On Wednesday, November 25, Youssif Z. Omar made international news. According to Columbia, Missouri, police, the 53-year-old Omar stopped by the local public high school, spotted a 14-year-old relative not wearing a hijab, grabbed the girl "very violently by the hair," and pulled her down a flight of stairs. Once outside, Omar slapped the girl in the face and pulled her by the hair into his car. The police arrested him on suspicion of child abuse. Omar posted a $4,500 bond and was released.
Omar has been affiliated with the notoriously confused University of Missouri. Late Sunday night, November 29, university officials tweeted a correction to a story earlier that day by the New York Daily News, "Mr. Omar is not employed at Mizzou. He was formerly a graduate student with an assistantship. Job ended in July." One element of the scandal is how the University of Missouri came to employ Omar and how it came to award him, so it appears, a Ph.D. More on this in a minute.
A second element of the scandal has to do with media coverage. As of Monday morning, the daily Missourian, the award-winning publication of the university's overpraised journalism school, had yet to mention a story that had been covered in the days prior from New York to London. From all appearances the J-School is training its students to avoid stories with inconvenient narratives, a useful skill, one supposes, if they hope to fit into America's major newsrooms.
Two weeks prior, one of the J-School's affiliated professors, Melissa Click, made the mistake of going aggressively public with that skill set. In a memorably absurd moment Click shrieked on camera, "Hey, who wants to help me get this reporter out of here? I need some muscle over here." She needed the muscle, presumably male, to help her block a student photographer from reporting on a public event, not the kind of behavior one would expect from a J-School prof, let alone a feminist.
J-School Dean David Kurpius responded to the campus-wide opéra bouffe with a "letter to journalism parents." Those parents who expected an apology or at least an explanation for faculty mischief were in for a disappointment. Kurpius instead boasted that the "historic" events on campus gave students a chance to see up close -- or at least as close as profs like Click would let them get -- "how important journalism is to our democratic society." He closed the letter with a bromide meant to reassure but that had to have the opposite effect on any thinking, tuition-paying parent: "In the coming months, the School will bring in a respected inclusivity expert to help all of us learn how to have difficult dialogues."
Any real "dialogue" produced by the Omar case would fray the various strands of the multicultural rainbow and leave the glibbest of inclusivity experts tongue-tied. There is no easy way, after all, to reconcile feminist (or Judeo-Christian) expectations for women with Islamic ones. Better to do what the Missourian has done: hyperventilate about poop swastikas and mystery slurs and avoid stories of real, horrific abuse altogether.
Equally keen to avoid the subject is the university administration. Despite MU's denial of Omar's continued employment, the available evidence suggests a continuing relationship -- at least it did at 8 a.m., Monday, November 30. At that time, an official university publication called Artifacts: A Journal of Undergraduate Writing listed Omar as its "managing editor." When I checked back at 10:30 a.m. -- two hours after emailing Dr. Amy Lannin, a member of Artifact's Board of Editors and a co-supervisor on Omar's Ph.D. -- Omar's name had been removed and that of Dr. Bonnie Selting substituted as "managing editor." An essay by Omar on the front page of Artifacts had also been removed. I had earlier excerpted the essay's most painfully ironic line, "When people get assistance with language to live a new lifestyle in the alien culture, they can change their behavior and tradition to accommodate the alien culture."
If his Ph.D. dissertation is any proof, Omar got very little assistance with language from supervisors Lannin and Dr. Roy Fox. Indeed, his dissertation -- "Perceptions of Selected Libyan English as a Foreign Language Teachers Regarding Teaching of English in Libya" -- makes Michelle Obama's read like William Buckley's. The very title demands a "sic." It goes downhill from there. Some excerpts:
A few studies and research investigate about learning English in Libya and confirm that learning English in Libya is unsuccessful. (this, from page one).
This definition indicates that to work effectively, a method should combine techniques and approaches and a teacher should have the sense of plausibility.
Even after spending 10 years, studying English in school and at the university in addition to learning English in English language centers, most Libyan students fail to produce even simple sentences in English, namely in oral aural functional activities.
The third example speaks to the nature of Omar's language problem. Instead of learning to speak basic English -- "I have no enough words to say about Dr. Lannin" -- he was taught the academic gobbledygook that passes for scholarship in university education departments nationwide. As a protected minority, Omar was allowed to advance despite his failure to master the gobbledygook or the English that it routinely mangles. Until Monday, he was the listed managing editor of "a refereed journal of undergraduate work.
University of Missouri administrators and faculty absolutely deserve whatever infamy Youssif Omar brings them. They have allowed him and hundreds of other ungrateful, entitled souls to define the university and dominate its campus. From a distance this PC stuff all seems somewhat humorous, but if you are the 14-year-old being dragged down your high school's front steps, I suspect it's not very funny at all.
Jack Cashill has a hard-earned Ph.D. from Purdue, the one major university (kudos, Mitch Daniels) to repudiate student actions at MU, Yale, and elsewhere.