Born in New York City in 1961, Michael Bérubé earned a bachelor’s degree from Columbia University in 1982, and a master’s degree and PhD (both in English) from the University of Virginia (1986 and 1989, respectively). While at Virginia, he attended a seminar given by radical philosopher Richard Rorty, who, Bérubé says, “changed my life.”
From 1989-2001 Bérubé taught English at the University of Illinois, where he directed the humanities program during his final four years. Since 2001 he has been a professor in Pennsylvania State University’s English Department. Apart from his teaching duties, Bérubé has served on the executive council of the Modern Language Association (MLA) and was elected to a one-year term as MLA’s president in 2012. Moreover, he once sat on the executive committee of the American Association of University Professors.
Bérubé is an outspoken critic of David Horowitz’s Academic Bill of Rights which states that students are entitled to an education that exposes them “to the spectrum of significant scholarly viewpoints on the subjects examined in their courses,” and that “faculty will not use their courses for the purpose of political, ideological, religious or anti-religious indoctrination.” “It’s not a professor’s job to present ‘all sides,’ whatever that means,” Bérubé has stated. “And if a professor comes into a classroom with actual convictions … they have every right, and I’d say even an obligation, to say so. The idea that a professor should be neutral on these things is, I think, badly, badly mistaken. Now—and here’s the real question—are they so convinced of their convictions that they won’t hear anything else? That’s where the line sometimes gets crossed.”
In April 2003 Bérubé signed a Statement on Cuba, initiated and circulated by the prominent Democratic Socialists of America member Leo Casey, depicting U.S. trade sanctions against Fidel Castro‘s country as “counterproductive” and “more harmful to the interests of the Cuban people than helpful to political democratization.”
Post-9/11, Bérubé came under heavy critical fire from leftists for characterizing America’s invasion of Afghanistan and overthrow of the Taliban—which he described as one of “the worst regimes on the planet”—as “laudable.” Indeed he questioned the morality of “the anti-imperialists who opposed the war in Afghanistan in stark and unyielding terms,” and who argued, “to their shame, that the U.S. military response was even more morally odious than the hijackers’ deliberate slaughter of civilians.”
Notwithstanding his support for the war in Afghanistan, Bérubé in 2009 denounced George W. Bush and Dick Cheney as “the worst president and vice president in U.S. history, with all of Richard Nixon’s love of clandestine foreign operations and domestic spying programs but with none of Nixon’s concessions to Keynesian economics or the social welfare state.” Bérubé further impugned Bush and Cheney for being “the only administration to suspend habeas corpus and institute indefinite detention and torture as (unacknowledged) U.S. policy”; for committing “atrocities … around the globe, directly and through proxies”; for “their denials and evasions with regard to global climate change”; for “their totalitarian theory of the ‘unitary executive’ that overrides the constitutional separation of powers”; and for “their wholesale corruption of the Department of Justice.”
Between 2007 and 2010, Bérubé was an identified member of JournoList, the now-defunct online listserve consisting of some 400 self-described liberals who coordinated their political reporting to favor Democratic candidates and policy positions.
In a December 2010 interview, Bérubé claimed that Republicans knew precisely how to “motivate people by way of lies and demagoguery,” whereas liberals and Democrats “simply do not know how to play the game.” In the same interview, he claimed that contemporary white racists typically use “code words” to disparage African Americans, such as when they condemn black-on-black crime by saying “black lives are cheap, most notably to blacks.” Further, Bérubé criticized opponents of Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf‘s Cordoba Initiative, a proposal to build a 13-story Islamic Cultural Center/Mosque just 600 feet from Ground Zero in lower Manhattan. The protesters, said Bérubé, were “provoking needless and potentially dangerous public outrage about … the political equivalent of an Islamic YMCA.”
Bérubé opposes “academic boycotts” as well as the larger BDS (Boycott, Divestment, & Sanctions) movement aimed at punishing Israel for its alleged human-rights transgressions against the Palestinians. Nevertheless, he maintains that Israel’s supporters have no right to accuse those boycotters of “anti-Semitism.” By Bérubé’s telling, BDS activists are generally “people of principle and integrity” and “not anti-Semites.” “There has to be room in this debate for people who believe that the [Israeli] occupation is profoundly immoral,” he explains, “… but who do not endorse the one-state solution envisioned by BDS.” Berube emphasizes that while he does not support BDS, neither does he support “the Occupation” or “Israel’s increasingly unhinged and draconian responses to BDS.”
For additional information on Michael Bérubé, click here.
Further Reading: “Michael Bérubé” (PSU.edu, Keywiki.org); Bérubé’s CV (PSU.edu); “Why The Left Can’t Get Iraq Right” (by Michael Bérubé, Outlook, 9-26-2002); “The Left at the Moment: An Interview with Michael Bérubé” (12-30-2010).