Archive: Apr 2008

Facts and opinions, though they must be kept apart, are not antagonistic to each other; they belong to the same realm. Facts inform opinions, and opinions, inspired by different interests and passions, can differ widely and still be legitimate as long as they respect factual truth. Freedom of opinion is a farce unless factual information is guaranteed and the facts themselves are not in dispute. In other words, factual truth informs political thought just as rational truth informs philosophical speculation. Hannah Arendt

A colleague, Professor Doug Rossinow, recently published an op-ed in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. An American historian who specializes in the 1960s, Doug has written extensively on the New Left. In his column, “Flash: ’60s radicalism predated Obama,” Rossinow unmasks an unscrupulous campaign tactic of guilt by association: the linking of Barack Obama to a former member of the notorious Weather Underground.

The day his column appeared, I sent an e-mail to our university community with the subject heading “Prof. Doug Rossinow exposes campaign ‘Swiftboating’ in today’s Star Tribune.” I also pasted the op-ed into the e-mail with the following preface: “Doug Rossinow provides Minnesotans an invaluable civic service in today’s Star Tribune. In the best tradition of a citizen-scholar, Doug exposes a presidential campaign fiction that the news media has failed to adequately fact check. He has done Metro State proud.”

As the old saying goes, no good deed goes unpunished. I received several irate e-mail responses. The following message was the most cogent.

“Opinions are opinions. Facts are facts.”

Hi Mr. Bute,

While I’m not sure that a broadcast political message to faculty colleagues is an appropriate use of MnSCU/Metro State resources, I’ll let that rest for now. Remember that Professor Rossinow’s article is an opinion piece, not news and if you wanted to alert your colleagues to the article, you might have done so without repeating the content.

There is room for disagreement in the article, and I quite readily admit that I do disagree with several of Rossinow’s (and by extension, your own) conclusions. Allow me to be clear, up front. I have been a committed Democrat since my first campaign in the Fifties–1950s not 1850s. I have been very active in every election since 1992, holding office in the local DFL organization and being campaign treasurer for four legislative campaigns.

I am not a committed Obama supporter, nor am I a committed Hilary supporter. My choice didn’t make it past Super Tuesday. I am fully prepared to support whoever emerges from the Convention as the nominee, flawed though he or she may be. While Rossinow may be a scholar of the Sixties and I am not, I lived through them. That should allow me to view the times through my perspective.

Professor Rossinow talks about the Weathermen as if they were “the gang who couldn’t shoot straight.” I admit they were no Al Qaeda. A group who knowingly planted bombs and set them off, perhaps killing anyone who happened to be in the vicinity, is, to me at least, a violent and threatening group.

Rossinow writes “[Bill] Ayers and other Weatherveterans may have become wholesome, productive citizens since returning to polite society.” Sara Jane Olsen became a productive citizen but is sitting in a jail cell today. There is evidence that she was a “brainwashed” pawn. Ayers was a militant leader in a terrorist group.

Rossinow soft-pedals their actions but does not the term “terrorist” fit? They were not teens hopped up on testosterone doing stupid things they were dangerous terrorists trying to overthrow our government by violence, or at least trying to get newspaper space and their message out. With Al Qaeda’s money and today’s technology, how dangerous could they be now?

Rossinow continues, “Hillary Clinton–at long last, having no shame–suggests that Ayers’ comment that ‘we didn’t do enough,’ in an interview published on 9/11, was an endorsement of Al-Qaeda’s attack on America. She certainly knows that Ayers’ interview was done before 9/11. Whatever he meant, the timing of the interview’s publication was simply unfortunate.”

Wait a minute. Two conjectures, both wrong (in my opinion). Rossinow cannot deny that Obama’s relationship with Ayers was a continuing one. More than just being a neighbor, they served together on a Board of Directors. They appeared together on at least one public panel. Rossinow’s implication that Ayer’s comment “We didn’t do enough” was innocuous because it was uttered before 9/11 is flat out stupid.

What did Ayers mean? Did he mean “We didn’t plant enough bombs?” “We didn’t kill anyone. Maybe we should have?” However he meant it, a former terrorist who says that, even before 9/11, doesn’t regret what he did do, he regrets what he didn’t do. Those aren’t the words of a “wholesome, productive citizen.” Anyone who knows history or lived through the Sixties should be shaken by that comment.

The fact that Obama sees nothing wrong with their association shows poor judgment on his part at best. Personally, I’d stay as far away from Ayers as I could. Hillary’s comments on the association are fair game. Can she claim Obama was sympathetic to terrorists in the Sixties? Of course not. Can she imply that Obama’s continuing and voluntary association with a Sixties terrorist who apparently has no regrets for his past actions show poor judgment on Mr. Obama’s part? Hell, yes!

Did Hillary know Ayers’ interview was before 9/11? I don’t know that. Maybe Rossinow does. If she knew it and still tied Ayers’ reference to 9/11 that was wrong. Shameful? I don’t know that.

The point of this all? Opinions are opinions. Facts are facts. Professor Rossinow doesn’t let the facts get in the way of his opinions. The article should be read that way.


“Factual truth informs political thought.”


First off, I sent out that e-mail with pride; a Metropolitan State University faculty member had a column in the state’s premier newspaper. One distinguishing characteristic of Metro State is that our faculty tries to communicate not only with specialists in our fields but with the well-informed public as well. As a faculty member at a university that gets little or no respect, I admit I am quick to point out our achievements.

Second, it’s interesting that you insist on identifying Professor Rossinow’s op-ed as a “political message,” which you deem as inappropriate for ‘broadcast” on a workplace e-mail system. Internal communication about faculty achievements is quite common. Harvard, Princeton, and Yale are only too glad to have their faculty’s op-eds in the New York Times, Washington Post, or Wall Street Journal identified with their respective universities. They don’t make such a sharp distinction between “fact” and “opinion” because this line of demarcation is far murkier than you allow.

You seem to have an ideological criterion for distinguishing “fact” from “opinion.”  I read Rossinow’s column as an example of solid investigative reporting: he busted journalists for passing off “opinion” as “news.” He exposed the new media’s failure to vet a planted story.

As for William Ayers, no matter how odious his behavior in the 1960s, he is, and has been for years, a professor at Illinois State in Chicago. Until this story broke, I doubt that most of his colleagues were aware of what he had done 40 years ago. It is also unlikely that Barack Obama knew of his background as a leader of the Weather Underground.

Over the past 40 years, I have served on numerous boards and spoke on many panels. No doubt some of my fellow board members or panelists have committed past transgressions that I have no knowledge of–just as some of them would be startled by some of my activities in the Sixties. The point being, one is not guilty by association with someone whose previous behavior we have no knowledge of.

Yes, the Weather Underground would be, by today’s standards, a “terrorist” organization. Yes, they were a physical danger to innocent victims who might have been  injured by their bombings. Your next assertion, however, is a perplexing equivocation: “They were dangerous terrorists trying to overthrow our government by violence, or at least trying to get newspaper space and their message out.”

You got half that sentence correct: yes, they were self-promoting caricatures of media-inspired fantasies; no, they were not real revolutionaries who were trying to violently seize power. A pathetic lot, they had almost no support, even among radicals of the day. Further, they did not have the foggiest notion of how to make revolutionary change. And even if we were to allow that they were “dangerous terrorists,” what does that have to do with Obama, particularly if he had no knowledge of Ayers’ ancient history?

By failing to ”fact check” these spurious claims made by Hillary Clinton and Republican operatives, the mainstream media has been engaging in “opinion.” If the Obama-William Ayers’s story is not a case of media complicity with “Swiftboating,” I would love to see evidence for your explanation of these events.

In conclusion, I remember reading the September 11, 2001, issue of the New York Times. When I finished the Ayers’ interview that morning I thought, “what an unreconstructed moron that guy is.” Only later in the day, after the terrorist attacks, did I recall the Times interview. I saved that issue and, to this day, it sits on display in my office. If Hillary’s brain trust did not realize that the interview had occurred days before publication, they are too stupid to be in the White House; if they did realize it, they are too treacherous to be in the White House.


I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crises. The great point is to bring them the real facts.  Abraham Lincoln

Does Lincoln’s 19th century faith in the people’s ability to discern truth and to confront national crises extend to the American polity of the 21st century? The answer to that question may depend upon whether we can “bring them the real facts” before November 4, 2008.


monte on April 9, 2008

An Epistle to my University President

Dear President Lowe,

I’m sorry to trouble you again about this library situation but the conflict has escalated considerably since yesterday and the Provost is out ill. Upon your suggestion, I went to our Safety and Security (SS) Director’s office to work out a solution. To say that the meeting did not go well would be a diplomatic euphemism.

Let me review the background story. My geography colleague and I returned from spring break to discover that our I.D. cards no longer seemed to work. I was on my way to have a new card made because I thought I might have accidentally deactivated mine. I stopped at the security desk to check if others were having trouble. The security officer gave me a very ambiguous and evasive answer. He said something to the effect that some changes were due to Daylight Savings Time and that others were due to security issues.

Neither of us received any prior notification of these changes. The SS Director later told me that the security officers were to have advised us of these changes in advance. I talked with the day security staff: they said that they had never received any such instructions.

The SS Director has now sent an e-mail to his bosses that he thinks will retroactively vindicate his actions. In truth, his message only indicts him. Exposing his real intent, he cites a security report that documents my having unlocked and used, without prior authorization, an empty classroom for a 30-minute small group session. I had previously apologized to the Educational Services Director for my offense and endured a lecture about the sanctity of classroom security. Obviously, I had not shown enough contrition. The removal of my security clearance is punishment, pure and simple.

The library also houses several faculty librarians. It is now obvious that the stripping of only the third floor faculty of access was a thinly veiled attempt to disguise my punishment. In his e-mail, the SS Director attempts to rationalize why the library faculty retains full access while the social science faculty on third floor lost theirs. Unbeknownst to the SS Director, one of three faculty members he reduced access for is a newly hired faculty librarian. Unwittingly, he has exposed both how little he knows about the library and its inhabitants, and that his grounds for depriving non-library faculty of access are spurious.

The last time I checked, the SS Director neither is the Vice President of Academic Affairs nor is he the Library Dean. When did he acquire the omnipotent knowledge to decipher the daily activities of library faculty? How did he discern that their needs for access to classrooms differ qualitatively from those of the social science faculty? What is the justification for support staff having almost unlimited security clearance, while the social science faculty is restricted?

This whole Keystone Cops routine has been nothing more than a poorly disguised case of retaliatory action.

The issue is simple: do teachers or do bureaucrats control the classroom? Is the Facilities office here to serve the academic mission of the university; or, is the faculty here to serve as obedient subordinates to the Facilities staff? The bottom line is that Metropolitan State University is not the Oak Park Heights “Supermax” Correctional Facility nor is the SS Director in charge of Homeland Security.

I have repeatedly taught in every prison in the metropolitan area. I no longer see any qualitative difference between prison security and our own Facilities office when it comes to command-and-control techniques. It would be a wake-up call for you to realize how similar Oak Park Heights and our Library and Learning Center are in their use of apparatchiks and electronic remote control to discipline space and access.

Some of us have devoted a good share of our working lives trying to being good citizens of the Metropolitan State community. For us, this is not a career but a calling. Sometimes it seems that the administration is unwilling to concede that faculty members have reached the age of reason, are competent professionals, and are not about to steal markers or erasers from a classroom. We are not infants, inferiors, or criminals.

As a member of this university’s faculty for 24 years, I increasingly feel as if we are working on a campus occupied by foreign troops, an imperial army of bureaucratic mandarins. Rest assured, this is about more than the intrusive directives of the Minnesota State College and University (MnSCU) system’s central office—we have our own oversupply of quislings. To paraphrase Emerson, inhumane bureaucratic rules are in the saddle and ride the faculty.

I am not naive. I realize that this über-centralized control of college teachers by bean counters and paper shufflers is ubiquitous. Nevertheless, I remain a realistic resister who will not go quietly. I refuse to be a spectator as this increasingly dehumanized university hastens the early retirement of valued colleagues.

Let me pose a simple solution. With a single act, you could re-establish the principle that administrative services exist to meet the needs of teaching and learning. The library is a peculiarly unique entity on this campus. It is nearly singular in both its mission and function. Make the Library Dean the czar of the Library and Learning Center.

Oh My God, wouldn’t that violate the institutional chain of command? “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”

Monte (#2010012000210)

P.S. Perhaps the central administration is really conducting a cruel replication of Zimbardo’s infamous prison experiment at Stanford University in 1971. If so, I’ve checked with the Institutional Review Board—they have not yet received an application for approval of this research project.

56 Hours Later . . .

I wanted to let you know that your security card access was restored to the level that existed prior to the recent change.  It is possible that your card may not work. If that happens, please contact the Library security officer and she will resolve the problem. Thank you.

Dan Hambrock
Associate Vice President for Capital Planning and Campus Services

A pre-Simmelian Social Type

Why do I do these things? I am, by temperament, an anti-authoritarian populist. Since early childhood, I’ve impetuously challenged any perceived abuse of power or authority. To be honest, sometimes my little outbursts are quixotic in nature—not all windmills are giants.

From time to time, however, others share my grievances against the powers-that-be. At those moments, my rebellious lead attracts a following and the battle is on. Although primarily a man of action, I am still enough of a contemplative to crave those second-order concepts that help elucidate my first-order experiences. I am not one of those constipated sociologists who shy from the interpretative power of metaphor and analogy. This propensity draws me ever closer to Georg Simmel, particularly his literary renderings of social type.

I recently discovered the xia, an ancient social type who predates Simmel by over two millennia. Albert A. Dalia, a Sinologist and novelist, devotes several posts to explicating the historical and literary lineage of the xia ( Dating from the Warring States (403-221 B.C.E.) and Han Dynasty (206 B.C.E.-220 C.E.) periods of Chinese history, the xia is a venerable ancestor of the anti-authoritarian populist.

Relegated to the lower ranks of society, and with many of the options for advancement closed to him, the xia was not held in very high regard by the elite. To the masses of common people however, the xia was frequently a person to look up to. He was a mythic character who opposed the oppressive landlords and corrupt officials. . . . Their parallel code of ethics and behavior represent the flip side of the Chinese establishment, and rather than being antagonistic to tradition, xia behavior is complementary—yin to yang. This duality of nature is reflected in the juxtaposition of xia and scholars. The xiarespected in times of chaos, while the scholar is highly regarded during times of stability. Thus, the xia in his youth frequently becomes a scholar as he matures and gains wisdom.—Eric Jin

The Human Genome Project will never decode the genealogy of this xia.