My friend Alan Nelson recently posted a link on facebook to the following article: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/23/business/economic-view-when-the-scientist-is-also-a-philosopher.html with an appropriately snarky note that the author, N. Gregory Mankiw (the Chair of the econ department at Harvard, natch), seemed to be arguing that the only changes to the status quo permissible are those that are verifiably Perato efficient improvements. An obvious corollary is that, since every reasonably substantive and complex policy change will have winners and losers, we should never change policies at all.
Last week the Guardian had an interesting piece on academic blogging. The authors, academic bloggers themselves, conducted a small-scale study with 100 academic blogs as their sample set, in order to identify the main trends in what academic bloggers really write about. It is often said that blogging is an outreach/impact tool for academics, to reach out for the educated public at large, but this is not what came out of this study. The results were interesting: 41% of the posts were on what the authors call ‘academic cultural critique’, i.e. “comments and reflections on funding, higher education policy, office politics and academic life.” A similar number (40%) were dedicated to communication and commentary about research. The remainder 20% focused on other aspects of academic practice, such as teaching and career advice.
Now, clearly the wide majority of these posts were not written for ‘the public at large’ as their target audience. While some of the research communication (40%) could well be geared towards non-specialists, the authors of the piece seem to suggest that most of them were of a ‘researcher-to-researcher’ kind of communication. Is this worrisome? Does this mean that academic blogging is failing to deliver?
Quite a morning on Facebook. First, someone posted a link to this NDPR review, which prompted this reflection on my part:
The choice of doing a review or not on Objectivism entails a bit of a double-bind: "sunlight is the best disinfectant" (or less obnoxiously, "let's let the marketplace of ideas* do its work") vs "recognition lends legitimacy." The choice of reviewer is equally problematic: with a highly polarizing topic the choice of a friend or a foe stacks the deck and neutral observers are difficult to find. The Stanford EP article on Objectivism was discussed critically along those lines a while ago if I'm not mistaken.
Subsequent discussion led me to this Forbes column on (often privately funded) university centers for "free market oriented policy research."
My six year old Thomas is reading Star Wars books designed for six year olds. He's actually very good at it, but he does consistently misread the word "universe" as "university." Since it occurs quite a lot in these books, he's constantly telling me things like the following:
My name is Qui-Gon Jinn.
I am a Jedi.
The Jedi are a very special group of beings.
For many thousands of years, we have worked to promote peace and justice in the university.
Apparently, the Provost of Providence College, Hugh F. Lena. Lena canceled a scheduled speaking engagement by Corvino. The Chroniclereports:
[Lena] cited a statement issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2004 called “Catholics in Political Life,”
which says that “Catholic institutions should not honor those who act
in defiance of our fundamental moral principles.” He also said that
college policy “dictates that both sides of a controversial issue are to
be presented fairly and equally.”
Mr. Corvino, in a response on his Web site
to the cancellation, suggested that the 2004 document that Mr. Lena
cited was inappropriate in this situation. “I am an academic speaker,”
not a politician, he wrote. “Both the person introducing me and I would
state clearly that my views were not those of the Catholic Church;
moreover, a respondent from the Providence College theology department,
Dr. Dana Dillon, would follow immediately to explain the church’s
position on marriage. Far from suggesting ‘support’ for my views, the
college would have ample opportunity to express precisely the opposite.”
Shame on Providence College!
Corvino responded in conciliatory fashion: “Pope Francis, the Catholic Church’s new leader, has been justly
celebrated for his welcoming tone toward gays and lesbians,” he wrote.
“Notwithstanding my abrupt dis-invitation, I remain hopeful that
Providence College may soon better reflect that tone.”
Our very own Ed Kazarian writes in Inside Higher Edhere. (Congrats Ed!) He nicely summarizes our earlier discussion here at NewAPPS (here, here, here), and shows with patience how the NBER economists used very misleading rhetoric in their piece. Kazarian calls attention to why their bogus rhetoric (tenure vs non-tenure) matters. I quote his concluding remarks:
[T]here is nothing about teaching-intensive faculty that is incompatible
with their being eligible for tenure — especially if one fully intends
to build long-term relationships with them and keep them around.
Why, one is led to ask, can we not have "efficiency" and tenure? The
answer, if there is one, must have to do with other ways in which
non-tenured faculty differ from those with tenure. The authors mention
academic freedom — an important consideration.
But they otherwise ignore the degree to which non-tenured faculty lack a
secure position from which to question, criticize, or oppose the
actions of university administrators.
And here, indeed, is another sense of "efficiency" that administrators
at many institutions might well wish to cultivate, allowing them to
enjoy a pedagogically effective, but largely vulnerable, and therefore
easily controlled faculty.
We sought ways around the gridlock of current debates over the role
of religion in public life by examining the way an early 18th century
philosopher and theologian had responded to similar circumstances by
refashioning the concept of God to accommodate modern ways of thought.
The Australian Research Council’s panel of experts, acting on the advice
of independent specialist assessors, deemed it worth pursuing. On the
basis of its title alone, however, Briggs deems it “ridiculous”.
But if cattle and horses and lions had hands
or could paint with their hands and create works such as men do,
horses like horses and cattle like cattle
also would depict the gods' shapes and make their bodies
of such a sort as the form they themselves have.--Xenophanes
"Not all ethical issues are equally important. Many ethicists spend their professional lives performing in sideshows.
entertaining the sideshow, sideshow performers do not deserve the same
recognition or remuneration as those performing on our philosophical
What really matters
now is not the nuance of our approach to mitochondrial manipulation for
glycogen storage diseases, or yet another set of footnotes to footnotes
to footnotes in the debate about the naturalistic fallacy. It is: (a)
Whether or not we should be allowed to destroy our planet (and if not,
how to stop it happening); and (b) Whether or not
it is fine to allow 20,000 children in the developing world to die
daily of hunger and entirely avoidable disease (and if not, how to stop
it happening). My concern in this post is mainly with (a). A habitable planet is a
prerequisite for all the rest of our ethical cogitation. If we can’t
live here at all, it’s pointless trying to draft the small print of
philosophy departments should be restructured. The junior members
should cut their teeth on lesser subjects such as the mind-body problem.
As their experience, status and salary rises, they should increasingly
specialise in problems (a) and (b). By the time they have reached the
top of the tree, that’s all they should be doing. Anyone who wants to
spend their lives paddling around in the philosophical shallows, along
with Kant and Wittgenstein, should of course be free to do so, but
should realise that it will condemn them to a life of penury and
obscurity."--Charles Foster. [HT Ingrid Robeyns.]
Foster relies on the -- welcome to me (now that I am balding and greying) -- premise that philosophy has a very long apprenticeship. Let's grant this for the sake of argument and learn to ignore the purported boy-wonders in our midst (there might be other good benefits that flow from not focusing on them). Sadly, Foster does not suggests that ethical reflection requires considerable schooling in life--a point I have long been more partial to. Foster unabashedly endorses [A] a practical conception of philosophy; in fact, in the post he relies on [A] as a tacit premise because while at first he only speaks of "ethical issues," "ethicists," and "ethical cogitation," his conclusions involve the organization of philosophy an sich. This is why Foster's really important ethicist reminds me of Xenophanes' cattle and horses and lions. Foster's post (and the subsequent discussion) is primarily useful for posting what is often said sotte vocce,
especially in contexts where philosophers need to prove their
usefulness. Blessed are those who work in an environment -- primarily
rich private institutions -- where their philosophical lack of utility
"Failure to cite an earlier work with the same subject matter, even
an important one, is not by itself research misconduct.".. it can certainly be argued that it would have been
an improvement for Deacon to find and cite Juarrero's Dynamics in Action,
or for Juarrero and Rubino to find and cite Brian McLaughlin, or for
Lissack to find and cite Deacon. But that is a discussion about
academic style and comprehensiveness, not plagiarism or academic
The Investigation Committee has exonerated Terrence Deacon by finding
that each of the allegations of plagiarism made against him are either
without foundation in logic or evidence, or are demonstrably false. As a
result, it is the responsibility of the University to make a concerted
effort to repair the damage done to a wrongly accused member of our
faculty. In the Internet age, when unsupported and demonstrably false
charges can be leveled against an individual and distributed directly to
hundreds of people via email and many thousands more through
websites, as has been the case with respect to Deacon, repairing
reputational damage is an extraordinarily difficult challenge. For that
reason, the University has taken the unusual step of writing this
narrative and creating a website where the investigation report is
posted and its findings are available to any interested individual.
Following up on Jon's beautiful and thoughtful post, I here offer some reflections on the role of free and undirected play in academic and non-academic creativity. Jon remarked that being focused on a narrow and highly specialized research field may contribute to a sense of unhappiness and lack of satisfaction for academics. We have increasing knowledge of how creativity works, for instance, cognitively: it is a stochastic process that does not thrive only on focused research efforts (although that has its place too), but also on the serendipitous coming together of ideas from different sources. It also thrives by having an overproduction of ideas, from which we can pick and select (this is why some regard creativity as a Darwinian procsess). Some degree of variation (deviation from one's specialized activity) helps the creative process, especially if the other activities are indirectly related to one's main tasks.
I am currently reading a book on the Inklings, an informal reading group of Oxford dons between the 1930s and the late 1940s. What struck me was that CS Lewis, Tolkien and other members of this group engaged in activities that we now would find completely unproductive, even for a graduate student, postdoc or someone on sabbatical. For instance, some members of the Inklings came together in a reading group where they would translate stories from old Icelandic into English. There were those who could already read Icelandic fairly well (like Tolkien, who had taught himself) - these members of the reading group translated several pages at the time. Others were absolute beginners, like CS Lewis. When he started the reading group, he couldn't read a word of Icelandic and had to use a dictionary for every word. He translated maybe 2 or 3 paragraphs at a time, with help and coaching from his peers who were better versed. The Inklings also wrote their own verse, based on Icelandic narratives, and their own stories, which would ultimately form the basis of the Lord of the Rings.
This form of free play would be unthinkable in the current UK climate of the REF and other assessment tools, which encourage academics to put their energy into getting their work in high-quality publishers. Would Tolkien be able to write the Lord of the Rings if he were an academic today? I don't think so.
When Kempner died in 1993 at age 93, legal
disputes about his papers raged for nearly a decade between his
children, his former secretary, a local debris removal contractor and
the Holocaust museum. The children agreed to give their father's papers
to the Holocaust museum, but when officials arrived to retrieve them
from his home in 1999, they discovered that many thousands of pages were
the Holocaust museum has gone on to recover
more than 150,000 documents, including a trove held by Kempner's former
secretary, who by then had moved into the New York state home of an
academic named Herbert Richardson.
The Rosenberg diary, however, remained missing.
this year, the Holocaust museum and an agent from Homeland Security
Investigation tried to locate the missing diary pages. They tracked the
diary to Richardson, who was living near Buffalo.
Richardson declined to comment. A government official said more details will be announced at the news conference.
After burning part of my summer writing "assessment reports," it is a relief to find kindred spirits. In the middle of an epic rant about E. Gorden Gee, Paul Campos writes:
One thing that rarely gets asked in the context of all this getting and spending is: What exactly is that money supposed to be for? In theory, of course, it’s for “education.” In practice, a whole lot of it goes directly into the pockets of a metastasizing cadre of university administrators, whose jobs, as nearly as I’ve been able to determine after being on a research university’s faculty for nearly a quarter-century, consist of inventing justifications for their own existence, while harassing faculty to fill out evaluations of various kinds (in a particularly Kafkaesque twist, many of these evaluations are supposed to be of the administrators’ own job performance).
The thing I hated most about church camp when I was a kid was feeling pressured to partake in totalitarian pretend happiness. Everybody is singing an overwhelmingly hokey and in fact manifestly stupid song like "Rise and Shine" (I refuse to provide a link) while vying with themselves to exceed one another in amounts of phoney enthusiasm for Dear Leader.
As an adult I actually don't feel this way in church any more (the purpose of liturgical conservatism is to prevent the kind of thing manifest in the song to right). And I'm sure part of the reason I became an academic is because it's one of the few places where you might find yourself colleagues with an older Holden Caufield (and s/he's thriving, doing cool stuff and with an equally grumpy spouse). But my God these assessment meetings bring back unhappy memories. Too many otherwise intelligent people go to ridiculous links to demonstrate that they buy into the pretense that God Assessment could possibly intervene to improve the lot of their unit. It's submental.
Across U.S. higher education, nonclassroom costs have ballooned, administrative payrolls being a prime example. The number of employees hired by colleges and universities to manage or administer people, programs and regulations increased 50% faster than the number of instructors between 2001 and 2011, the U.S. Department of Education says. It's part of the reason that tuition, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, has risen even faster than health-care costs.
The Economist's takeaway:
That is to say, students have faced rapidly rising tuition costs not due to large increases in the cost of instruction, but mostly due to the dramatic, rapid growth of the university bureaucratic class, which offers nothing of obvious worth to the education of their universities' increasingly cash-strapped and indebted students.
According to a 2010 study on administrative bloat from the libertarian Goldwater Institute, tuition tripled from 1993 to 2007 at my own school, the University of Houston. Over that period, instructional spending per student changed not at all, while administrative spending per pupil nearly doubled. This is fairly representative of the national pattern. This seems to me to suggest that state university systems might first seek savings in leaner management before outsourcing instruction to glorified versions of YouTube.
Obviously leaner management isn't going to happen anywhere in this country any time soon, but there's some consolation that even otherwise reliable neo-liberals realize that there might be some limit to how much of our time and wealth our overlords can hoover away from us.
*At some point I'll try to describe assessment processes in all of their surreality and also try to discern the effects on all of us that these various collective dishonesties this kind of bureaucratic makework requires, but right now the whole thing has made me too stupid to say anything intelligent about anything at all.]
A while ago, we discussed how the Dean of FAS at Harvard together with the Dean of Harvard College had searched the subject lines of emails sent by resident deans in an attempt to discover which of them had leaked information about student involvement in a cheating case, and, if so, what information had been leaked. The search occurred without first informing the resident deans.
The upshot of our rather constructive discussion was that the high-ups at Harvard had over-reacted.
Yesterday, it was announced that the Dean of Harvard College, Evelynn Hammonds, is "stepping down."
Christ, it's depressing how smart one can be in one area while believing the most transparently idiotic things in others (especially when moral culpability is involved).
Read THIS COLUMN ("MOOC Professors Claim No Responsibility for How Courses Are Used") for yet more evidence concerning the correctness of John Calvin on innate depravity.
Even from a self-interested perspective it's risible. Just how short-termed can one's thinking be? If this continues much longer not enough of their own students are going to be able to get enough good jobs to keep the scam going.
One of the two most persistent misunderstandings of university life is that because we are not teaching over the summer, we "get the summer off."Almost every academic I know actually works harder over the summer than the rest of the time, but none of their extended families or non-academic friends seem to understand this.
In an effort to fight this, for the past few years on my own (now defunct) blog, I've hosted a beginning of summer post where people share what they hope to get done in the ensuing summer. Please contribute to this public awareness campaign by sharing (plus, I'm not the only one interested in what you are working on). My summer plans below the fold:
Nice discussion HERE including a cool shout out to friend-of-the-blog L.A. Paul. Most horrifying part:
What percentage of graduate students end up with tenure? (About one in four.) How much more unhappy are graduate students than other people? (About fifty-four per cent of graduate studentsreport feeling so depressed they have “a hard time functioning,” as opposed to ten per cent of the general population.)
As die-hard PEA Soupers already know, for a while now we have enjoyed a partnership with Ethics
in which, relatively soon after each issue of that journal is
published, we have a discussion of a paper from that issue kicked off by
a commissioned précis of that paper, often a commitment from the author
to respond to questions, and several commentators lined up to help
launch the discussion. Each paper that gets commented on at PEA Soup is
made publically available to all without a subscription.
We are pleased to announce that we have now started up a somewhat similar partnership with Philosophy and Public Affairs, Philosophers’ Imprint, Philosophy, Politics, and Economics, and JESP.
We are expecting a few more such partnerships to be firmed up shortly.
The result will be that there should soon be significantly more critical
discussions of first-rate work in ethics, political philosophy, and
related matters on PEA Soup. There will be much less “down time” between
First, it's great that PEA Soup is looking at ways at staying 'live' more frequently. I always enjoy the discussions. So, congratulations are in order! Second, I bet that later generations will wonder, 'what took philosophers so long to develop such partnerships?' Such partnerships are a clever and obvious move in order to develop a forum for (relatively) high quality and highly visible philosophical discussions.
Even so, I have concerns: I worry about mechanisms in which a relatively narrow group of gate-keepers (however qualified, open-minded, and well-intentioned) will decide for us what is worth our collective attention (a very scarce resource). Given that PEA SOUP Partners (PSPs) are a fantastic group of journals with very high quality 'content,' crowding out of others is quite possible. This is not an idle thought because the post speaks of (a) a 'few more such partnerships' and (b) the web facilitates winner-take-all mechanisms, after all. (Something we have benefited from at NewAPPS!) Anyway, kudos to PEA Soup for being so pro-active. But I do hope some enterprising web-blogs partner with the philosophical alternatives to PSP.
Given the justified lack of popularity of the neo-cons (and Leo Strauss' purported influence on them), I suspect many of our readers will say 'yes.' Moreover, many of the best historians of philosophy have a deservedly visceral, negative response to Straussians who substitute numerological obsessions and evidence-free arguments about hidden meanings (in which everything is reduced to will to power) for serious scholarship. Let's call what's being rejected "vulgar Straussianism."
Even so, esoteric readings of our philosophical past crop up in surprising places. For example, consider two recent books emanating at the time from Vancouver. First, in her important book, Epicureanism at the Origins of Modernity (Oxford), Catherine Wilson writes (purportedly quoting Malebranche): "that the crux of a philosopher’s doctrine is to be found in those passages where he defends an unpopular thesis; his defense of accepted theses has no informational value." (p. 148) Let's call this "Wilson's Dictum." In context Wilson is commenting on Walter Charleton's use of the dialogue format; a genre that lends itself to multiple readings and, thus, esotericism.
Note that Wilson's is not evidence-free reading; you only get to attribute an unpopular thesis to an author if s/he asserts it once and would have motive not to call repeated attention to it. Primed by Wilson's focus on Epicureanism, I noticed that Adam Smith states very clearly in his own voice: “Fortune, which governs the world” (The Theory of Moral Sentiments 2.3.1,
[p. 104 in the Glasgow edition]) in a chapter which according to its (perhaps now ironic) title describes the "final cause" of our psychological constitution. Of course, a sentence fragment does not settle the matter against a Providentialist interpretation of Smith, but if one takes Wilson's dictum seriously, merely piling on the Providentialist and Deist passages fails to undermine the credibility of the (shall we say) more neo-Epicurean reading of Smith, which was, by the way, Reid's (see this nice paper by David Fate Norton J.C. Stewart-Robertson, although Reid's argument is different).
Well look, I couldn’t disagree more violently with BDS as they call it, Boycott Divestment and Sanctions. As you know I’m a big supporter of Israel, as big a one as you can find in the city, but I could also not agree more strongly with an academic department’s right to sponsor a forum on any topic that they choose. I mean, if you want to go to a university where the government decides what kind of subjects are fit for discussion, I suggest you apply to a school in North Korea.
The last thing that we need is for members of our City Council or State Legislature to be micromanaging the kinds of programs that our public universities run, and base funding decisions on the political views of professors. I can’t think of anything that would be more destructive to a university and its students.
You know, the freedom to discuss ideas, including ideas that people find repugnant, lies really at the heart of the university system, and take that away and higher education in this country would certainly die.
This is a city that loves and protects freedom—academic freedom, religious religious freedom, sexual freedom, cultural freedom, political freedom. We are the freest city in the world, and that’s why we’re the greatest city in the world.
Disturbing stories are ongoing in Turkey and in Flanders: university administrators are eager to accede to demands of the government (Turkey) or powerful politicians (Flanders) to silence and intimidate student and faculty protests against government policies/proposals. The more serious one is developing in Turkey, where a student protest turned violent. The linked report claims that ODTU/METU (confusingly, there are two acronyms for same university) students threw Molotov cocktails. However, my Turkish sources claim there is no evidence of that, and have linked to this (Turkish) video, which suggests unprovoked police attacks, although I cannot guarantee, of course, there was no editing. (Maybe some of the police were trained in California?) I should say that the Rector of ODTÜ/METU, one of the most prestigious universities in Turkey, is showing backbone and is meeting with the government today. There is petition to show support here.
What makes these stories interesting is that (a) the political establishments of both Turkey and Flanders are eager to invest in higher education as a means toward prosperous futures; (b) in both places important democratically elected politicians lack warmth toward an open, critical society (and a university professoriat that they see aligned with a discarded establishment); (c) in both places important parts of the higher education establishment much prefer being at the technocratic core of industry-government investment rather than presiding the kind of creative fertility and tension that is the breeding ground for creative industries (and what passes for independent thought) .
Erik Loomis blogs at Lawyers, Guns, and Money. He wrote in the wake of the Newtown Massacre, "I was heartbroken in the first 20 mass murders. Now I want Wayne LaPierre’s head on a stick." For this, he has been targeted by the bottom-feeders and outrage artists of the right-wing.
We must stand by Loomis’s side and speak up and out on his behalf, for he has become the target of a witch hunt, and as an untenured professor at the University of Rhode Island, he is vulnerable. Loomis needs our solidarity and support, and we must give it to him.
Below the fold, my letter to the President of the University of Rhode Island, who issued the following craven and misleading statement:
The University of Rhode Island does not condone acts or threats of violence. These remarks do not reflect the views of the institution and Erik Loomis does not speak on behalf of the University. The University is committed to fostering a safe, inclusive and equitable culture that aspires to promote positive change.
I urge you to write to President David Dooley at [email protected], and to sign onto the Crooked Timber statement.
The research in question is a new type of maternal deprivation research designed
to study anxiety by creating adverse early rearing conditions and then exposing
the maternally deprived young monkeys to a snake and other frightening stimuli. The monkeys will be killed after the
experiment is over and their brains will be studied. I believe this experiment
is unethical and I also think it violates the spirit, if not the promulgated
regulations, of the Animal Welfare Act which explicitly requires that the
psychological well-being of primates be promoted (not intentionally destroyed).--Lori Gruen
As an outsider, it's pretty depressing how "new Labor's" cult of rule by "management experts" (as if one could be an expert without actually having any particular expertise) just added another layer of awfulness to the Thatcher educational depredations. Some of my British friends had minor hopes that the new conservative government would actually do their job and stand up for what was valuable in Western culture, but as far as higher edumacation, all they seem to be good at is following Napoleon Bonaparte's demand that the bureaucracy must expand to meet the needs of the expanding bureaucracy.
Anyhow, Critchley brilliantly describes how this played out while he was in the U.K. and also how it relates to his experience in New York. He also describes what he's done with the New York Times and some of his more recent philosophical work. It's a great interview. Joe Bob says check it out.
Commenter Neil calls our attention to this Chronicle piece from 26 July on the Regnerus affair (previously treated here and here at New APPS).
The peer-review process failed to identify significant, disqualifying problems with a controversial and widely publicized study that seemed to raise doubts about the parenting abilities of gay couples, according to an internal audit scheduled to appear in the November issue of the journal, Social Science Research, that published the study.
The highly critical audit, a draft of which was provided to The Chronicle by the journal’s editor, also cites conflicts of interest among the reviewers, and states that “scholars who should have known better failed to recuse themselves from the review process.”