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Ron Radosh

Academic Malpractice: The Case of Grover Furr

November 13th, 2012 - 4:47 pm

I was not going to write about Prof. Grover Furr of Montclair State University. I did not want to call more attention to him, which he obviously craves. But now that the video of his speech at a recent forum has gone viral on the internet, thanks to the Washington Examiner, and is being featured on other sites as well, I have decided it is time to speak out about this particularly imbecilic member of the Academy.

Professor Furr is a professor of medieval English literature, but what has led to all the hullabaloo about him is his decades-long defense of the old Soviet Union, and in particular of the years in which one of the 20th century’s most horrendous monsters, Josef Stalin, wreaked havoc on the lives of the people living under his reign of terror. Professor Furr has been in the business of Stalin worship for quite some time.

So shameful is this man that he actually tried to lead a protest against a speech by one of the most brilliant contemporary scholars, Timothy Snyder of Yale University. Snyder is the author of the magisterial and highly acclaimed book Bloodlands, which the Economist rightfully chose as its “Book of the Year.” Professor Furr, it seems, cannot countenance any scholar who engages in rigorous research. “Instead of studying Nazi atrocities or Soviet atrocities separately, as many others have done,” Anne Applebaum writes, Snyder “looks at them together,” revealing that “the two systems committed the same kinds of crimes at the same times and in the same places, that they aided and abetted one another, and above all that their interaction with one another led to more mass killing than either might have carried out alone.” Applebaum’s accolades are among many Snyder has rightfully received. His book is one of lasting value that not only informs, but leads one to see the past in a new way.

Without engaging in the kind of real scholarly work that Timothy Snyder and Anne Applebaum have both done in their respective works, Furr simply takes to his computer to put out blast after blast at anyone who dares to tell the truth about Stalinism or to cast aspersion on the years in which the USSR existed. He actually writes that “Snyder is a most unsuitable speaker for any discussion of the Holocaust, or of Eastern European history generally.” As most sane people realize, that judgement applies more accurately to Furr himself, rather than to a major historian like Timothy Snyder. That Furr can even write these words about Timothy Snyder is itself an indictment of Furr, and reveals to anyone with an  ounce of intelligence what a fraud he is.

What has now created the storm that has made Furr visible are his statements at the recent forum at Montclair, where he called it a “big lie” that Stalin killed millions of people. “I have yet to find one crime — yet to find one crime — that Stalin committed,” Furr said. “I know they all say he killed 20, 30, 40 million people — it is bullshit. … [Nazi propagandist] Goebbels said that the Big Lie is successful and this is the Big Lie: that the Communists — that Stalin killed millions of people and that socialism is no good.”

His field might be medieval literature, but if you consult his own website, it is readily apparent that what most interests him, and the cause to which he is singlemindedly devoted, is defense of Stalin’s reputation. Evidently a member or follower of the 1960s era Maoist group the Progressive Labor Party — a breakaway movement from the Communist Party U.S.A. that saw fit to defend China during the years of the Moscow-China split and to try to build a new Marxist-Leninist communist organization to replace what they called the “revisionist” official American Communist group — Furr now appears as its only remaining public face.

Think for a moment that someone like this is actually teaching at an American public university.

Look first at what some of his students say about him, in their public evaluations. They know what he is about, and they have his number. Here are a few:

Unbelievable, so in order to absolve socialism from responsibility for millions of murders committed by Stalin in the name of Socialism,  Prof. Furr disappears the murders. Evil just plain evil.

Yikes, this guy is as boring as they come and seems to have a poor grasp of the facts …

I have NEVER taken a worse professor in my life. His attitude is horrible and he purposely makes the students feel bad.. .DO NOT take his class!!!!!!!

RUN THE OTHER WAY NOW! I received a good grade in this class but he is unbearable! Forced me to write about the U.S. toturing the Abu Gahrib prisoners. All I have to say is HOOORAH! Very political views and once you take him you are forever held hostage on his mailing list which means you will receive FURR emails for life!

Furr long ago caught the attention of conservatives and those concerned with keeping alive a genuine respect for the humanities and academic freedom in our colleges. At Frontpagemag.com, Rocco DiPippo wrote an article titled “A Scholar for Stalin” that captures the fraudulent nature of Furr’s work. DiPippo notes that for many years, Furr regularly wrote diatribes to the H-list academic discussion group of the Historians of American Communism, flooding the site with entry after entry attacking the work and contributions of H-HOAC members. Because of this, the site has closed down all discussion and limits its posts to announcements of work and informational queries relating to scholarship, and no longer engages in the fruitless discussions with Furr that had become a preoccupation of the list’s members, who were spending far too much valuable time trying to answer his spurious charges.

So let me note why the employment in an American university of Grover Furr should be of concern, not just to residents of Montclair, N.J., and to the poor students who are forced to listen to the drivel and the lies he puts forth as the truth, but to anyone concerned with higher education in our nation. Furr is the equivalent of a Holocaust denier, a person who misuses the doctrine of academic freedom to use the classroom as a forum for indoctrination, and to use the imprimatur of being a faculty member as a mechanism to make it appear that he has something to say and that people should listen to him.

I fully remember the late ’60s, when Gene Genovese was subject to a campaign of the Right, who wanted him fired from Rutgers University for saying at a teach-in on the war in Vietnam that, unlike his liberal colleagues, he welcomed “the impending victory of the Vietcong.” Genovese did not say that in his class, but in a forum on the war at which various points of view were presented. Genovese, a real historian, did not use his class to proselytize or indoctrinate. He presented his opinion outside of the classroom, and did not make Vietnam the central piece of his scholarship or his teaching. Yet Richard M. Nixon endorsed the campaign to “rid Rutgers of Reds,” which fortunately failed to attain its end. The Rutgers administration stood firm. Genovese kept his job, and soon moved on to a lifetime of distinguished scholarship at other institutions of higher learning.

Unlike Genovese, Grover Furr is not a distinguished scholar. He is a pedantic hack; a man who pretends to disprove with scores of footnotes all of his ideological opponents — as if endless citations prove that he is right — indeed anyone who casts aspersion on his beloved hero Joseph Stalin. If Furr uses his classroom to make these same arguments, as readily appears to be the case, it is a different matter. In the 1950s, in a seminal essay, the late philosopher Sidney Hook argued that while a Communist had a right to his opinions and to enter them in the marketplace of ideas, he did not have the right to be hired by a university to teach these ideas as the truth, and to use the classroom as an arena to indoctrinate students with lies meant to affirm the viability of the movement to which he has sworn loyalty.

Hook made the following argument:

The question of freedom and control in the schools is not political. It does not involve civil rights but the ethics of professional conduct. Heresy in the schools, whether in science, economics, or politics, must be protected against any agency which seeks to impose orthodoxy. For the scholar there are no subversive doctrines but only those that are valid or invalid or not proved in the light of evidence. The primary commitment of the teacher is to the ethics and logic of inquiry. It is not his beliefs, right or wrong, it is not his heresies, which disqualify the Communist party teacher but his declaration of intention, as evidenced by official statements of his party, to practice educational fraud.

The common sense of the matter is clear and independent of the issue of communism. An individual joins an organization which explicitly instructs him that his duty is to sabotage the purposes of the institution in which he works and which provides him with his livelihood. Is it necessary to apprehend him in the act of carrying out these instructions in order to forestall the sabotage? Does not his voluntary and continuous act of membership in such an organization constitute prima facie evidence of unfitness?

I do not know what organization, if any, Professor Furr belongs to. But to put Hook’s argument in today’s context, his analysis stands up in regard to Grover Furr. Professor Furr is not a heretic, but a man who argues on behalf of falsehood while pretending to be involved in actual academic inquiry, not politics. He pretends to be using regular methods of academic inquiry, when in fact he is violating every tenet of actual academic standards. He is, in Hook’s words, a practitioner of “educational fraud.”

Montclair State University is not regarded by anyone as one of our nation’s preeminent academic institutions. Most people have never even heard of it. But that such a man can use the pulpit and his position in this college to teach students and present such drivel says a great deal about the sad state of the academy. If I lived in Montclair, New Jersey, I would be horrified to find that a faculty member at their local college is getting such attention for the teaching of historical lies in defense of Stalinist terror to his students.

Academic freedom was not meant to protect the right of charlatans to teach, even at a small and rather little-known institution of higher education. Isn’t it time for residents of New Jersey, whose taxes support this institution, to carry out an investigation of whether Professor Furr uses the classroom to make the kind of arguments he presents in his website and in the new video?  According to student evaluations, it certainly seems that he might be guilty of just such practices.

If he is, Professor Furr should be fired for academic malpractice, and his tenure should not be used protect his employment.

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