Category Archive 'Academia'
17 Jul 2022
Any faculty member who fails to award special status to representatives of “Diversity” will probably, like Nicholas Christakis, then Master of Yale’s Silliman College, wind up being hounded out of his job.
Robert Weissberg describes how good intentions and compassion, over time, destroyed academic standards and created an entitled class of tyrants.
[W]hat changed in my department of political science was obvious: more bureaucratic paperwork, additional departmental offerings on race and ethnicity, a neglecting of traditional political science subjects, and untold meetings that accomplished nothing. Less obvious was the extra time spent by faculty personally tutoring struggling minority students and recruiting affirmative-action candidates at professional meetings. It’s hard to estimate all the hours taken away from our teaching and research responsibilities as a result.
Almost nobody challenged the underlying logic of this make-the-numbers pathway. Everyone just knew that this was the route to equality and justice.
Nor was there any need for bureaucratic heavy-handedness or incentives. Everything was voluntary, and since I taught American politics, a favorite among black students and an obvious place to attract more minority faculty, I was at the forefront of the campaign. That our efforts might be injurious to racial progress or create cures worse than the disease was unthinkable. Even today, it’s difficult to accept that our good intentions helped undermine the university’s commitment to intellectual excellence. Nevertheless, our fingerprints are all over the crime scene.
Subverting intellectual standards was most pervasive in the classroom, where many minority students were ill-prepared for rigorous college courses. Undeserved grades (“B-minuses” vs. “C-minuses”) were commonplace, as were overlooked breaches of the academic code.
One of my students, a troubled junior-college transfer, submitted a dreadful paper, an unambiguous “F,” but he also accidentally included the $25 invoice from an Internet site (“My Professor Sucks”). I did not fail him or begin proceedings to have him expelled. Instead, I consulted our department’s undergraduate advisor on how he could drop the course despite the official drop-date having passed. This was arranged, and he continued his college career.
Even blatant plagiarism was ignored, since it was apparent that culprits would never be prosecuted, and even filing charges put one’s career at risk.
In a particularly bizarre case, a colleague received a clearly plagiarized paper and, rather than bring expulsion proceedings, offered to forget the matter if the student would submit an original one. The student again plagiarized, and my colleague took the case to the dean of students. He explained that this was the sixth such episode involving the student, but the incidents were ignored since the dean believed that confronting the student might cause him to drop out.
Classroom discussions with black students were conducted gingerly. When one of my black students explained that some blacks resided in crime-ridden slums because such awful locations were given to them by whites, I said nothing. I learned to pre-emptively avoid any taboo topic that might risk accusations of racism. When receiving papers that made inaccurate assertions on race-related issues, I refused to pick a fight. In my comments, I might sheepishly offer, “Not sure,” but then I’d assign a respectable (though unearned) grade.
A walking-on-eggshells policy applied equally to graduate students, though here the stakes were more consequential, since Ph.D. recipients might one day teach thousands of students. Again, progress toward the degree was paramount, and foolish ideas were seldom challenged. Simultaneously, standards were lowered for passing comprehensive exams and for dissertation proposals.
In some instances, faculty virtually wrote dissertations for struggling students. These students were also discouraged from enrolling in demanding courses, such as Statistics, that might prove essential for future research. To repeat, it seemed axiomatic that the advanced degree itself was the goal, not providing the best possible education.
Lowered intellectual standards applied equally to faculty recruitment and were widely accepted as the price of progress. An almost religious faith held that intellectual deficiencies would somehow be only temporary. I recall one recruitment-committee meeting at which faculty took turns gleefully reading aloud embarrassing mistakes from a black candidate’s dissertation, including multiple misspellings of the names of well-known political figures. No matter.
Drinking the Kool-Aid hardly stopped at initial recruitment. Minority candidates were hired and continued past multiple reviews, including tenure and promotion to full professor. As was the case with students, serious discussions involving hot-button issues were off limits. We were there to help make the numbers, and we gladly acquiesced.
In a few decades, what began as improvised, temporary measures to move the needle on racial progress hardened into the official academic culture.
14 Sep 2020
Luciana Parisi is Professor in Media Philosophy at the Program in Literature and the Computational Media Art and Culture at Duke University.
On Friday, September 18, 2020 – 9:30am to 11:00am, she will be delivering a talk on “Recursive Colonialism and Speculative Computation.”
Recursivity is a generic dispositif of power at the core of the colonial logic of capital. It defines the entanglement of algorithmic functions in computational prediction with the rules of knowing. Recursive algorithms give us the droste effect of a spiral of the same. Today, recursivity returns in the automated condition of planetary incarceration through hyperdisciplinary confinement and necropolitical killing enmeshed with algorithmic solutions of self-governance packed in our mobile phones. However, since speculative computation has indeterminacy as input, it has the capacity to trans-originate collective, cosmotechnical, abolitionist conditions of knowing. The COVID-19 contingency summons us to refuse the recursive violence defining immunity and to embrace the mutations of collective desire demanding the total abolition of the exceptional auto-immunity of the Universal Man.
The sender commented: “If one of my students wrote this I would simply assume: ‘Drugs’.”
20 Aug 2020
Suzanne Conklin Akbari is a Professor in the English Department of the University of Toronto.
Old fogeys like myself characteristically think the role of the university professor is to cultivate the mind and character of the young by exposing them to the best intellectual and artistic productions of the civilization they live in and whose traditions they are by birth inheritors.
Silly me. Today’s professoriate has found a more interesting and important mission, described in Lithhub by Suzanne Conklin Akbari: the mission of leading and instructing the young in the processes of apology and repentance for Western Civilization’s accomplishments and success, particularly for eclipsing the Stone Age cultures of Amerindian tribes, who apparently rather than penning essays speaking as individuals, just naturally collectively participate in grooving over “that which is not seen, not known, what is cherished and hidden.”
Instead of cherishing and cultivating our understanding and appreciation of the Western canon, our proper role apparently is to “decolonize” it as a form of reparations for settling North America in the first place, creating Canada and the United States, building cities and universities and modern technological civilization, thus permitting millions to live in material abundance, peace, and in the possession and enjoyment of vastly more sophisticated forms of thought and art. Shame on us for supplanting and absorbing the descendants of the original thousands of representatives of diverse hunter/gatherer tribes who once freely wandered the undeveloped wilderness in a state of constant rivalry and war, generally living lives solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. Assimilation, you see, was just another of our crimes.
We ought presumably to kick those Injuns out of our wicked Western universities, take away their centrally-heated houses, televisions, and pick-up trucks, issue each of them a breech-cloth, a pair of moccasins, and a bow-and-arrow, give then back their tomahawks, “self government and autonomy,” get back on the boats and go home to Europe leaving the noble red man living in his teepee or his wikiup. He understands, which we don’t, that everything’s like a basket….
This, this is contemporary Academic thought!
[W]hat would it mean to decolonize the canon, specifically, the canon of essay writing puts Montaigne at its foundations and inscribes Woolf at the summit? Washuta and Warburton [in Shapes of Native Non-Fiction, 2019, in which “Editors Elissa Washuta and Theresa Warburton ground this anthology of essays by Native writers in the formal art of basket weaving. Using weaving techniques such as coiling and plaiting as organizing themes, the editors have curated an exciting collection of imaginative, world-making lyric essays by twenty-seven contemporary Native writers from tribal nations across Turtle Island into a well-crafted basket.”] lay out a path for â€œthe process of decolonizationâ€ through their account of the â€œexquisite vessel.â€ Yet we must also remember that decolonization, as Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang have influentially argued, is not a metaphor; it is about land and water, real things in the real world. It is about reparations, self-government, and autonomy. Weâ€”by which I mean settler people, those who are not native to these territoriesâ€”must be ready to give up things in order to embrace decolonization.
What would this require of us, in terms of the literary canon? Can we keep Montaigne and Woolf, even as we embrace the â€œexquisite vesselâ€? When we incorporate Indigenous writers into Eurocentric canons, it is not enough simply to add in a few writers. Instead, we need to think about how the inclusion of Indigenous writersâ€”including their ways of knowing, their philosophies, and their ways of thinking about literary formâ€”disrupts the very idea of â€œcanon,â€ of â€œessay,â€ of â€œliterature.â€ This necessary question is one that we have begun to ask through The Spouter-Inn literature podcast: what does it mean to have a canon? What is included, and what is excluded? What works are juxtaposed? Who speaks, and when? Who listens? What would it mean to be an active listener, a witness, instead of a passive one? What can books made us doâ€”not just alone, but together?
31 Jul 2020
Mike Adams, 1964-2020.
Mark Steyn write a tribute to Mike Adams, an apparent recent suicide after being driven from his teaching job at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington by the Woke leftist mob.
At the time of his death Mike Adams was a professor at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington – although not a very popular one with the administration. You will generally see him described in the media as “Controversial Professor Mike Adams”, as if it’s the subject he teaches: Mike Adams, Head of the Department of Controversy. It wasn’t always so. A two-time “Faculty Member of the Year” winner at the turn of the century, Adams grew more “controversial” as the university got more “woke”. He got a book deal with Regnery (publishers of America Alone), and was quoted favorably by Rush:
What American university wants a prof who’s published by Regnery and getting raves on the Rush Limbaugh show? The Deputy Assistant Under-Deans of Diversity all frosted him out, and Adams spent seven years in a lawsuit with UNCW – which he won, but it’s still seven years of your life you’ll never get back. …
It was all scheduled to come to an end on Friday with Adams’ painfully negotiated departure and a $504,702.76 settlement. Half-a-mil sounds a lot, but it was to be paid out over five years, if the university stuck to it, and it’s not really a lot, is it, for the obliteration of any trace of your presence at the school to which you devoted your entire teaching career.
On Thursday a neighbor called 911 because Mike Adams’ car hadn’t been moved for several days and there was no answer on the telephone. Inside police found the body of a 55-year-old man with, in cop lingo, a “gsw” – gunshot wound. …
He “seemed like” a happy warrior, but who knows? It’s a miserable, unrelenting, stressful life, as the friends fall away and the colleagues, who were socially distant years before Covid, turn openly hostile. There are teachers who agree with Mike Adams at UNCW and other universities – not a lot, but some – and there are others who don’t agree but retain a certain queasiness about the tightening bounds of acceptable opinion …and they all keep their heads down. So the burthen borne by a man with his head up, such as Adams, is a lonely one, and it can drag you down and the compensations (an invitation to discuss your latest TownHall column on the radio or cable news) are very fleeting.
The American academy is bonkers and has reared monsters. …
Pushing back can be initially exhilarating – and then just awfully wearing and soul-crushing: “I’m with you one hundred per cent, of course. But please don’t mention I said so…” “Oh, we had a lovely time at the Smiths’. Surprised not to see you there…” It is possible, I suppose, that Mike Adams was the victim of a homicide rather than the ultimate self-cancelation: Certainly there are plenty on Twitter and Facebook who would like to kill him, or at least cheer on any chap who would. …
And yet, if the facts are as they appear, a tireless and apparently “happy warrior” – exhausted by a decade of litigation, threats, boycotts, ostracization and more – found himself sitting alone – and all he heard in the deafening silence of the “silent majority” was his own isolation and despair. A terrible end for a brave man. Rest in peace.
09 Oct 2019
Wired explains why there has recently been a huge exodus of Astrophysicists out of Academia and into Silicon Valley where they are highly paid for studying consumer preferences instead of Stellar Dynamics.
To understand whatâ€™s driving astrophysicists into consumer product startups, consider the recent explosion of machine learning. Astrophysicists, who wrangle massive amounts of data collected from high-powered telescopes that survey the sky, have long used machine learning models, which â€œtrainâ€ computers to perform tasks based on examples. Tell a computer what to recognize in one intergalactic snapshot and it can do the same for 30 million more and start to make predictions. But machine learning can also be used to make predictions about customers, and around 2012, corporations started to staff up with people who knew how to deploy it.
These days, machine learning drives everything from Stitch Fixâ€™s curated boxes of clothes to Netflixâ€™s personalized movie recommendations. How does Spotify perfectly predict the songs that will surprise and delight you in its weekly personalized playlists? That’s machine learning at work. And while machine learning now constitutes its own field of study, because scientists from fields like astrophysicists have been working with those kinds of models for years, theyâ€™re natural hires on data science teams.
â€œWe were already in Big Data before Big Data became a thing,â€ says Sudeep Das, an astrophysicist who now works at Netflix.
Das got his PhD at Princeton, where he researched cosmic microwave backgroundâ€”basically the electromagnetic radiation left over from the Big Bang. Afterward, he spent a few years studying data from the Atacama Cosmology Telescope in Chile. The telescope collects nearly a terabyte of data from the cosmos every night, and from this massive data set, Das detected an elusive astrophysical signal. It was a rare payoff after years of painstaking work. The discovery earned him the attention of the University of Michigan, which offered him an assistant professorship.
But Das turned it down and moved to Silicon Valley insteadâ€”first to work as a data scientist at Beats Music, then at OpenTable, and now at Netflix.
The decision to leave academia came down to a few factors: The pay was certainly better, and the jobs were more plentiful. â€œThereâ€™s a bottleneck of getting into tenure-track positions,â€ he says. And being in the Bay Area meant he and his wifeâ€”who is also an astrophysicistâ€”would never have to worry about both finding jobs. But the real surprise, he says, was that the work in tech companies was actually interesting. At Beats, he says, he found â€œlike-minded people who were working on problems that didnâ€™t take away the intellectual high.â€ Same math, different application.
Das says heâ€™s noticed that more and more physicists are trading the difficult slog of academiaâ€”which can involve a decade of financially dicey postdoctoral workâ€”to take cushy jobs in tech. â€œOnly two people from my PhD batch at Princeton are not working in industry,â€ he says. â€œYou have to be a die-hard academic to stay.â€
This big bang extends across the industry. â€œAstrophysics is our number one domain,â€ says Eric Colson, Stitch Fixâ€™s chief algorithms officer emeritus. â€œMost folks have a PhD in a quantitative field, but if we did a histogram, I think astrophysics is number one. They teach math really wellâ€”a lot of physicists are better mathematicians than mathematicians. They also teach coding well. Theyâ€™re better computer scientists than most computer scientists.â€ …
In academia, astrophysicists can spend years stuck on a singular problem. And many of the exciting problems have already been solved, says Amber Roberts, a former astrophysicist who now helps academics transition to industry at Insight Data Science. â€œWe discovered the size of the universe. We measured the speed of light. We found pole stars. We found black holes,â€ she says. â€œA lot of those big things, like understanding how space-time works or how gravity distorts, are what get people interested in the study of space and cosmology. But what youâ€™re really doing is contributing to a very small subfield where youâ€™ll work about three years on a paper that about 10 people in the world are going to read. Youâ€™re not going to be Carl Sagan.â€
03 Apr 2019
Nobody seriously intelligent, nobody who really understands Science, nobody with common sense or an independent mind swallows the Global Warming Catastrophist nonsense.
Myles Weber, at Quillette, explains that the widely-accepted “greenhouse effect” does not work as Science at all. It’s really just an inaccurate metaphor that appeals to the popular imagination.
As a university professor, I am best positioned to report on the widespread incompetence and malfeasance found specifically in academe. A work colleague once corrected me on a matter concerning the greenhouse effect. With no scientific training, he had recently moderated a panel discussion on climate change in an attempt to convince students to support our university presidentâ€™s Green Initiative, which as far as I could tell reduced carbon dioxide emissions not at all but placed undue strain on the universityâ€™s finances, which in turn put upward pressure on tuition costs. I mentioned to my colleague in passing that, from an educational standpoint, the term greenhouse gas was an unfortunate misnomer since the architectural design of an actual greenhouse is not closely related to the physical properties of tropospheric greenhouse gases.
This has been my go-to analogy to explain how some people have confused the two phenomena: The sentence â€œLike Placido Domingo, Bob Dylan sings for a livingâ€ does not convey the same meaning as â€œBob Dylan sings like Placido Domingo for a living.â€ Itâ€™s true that carbon dioxide, methane, ozone, and other gases drive the Earthâ€™s average temperature higher than it otherwise would be, just as the design of a greenhouse makes the interior of that structure warmer than the surrounding environment. But the processes by which the warming occurs in these two instances are quite distinct, in the same sense that a troubadourâ€™s vocals in no way resemble an operatic tenorâ€™s. The confusion resulting from the term greenhouse gas, I suggested to my colleague, made it that much harder to explain the general workings of our climate to students, who might end up believing greenhouse gases form a solid barrier to convection or, conversely, that a greenhouse reradiates invisible light energy as heat energy at select frequencies.
My colleague assured me I was misinformed. As a bonus, he did so in front of our department chairwoman just as I was about to go up for tenure. Greenhouses, he explained, are in fact warmed primarily by extra concentrations of carbon dioxide imbedded in the glass plates of the building. Well, I conceded, a small, perhaps even measurable amount of warming might occur in a greenhouse as a result of elevated CO2 levels in the glass panels; indeed, a greenhouseâ€™s temperature also rises when a human being steps inside and exhales warm air. But these are insignificant considerations that have nothing to do with the structureâ€™s basic design. During the day a greenhouse will be warmer than the surrounding environment regardless of whether a human enters it and breathes or whether the clear panels contain extra CO2 or are carbon free.
My colleagueâ€”our departmentâ€™s self-appointed expert on climate mattersâ€”was undeterred. â€œItâ€™s just like my front porch at home,â€ he insisted. â€œIn the afternoon the porch is much warmer than the rest of the house during the summerâ€”you really bake in thereâ€”because of the carbon dioxide in the windows.â€
I wasnâ€™t sure how to respond politely to this new assertion. Glass is an insignificant reservoir of CO2â€”that much was still true. Moreover, as the sun reaches its zenith on a summer day, perpendicular windows serve as fairly ineffectual portals through which visible light energy may pass. Under these conditions an enclosed porch becomes warmer than the rest of the house due largely to a third process, called conduction, owing to the porchâ€™s uninsulated roof and walls, which receive the brunt of the sunâ€™s rays and pass heat into the building. (BjÃ¶rk sings nothing like Bob Dylan or Placido Domingo, in other words.) If youâ€™ve ever lived in an attic apartment in the summer, even if you kept the window shades drawn, you have felt the power of conduction.
I thought I saw signs of sympathy on our chairwomanâ€™s face as she looked on, and a sense of relief passed over me, but it turned out her sympathy was not on my behalf but, rather, my colleagueâ€™s. After I reaffirmed that carbon dioxide was an incidental consideration in these cases, the chairwoman asked: â€œWell, how does a greenhouse work then?â€
I first inquired whether she was serious, for I didnâ€™t want to believe that two college professors in succession both lacked a basic understanding of the simple workings of a greenhouse, but that was the reality. I therefore explained, â€œVisible light energy passes through the transparent panels and gets converted into heat energy when it strikes the plants, tables, and floor. This warms the surrounding air, which rises, but the convection process is impeded by the solid glass panels, trapping the heated air inside.â€
My department chairwoman glanced at our colleague, then at me. â€œOh,â€ she said. Then she turned and walked away.
16 Jul 2017
Two feminist geographers are encouraging their colleagues to be more mindful about citing the research of white males because doing so contributes to â€œthe reproduction of white heteromasculinity of geographical thought and scholarship.â€
Writing in â€œGender, Place & Culture: A Journal of Feminist Geography,â€ Carrie Mott and Daniel Cockayne argue that considering an authorâ€™s gender, race or sexuality prior to citation can be an effective â€œfeminist and anti-racist technology of resistance that demonstrates engagement with those authors and voices we want to carry forward.â€
The authors point out that whether an academicâ€™s research is cited by his peers has significant implications for promotion, tenure and influence. Therefore, to cite only white men â€œdoes a disservice to researchers and writers who are othered by white heteromasculinism.â€
The authors define â€œwhite heteromasculinismâ€ as â€œan intersectional system of oppression describing on-going processes that bolster the status of those who are white, male, able-bodied, economically privileged, heterosexual, and cisgendered.â€
Academics should practice â€œconscientious engagementâ€ when citing research, the feminists assert, â€œas a way to self-consciously draw attention to those whose work is being reproduced.â€
20 May 2017
Twenty-one years ago, Alan Sokal’s “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravityâ€œ proved that you could get a paper employing total gibberish to contend that gravity is a social construct published in a prominent social science journal.
A couple of philosophers using non-de-plumes just performed the same experiment successfully again, demonstrating that you need only cloak the most ridiculous nonsense with a bunch of post-structuralist jargon and your paper will be accepted by a prominent British social sciences journal.
Here are some sample passages from this peer-reviewed paper:
Still, even as a social construct, the conceptual penis is hopelessly dominated by recalcitrant social constructions that favor hypermasculine interpretations of the penis as a notion unjustly associated with high male value (Schwalbe & Wolkomir, 2001). Many cisgendered hypermasculine males, for instance, seem to identify those aspects of their masculinity upon which they most obviously depend with the notion that they carry their penis as a symbol of male power, domination, control, capability, desirability, and aggression (The National Coalition for Men â€œcompile[d] a list of synonyms for the word penis [sic],â€ these include the terms â€œbeaver basher,â€ â€œcranny axe,â€ â€œcustard launcher,â€ â€œdagger,â€ â€œheat-seeking moisture missile,â€ â€œmayo shooting hotdog gun,â€ â€œpork sword,â€ and â€œyogurt shotgunâ€ ). Based upon an appreciable corpus of feminist literature on the penis, this troubling identification results in an effective isomorphism linking the conceptual penis with toxic hypermasculinity. …
Nowhere more does this problematic construction compare than with the â€œhegemonic masculinity and cultural constructionâ€ presented in the â€œessence of the hard-onâ€ (Potts, 2000). Potts (2000) illustrates that the functioning (or lack thereof) of the [conceptual] penis â€œdemonstrates the inscription on individual male bodies of a coital imperative: the surface of the male body interfuses with culture to produce the â€˜fictionâ€™ of a dysfunctional nonpenetrative male (hetero)sexuality.â€ This is clear power-dynamical repositioning to alleviate the internal psychological struggle of weakness via hypermasculinity and an essential fear of weakness that characterizes hypermasculinity itself. We therefore further agree with Potts that â€œby relinquishing the penisâ€™s executive position in sex, male bodies might become differently inscribed, and coded for diverse pleasures beyond the phallus/penis,â€ and we insist that understanding the objective isomorphic mapping between phallus and (conceptual) penis is a necessary discursive element to changing the prevailing penile social paradigm. The constructed intersection of the anatomical penis and the performative conceptual penis defines the problematic relationship masculinity presents for male bodies and their impacts upon women in our pre-post-patriarchal societies. …
2.2. Climate change and the conceptual penis
Nowhere are the consequences of hypermasculine machismo braggadocio isomorphic identification with the conceptual penis more problematic than concerning the issue of climate change. Climate change is driven by nothing more than it is by certain damaging themes in hypermasculinity that can be best understood via the dominant rapacious approach to climate ecology identifiable with the conceptual penis. Our planet is rapidly approaching the much-warned-about 2Â°C climate change threshold, and due to patriarchal power dynamics that maintain present capitalist structures, especially with regard to the fossil fuel industry, the connection between hypermasculine dominance of scientific, political, and economic discourses and the irreparable damage to our ecosystem is made clear.
Destructive, unsustainable hegemonically male approaches to pressing environmental policy and action are the predictable results of a raping of nature by a male-dominated mindset. This mindset is best captured by recognizing the role of the conceptual penis holds over masculine psychology. When it is applied to our natural environment, especially virgin environments that can be cheaply despoiled for their material resources and left dilapidated and diminished when our patriarchal approaches to economic gain have stolen their inherent worth, the extrapolation of the rape culture inherent in the conceptual penis becomes clear. At best, climate change is genuinely an example of hyper-patriarchal society metaphorically manspreading into the global ecosystem.
08 May 2017
Andrew Kay explains that applying for an academic position and on-line dating in the 21st century dehumanize the pursuer in very similar ways.
I minimized OkCupid and returned to my cover letter. I felt afresh the silliness of the undertaking: to make an earnest bid for any job in which youâ€™re one of perhaps three hundred highly qualified applicants, in a field where twenty such jobs might come along in a given year, requires a degree of moxie bordering on self-delusion. Both the academic job market and online dating, I was coming to realize, involve their participants in economies of excess, superabundance. You enter each world laden with the knowledge that you are one agent in a vast and hyper-competitive ecosystem surging with rivals; that, having captured the curiosity of a person or institution of your desiring, youâ€™re but one of a dozen prospects they are likely entertaining alongside you. Make a false moveâ€”or simply come off as averageâ€”and risk being swept aside.
Like the OkCupid profile, the academic job letter reduces the multi-chromatic splendor of a self to a single beige that it shares with everyone else. Here are inner worldsâ€”rococo architectures fashioned over years of contemplationâ€”broken down into a short opening paragraph wherein you introduce yourself, indicating your home institution and the title of your dissertation, as well as the job you seek (MY SELF SUMMARY and WHAT Iâ€™M LOOKING FOR); two paragraphs in which you sum up your dissertation, articles and research interests (WHAT Iâ€™M DOING WITH MY LIFE and I SPEND A LOT OF TIME THINKING ABOUT); a couple of paragraphs in which you dramatize your strengths as a teacher and convey the myriad things you offer in the way of department service (Iâ€™M REALLY GOOD AT); a closing paragraph in which you say, in effect, â€œIâ€™d love an interview; if youâ€™re interested, hereâ€™s how to contact meâ€ (YOU SHOULD MESSAGE ME IF).
Somehow, within the confines of this form, I had to capture hiring committeesâ€™ attention. This meant gussying up the raw material of my scholarship in language that was sexy, piquant, certain to leave them wanting more. English academics, I should explain, occupy a peculiar relation to their ideas and the language in which these are housed. Many display an erotic responsiveness to the terms trending in their field: the aptly chosen theoretical catchword, or charismatic articulation of a (preferably anarchic) thought. (I once asked a colleague whether she and her partner spent much time talking about their research together. â€œThatâ€™s called foreplay, Andrew,â€ she responded.)
16 May 2016
William H. Simon, Columbia Law
Nicholas Kristof recently editorialized on liberal arrogance and the general absence of conservative opinion in Academia:
We progressives believe in diversity, and we want women, blacks, Latinos, gays and Muslims at the table â€” er, so long as they arenâ€™t conservatives.
Universities are the bedrock of progressive values, but the one kind of diversity that universities disregard is ideological and religious. Weâ€™re fine with people who donâ€™t look like us, as long as they think like us. ..
Iâ€™ve been thinking about this because on Facebook recently I wondered aloud whether universities stigmatize conservatives and undermine intellectual diversity. The scornful reaction from my fellow liberals proved the point.
â€œMuch of the â€˜conservativeâ€™ worldview consists of ideas that are known empirically to be false,â€ said Carmi.
â€œThe truth has a liberal slant,â€ wrote Michelle.
â€œWhy stop there?â€ asked Steven. â€œHow about we make faculties more diverse by hiring idiots?â€ …
To me, the conversation illuminated primarily liberal arrogance â€” the implication that conservatives donâ€™t have anything significant to add to the discussion. My Facebook followers have incredible compassion for war victims in South Sudan, for kids who have been trafficked, even for abused chickens, but no obvious empathy for conservative scholars facing discrimination.
If anybody doubted that Kristof had a point, this particular letter-to-the-editor in response from a snotty self-complacent Columbia Law professor provides excellent confirmatory evidence. All you under-educated and wealthy out there take heed!
To the Editor: Nicholas Kristof exaggerates the problem of liberal bias in the academy. It is not the job of the university to represent all the views held in the surrounding society. The commitment to critical inquiry requires it to disfavor some views based on religious dogma, social convention or superstition. The goal of a community of mutual respect requires it to disfavor others, including those that are explicitly racist, misogynist or homophobic. Such views can be expressed in the university, but it is not a cause for concern that academics do not espouse them in their teaching and research. Much of the disparity between views in the academy and in the Republican Party is attributable to their varying social bases. Academics tend to be educated and middle class. The current Republican Party is constituted disproportionately of the undereducated and the wealthy.
That education leads people to different views is neither surprising nor, on its face, disturbing. And if it is a problem that the views of rich people are underrepresented in the academy, they have had little trouble making up for this disadvantage in the media and the political system.
WILLIAM H. SIMON
The writer is a professor at Columbia Law School.