By John Radzilowski, February 2010 [originally published on glaukopis.pl]
Those unfamiliar with academic discourse in America in the fields of humanities and social sciences may assume that most scholars in those fields are engaged in a careful search for truth. Their conclusions are backed up by evidence and that evidence is carefully debated and weighed and presented in its proper context. Publication of articles and books in any scholarly forum is subject to blind peer-review to eliminate to the greatest extent possible any error, bias, or favoritism. This standard further extends to teaching where professors endeavor to present accurate information and opposing views fairly and not use classrooms for indoctrination.
This standard remains the ideal and there are many American scholars who strive to teach, research, and write fairly, accurately, and with as little personal or ideological bias as possible. Indeed, this is a responsibility incumbent on those who benefit from standards of academic freedom. Nevertheless, as has been well documented elsewhere, there has been an increasing tendency to abuse the privileges enjoyed by scholars and to use scholarship and teaching as a means of advancing personal or political agendas. The recent global warming controversies in the field of climate science over the question of peer review highlight this very problem.
Nevertheless, there appear from time to time cases of academic abuse so egregious that they violate even the most basic sense of fairness and decency. Into this category we must place the case of Prof. Marek Jan Chodakiewicz, a younger, productive scholar of modern Polish history who has been the victim of a systematic effort to destroy his career, deny him the ability to publish in his field, get him banned from conferences and speaking engagements at public institutions, and blacken his reputation all with the apparent goal of denying him the ability operate as scholar in his field. This effort has been conducted by colleagues in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, as well as political opponents in his native Poland.
Let me begin with a disclaimer. I am a colleague of Prof. Chodakiewicz. We have co-edited two books together. I am also a colleague of many of the individuals who are conducting the blacklisting campaign and have been on friendly or at least speaking terms with several of them up to the time of this writing. Many of them hold important positions in the field of Polish historical studies, a field in which I occasionally publish. Since I have known about and personally witnessed aspects of this blacklisting campaign for some time, it may be fairly charged that I should have presented these facts to the public much earlier. I admit that my prior status as an adjunct professor with a family to support played a role in not speaking out earlier. Nevertheless, this as a good a time as any to do for several reasons. First all, the concerted attack on Prof. Chodakiewicz represents more than just an assault on one individual but a frontal assault on clear, accurate and disinterested research and writing on history of Poland in the English-speaking world. Indeed, the scholarly discourse and quality of research has declined dramatically in recent years for reasons that deserve a fuller discussion elsewhere. The “new” research is far more reflective of the ideology of a dominant group of academics, best described as “neo-Stalinists,” rather than of careful scholarship. The effort to destroy Prof. Chodakiewicz is also effort to intimidate and silence those who differ from the neo-Stalinist approach especially those who uphold older traditions of historiography on Polish history in the English-speaking world, not to mention the standards of research that have always gone with them. Thus, the ability to publish fair and non-ideological accounts of Polish history in scholarly presses and periodicals in English is rapidly disappearing and neither my silence nor my speaking out is likely to change that. Second, the campaign against Prof. Chodakiewicz seems to have now extended into the popular press in the U.S. and Poland and, most serious of all, has produced its first case of attempted intimidation of students.
Thus, it is with sadness and a sense of shame for the many colleagues for whom I have had respect and even affection that I must write this article. I have chosen to use pseudonyms for many of the key persons involved in these affairs. Although I am not concerned about any legal implications—what I have written here is true and correct to the best of my ability—the purpose of this article is to expose the deeds rather than the culprits.
I first became aware of the blacklisting effort against Prof. Chodakiewicz on Dec. 17, 2001 in the hotel bar of the Washington Hilton and Towers in Washington, D.C. following my participation in a panel discussion regarding the reception of Jan T. Gross’ controversial book Neighbors at the Association for Jewish Studies Annual Meeting. Afterward, I socialized with two fellow conference attendees both well-known senior professors. The topic of the development of a Polish history chair at University of Virginia (UVa) came up. At that time, Prof. Chodakiewicz held a junior term (i.e., non-tenured) faculty position associated with the newly formed chair at UVa. I mentioned in passing that I visited UVa few months prior as an invited speaker.
When Prof. Chodakiewicz’s name came up in passing one of the professors, the editor of a well-known journal [Polin, Professor Antony Polonsky], immediately changed the focus of the conversation and launched into a tirade about Prof. Chodakiewicz. He informed me that he had personally contacted the then-chair holder at UVa and Prof. Chodakiewicz’s supervisor, Prof. Wojciech Roszkowski, to convince Prof. Roszkowski to not renew Prof. Chodakiewicz’s contract. No explanation was given as to why he considered this necessary nor did he attempt to provide an ethical rationale for such an intervention. At this point, the second professor, Dr. Piotr Wróbel, who holds a chair in Polish studies at University of Toronto chimed in. He informed me that he had been contacted as a blind peer reviewer by a publisher considering publication of Professor Chodakiewicz’s Ph.D. dissertation as a book. Prof. Wróbel informed me that he done his utmost to write a report on Professor Chodakiewicz’s manuscript that would ensure it would not be published. Since I had read Professor Chodakiewicz’s dissertation and was familiar with its contents and saw no major problems that a good developmental editor could not overcome, I inquired about his objections. Prof. Wróbel informed me at some length that Prof. Chodakiewicz had failed to adequately address the problem of post-war communist land reform. I replied with some puzzlement that the land reform issue was only a minor part of Prof. Chodakiewicz’s work and that the focus of the work was entirely different. Prof. Wróbel seemed irritated at this and did not follow up on the issue of Prof. Chodakiwicz’s alleged failings on land reform but instead stated that Prof. Chodakiewicz had cited documents discovered and published by two questionable Polish scholars, Henryk Pajak and J. R. Nowak. Since I did not recall either citation, I did not reply. Their attitude was one of unrelenting hatred of Prof. Chodakiewicz and did not encourage further questioning of either professor.
Sometime thereafter, I was contacted by Prof. Chodakiewicz. He had just received a very negative anonymous peer review from a Lexington Press reviewer and sought advice on how to respond. I asked for a copy of the review. Upon receiving it, I saw that it was virtually identical to the objections aired by Prof. Wróbel in the hotel bar amongst colleagues (consisting mainly of a long critique of Prof. Chodakiewicz’s treatment of land reform). Thus, it was immediately clear that Prof. Wróbel had violated a most basic ethical rule of blind peer reviewing. I then informed Prof. Chodakiewicz of my exchange with Prof. Wróbel and encouraged him to inform the editors at Lexington Press about what had occurred. (This was done, a new review was commissioned by a different reviewer, and the book was published by Lexington Press in 2004.)
Had the above-described events gone no further, the matter would have been but an ugly memory. However, I soon learned that “Finch” [Wróbel] and especially “Redaktor” [Polonsky] had only begun their actions against Prof. Chodakiewicz and were prepared to enlist a wide range of colleagues in their effort to destroy him personally and professionally.
Shortly after these incidents, I exchanged email with a colleague [Professor Mieczyslaw Biskupski of Central Connecticut State University] who also holds an endowed chair in the field. While this colleague is the last man I would suspect of unethical behavior, he has also collaborated closely with the above-mentioned journal editor on certain publishing projects. How the subject of Prof. Chodakiewicz came up, I do not recall; however, this professor sent me a link to an article on an infamous Holocaust Revisionist website and claimed that it was written by Prof. Chodakiewicz (http://www.ihr.org/jhr/v20/v20n3p41_Gross.html#author). The article is written under a pen name and bears no evidence that it was written by Prof. Chodakiewicz. (Prof. Chodakiewicz also denied being its author.) When I asked how he had come to believe this was authored by Prof. Chodakiewicz he declined to say. He also declined to state who had given him this information or directed him to the otherwise obscure citation.
In about 2003, Prof. Chodakiewicz informed me that he had been invited to conference that was to be hosted by a research center at the University of Minnesota. This center was headed by the late Professor Stephen Feinstein with whom I was acquainted. I knew Professor Feinstein to be a man of fairness and honesty. The conference in question was being organized by a third party, with Professor Feinstein as local host. The conference session at which Prof. Chodakiewicz was to appear also included a presentation by Prof. Wróbel. Approximately three months prior to the conference, Prof. Chodakiewicz informed me that he had been contacted by the conference sponsor and told that his presentation had been cancelled. No explanation was given and no regrets or apologies for the sudden change of plans were offered. I inquired with Professor Feinstein about this matter. He informed me that this decision had been made by the conference sponsor and it was a matter over which he had no control. He agreed, however, that it was an odd thing and made further inquires. The conference organizer informed him that Prof. Wróbel had insisted that Prof. Chodakiewicz be removed from the conference and that he, Prof. Wróbel, would not participate alongside Prof. Chodakiewicz. Moreover, Prof. Chodakiewicz was an anti-Semite who should not have been invited in the first place. Professor Feinstein was never presented with evidence to back up this claim.
Perhaps the most egregious actions in this campaign were those that resulted in the destruction of the short-lived Kosciuszko Chair (KC) of Polish Studies at UVa’s Miller Center of Public Affairs. While a full history of KC’s demise deserves to be written, I will present some of the key events in outline. This chair was created by a very generous benefactor and contributions by a wide segment of the Polish American community. The aim of the chair was to further the study of Poland in the U.S. in light of the friendship between Polish national hero Thaddeus Kosciuszko and Thomas Jefferson (the founder of UVa).
There is little dispute that additional programs in Polish history and politics are badly needed in the United States; however, the spirit in which KC was created ran counter to what was then becoming the dominant view of Poland among many American scholars, especially those associated with the views of Jan T. Gross (see below). Gross was suggested as a potential candidate and had strong support among members of the history department. Since the chair was centered outside the history department and since KC’s donors and their supporters objected to Gross, Prof. Roszkowski was chosen as chair. For a variety of reasons, Prof. Roszkowski’s tenure as chair was short-lived. During this time, Prof. Chodakiewicz was hired as term assistant professor with the KC. In addition to his own scholarship, he proceeded to enlarge the institution profile of KC, expand fundraising, develop public programs, and teach courses, all of which were deemed highly necessary by all those familiar with the challenges faced by KC.
Prof. Roszkowski’s departure from the chair in 2003 created a potential crisis since there had previously been considerable difficulty in finding a suitable chair. As an interim measure the benefactor proposed a temporary assistant professorship (with additional funding) during which time a new search for the chair could be mounted. In the meantime, the temporary position could continue the work begun by Prof. Chodakiewicz that was needed to create and sustain the institutional capacity KC needed to fulfill its proposed mission. The search committee for this position was dominated by members of the history department. Having held the position for two years prior, Prof. Chodakiewicz was the inside candidate. He had extensive scholarly publications and significant teaching experience. However, Prof. Chodakiewicz did not even receive an interview for this position. The candidate subsequently hired was a newly minted Ph.D. with virtually no publications, no teaching experience, and no experience whatsoever in developing the institutional capacity KC needed. (I, too, applied for this position and did not merit an interview despite also having more publications and more administrative experience than the chosen candidate.) Although the candidate UVa hired was not at fault in the matter, her main qualifications were that she was not Prof. Chodakiewicz, and was not associated with similar dissenting viewpoints. The inadequate candidate chosen and the unethical nature of the selection process resulted in the withdrawal of funding for KC from UVa and the collapse of a potentially promising new program in Polish history.
Prof. Chodakiewicz has been the target of a further attack. A student from a prominent Chicago-area university [University of Illinois at Chicago] attempted to invite Prof. Chodakiewicz to speak to a student organization. A junior professor [Małgorzata Fidelis] of the history department who specializes in research on Stalinist Poland attempted to intimidate the student into rescinding the invitation. This professor claimed that Prof. Chodakiewicz should be banned from the university because he held “non-mainstream views.” This professor further claimed that the student had no right to invite Polish-themed speakers to campus without her approval since she was “head of the chair” of Polish history (a position which does not exist at that university or any American institution of higher education). She also enlisted a second professor to apply additional pressure to the student in question. As a result, Professor Chodakiewicz was banned from coming. [And the student lost his chance for a doctoral scholarship and was forced to quit University of Illinois].
More recently, Prof. Chodakiewicz has been personally attacked by Prof. Gross and by Prof. Piotr Wróbel. This occurred on the website of a far-left wing American organization, the Southern Poverty Law Center. Prof. Wróbel’s remarks are particularly bizarre. While admitting that Prof. Chodakiewicz has never done or said anything anti-Semitic, he states “There is no doubt whatsoever that he doesn’t like the Jews.” This amounts to nothing other than character assassination of the lowest and most unethical sort.
Why Has Prof. Chodakiewicz Been Targeted?
We must now turn to the question of why Prof. Chodakiewicz has been targeted in this manner. At the outset, it is necessary to emphasize one obvious point so that no fair-minded reader can misunderstand the purpose of this article: there is significant scope for scholars in Polish history studies to disagree strongly and vigorously from the positions Prof. Chodakiewicz has taken in his popular and scholarly writing, including his research methodology, conclusions, and evidence. Vigorous, carefully argued yet civil debate about important issues should be standard to which all fields of scholarly endeavor aspire. Legitimate disagreement with Prof. Chodakiewicz’s work is not my concern and indeed serious debate over his work is to be welcomed. As the facts noted above indicate, however, Prof. Chodakiewicz’s opponents, who are nearly all senior scholars holding important positions of within the field of Polish studies in North America and Great Britain have resorted to unethical and immoral tactics against an individual who is a relatively recent Ph.D. and who during most of the period under discussion held only temporary or adjunct positions and who was thus highly vulnerable to the type of actions I have witnessed. What could motivate such hatred? It is not my place to guess at the inner motives of those who have conducted the campaign against Prof. Chodakiewicz. Nevertheless, some understanding of the ideological background of this situation is necessary.
In recent years, many fields of scholarly research in the social sciences and humanities have become ideological battlegrounds. This is an unfortunate reality. The study of modern Polish history in English-speaking countries is no exception. It is, however, a relatively small field which is a factor in turning ideological differences into personal vendettas. Research in modern Polish history, especially in English-speaking countries, has become dominated by a neo-Stalinist school of historiography. Historians in this school are usually but not exclusively left-of-center. They emphasize Polish history of the past 100 years as largely an exercise in nationalist extremism and anti-Semitism. They claim with varying degrees of emphasis that Poles were collaborators with the Nazi occupation of their own country, complicit in or highly sympathetic to the extermination of the Jews and downplay or ignore periods of Soviet occupation. The neo-Stalinist approach is heavily influenced by post-modernism, and most neo-Stalinists view scholarship instrumentally. In other words, the goal of scholarship is to change present-day Polish society which they view as largely backward and excessively Catholic. The most important neo-Stalinist scholar is Prof. Jan T. Gross, whose two previous books have been highly praised by sympathetic reviewers for forcing the type of change in cultural and social discourse in and about Poland that they view as desirable. Objections or criticisms of Gross’ works are viewed as “ethno-nationalist” apologetics and critics are written off as anti-Semites. Even for those familiar with an academic world rife with the bad blood of long-standing “culture wars” the fervor with which neo-Stalinist academics defend Gross’ recent work is difficult to overstate.
Although a full account of the neo-Stalinist effort to defend and promote Gross’ recent books is beyond the scope of this article, it seems quite clear that one of the major factors behind the campaign against Prof. Chodakiewicz is that he had emerged as the most serious and thorough critics of Gross’ recent books and articles. It is also highly significant that Prof. Chodakiewicz’s criticisms have appeared not only in Polish, but also in English and is thus accessible in some measure to colleagues and the general public in the English-speaking world who may not have strong ties either to neo-Stalinist circles or their critics and thus be in a position to reach conclusions other than those sought by Gross’ defenders. In other words, neo-Stalinist scholars seek unanimity of scholarly opinion, at least in the English-speaking world, about Gross’ work.
There is a strong likelihood that Prof. Chodakiewicz’s problems began in early 2001 when he was still a Ph.D. candidate at Columbia University. Prof. Istvan Deak, an emeritus professor of history at Columbia and a well-respected scholar of central European and Holocaust history, had undertaken a review of three books on the Holocaust, including Gross’ book Neighbors, for the New York Review of Books. Prof. Deak asked Chodakiewicz to provide him with material on the book in light of available evidence. This material allowed Prof. Deak write a review that was far more critical than many close to Prof. Gross wanted. (Although Prof. Deak’s criticism of Neighbors was relatively mild, it remains the only serious engagement with the methodology, evidence, or conclusions of Gross’ book that has appeared in any mainstream popular or scholarly periodical in the English-speaking world.) Chodakiewicz’s role in assisting Prof. Deak made him a marked man and his Ph.D. defense of a dissertation unrelated to the events described in Neighbors was dominated entirely by questions about his opinions on Gross’ work.
Misuse of Scholarly Reviews
The second aspect of the blacklisting campaign against Prof. Chodakiewicz has been a misuse of protocols of scholarly book reviewing. In an ideal world, scholarly books should be reviewed by qualified peers who are able to approach a book to be reviewed in as disinterested a fashion as possible. They should be neither close colleagues of the author nor should have personal grudges or ideological axes to grind vis-à-vis the book to be reviewed. Admittedly, given the level of hyper-specialization in many academic sub-fields, this ideal is often hard to achieve though difficulty in achieving an ideal does not invalidate it. Even when the reviewer and book’s author are known to each other, there should remain a certain norm of civility and fairness. Finally, this situation gives great power to journal editors whose ability to pick one reviewer over another can virtually assure whether the book receives a favorable review or not.
As previously noted, individuals such as Prof. Wróbel are senior scholars and well known in the field of modern Polish history. Moreover, all are closely associated with the neo-Stalinist circle and/or Prof. Gross himself. These individuals and those closely associated with them have orchestrated a campaign of negative reviews in several American and British periodicals that amount to little more than smear tactics. Indeed, as they make virtually the same charges and use nearly identical language, it can be fairly assumed that they have been working from a common “script.” Indeed, the periodical operated by the above-mentioned editor even published a very negative commissioned review article of Prof. Chodakiewicz’s work—highly unusual treatment for a younger scholar to receive from a major journal. In another instance, a review may have been “planted” in a major U.S. historical journal. This journal rarely publishes reviews of books from smaller scholarly imprints, such as East European Monographs (the publisher of the book reviewed), which suggests that the reviewer, a central figure in the events described above, initiated the review rather than the journal’s book review editor.
A point by point analysis of each of these reviews is beyond the scope of this article. However, the basic claims made by these reviews are that Prof. Chodakiewicz is a blind apologist for “Polish crimes” and for extreme “ethno-nationalism,” that he excuses or even favors the murder of Jews, and that he does so by claiming that Jews are responsible for communism in Poland. From this, Prof. Chodakiewicz’s attackers are able to suggest or even claim that he is an anti-Semite. Each of these claims is demonstrably false and in some cases are even deployed against books in which Prof. Chodakiewicz argues precisely the opposite from what is claimed as his position. Many of the reviews fail to cite any relevant passages from Prof. Chodakiewicz’s books to back up their claims. When these reviewers do attempt to cite from his works to support these claims, the citations often make no sense or simply contain nothing to back up the assertion.
Two particularly egregious examples typify the abuse of scholarly reviews. For example, Prof. Chodakiewicz’s book After the Holocaust was reviewed in the journal Sarmatian Review by a University of Indiana-trained folklorist, Dr. Danusha Goska. The review (January 2004) claims that the point of the book was to prove that anti-Semitism “had nothing to do with Polish persecution and murder of Jews.” In fact, After the Holocaust does not say that at all. In fact, Prof. Chodakiewicz discussed the anti-Semitic stereotypes among members of the Polish underground, and in fact a whole chapter of the book to how the Polish insurgents viewed the Jews. Rather, Prof. Chodakiewicz states that anti-Semitism was one factor among many in post-war violence toward Jews and not always the more important one.
Another truly baffling example appeared in an article by Joanna Michlic, a close associate of the individuals discussed above, in Jewish Social Studies n.s. 13, no. 3 (Spring/Summer 2007): 135–76. The article is largely an attack on Prof. Chodakiewicz and three other scholars. By her own admission, Michlic’s view of Chodakiewicz’s work is shaped almost entirely by the hostile reviews of the neo-Stalinists school, among them the black listers described above. She then goes on to state that “Chodakiewicz casts [Poles and Jews] as separate nations engaged in the struggle for survival without noting that they were part of one society in which ethnic Poles represented the dominant majority group and Polish Jews were one of the ethnic/national minorities. Even where he does acknowledge Polish Jews were a minority, as he does in Massacre in Jedwabne, he regards them primarily as the carrier of a culture intrinsically incompatible with the culture of ethnic, Christian Poles.” In the context of neo-Stalinist discourse, the above remarks constitute an out-and-out accusation of anti-Semitism on Chodakiewicz’s part. To back up this claim, Michlic cites the following pages in Chodakiewicz’s book: 32–33 and 38–39. The first two pages (32–33) discuss the leading Polish and Jewish personalities in pre-war Jedwabne and how they interacted, which was mostly amicably. (In fact, this discussion of amicable Polish-Jewish relations begins two pages earlier.) The next two pages Michlic cites (38–39) concerns events of 1920 and how they affected Polish-Jewish relations in Jedwabne. Here Chodakiewicz notes that some Jews supported the Soviets, but also notes that local Poles over-estimated that support and used the “Jewish-Commie” stereotype to view their neighbors. (Ironically, Michlic and other neo-Stalinists frequently accuse Chodakiewicz of ignoring or justifying this very stereotype.) In other words, it seems that Michlic did not read Chodakiewicz’s book at all. The pages cited as damning evidence of his anti-Semitic leanings do not even mention the subjects she addresses.
While many neo-Stalinist scholars adopt a rather cavalier attitude toward citations and evidence, most normal people and all serious and fair-minded scholars understand and demand that charges of the nature made by Michlic need to be backed up by solid evidence. Yet in each review, serious charges are aired without citations, without quotes from Prof. Chodakiewicz’s writings, or with false or misleading citations (given in the apparent belief that no one pays attention to footnotes anymore). Moreover, the reviewers in question are in the habit of citing each other’s erroneous or malicious reviews. Academic malfeasance is perhaps the most generous description of this situation.
It is no joy to write about fellow scholars or any human beings in this way, to expose tawdry and unethical behavior of people whom I know personally, and potentially to turn colleagues into life-long enemies. It is no pleasure, but it is duty. Indeed, the actions taken against Prof. Chodakiewicz are disgusting and shameful in the extreme and have no place in civilized discourse, let alone discourse among scholars. Such acts cannot be tolerated, and it is incumbent on all those in Polish historical studies to repudiate the blacklisting and smear campaigns conducted against Prof. Chodakiewicz or against any other colleague against whom it may occur. It is my hope that in exposing these deeds to public scrutiny those who undertook or acquiesced to unethical actions or bore false witness in speech or writing will repent of what they have done and attempt to make amends for the damage they have caused.
It is perhaps naïve to believe that this will happen or that goodness can triumph in hearts twisted by hate for a colleague. Indeed, neo-Stalinist historians of modern Poland have declared a virtual holy war—a jihad if you will—against any who stray from the official “script.” They seem willing to violate basic standards of ethics, of professional fairness, and good scholarship. This also cannot be permitted. All scholars must be held to common standards: claims must be backed by evidence presented in context; facts and truthful interpretations take precedence over ideological correctness; standards of fairness and impartiality in hiring, teaching, publishing, and reviewing must be upheld and maintained.
There is sufficient scope to disagree with Prof. Chodakiewicz’s work or the work of any scholar without resort to unethical actions, intimidation of students, falsehoods, or smear campaigns. To those who have done such things, I appeal to you! Stop! Do not further shame yourselves. You are destroying the field of Polish historical studies in the English-speaking world.
[Ed. All names deciphered by Glaukopis, and not provided by Professor Radzilowski]