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Franchement: How Could This Be?

Reading the joint statement about Jessica Krug from GW’s history department, and considering everything else UD has read by and about Krug, UD finds herself thinking that this dept should be put into receivership. Something is terribly wrong. A globally embarrassing, deeply destructive thing happened on its watch. This department hired Krug; and though it’s clear from what students have said (see post below this one) that she was insanely irresponsible, they retained her. Then they tenured her.

The department begins by talking about how shocked and appalled they are by this incredible revelation about her, yet really – really – how can it be that these people had no idea?

With her conduct, Dr. Krug has raised questions about the veracity of her own research and teaching.

Well, you not long ago tenured her. Did you read her work? Did you read her student reviews? Did you visit her classroom? Did you try answering those questions?

The discipline of history is concerned with truth telling about the past.

Mes petites. I know most of you don’t believe that hidebound shit about the graspability of truth. I mean, you don’t lie, like Jessica; but you certainly don’t think history truth-tells. History is about perspective and point of view and which power regimes happen to control discourse; and truth is a mobile army of metaphors…

Until you’re cornered; and then big bad Truth with a capital T comes lumbering back into the picture to paddle Krug on her black, brown, Algerian, Tuaregian, Ashkenazi behind and leave you looking on, in the innocent light of moral astonishment.

I don’t think you should be allowed to rest in that posture. I think you should get together, pronto, and begin a punishingly honest reckoning with what you have done – to your students and to the school.

Margaret Soltan, September 4, 2020 10:18PM
Posted in: hoax

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22 Responses to “Franchement: How Could This Be?”

  1. charlie Says:

    For decades, the rightwing academic gatekeepers attacked liberal arts as socialist/communist/anti-American repositories, indoctrinating callow teenagers to hate Americanism, or some such crap. As defunding of public unis accelerates, and the liberal arts bear that onslaught, this dope emerges and fulfills every stereotype and cliche David Horowitz created.

    If I was a little more cynical, I’d say Jessica was a LARP, designed to eliminate the one university element that questions established narratives….

  2. Margaret Soltan Says:

    charlie: Absolutely. Jessica Krug is a gift to the Trumpians.

  3. charlie Says:

    UD, very soon, all that will be left of the academy will be the B-School boys and a few STEM departments. This has been the Koch brother’s wet dream fantasy since they began funding universities….

  4. TAFKAU Says:

    I don’t know, I think you’re perhaps being a bit tough on the department. Of course, you’re on the ground there, so you may know things that aren’t in the press, but from what’s been made public, I don’t see where the History Department is at fault.

    This woman isn’t Ward Churchill. By all accounts, she was a reasonably accomplished scholar and her work was respected within her intellectual community. I have no idea about her teaching evals, but students tend to be pretty generous, and they’ll say things on RMP that they won’t say on the official university evals. I’ve been an administrator, and when students would come to complain about an instructor, I’d sometimes practically beg them to put that information in writing on the course evaluations, but they almost never did. So I was forced to tolerate some colleagues that I knew were awful because I simply didn’t have the evidence to go after them. (Was she really, as one student said, routinely 30 minutes late for class? Maybe so, but I bet it almost never showed up on her evals, and it’s possible that in a big department, nobody had any idea.)

    And, obviously, no department that wants to remain intact is going to interrogate a faculty member about her racial status. She fooled a lot of people over time because she was brazen and aggressive, and was able to sell it. I’m not sure what the department could or should have done about it. But, again, I probably don’t know everything that you/they do.

  5. Anon Says:

    Students are pretty generous on student evaluations? Please. For every generous student (best professor at the university!) there’s another student who makes up complaints out of whole cloth. Student evals are completely unreliable.

    Anyway. I wonder if it’s just a matter of time before departments knowingly higher white LARPs to “diversify” their faculty. I’m even more cynical than Charlie.

  6. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Hi TAFKAU: I’m coming at this from the opposite position you suggest – far from having any inside knowledge, I’m starting from the very outside, from what the world now sees (and a large chunk of the world’s media, interestingly, is following this story). What the world sees – what the combined efforts of Jessica Krug and the people who run GWU have engineered – is an epic academic meltdown, a lurid, infuriating, humiliating, graphically public shitstorm that could have been scripted by Donald Trump and the forces of reaction.

    To be sure, we haven’t yet heard from Duke University Press, which published a scholarly book whose preface is full of sick grandiose lies (“[I thank my] ancestors, unknown, unnamed, who bled life into a future they had no reason to believe could or should exist. … Those whose names I cannot say for their own safety, whether in my barrio, in Angola, or in Brazil.” … In a cached version of her author bio… [Krug refers] to herself as “an unrepentant and unreformed child of the hood.”); we have yet to hear from the history professors at GW who reviewed Krug’s scholarly work for fabrication, plagiarism, and other scholarly sins. (These are what brought Churchill down – we’ll see if Krug, who shares so much else with him, shares these. And recall that Churchill was also considered a more than respectable scholar, until he wasn’t.)

    I trust they looked particularly closely at her book and essays for evidence of these things, because I don’t for a minute believe they had no uneasiness about a woman people now describe as the most profound liar, on every level, they ever met. They worked closely with her for years.

    I trust they reviewed the teaching and committee work of a woman whose students report she cancelled classes 30 minutes in advance (she seems to have lived in NYC and taught in DC, which can be done, but you have to be willing to do it), and whom neighbors and acquaintances describe as disturbingly aggressive in her behavior. What sort of a teacher, I hope they asked or will ask, has her students look at images of white women who won awards she should have won but didn’t because she’s black and they’re white?

    Okay, so maybe you’ll say they couldn’t have known this and they couldn’t have known that. But I’d point you to the GW English dept tenure committee on which I sat, which was presented with a very similar candidate, the recently-exposed fraud H. Carrillo, who appropriated and lied to everyone about a traumatic Cuban identity. Well-received publications, but reports of some disturbing classroom and administrative stuff, and a shared sense on the committee (based on his puzzling portfolio and some remarks in the letters we got about him) that something was very off. Unlike the history dept., we got it together to reject Carrillo for tenure; and I’m going to guess that we were looking at fewer red flags than the history dept.

    You never have full information about any candidate; but you’re supposed to make extremely impactful institutional decisions based on what you have (this includes solicited letters/conversations with other people in the field), and on your informed sense of what a person with intellectual and personal integrity is liable to look like.

    Again, look at this purely from what the outside world sees – a duped university handing lifetime employment to so … burlesque a moral degenerate that the world can’t stop watching. People magazine is covering this story, and because Krug has far more tricks up her sleeve the story isn’t going away. That is what the GW history dept (and all the higher level people who reviewed and approved the dept’s tenure recommendation) accomplished. I definitely think all the people involved in this fiasco (in particular, one of Krug’s closest GW colleagues, Andrew Zimmerman) need to reckon with what they’ve done. In public. Big-time.

  7. Dennis Says:

    A big part of the problem, I’m sure, is that the “intellectual community” TAKFAU refers to is itself a fraud. Not the discipline of History, but rather the grievance group subset.

    She presents herself as a minority woman who is by definition oppressed by all the racist whites in her department. She teaches a bitter, bastardized version of her sub-subset, Afro-Caribbean history, instead of the World History course she is assigned (see her RMP evaluations), insults as a racist anyone who disagrees with her, and gets full marks for activism (using her Jess La Bombalera persona).

    Any colleague who considered questioning her performance, her teaching, her writing, or her public actions or statements could see how it would play out. The questioner would be condemned, the radicals would rally round the fake, colleagues would cower behind their closed doors, and the spineless administrators (pardon the redundancy) would quickly hide the controversy and promise to “do better” for the “underrepresented” and “marginalized” students and faculty. The only loser would be the foolish individual who sought to apply consistent and solid standards to someone wearing the mantle of virtue.

    The core of the problem lies much deeper. It begins with treating grievance studies as serious independent disciplines with their own language and standards that do not correspond with those of existing disciplines. It grows through racial preferences in hiring, promotion, and tenuring, all of which provide enormous incentives for people like Krug to claim membership in a newly favored group. It trains the next generations through ideological indoctrination in the classroom (again, see the RMP evaluations). The Krug debacle is just a crude manifestation of what’s at work in the whole enterprise.

  8. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Anon: Student evaluations are sometimes reasonably reliable – when many, many students, over a number of courses and a number of years, describe scandalously bad professorial behavior, these descriptions should be taken seriously.

    Along these lines, and in regard to the case at hand: Why have we so far seen NO defenses of Krug? Where is the one student/colleague who will come to her defense and say okay she’s no angel and she has mental issues but she’s a great teacher, a great colleague? Shouldn’t we be hearing something like that from the GW history dept., which just tenured her? Wouldn’t you love to read the dept’s report that went forward to the administration recommending tenure? I’m sure it was extremely fulsome. Can we get hold of that? I’m sure in her current get-the-hell-out negotiations w/ GW, Krug’s lawyers’ hands are all over those documents: See how wonderful she is? See how you loved her?

  9. charlie Says:

    Dennis, the question is how did Jessica Krug receive tenure at a time when it’s far more difficult to do so? Apparently, she did the work, but to the extent that it excluded other candidates? Full disclosure, I never attempted the Ph.d, nevertheless, what I did witness working in uni labs was empire building not predicated on revelatory, non conforming research. Given that much of the science funding comes from NIH/NSF/Pentagon sources, grant applications configure to what those orgs want, not where your independent thinking leads you. And if you get mo money, you get tenyah!

    I don’t know Jessica Krug from a can of paint. Nevertheless, it appears she did an excellent job of conforming to the image of a “radical” scholar. It was all a marketing campaign, designed to boost her cred, and that of GWU. Was Jessica Krug tenured because of her notoriety and capacity to boost the department’s profile, rather than her scholarship? If so, it means the tenure process is severely flawed…

  10. Stephen Karlson Says:

    You can learn a lot about people by observing what they profess to be “shocked and appalled” by. A colleague faking credentials? Yes. A political figure being a jerk on social media? Definitely. Somebody flies a plane into a skyscraper? That gets contextualized.

  11. TAFKAU Says:

    UD–You’re right, of course, that we can know nothing, we can know everything, and we can know enough. The History Department presumably didn’t know everything, but they almost certainly knew more than nothing. Students do talk and assholes are gonna asshole. The question, then, is: Did they know enough?

    Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, this not-entirely-unrealistic scenario: Krug’s external letters spoke glowingly of her work; her course evaluations were spotty, but not shockingly bad; her peer teaching evaluations (does GW do those?) were mash notes, as those things usually are; and she covered her service responsibilities adequately, or at least seemed to on paper. What do you do?

    It sounds like you had the goods on Carrillo. (“He listed works that never appeared in his file; students reported that he could be strikingly irresponsible in his dealings with them…”) If Krug claimed publications she couldn’t produce, it would, of course, have been a much easier call.

    Obviously, I don’t know what happened. The warnings could have been flashing like a giant red strobe light and they were simply ignored. The tenure and promotion committee could have chosen strategic incuriosity because they did not want to be responsible for taking down an African American scholar, even one who was hard to deal with and blew off her classes now and then. If that is how it happened, then the committee and department really do need to be held to account.

    But having dealt with similar issues on a depressingly regular basis, I’ve found that it’s sometimes a bit too easy to work the maze backwards and assume that what is glaringly obvious now should have been apparent all along.

    That said, I have seen plenty of committees shirk their responsibility out of laziness and cowardice, and that may well be the case here.

  12. Bill R Says:

    There’s a quote from Homer Simpson. “It takes two people to tell a lie Marge, one to tell the lie and the other to believe it.”

    Here’s my question. Was anyone fooled? Really? Did anyone at Harvard Law School really believe Elizabeth Warren is an American Indian?

    If people weren’t really fooled, there should be what Catholics call an examination of conscience. This is traditionally followed by confession (to oneself most of all), penance, and finally, forgiveness.

  13. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Bill R: I’d say there are three categories of fucked up people who made this happen, and only two of them are even remotely redeemable.

    1. The rads to the max are absolutely hopeless. Profoundly dug in to their sense of the world, their sense of their superiority, their sense of the weak and pathetic unwokeness of everyone else, they don’t see what the fuss is about in regard to Jessica Krug. She is a bold marauder just like them, zapping our mentally retarded political unconscious, and the more performative lunacy from her the better.

    2. The well-meaning rabbits MIGHT be startled enough by the global joke they helped write to be stirred into a little reform. “Huh. This is the last time I’m letting the rads push me around.”

    3. One or two of the higher level committee members and deans and provosts who passed on this tenure rec without a glance at the candidate will stop themselves in their career tracks and say “What the fuck. Next time I’m gonna at least Google the person’s NAME.”

  14. charlie Says:

    GWU probably gave Jessica tenure because she’d go full Amy Bishop if she hadn’t….

  15. Margaret Soltan Says:

    charlie: I’m gonna guess there WAS maybe a certain aggression element to this outcome – whether from Krug or her enablers …?

  16. charlie Says:

    That would explain a hell of a lot….

  17. theprofessor Says:

    Let’s look at this another way. She was hired to dispense a certain kind of history that her colleagues most certainly wanted to be taught (or perhaps inflicted) on GWU’s students. It appears that in terms of trying to impart the basic ideology, world view, and attitudes of wokefulness that she has few peers. If I go down to Giorgio’s Ristorante Italiano and they serve me an authentic osso buco in bianco, do I really have anything to complain about if “George” is actually a fourth generation Lebanese-American whose last enterprise was a Memphis-style honky-tonk? Krug was delivering the goods, such as they were.

  18. Margaret Soltan Says:

    tp: Oh, absolutely. To be sure. One of the worst scandals about this massive scandal is that her colleagues didn’t care that what she was dispensing to students was so badly dispensed as to be worth shit – and the students knew it. Faculty in the history dept. did not care. They tenured her.

  19. Polish Peter Says:

    The thing I haven’t heard a lot about in all this is Krug’s actual scholarship. As far as I can tell, there doesn’t seem to be the amount that one would expect from someone 8 years past their Ph.D. There’s the Duke Univ. Press book and a couple of chapters in edited books, and one article, as far as I can tell. The only CV I can find is from years ago. Also, is it common for GWU faculty members to live in NYC? Lots of faculty at schools in New Jersey and COnnecticut do, even as far as Philadelphia, but NYC to DC seems like a pretty long commute. But her La Bombalera alter ego seems pretty entrenched in New York.

  20. Polish Peter Says:

    For some reason, these episodes remind me of Andy Kaufman.

  21. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Polish Peter: Tony Clifton had a MUCH nicer personality than Jessica Krug.

  22. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Polish Peter: On the NYC – DC commute: I certainly know about people at GW (not many) who do it or have done it. For most, I think it involves getting on a very early train and arriving in DC around 9 AM. This would only be 2 days a week – probably TuTh. You put in a full – no doubt exhaustingly full – day of work and arrive back in NY very late. I know of some people who take last-minute DC hotel rooms if they feel too tired to do the return.

    But of course unless you’re extremely dedicated to the proposition, it will almost inevitably mean being less accessible to students and faculty in all sorts of ways (committee work? university events?) and more generally stressed out by the drag of it. La Bombalera seems to have maintained — at the same time as a time-consuming commute, a teaching schedule, her scholarship, other campus commitments, and attendance at scholarly gatherings — a busy NYC schedule of protest events, harassment of her neighbors, and what must have been one hell of a hair and makeup regime. Did the history dept arrange for her to be able to teach only one day a week? Did she fail to show up for guest lecturers in her courses? Did she show films instead of showing up? We know from student comments that she – sometimes minutes in advance – cancelled classes.

    In short, with enough ingenuity I guess you can manage the NY/DC teaching thing.

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