Friday, June 11, 2010

Nerds Behaving Badly: Academic Freedom -- You're Doing It Wrong

"Academic" research for political propaganda. Great blurb here:
Academic freedom carries with it rights as well as responsibilities. The concept derives from the belief that academics, because of specialized training in their subject matter, have earned the right to teach their areas of expertise and to follow their research questions as the evidence dictates---free from political pressure from the government. Indeed, only through a guarantee of such freedom can academics engage in a search for truth.

A corresponding responsibility, of course, is that academics will actually seek to pursue the truth. If professors' research methods imitate the likes of James Carville or Karl Rove, then what purpose exists to safeguard the academy from the government? Indeed, at public universities, if the professoriate functions as partisan hacks, selectively plucking items to advance a political agenda, what's to stop legislative demands that the faculty mirror the partisan breakdown of the state, to ensure proportionate representation to all political viewpoints?

A newly announced project called "Crying Wolf," organized out of the Center on Policy Initiatives, seems blithely unconcerned with any requirements associated with academic freedom. . . . project coordinators Peter Dreier (a distinguished professor of politics at Occidental College), Nelson Lichtenstein (a historian of 20th century U.S. history at UC Santa Barbara who directs the university's Center for the Study of Work, Labor and Democracy), and Donald Cohen, CPI executive director, are recruiting professors and graduate students (in "history, sociology, economics, political science, planning, public health, and public policy") to perform "paid academic research" that can "serve in the battle with conservative ideas."

The initiative is open about its biases: it intends to "construct a counter narrative" against what it describes as conservative opinions about taxation and regulation policy.
You've got to be kidding me ... yet I'm somehow not surprised. More here and here. So what shall we call this? Nerd-Gate? Research-Gate? Anyway, to the coterie of academics in this case who have done this thing: Please leave the educational field. You're making my field look stupid! And you're smearing everyone in it, even (and especially) those who want no part of you.

Do I have to bang on again about the utter peril of mixing academic research with advocacy and activism? (OK, I hardly need to say this, but ... By "advocacy" and "activism," I mean both Left and Right.)

UPDATE: More here and here from Inside Higher Ed. Some of the comments by academics on the topic are very interesting in all sorts of ways. Some make me despair. Some give me hope that reasonable people still live on campus. I give you three different voices:
Nerd 1:
As a Liberal academic myself, I don't find this particular project all that big a deal; however, it is weak because it is not a truly well-rounded project. It does need Conservative viewpoints. Just like in the classroom, we shouldn't as educators take sides, that is not our place. Teach both, allow your students to struggle with it and figure it out on their own. This is another waste of time that only serves to widen the intellectual gap between liberals and conservatives.

Nerd 2:
This is a public relations disaster waiting to happen. When will academia realize how different the reaction of the public will be to their own.

Nerd 3:
The thing that leaves me shaking my head as an academic (moderate, centrist by politics, no party affiliation) is that the academics organizing this believe, REALLY believe, that anyone in the country really cares what they think. To be completely honest, few people in the nice midwestern city I live in could care a hoot what some associate professor at public university in another state had to say about anything. Seriously--this will only make them look stupider, particularly when they write about things that are increasingly divorced from reality, like the need for greater social spending (in a massive debt environment) or that some political party is 'evil' for opposing education spending increases (in a massive debt environment). These academics should quite frankly ditch the partisan stuff and produce something meaningful that will stand for the ages and actually be of use to humanity.

No comments: