (e.g. College Republicans) are treated with the same scorn and assaulted. At San Francisco State, the university's president, a man utterly lacking in character, principle, or courage, has seen fit to call a truce between the two sides in a war started and  fought only by one side.  

At Columbia University, the  administration has been forced to deal with accusations that a climate of intimidation and hate exists in many classrooms when the subject of  Israel is raised.  The school's Middle East Studies Department is full of Israel haters, America haters, and Jew haters, but it is not the only department at the school  having such a problem. Three New York newspapers have highlighted the charges (all but the New York Times of course, which is waiting to find out if any of the alleged victims were gay).  This is a real problem for Columbia. The school has  a large Jewish student population, perhaps 30%, and gets as much as half of its philanthropic gifts from Jewish graduates. Some Jewish alumni are visibly angry at the school and demanding changes. The university's President, Lee Bollinger, much like his San Francisco State counterpart, is not a man who inspires a great deal of confidence as a profile in courage in taking on such a problem. But universities, even rich ones, do sometimes respond to the  threat of a diminished collection plate. 

Bollinger might want to consult with one of his board members, David Stern, the NBA's commissioner. Stern might be able to advise him that intimidation is often an accepted part of his (the NBA) game, but sometimes, needs to be dealt with harshly.  But it should never be a part of the college's classroom 'game' or the academic hiring 'game,' though it is often today, due to widespread administrative neglect.  In the sports world, the other side can respond to the intimidation game, when it hits them, by hitting back. In academia, all the weapons are on one side, and the game was not designed to be played this way. The referees need to step in, forcefully.