Feud for thought over Israel chair

Geoffrey Alderman offers to supervise critic’s doctorate

November 21, 2013

If there is a world record for academic bitchiness, it has probably just been broken.

Geoffrey Alderman, professor of history and politics at the University of Buckingham, has taken the scholarly feud to new heights by offering to supervise the PhD of an academic adversary, free of charge, whom he accuses of being woefully underqualified.

Writing in The Jewish Chronicle, Professor Alderman takes aim at Tom Hickey, course leader for the MA in cultural and critical theory at the University of Brighton.

The open letter recounts that Mr Hickey, a leading advocate of an academic boycott of Israel, had attacked the Yossi Harel chair in modern Israel studies at the University of Sussex, a position created last year, because it could propagate “Israeli state propaganda”.

At Academic Integrity or Political Propaganda: The Chair of Modern Israeli Studies, an event held in Brighton on 14 October, Mr Hickey also questioned whether he would be barred from the chair because of his attitude towards Israel.

In his letter, published on 8 November, Professor Alderman accuses Mr Hickey of making a “fool” of himself in his arguments about the chair “by offering sweeping assertion and innuendo as a substitute for reasoned argument”.

The Buckingham scholar then turns his pen from politics to the matter of Mr Hickey’s curriculum vitae.

“Tom, as things stand at the moment you would never have a chance in hell of being appointed to the Harel chair, for reasons that have nothing to do with your private views but everything to do with your academic qualifications,” Professor Alderman writes.

“To be blunt, your published output seems a trifle thin…Scarcely less important…is the fact that you do not appear to be credentialled at doctoral level.”

He then “genuinely” offers to supervise Mr Hickey’s doctorate for free.

“I myself possess two doctorates,” he writes. “So when it comes to doctoral studies I know what I’m talking about. You’ll also be interested to learn that I currently hold five professorial titles. I know what makes a professor. You appear not to.”

In a final flourish, he adds: “Tom, for the sake of what remains of your academic reputation, I advise you to keep your bowels open and your mouth closed.”

In a response, Mr Hickey told Times Higher Education that he had “no desire to pour any more scorn on Professor Doctor Alderman than he has already heaped upon himself in the eyes of his colleagues by this ad hominem and ill-informed personal attack in defence of the indefensible”.

He said that he had read the letter, but had “put it aside with as much pity for its author as distaste for its content”.

“Geoffrey Alderman should now be left alone to attempt to recover his reputation. It would be gratuitous and cruel to pursue the matter,” he concluded.

david.matthews@tsleducation.com

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