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Meet John Agresto, the corrupt neocon labeled a “mediocrity” by 16 academic organizations

The slime just keeps spewing from the blubbery lips of my former employer, John Agresto, Provost of the American University of Iraq-Suleimaniya (AUI-S). As those who’ve read my last eXiled article will recall, Agresto hired me as an associate professor of English at AUI-S in 2009; I taught there—damn well, by the way—in the 2009-2010 academic year, and was signed to a new, two-year contract in May 2010. But over the summer, an enemy on the faculty fed Agresto copies of an antiwar article I’d written way back in 2005, and so naturally Agresto fired me for it. In July 2010.

Agresto seems to have been outraged, that I would dare to object to being fired in midsummer via email, and responded with a surprisingly lame attempt at slander, called “John Dolan: Academic Fraud.”

Like the bomb under Ace Rothstein’s caddy, Agresto’s article is “strictly amateur night.” For one thing, he never even gets around to accusing me of anything that could be called “academic fraud.” Academic fraud means faking one or more of a short set of credentials: degrees, recommendations, publications, teaching experience, student evaluations. And my creds in all these areas are solid, to say the least.

That’s not boasting–if I had it to do over again I’d never go to grad school at all. Those creds seem now like the souvenirs of a wasted youth. But God knows they’re real.

I have to hand it to the old sleaze, though: even though he never even attempts to prove actual fraud, a title like “John Dolan: Academic Fraud” is probably enough to scare away any prospective employer. American academics are, above all else, cautious, clerky folk. If they google my name and come across that title, you may be sure that my application will be carefully de-stapled and placed in the recycling bin without further inquiry.

What Agresto does in lieu of proving that I’m an academic fraud is to quote John Dolan to prove what a pig John Dolan is. It’s an interesting approach, and could be very promising as a way of whittling down the canon of recent writers, since self-abuse is such a major genre in the literature of the past century or so starting from Dostoevsky to Kafka to J.G. Ballard. And when my own modest contributions to the libeling of myself are exhausted, Agresto clearly had his minions search the web for more slander. And what he found is truly hilarious: he actually went to the Amazon site of my novel Pleasant Hell, clicked on the one-star reviews, and quotes them solemnly as proof of my moral turpitude! So, thanks to those stern moralists who comment on Amazon, we learn that this monster, John Dolan, is “pathetic,” “morally bankrupt,” a “misanthropic narcissist,” “twisted,” and “self-hating”.

Well, as Brendan Behan used to say, “The compliments pass when the Quality meet.” But I have to say, speaking as a longtime fan of vicious personal abuse, it’s just plain lame to call me all that when the point of Pleasant Hell in the first place was to call myself all that stuff. Jeez! That’s what I was trying to do in that book, Agresto, as you’d know if you could read. And by the way: if you really believe that those who vilify themselves in prose are bad people, while those who praise themselves are morally good—well,

(a) You’re exactly the credulous fool I took you for (and I did take you, too!);
(b) I hope you never try to teach 20th-c. Literature, because it’s gonna be a short reading list;
(c) This may be why you were able to throw away your one and only life groveling at the feet of whited sepulchers like Bill “I’ll give you three to two nobody ever finds out about my gambling losses” Bennett.

Poor old Agresto. He means ill, but he just doesn’t have the training. He needs a tutorial in how to use the web to slam somebody. So listen up, Agresto: here’s how you do it. I’m a teacher, so I’ll do the James Edward Olmos thing and teach Agresto how to write invective. I’ll just pick a name at random—John Agresto. Sounds pretty horrible already, don’t it?

Well, we all know where to start with Viet Nam-age super-patriot Republicans like Agresto: Where were they when America needed them at Khe Sanh? It’s a rhetorical question, of course; you know, I know, my neighbor’s dog knows, everybody in the country knows that none of these worthless warmongering hypocrites ever got closer to the Viet Cong than humming “The Ballad of the Green Berets” like Bill Murray in Caddyshack.

That’s just an assumption, of course. But a real pro, a competent slanderer, always checks out his facts first. So we’d go online to see where Agresto was when the Bouncing Betty’s were going off…and—oho! What’s this? Not only did John Agresto never serve in Viet Nam, but he actually went to Canada like a goddamn hippie deserter! Agresto graduated from college in 1967, which makes him the perfect age to be killed or crippled in a stinking rice paddy for the glory of America. After losing that undergrad immunity in ’67, Agresto burrowed back into grad school and in 1971 went to Canada to wait out the war with the other draft-dodgers, teaching at U. Toronto under the, er, wing of Allan Bloom, cultural critic and serial rapist of male students he found attractive enough to, ah, mentor. As Bloom used to tell his pal Saul Bellow, “I just can’t stay away from the boys.” Agresto was one of Bloom’s boys long enough to worm his way into the Reagan administration, working as a commie-sniffer dog at the NEH for giants of American culture like Bill Bennett and Lynne Cheney.

agresto mediocre exiled online highlights

And so one sunny morning during the Reagan years, Americans picked up their newspapers and learned that “more than a dozen major scholarly organizations” described John Agresto as  “mediocre”

For his service in siphoning funds to conservative academics, Agresto was nominated as national Archivist in 1986. It should have been a cakewalk—and it was, in a sense, the same sense that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was the “cakewalk” predicted by Agresto’s neocon comrade Ken Adelman. In other words, Agresto was defeated by the Republican Guards—or rather, the Republican Party-controlled Senate, which oversaw Agresto’s confirmation to the national Archivist post. This needs to be repeated: John Agresto was spat out by his own fellow sleazes in the Republican Party in 1986, who refused to confirm Agresto after branding him “a mediocre political appointment.”

A Republican senator revealed the universal scorn colleagues had for Agresto:

Senator Durenberger (R-MN) noted that he had received a large stack of mail opposing [Agresto’s] nomination and not one letter in support, and that all of the professional associations of all of the major user groups of the National Archives have opposed Agresto while no organization has supported him.

You see, Agresto my good man? That’s the sort of quote you need to slander an enemy—not one-star Amazon ratings. This was carried all over the United States of America’s mainstream media, labeling you a “Mediocrity.” That’s the sort of thing that readers will chew on for years to come—I mean, who could ever forget the Republican Party calling a lower-down Republican a “mediocrity”? I can’t, and you probably can’t either.

Or you might choose another damning tidbit from those dark days of the Reagan Administration: the fact that sixteen historical and scholarly organizations were sufficiently horrified by Agresto’s nomination to go on record opposing it:

Sixteen organizations, including the American Historical Association, the Organization of American Historians, the Society of American Archivists, and the American Library Association have opposed the nomination. Of particular concern is Agresto’s limited administrative experience, his lack of national distinction in his field of political science, the fact that he is steeped in neither archives, records management, information technology, nor historical research, and finally that his nomination appears to be based primarily on his relationship with the Administration.

Or you could choose this quote, in which a colleague calls Agresto a rightwing thug with no respect for law, the very “antithesis” of a proper academic executive:

Professor Mary Berry, a former vice-president of the AHA, said Agresto “has demonstrated a disregard for the law in order to accommodate his personally held views.” She concluded that he “is the antithesis of the type of non-partisan professional leader of national stature whom Congress intended to head this independent agency and lead it into the twenty-first century.”

There now, Agresto my lad, that’s how you use the web to slam somebody. It’s called “research” and it’s really not that hard to do. But I’m just scratching the mediocre surface here: You’re lucky I don’t hold grudges or I might use those materials to do a proper slam on you, instead of just trying to help you out for future reference. (“Figure of speech: Praeteritio,” as Flann O’Brian would say.)

One other bit of free advice, Agresto: learn to use the net, that “system of tubes” your recently-be-mountained comrade, Ted Stevens, so memorably described it. If there’s one thing your whole sad career reveals, Agresto, it’s the fact that you either can’t or won’t go online to do the most basic research.

Agresto’s total lack of web savvy shows up not just in his belated discovery that I’ve written a lot of loud, snotty articles, but in the funniest, most revealing executive decision of his career: the hiring and firing of AUI-S’s first Chancellor, Owen “Ball-Grabber” Cargol.

A little background for readers: After I accused John Agresto of being too lazy or stupid to google me before hiring me, ol’ Agresto came up with a fine bit of kettle-logic, claiming that he did look up my work but that, “Even when we searched the web to find out more about Dolan, we refused to believe what others saw.”

What in God’s name is that supposed to mean, anyway? That he read the offending article before hiring me—but didn’t “believe” it? And then, a year later, after rehiring me, he suddenly reread it and did believe it? I heard better face-saving lies from my first-grade classmates at Oak Park Elementary.

The simple, obvious truth is that Agresto didn’t do his homework when he hired me. A year later, somebody at AUI-S showed him the antiwar article I wrote, and he fired me instantly.

The best evidence for this sorry history is Agresto’s similar behavior in the case of Der Groper, Owen Cargol. Agresto hired Cargol as Chancellor of AUI-S in 2007, despite dozens of online articles covering the noisy scandal that led to Cargol’s 2001 firing from his job as President of Northern Arizona University. Cargol was fired from Northern Arizona after a male colleague accused Cargol of groping him in the locker room after a workout. Rebuffed by the dude-of-his-desire, Cargol tried to explain his wandering hands away in an ill-advised email which is, nonetheless, a masterpiece of description. Note especially the brilliant use of compound adjectives—it’s worthy of Snorri Sturlson:

Cargol, while naked in a locker room, grabbed [a fellow Northern Arizona University] employee’s genitals…In a subsequent e-mail to the employee, Cargol described himself as “a rub-your-belly, grab-your-balls, give-you-a-hug, slap-your-back, pull-your-dick, squeeze-your-hand, cheek-your-face, and pat-your-thigh kind of guy.”

As you can imagine, the press took that email and ran with it, over and over and over again.

But six years later, having failed to so much as google Cargol’s name, and thus totally ignorant of Cargol’s colorful past, John Agresto chose the pull-your-dick meister as Chancellor of the American University in Iraq.

This is one of history’s greatest unforced errors. Keep in mind that AUI-S had all the money in the world and could have bought any American academic exec. They coulda had a V-8; they picked Mr. Pull-Your-Dick.

Of course, you bleeding-heart liberals out there, always trying to understand and forgive, might say, “What if Agresto was just willing to give the man a second chance? Maybe he knew all about Cargol’s ball-grabbing past! Maybe Agresto is fighting homophobia?”

Well, it’s mighty decent of you to suggest that, but it ain’t true. According to Agresto’s own testimony, he knew nothing about Cargol’s well-publicized moment of weakness—and fired Cargol as soon as he found out:

“Asked about the Cargol hire in an e-mail, Agresto distanced the university from its former chief.” ‘You should know that Dr. Cargol resigned last month and is no longer at [the university],; Agresto wrote. ‘We were unaware of any incidents or allegations when he was hired.’”

That’s pretty clear-cut: “We were unaware of any incidents or allegations when [Cargol] was hired.”

In other words, “I, John Agresto, couldn’t google my own name, and have never done due diligence on a prospective employee in my life.”

Incidentally, about the first-person plural: when reading any of Agresto’s pronouncements, it’s essential to translate “we” as “I.” Just as jocks refer to themselves in the third-person singular (“Deion Saunders is going to do what’s best for Deion Saunders”), neocons love to turn their individual decisions into first-person plural, in order to prepare, preemptively, against the fallout from yet another fuck-up… perhaps because they’ve learned to prepare to spread the inevitable blame around among imaginary co-defendants.

If Agresto had been left to his own abilities, he’d never have discovered Cargol’s history. It took a leftwing student blogger to bring it to Agresto’s attention (those damn liberals again!). A grad student named Jeremy Young, who happened to hail from Flagstaff, went online wondering what had happened to the notorious Cargol, found that Cargol had just been ordained Chancellor of AUI-S, and posted his surprise on his blog:

“Mention the name Owen Cargol to a resident of Flagstaff, Arizona — the sleepy mountain town where I grew up — and you will be met with a mixture of anger and sadness…Tell a Flagstaff resident that Cargol is now the chancellor of a major university in the Middle East, and he or she will probably respond with disbelief. It has been more than seven years since Cargol nearly destroyed the university that is the crown jewel of this city, but the people here have long memories.”

Young, who says he had a morbid curiosity about where Cargol had ended up, learned of Cargol’s new position after conducting a simple Internet search.

“I was like, I wonder where Owen Cargol has gone to? And I (said) ‘oh my God, he’s in The New York Times,’” recalled Young, who stumbled across several glowing stories about American University of Iraq that didn’t mention Cargol’s past…”

And of course, those stories didn’t mention Cargol’s past because Agresto, that buffoon, had never bothered to do one of those “simple online searches” for Cargol’s name.

There, you see, Agresto? That’s how you build a case when slamming an enemy. If I were interested in crushing whatever rep John Agresto has left, that’s how I’d do it. Of course it wouldn’t work if you had the decency to admit you occasionally make mistakes, but there’s no chance of that. You’re a neocon; you don’t admit mistakes. You just lie about it, in a classic illustration of what Freud called “kettle logic”: “I never borrowed your kettle at all—and besides, it was already broken when I borrowed it!”

The neocon variant of kettle-logic is a so lame, though, that it makes Freud’s kettle-borrower look like Johnnie Cochran. It’s everywhere, in the biggest and smallest disasters:


• 2003: Neocons provoke Iraq invasion; total disaster.

• 2005 to date: Neocons scream for Iran invasion, hoping for even bigger disaster.


• 2007: Agresto fails to google Cargol, fires him when someone else does.

• 2009-10: Agresto fails to google John Dolan, fires me when someone else does.

I guess that makes me a part of history, Neocon Blunder #291280. It’s great to be so significant, but actually I’d rather have some of that sweet AUI-S vastly-overpaid money.

The rest of Agresto’s attempt to slander me is more effective, thanks to a simple technique: he quotes John Dolan repeatedly to prove what a pig John Dolan is. It’s bizarre to read your own work quoted against you, but I have to say this for myself: the only effective parts of Agresto’s article are the ones where he quotes me. I’ve said some out-there things, ain’t I? Somehow I never realized it until I saw how they could be used against me like this.

Some of it is satire, of course; citing that against me to scare AUI-S undergrads is like showing “Modest Proposal” to Irish peasants and screaming, “Look! See! Swift wants to deep-fry your young!” And some of it is something else, a Catholic imperative to rub your own nose in it. Or perhaps it’s not Catholic but American; after all, when I needed something to put at the beginning of my first book I got it not from a Catholic but from Hawthorne, the ultimate New England Protestant: “Be true, be true! Show freely to the world, if not your worst, yet some trait whereby the worst may be discerned!”

But I’m not going to try to explain why I write the way I do to a corrupt, lazy fool like Agresto. It would be hopeless, even if I didn’t know that his accusations are clumsy attempts to shift the topic off his own manifest incompetence. There’s no point explaining a relatively honorable, though quixotic, imperative like that to a groveling lackey, a man so degraded he submitted to the orders of swine like Bill Bennett.

And then that nasty little John Dolan voice (that guy really is a jerk) mutters: “Yeah, you’re a truly unemployed man.” I see by their website that AUI-S is now looking for a professor of Rhetoric, Composition and Literature—my very fields! What a coincidence, as the cholera victim said to the open sewer.

Maybe I should apply.

Buy John Dolan’s novel “Pleasant Hell” (Capricorn Press).

Read more: , , , , John Dolan, Why Does She/He/It Still Have a Job?

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Add your own

  • 1. RobertD  |  December 5th, 2010 at 6:28 pm


    Nobody does verbal destruction like the good Dr. Dolan.

  • 2. Allen  |  December 6th, 2010 at 1:34 pm

    I would much rather Dolan be here writing articles in all his various guises than working for some lame neocon’s cardboard photo op in Iraq — or otherwise propping up academia, that most moribund and rotten of institutions … damned monetary system funneling useful people into useless occupations.

  • 3. Jack  |  December 7th, 2010 at 1:56 pm

    These Amerikan Biznez Skools popping up all over the world are certainly a trap. If there is a nationaly recognised economics department in your country you should try to get admitted to it. If your math and language skills aren’t good enough to get you admitted then you should try something else. These skools are just for bosses sons or nephews to have a diploma that supposedly gives them a right to take over operations and screw it all up.

  • 4. tomkow  |  December 7th, 2010 at 5:20 pm

    You cannot possibly believe that all this reflects well on you. You really need to get your bearings.

  • 5. rick  |  December 8th, 2010 at 7:31 pm


    uhm…you really don’t believe that web site reflects well on you?

    It reminds me of this essay, which I’d included up with “the best essays of all time” along with Dr. Dolan’s (and Dolan has a possibly exponentially-better batting average with great essays than most historical figures like Dr. Johnson, Addison, Swift, maybe Mencken, Hazlitt, Russell, Orwell–almost all of his essays are independently entertaining)–and please get out of the philosophy department before it permanently wrecks your mind–I’ve worked at lawyer magazines and seen how this kind of psychological degradation works:

  • 6. John Drinkwater  |  December 9th, 2010 at 4:37 pm

    You cannot possibly believe that all this reflects well on you. You really need to get your bearings.”

    Rubbish. I see it from the opposite point of view. Sort of like Assange: he’s either a hero in your mind or a criminal. Our opinions on these issues are, I think, already formed before these issues rise to the surface.

  • 7. Nergol  |  December 11th, 2010 at 11:51 pm

    Interesting. Can you remind me, Dr. Dolan, why you are so fucking talented while I am merely a tool of Republicans, conservatives, libertarians, neocons, the Koch Brothers and anyone else’s ass I can lick. Or perhaps it’s just dullards like me don’t appreciate genius, just tasty assholes to lick for cash.

    Or could there, I wonder, be a simpler explanation for my choice to live life serving rich people who despise me?

  • 8. soij  |  December 15th, 2010 at 10:42 pm

    Wow, that Dolan-administered ass pounding Agresto just took must have really hurt…unless, of course, he’s used to that kind of thing…or maybe even likes it.

    As for the battle, I think we’ve found the web equivalent of the Washington Generals.

  • 9. Slepstov  |  December 17th, 2010 at 3:18 pm

    Somehow I’m reminded of Blake’s answer to Klopstock: If Blake thus could shite what Klopstock did write…

    (BTW John, have you ever written anything about Blake?)

    And funnily enough, the same Swift comparison came to my mind BEFORE I read your answer to the slander.

    Keep it up!

  • 10. former NEHer  |  July 7th, 2011 at 1:47 pm

    In the early 1980s, at NEH, Agresto regularly bragged that he never watched television and did not even own a television. I never understood the aversion to technology, especially as he oversaw grants made by NEH to public television. But the aversion to TV is consistent with your reports about his aversion to Goggle in later years.

    You might find this amusing: in preparing to give remarks at a public event, he told staff to introduce him by including a reference to his “latest book.” We did a little checking (pre-Goggle) and discovered it was his first and only book at that point in time. “Latest”? Well, yes, technically that was true.

  • 11. ALEKSANDR "EPIC BEARD MAN" DOOGIN  |  February 24th, 2012 at 4:35 pm



  • 12. Blank  |  August 12th, 2015 at 5:05 am

    You people contextualizing yourself as a species way too much.

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