Subscribe to PSTV 'Views and News'

Our monthly 'PSTV Views and News' gives extra tidbits on guest interviews and upcoming guests..

First Name *
Last Name *
Email *
08 2011

Fighting Corruption in India

Syndicated from: Steve Paikin

University of Toronto political scientist Arthur Rubinoff is about to take his 11th trip to India. In this web-exclusive interview, he explains why getting the corruption out of Indian society is such an enormous challenge. And if you're curious as to how a Jewish boy from western Pennsylvania becomes a scholar on Indian affairs, read Prof. Rubinoff's "Academic Journey" below:               I went to high school in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, in what is now “Steeler Country,” but the Steelers would not be super for another fifteen years. High school football was the big thing, and on Friday nights in the 1950s over 5,000 people would pack Reeves Stadium to watch future NFL gladiators perform. You would recognize the names on the jerseys in the trophy case in the front hall of the school. Everything, including academics, was secondary to football. Good students, however, were accepted—not merely tolerated. I was a good student and president of the debate club. I was also the only Jewish boy in my class, but my 431 classmates did not seem to mind. Football was the only religion that mattered, and we all shared that in common. Every five years at my reunions, my classmates inquire as to how I ended up teaching Indian politics to Canadians in Toronto.  This account is my academic journey.             For most of my male classmates athletics were a way out of the mill. For me education was the path of upward mobility. At a very early age, probably from reading Hans Morgenthau’s articles warning the Eisenhower administration about the folly of intervening in Indo-China, I became obsessed with getting a PhD in political science at the University of Chicago. Like Morgenthau, I am a political liberal, a theoretical conservative, and a political realist.             Remarkably, I gave no thought as to where I should attend college. The only criterion was that the quality of the school would enable me to be admitted to do graduate work at Chicago. Just before Thanksgiving in November 1959, a barber from a neighboring town, whom I did not know, arranged a meeting with a political science professor at Allegheny College, a school that I had not considered. As a result, I was offered a scholarship to that institution which had 1,250 students, 250 fewer than my high school. I didn’t realize that a condition of my financial award was that I would have to scrape garbage off dining hall plates with my bare hands twenty times a week.             Allegheny was a good liberal arts college with high standards: All students studied a common core curriculum that included readings like Plato’s Republic and “Death of a Salesman.” You had to pass a swimming test—for some reason taken in the nude—or you did not graduate. I learned how to swim. There was no drop date; once you signed up for a course you had to complete it; there was no such thing as an incomplete. Writing skills were emphasized. All students had to complete a year long freshman-writing course that demanded a theme a week (I still remember the topics 51 years later) and culminated in a thirty-page term paper. One student, known as “poor fucking Woody,” did not complete that assignment and did not graduate even though he completed all other requirements. The comments on papers by professors, whose scholarly output pales by comparison to my own, ranged from unkind to cruel. One half of my dormitory floor flunked out or transferred freshman year and only a third of us graduated. Some professors would not repeat points from their lectures. If you missed it, you missed it. You learned to concentrate and listen. Others would penalize you three points for each misspelling—even on examinations. Some faculty even checked every footnote against the original source. Late papers were not accepted: I saw a history professor rip up a girl’s paper in front of the class and throw it at her feet for being four minutes late, as if he could have read it in the meantime (and students think I am a hard ass); all students had to (and still do have to) complete a 100 page senior thesis to graduate. Although I was the best student in the department and had the highest average in the college the term before, and had missed half the semester because of the irresponsible behavior of my father, I was denied a two-day extension for my senior thesis. My committee told me that I had had “four years to complete the project.” Of course the manuscript remained in their mailboxes, unread, all weekend. My wife had a similar experience at Ohio Wesleyan. Although nominally affiliated with the Methodist church, Allegheny was relatively liberal. It no longer had required chapel. The only time I attended chapel in four years was that awful Friday night in November, 1963 after John Kennedy was assassinated.             The place was unbelievably parochial. There were exactly two Jewish professors when I arrived in September 1960. There was one black professor, James Smoot, who fled to the sanctuary of Howard University after being called “Dr. Soot” to his face by racist students. While my high school classmates were mostly working class ethnics of eastern and southern European descent, students at Allegheny were overwhelmingly wealthy, suburban and WASP. I never saw a student of color, except for a few foreign students, in the classes of 1961-67! Jewish boys were few and they were mostly unhappy. Jewish girls were even fewer, and they were miserable because of discrimination by social groups in the largely rural setting of Meadville, Pennsylvania. When I had the saintly civil rights leader John Lewis (now a beloved congressman from Georgia) to lunch, our national fraternity put us on probation the next day for having a black man on the premises. I was indignant that the college countenanced such an outrageous action. Moreover, the college, in violation of Pennsylvania law, permitted social groups access to admissions files in order to facilitate discrimination. I and three other students took legal action to end the practice. In my muckraking weekly newspaper column I repeatedly assailed college President Lawrence Pelletier and President John Kennedy for their weakness on civil rights. Since the CIA did not assassinate me, President Kennedy obviously did not mind; President Pelletier of Allegheny did; whenever he saw me coming, he crossed the street.             The chairman of the political science department was Wayne Reynolds Merrick. He was also a Republican state committeeman. The highlight of Merrick’s life had been serving in Patton’s Third Army that relieved the besieged General Anthony McAuliffe at Bastone during the Battle of the Bulge and liberated Jews from a number of concentration camps. Merrick, who came from upstate New York, was a self-described “Irving Ives Republican”—a liberal Republican; there were such things then. Even though he was a colonel in the active reserves, Merrick was a target of John Birchers on talk radio because he taught Soviet politics and must, therefore, have been a communist—evidence that Glenn Beck’s audience was waiting for him.             Merrick believed in parenting. Even though he had five children of his own, Merrick treated me like a son, and I considered him my surrogate father. I needed a surrogate father because my own father, who by comparison made Willy Loman look successful, was an abusive ignoramus from Bialystok who bragged that he never read a book. As a result of this negative referent, I was determined to write books. I made a bargain with the Lord: he would give me the ability to write, and if I didn’t, I would suffer migraine headaches, which is why I often look in pain. Like my old man, Merrick smoked cigars and had a wife named Sally—the name of my beloved mother who had died when I was eight.             I recall Merrick’s retirement in 1982. After a party at the Capitol Hill Club in Washington attended by dozens of his former students, Merrick took Bob McGee, the son of the last Democratic senator from Wyoming—there used to be such things—and me and our wives to dinner. The restaurant was in a dangerous section of the city. McGee, who was Armand Hammer’s right hand man at Occidental Oil, called for a company limousine to take Janet and me to where we were staying. A monster car appeared. It was Hammer’s own limo. I had never been in a limousine before. Nor have I been since. Following Janet, I took eights steps into the dark vehicle…and ended up on the floor! It was that huge.             Because of Merrick, who was a close friend of Lt. Governor (later Governor) Raymond P. Shafer, I made important contacts in the state and county Republican Party. The senior judge in Crawford County promised me that if went to law school, he would see to it that I became district attorney. I was offered the presidency of the Pennsylvania College Republicans, which would have put me in conflict with the likes of Karl Rove of Texas and the Goldwater crowd that was taking over the party. My uncle, from whom I was estranged, was the first Republican mayor of Tucson, so I knew about those people. They made realize that I was a Democrat. I had already worked with my Democratic congressman Bill Moorhead and Democratic senator Joseph S. Clark on extending the loan forgiveness provisions of the National Defense Education Act of 1958 to college professors, legislation that became the National Defense Education Act of 1963. I was also offered a job in the Scranton administration that would have paid me what an associate professor earned in 1964. I turned down these opportunities to do graduate work. Merrick saw to it that I was awarded the Milton Jackson Beaty Fellowship in international relations to the graduate school of my choice, which of course was Chicago. Fortunately, that school had admitted me.             People had warned me that with my strong personality I would get caught up in the notorious splits and feuds that were prevalent in the Department of Political Science at Chicago. Yet this never happened, possibly because I met and married Janet, who has always been a moderating influence and severe editor, in my first year. Also, I was very busy. In addition to my M.A. thesis, I had to take 27 courses and five comprehensive examinations, which is why I have broad teaching and research interests. Upon matriculation, graduate students were given a double-sided two-page handout that told them the dates of these tests in the next three years. If you failed to meet deadlines your draft board was notified, and if you were a male, you were likely to be sent to Vietnam. The shadow of Local Board 24 hung over me like the sword of Damocles. It took the joy out of being young. I had to get its permission to travel through Canada every time I drove from Detroit to Buffalo. Failure to do so could result in reclassification and loss of my student deferment. I was not going to be drafted because of a technicality.             Chicago was a serious place and people like Barney Cohn did not suffer fools in the classroom—not that there were many. Morton Kaplan and Hans Morgenthau denounced each other in class and often humiliated students in ways that bemuse me when students say I am intimidating. I was able to avoid the departmental schisms. I took as many courses as I could from the marvelous Herman Pritchett, who had served as chair for a dozen years because he was the only one who could get along with everybody else. Pritchett was no longer chair, but he was President of the American Political Science Association. Along with former congressman Lee Hamilton, who was director of the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars when I was a fellow there, Pritchett was one of the two finest persons I have ever known. Not only was Pritchett a great scholar, but he was also the best teacher I have ever had. Pritchett became my mentor. Our relationship was cemented because I worked in the university archives where I processed the papers of Charles E. Merriam who had served as Chicago’s chair for forty years. It was the best job I ever had because its legendary curator Bob Rosenthal, like Merrick a member of the greatest generation who had joined the marine corps at the age of sixteen after Pearl Harbor, was the best boss I ever had.             A condition of my fellowship from Allegheny was that I had to do dissertation work abroad. Since I was weak in foreign languages, I had written my undergraduate thesis on British politics. When I got to Chicago, Herman Finer, who taught the subject, had just retired. The closest I could get to studying Britain was to take courses from Lloyd Rudolph, who had just come from Harvard where he had done a dissertation on British politics under Sam Beer. Rudolph had an effective paper assignment to introduce students to India: we had to study a personality, an issue, and an institution. Ever since I picked up the New York Times on December 19, 1961, I had been interested in India’s invasion of the Portuguese territory on the subcontinent. I wrote on “Nehru, Parliament and Goa,” which became the basis of my master’s thesis and first book India’s Use of Force in Goa. A later book, The Construction of a Political Community, Identity and Integration in Goa explored the nationalization of politics in the state.              My master’s thesis attracted the attention of the department. Ironically, on the very day I passed my draft physical, Hans Morgenthau telephoned me to say that my M.A. thesis was the best he had read in his 23 years at Chicago. After that I began receiving appointments that carried stipends to centers that I did not know existed. I was awarded a dissertation fellowship by the Ford Foundation for which I had not applied, and I won The Morris Abrams Prize as the most outstanding graduate student in the United States in the field of international relations.             Unlike most professors at Chicago, Lloyd Rudolph was completely undogmatic. He did not insist his dissertation students replicate his work or his methodology. He said “he would support me if I did something interesting and important.”  Under his guidance, I got a Fulbright to India to research “India’s Foreign Relations with Egypt and Yugoslavia,” the Nehru-Nasser-Tito relationship. I sent chapters of dissertation to Michael Brecher at McGill, the real expert on subject, in case I had to have my PhD oral in Canada, but it never came to that. I did have one of the most famous orals in the history of the Department. Lloyd Rudolph had insisted that some new graduate students from India attend my examination, and even though I thought they must have better things to do, I agreed. To my astonishment, they hijacked the oral. Hans Morgenthau had long departed, but I was the only student for whom he came back. He fell asleep and snored at my oral, but woke up to defend me against Reeta. Every time I see those students at a conference, they remind me that Morgenthau fell asleep at my oral, even though Lloyd says what I should remember is that Hans came back to Chicago only for me.             I found India a difficult place to live, but a wonderful place to do research. Anthropologist McKim Marriott prepared me to do field work that would include urinating on the Belgaum highway with the future Chief Minister of Goa. As a graduate student, I interviewed virtually the entire cabinet. Since MPs are cabinet officers, I began to do research on parliament. Indian MPs have little office space, so you meet them in their residences. I formed lasting friendships with I. B. Gujral and A.B. Vajapyee, who became Prime Ministers. The first time I was to interview Vajpayee in 1968, I arrived early for a 7:30 appointment since I had no phone and had to hail a cab on the street. I left at 7:25 after a man who claimed to be his assistant, plausibly claimed that Vajpayee was in Bhopal trying to save his party’s coalition state government. The next day I telephoned Vajpayee, one of the few Indian politicians with a sense of humor, and profanely admonished him for standing me up. He replied, “god damn me, god damn you. I was in a meeting of the National Integration Council and told Mrs. Gandhi, ‘the meeting’s over; I’ve got to see Professor Rubinoff; when I got home you weren’t there. By the way, the man who threw you out wasn’t my assistant, but a someone off the street who wanted an appointment, so he took yours.” I also interviewed former Defense Minister Krishna Menon while he had his semiannual physical in his altogether. The physician was embarrassed, but Menon remarked that neither he nor I were. Another politician, a Hindu fundamentalist, answered my questions with Biblical parables. After I recounted these interviews at the annual conference of Fulbright scholars, my presentation was voted the best Fulbright talk of the year, and the Foreign Service Journal wanted to publish it. By then I was teaching at Dartmouth, and a colleague who was good at giving me bad advice said that if I published my talk, I would never get back into India. So, I didn’t publish it (and alas I have lost my notes), and sure enough did not get back into India during the Emergency. That is why I began working on the U.S. Congress and India in Washington, D.C. Not even the TSA, although it tries, can keep me out of the United States.             I found Dartmouth to be a bizarre place in 1969. Despite its Ivy League reputation and high admissions requirements, it had lower standards than Allegheny. The purpose of the institution as I wrote in the campus newspaper, “was not to educate students, but to produce happy and generous alumni.” Students, unless it was plagiarism, got credit towards graduation for courses they failed. The student government had been dissolved the year before I got there by its anarchist president Robert Reich; yes that Robert Reich the Friend of Bill Clinton, who became Secretary of Labor. When the distinguished Swedish sociologist Gunner Myrdal, a socialist, gave a commencement address, the board of trustees abolished commencement addresses. Not only were there no women, something I worked to change, but alumni registered unborn sons for certain dormitory rooms. Faculty could not afford to live there. As I wrote in the Daily Dartmouth, “the only people who could afford to live in Hanover were the alumni who went back to die and the doctors who signed their death certificates.” Hence, when the College announced on August 7, 1971 that its employees had to pay for parking on September 15, 1971, it was a scheme to make its employees pay to work. When the Nixon administration introduced wage and price controls on August 15, the New York Times claimed that included new charges for faculty parking. I showed the article to the Vice President for Extortion, and he told me to “go fuck myself.” I was the only faculty member to challenge the legality of the levy, even though it meant I had to park off campus. When my complaint was upheld, all those academic sheep who had acquiesced to the illegality had their money reimbursed because of me. Non-tenure stream faculty like me were a lower caste. Campus mail was address to faculty based on their rank. I began to think that I was still in India.             The saving grace of the place was students. Except for the hockey players (and you know where they came from), they were wonderful. They lacked the arrogance of Harvard students and the pomposity of Princeton undergrads. For some reason, most of my advisees were on the football team. Janet and I had them over two at a time for dinner and Monday night football. They repaid me in various ways. Every Wednesday when I went out the front door to collect the newspaper, there were two bottles of liquor on the front steps. I never knew who my benefactor was, but the father of one of my advisees was in the wholesale liquor business.             The political science faculty was not as productive as this department. I did learn more about international relations theory from David Baldwin than I ever had in graduate school, and Vincent Starzinger taught me how to write pithy letters of recommendation that more than one law school dean has called the best they have read. The Government Department, however, was a dysfunctional snake pit. The place was so conflicted with personal schisms that it made Chicago seem like nirvana. Those people really despised each other. The atmosphere in the halls was like Dodge City in the movies. The department was known as the “revolving door of the East.” Although I was hired for one year to replace a faculty member in a mental institution, I stayed three.                 Herman Pritchett had retired from Chicago and was double dipping at Santa Barbara. He planned to bring me to California. However, there were riots over the Vietnam War in Santa Barbara in 1972.  In fact I stayed in the very room where the caretaker of the faculty club was killed. As a result, admissions to UCSB fell by 836 students and Governor Ronald Reagan cut 33 potential faculty positions, including mine. That is how I ended up in Toronto.             A recent article in the New Yorker by Louis Menand discusses the differences in the quality of students at public and private universities. If I have a shortcoming as a teacher, it is that I can’t stand teaching students who are not serious about learning. I prefer to make a difference for good students like Serge Vucetic who now teaches at Ottawa, the way Wayne Merrick, Lloyd and Susanne Rudolph, Hans Morgenthau, Herman Pritchett, McKim Marriott and Barney Cohn made a difference for me. Bad grammar makes me cringe—possibly because it reminds of how my greenhorn father talked; possibly because I had an eighth grade teacher who would smack you in the mouth if you misspoke. That may be why I have been married to a Phi Beta Kappa English major for 46 years. I have never had to correct Janet’s grammar.             As you can see, I have had an interesting life and career, but nothing has been more interesting than watching my wonderful children Derek, who is an architect in Boston, and Kailan, who joined the family business and teaches musicology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, grow into productive and caring adults.  When she calls me to complain about her unmotivated students, I tell her, “You were warned, nobody warned me.”    

Previous post:

Next post: