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Academic Purge By: Myles Kantor
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, August 13, 2002


Juan J. López is Assistant Professor of Political Science and Latin American Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago and has taught at UIC since August 1995. Professor López is author of the forthcoming book,Democracy Delayed: The Case of Castro’s Cuba (The Johns Hopkins University Press). He may be contacted at jjlo@uic.edu.

When did your troubles begin at the University of Illinois at Chicago?

It only became evident to me that the majority in the Department of Political Science wanted to eliminate me from the faculty in early October of 2001, when the tenured faculty in the department voted on my tenure. The vote was 8 to 6 against me. I had vaguely sensed a rejection in the department in previous years, as I was never elected to the Advisory Committee in the department. This is the only committee where members are elected by the whole faculty (tenured and untenured), in contrast to being appointed to a committee by the Chair/Head of the department.

Lack of publication or poor teaching might be cited as grounds for denying tenure. What is your record in these areas?

I have two awards for teaching excellence. So, being a poor teacher is certainly not a factor in the tenure denial. In terms of publications, tenure denial is not justified either. By the time I was up for tenure, I had published four articles in scholarly journals, one chapter, a monograph (based on chapter drafts of my second book) and had guaranteed assurance of publication for my first book by The Johns Hopkins University Press. Such a firm contract is what is required for tenure in the department.

I also had a second co-authored book in the pipeline, indicating continuous productivity on my part. From the feedback received by me and my co-authors, this second book promises to be a very important work. Its tentative title is Transitions and Non-Transitions from Communism: Eastern Europe, Asia, Latin America and Africa. Two major scholarly presses have indicated an interest in considering the book for publication.

A third criterion on which candidates for tenure are evaluated is service. Again, my service record to the department and to the university is adequate for tenure.

A committee of tenured faculty evaluates tenure-track Assistant Professors in their third year. In my third-year review (this is a written document that I have), I was described as an excellent scholar, my work was considered outstanding, and I was told that what I had to do for tenure was to write a book. I was not told that I had to publish more articles/chapters. The same message was conveyed in another review of my performance during my fourth year. The former Acting Head of the department verbally reiterated to me that what I needed for tenure was a book. I did exactly what I was asked to do.

Just before the tenure vote in the department, the Chair of my tenure committee informed me that I did not have to worry, that my record was strong, especially with a book contract from Johns Hopkins. So, again, I was never told that my publications were a problem for tenure. The tenure denial was a very big surprise for me and for supporters of my tenure in the department.

I believe that my record of publications is as good or better than that of other former Assistant Professors who were granted tenure in the department.

What is your present situation at UIC?

I have been denied tenure. This means that this coming academic year is the last year of my employment at UIC. In August of 2003, I have to empty my office and collect my last paycheck. This last year of employment after tenure denial is standard procedure. It is not that I am being treated nicely.

Stanley Fish, author of There’s No Such Thing as Free Speech, and It’s a Good Thing, Too, is Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at UIC. What role has he played in these events?

I am not sure what he has done behind the scenes. I only have some observations and interpretations based on them.

I have a joint appointment in the Political Science Department (75%) and in Latin American Studies (25%). The vote among tenured faculty in Latin American Studies (LAS) was 3 to 0 in my favor. The Director of  LAS supported my tenure, in contrast to the Head of the Department of Political Science who opposed it.

Dean Fish told me that he was disregarding the support I had received in Latin American Studies since I was basically in the Political Science Department. Fish recommended that I be denied tenure, and the Executive Committee (the Dean's committee) which votes on tenure cases voted unanimously against me. Given the divided vote in my case and the fact that from what had occurred up to that point my tenure case was not one of clear rejection, the unanimous vote in the Executive Committee is suspicious.

Dean Fish personally asked me to resign from the university, another suspicions event. This request may be interpreted as a realization that the university is doing something unsound against me and wants to prevent a possible suit on my part. The Dean could have decided in favor of my tenure. If he had done so, it is very likely that his decision would have prevailed, and I would have tenure now. But he did not.

I have been told that the Dean usually reads the works of candidates for hire and for tenure. Fish told me that the reason I was being denied tenure was the insufficient quality of my Cuba book, according to what others had determined. It was quite obvious to me that the Dean had not read my book. He did not bother, despite the importance of his decision and the unclear nature of my case.

It might be that he had his own reasons for wanting to get rid of me. It is also possible that he did not want to go against the decision of the Head of the Political Science Department to deny me tenure. The Head had just started in her position. Her name is Lyn Ragsdale, coming from the University of Arizona. The Dean had imposed her on the department despite strong opposition against her among the faculty, and the Dean had also hired Ragsdale's husband as part of the deal. So, the Dean had invested a lot financially and politically in hiring Ragsdale. Thus, the Dean may have wanted to avoid going against her in one of her first important decisions.

Why do you think UIC has behaved as it has?

I think the fundamental reason is that I have dared to express “politically incorrect” views. On more than one occasion, I have been told that I am being denied tenure because of the insufficient quality of my Cuba book. Yet this excuse is not credible. The quality of my book is very good by various indicators (the fact that Johns Hopkins is publishing it is only one of them).

I support the embargo. I criticize the Castro regime, the Cuba policies of Bill Clinton, and the anti-embargo lobby (including academic foundations that fund anti-embargo groups). I have expressed my views frequently in the Chicago area news media (radio interviews, TV talk shows, newspaper interviews, and newspaper articles). One of the things I have done is to criticize Governor George Ryan for his efforts to end the embargo. I wrote a long newspaper article criticizing the governor [“Cuba’s government, not people, will benefit from Ryan visit,” Daily Herald, October 24, 1999].

It happens that Ryan is a member of the Board of Trustees of UIC and appoints many of its members. I have no evidence that Ryan had something to do with my tenure case. But the university may not have wanted to have a member of its faculty who is outspoken in politically incorrect ways.

What has been the scholarly reception to your forthcoming book, Democracy Delayed: The Case of Castro's Cuba?

I have received praise from several experts in topics covered by the book. The book compares Cuba as a case of non-transition with transitions of hard-line regimes in Eastern Europe.

Irving Louis Horowitz, the “Dean” of Cuban studies, has said that the book breaks new ground and is rock-solid.

Jaime Suchlicki, Emilio Bacardí Moreau Professor at the University of Miami [and author of a popular text on Cuba], has commented that it is “An excellent comparative study drawing lessons from transitions in Eastern Europe. A must for anyone interested in U.S. policy toward Cuba and on the island's future.”

Juan M. del Aguila, Associate Professor of Political Science at Emory University, considers it “An important contribution to debates on transitions to democracy, the uniqueness of the Cuban case, and on how external actors, including the United States, can effect political change in still another instance of a failed communist system.”

Rasma Karklins, Professor of Political Science at UIC, and an expert on Eastern Europe, believes that the book is outstanding.

Mark Thompson, Professor of Political Science at the University of Erlangen-Nuernberg, Germany, sees my work on Cuba as pioneering and says that I have made a crucial contribution in generalizing about precipitating causes of transitions in hard-line regimes.

What is the thesis of Democracy Delayed?

The main thesis is that it is possible to bring about the collapse of the Castro regime now, while Castro is still in command. It can happen by mass protests in Cuba, as communist rule fell in hard-line regimes of Eastern Europe. For the development of large, pro-democracy demonstrations in Cuba, policies of the United States government are crucial. If Radio and TV Marti would regularly reach most of the population and opposition groups in Cuba received much more material assistance, the Castro regime would fall.

I argue that the Clinton administration preferred to maintain the status quo in Cuba while Castro was alive rather than promoting a transition to democracy. Clinton also wanted to weaken or eliminate the embargo. I show that the embargo is a good policy to help weaken the dictatorship, yet it is not enough. I argue that weakening the embargo would strengthen the Castro government. The book portrays the stark brutality of the dictatorship, without any apologies.

Do you believe there is a nexus between the thesis of Democracy Delayed and the opposition to your tenure?

I think that I was denied tenure because of the kind of book I wrote. Biases in American academia are against key ideas in my book. I criticize two Democratic presidents, Kennedy and Clinton. I support the embargo, documenting how the anti-embargo movement (including academics and educational institutions) would prop up the Castro government if they achieve their goals. I present the ugly reality of the Cuban government and show how to bring it down. As a colleague of mine, the Chair of the Political Science Department at another university told me, “There is no question that your work is not 'politically correct.' You have defied a taboo — ‘Thou shall not criticize the Castro regime’ — and this could very well be what's behind the negative tenure vote.”

What else can you do to challenge what UIC has done to you?

The only thing I can do now is to sue the university for discrimination based on my national origin and the political views that are generally concomitant with being Cuban-American. I am considering this possibility. Yet I do not have the financial resources to engage the university in a legal battle. I have requested assistance from some national institutions that should be interested in my case, but thus far I have not received any response.


Myles Kantor is a columnist for FrontPageMagazine.com and editor-at-large for Pureplay Press, which publishes books about Cuban history and culture. His e-mail address is myles.kantor@gmail.com.


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