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Why The U.W. And Nike Are A Threat To America’s War In Afghanistan

After discussing with Prof. Schwartz the UW’s relationship with Nike, I feel confident a meritorious argument can be made that the University’s arrangement with Nike is incestuous.  The incest arises from the fact the University’s finance office and its academic departments are first cousins.

To understand why the University’s relationship with Nike is problematical, you need to know that I’m writing a novel.  It’s about a writer struggling to write a novel about the Russian invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s.  He’s bogged down by the problem of how to get American readers interested in a war between Russians and Afghans that happened 30 years ago.  If you know the history, you’re aware the Russian Army’s defeat by the Mujahideen helped trigger the collapse of the Soviet regime.  Your conservative friends won’t acknowledge this, of course, because they want to give Reagan the credit and because the Afghans who killed Russians are now killing Americans.  This latter fact complicates my fictional writer’s task because a sympathetic portrayal of people who kill Americans won’t sit well with American readers, and his publisher needs to sell books.  It seems kind of obvious that my fictional writer should work in a fictional American victory over the Taliban to attract trade from the xenophobic segment of the American book market.  Publishing, after all, is a business and writers always have to consider the marketing angles if they want to prosper.

A standard technique writers use to create reader interest is generating sympathy for the story’s protagonist.  One way to do this is creating another character called a “foil” whose function is to treat the protagonist badly.  My writer character’s best friend is a literary critic who regularly trashes him as a writer having nothing important to say.  You surely know it’s standard practice for literary critics to sneer at commercial writing in order to impart scholarly pretensions to themselves.  The critic character is an aspiring writer who can’t write.  In the real world, all literary critics are aspiring writers, and none of them are successful writers – if they were, they wouldn’t be writing criticism – and they act out their insecurities by needling the people who do write.  My fictional critic is no exception, because like all good writers, I stick to proven formulas. Trying to do something original just gets you in trouble.

My writer character has made an adequate living from producing manuals, advertising copy, trade books, and pulp fiction but has struggled in vain to latch onto any insight that would elevate him into the ranks of Cervantes, Joyce, or Faulkner.  (There’s a reason why I left Hemingway out of this list.  Yes, he got a Nobel Prize, but if you read the citation you’ll see the Swedish Academy praised his stylistic inventions and made no reference to any substantive contribution to human thought.  They couldn’t, because there isn’t any.  He wrote potboilers and won recognition only because some important people admired the sort of stylistic prestidigitation you might see in, say, a Beatles rendition of Mozart.  But anyone can do that; it’s not hard.   Even a rabbit pretending to be human could pull it off.)  My protagonist wants to be an important writer, and his conviction that the Russo-Afghan war can teach us something significant about ourselves is what propels him forward and keeps him hammering away on his stalled novel.

The literary critic is married to one of the writer’s former wives (important writers typically go through several wives; as I recall, Hemingway and Steinbeck had three apiece), and they’re attending a rubber-chicken social function, sitting at the same table, and talking shop.  When the literary critic bashes the writer’s work as mere commercial fare, the writer retorts that at least he makes a living from writing, whereas the literary critic is reduced to mere teaching while churning out useless literary criticism on the side.  Throw in some comments to the writer from his ex-wife about his inadequacies as a husband, man, and lover, plus a few things going on beneath the tablecloth between the literary critic and his wife, and you’ve got the scene.

The problem with the University’s relationship with Nike is that I should be writing my novel instead of spending my time dealing with this incestuous academic caterwauling.  The way things are going in Afghanistan, a fictional American victory is the only victory we’re likely to get, so if I don’t finish my book, we’ll be left holding an empty bag.  That plays into the hands of the Taliban.  America badly needs a moral victory, or at least a morale victory, if nothing else is available.

Were proper procedures followed?  Is there a way to challenge this decision?  The University is a public entity governed by laws.  Do laws generally applicable to state agencies apply, or is the University governed by a separate set of rules?  In my discussions with Prof. Schwartz, he raised a point about an exemption for academic staff from certain state rules, and asked whether a University president who hasn’t done scholarly research, published academic papers, or taught students is “academic staff” for the purpose of this rule.  I think this is both a philosophical and legal question, but only the legal answer matters.

The University – Nike issue is about academic freedom.  When you accept someone’s money, your freedom to speak is circumcised.  This may take the form of not doing research that might harm commercial interests.  Money pollutes thinking, if you get my drift.  Isn’t it reasonable to ask how far Nike’s influence in the University’s fiscal offices trickles down into its academic departments?

One thing I can say for sure is that the time I spend thinking and writing about this issue is time I’m not spending on writing my novel.  How am I supposed to pencil in an American victory over the Taliban when I have to spend many hours writing and editing an opinion piece on why a state university shouldn’t take money from a sneaker manufacturer and send one of its top administrators to sit on the company’s board of directors?   If you want to know what that smells like, go read “For Whom The Bell Tolls” again.  Really, folks, this is a no-brainer.  Even a rabbit pretending to be human can easily see what’s wrong with it.


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