Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Academia, Radicalism, and the Publication Industry

Three small reports on these topics:

1) From Linky:
Cruz’s comments about Harvard echo the claims of other prominent conservative politicians and commentators, who like to assert that faculty lounges are nests of radicalism. But are they?
To answer this question, among others, I analyzed data from surveys and interviews with professors, including a nationally-representative survey of the American professoriate, conducted in 2006 with the sociologist Solon Simmons. My research shows that only about 9 percent of professors are political radicals on the far left, on the basis of their opinions about a wide range of social and political matters, and their self-descriptions (for example, whether they describe themselves as radicals). More common in the professoriate—a left-leaning occupation, to be sure—are progressives, who account for roughly a third of the faculty (and whose redistributionism is more limited in scope), and academics in the center left, who make up an additional 14 percent of professors.
Radical academics, it turns out, are overrepresented not at elite research universities, like Harvard, but at small liberal-arts colleges. Most are concentrated in a handful of social sciences and humanities fields, like mine, sociology (in which radicals are nevertheless in the distinct minority), and in tiny interdisciplinary programs like women’s studies and African-American studies.
But who are academic radicals, and what do they believe? This is a diverse category, encompassing social democrats, radical feminists, radical environmentalists, the occasional postmodernist—and yes, some Marxists. All told, about 43 percent of radical professors say that the term “Marxist” describes them at least somewhat well. (About 5 percent of American professors, over all, consider themselves Marxists.). 
In the course of seven years of research, I never encountered any radical professors who advocated “overthrowing the United States government.” Those who are politically committed to Marxism are profoundly concerned with economic inequality and class, believe that things aren’t going to get much better for people at the bottom of the income ladder unless capitalism in its present form gives way, and harbor some hope that things might eventually change—but are generally pessimistic. Radical academics vote Democratic in national elections, but do so holding their noses, seeing the Democratic Party and President Obama as far too centrist and business-friendly.
While it seems unclear that the specific professors at Harvard to whom Cruz was referring would describe themselves as radicals, it is the case that many radical academics see no point in trying to neatly separate their politics from their scholarship. Their academic analyses and teaching often have a political thrust. This can be a source of great tension not just with conservatives, but also with generally liberal professors who believe that politics, scholarship, and teaching shouldn’t mix.
Layered on top of these tensions are generational differences. The social unrest of the 1960s and 1970s led to an influx of radicals in the social sciences and humanities. Scholars who came of age in the 1980s and 1990s often took issue with the radical intellectual perspectives championed by their predecessors. Today a new generation of scholars, influenced by the Occupy Wall Street movement, appears poised to embrace radicalism once again, in the latest phase of a back-and-forth cycle.
Is it a problem for American higher education that 9 percent of faculty members are political radicals? The answer is that far-left academic radicalism is both a weakness and a strength. Were there no radical professors for conservatives to fulminate against—or had radical academics done more to keep their politics and their work separate—there might well be fewer political attacks on higher education today, and greater public support for colleges and universities. Radical professors in the post-1960s period overestimated how much tolerance there would be for them, and how far the idea of academic freedom could be stretched. Also, some academic radicals, privileging politics over scholarship, have waged unproductive battles against the scientific aspirations of their colleagues.
At the same time, academic radicals in the social sciences and humanities have given us novel and important ways of thinking about society and culture. They have alerted scholars and students to previously unrecognized dynamics of inequality around race, class, gender, and sexuality.
 2) On this count, its de javu time all over again in Tamland. An opinion piece motivated by Linky.

Student protests were last seen in Tamland in the mid- to late-50s and the early 60s on the "National Language" imposition issue. The Central Governments under Nehru and Shastri, both in terms of personal ideologies as well as pushed to the brink by the stalwarts who later dominated the Jan Sangh from what is now UP and Bihar and the aam aadmi on the street in quite a bit of "North India", as well as the local Congress regimes under Rajaji and Bhaktavatsalam badly botched their credibilities by pushing the envelope on the language issue.

Sadly, what that meant for the future of Tamland's electoral politics was that opinions got so badly polarized that there has hardly been a space/say for non-regional parties. And a common-sense perspective will be hard pushed to hope that there will be a say for national parties in Tamland in the near-future. And even more sadly, a Tamland precedent driven regional party culture has spread throughout much of India. While one can argue that this is both good as well as bad, precise answers depend on the issue at hand.

What should be the role of a State Government in foreign policy/diplomacy issues? Should WB get a veto over trade relations with Bangladesh, especially if it harms the milling industry in TN (Linky)? Should TN get a veto over bilateral relations with Sri Lanka, especially when there are ample reports on human rights violations on normal people independent of whether they are (former) members of LTTE or not? Should Bihar, Uttarakhand and UP get a veto over relations with Nepal, because of the Madhesi bonding across the borders? Should the states from the Indian Northeast have a veto over border demarcations on the contested India-Bangladesh border? Should a state (TN) have a say when the Central Government hands over an island (Katchhathheevu) to a neighboring country (Sri Lanka) for the sake of good neighborly relations, especially if it harms the livelihood of a subset of its peoples? Of course, Sarkaria commission recommendations do not study these aspects as these things seemed far from immediate in the mid-80s. Even then, the Sarkaria commission recommendations did not get fully enforced especially when it came to the dreaded misuse of Article 356 and one had to wait for the Supreme Court to have its say on the Bommai case, or in the case or river water tribunal recommendations on inter-state disputes where the Central Government could not enforce its neutral perspective due to political considerations. It is time that the Central Government constitute a new Constitutional panel on what should/can be the say of the various state governments on issues under the Central Government list.

But, without digressing, Tamland today is witnessing a student-driven protest time. Independent of whether they have legitimate issues (or not) to protest, and independent of whether they are being supported by anti-nationalist (perceived or real) forces or not, the new reality is that it does not take two to tango. Things do go belly up very quickly and fixing the ground realities and perceptions of angst against the Central Government's inactions take a long time. Further, these are needless issues at this stage in independent India's evolution given the enormity of crises at hand.

What should/could the Central Government do at this stage? Two things: the DMK is not the sole conduit of popular opinion on ground realities in Tamland for the Congress government at the Center. Opening a dialogue with the detested Modi-friend is not only the need of the hour, but also realpolitik. Opening dialogues with no-namers such as Vai Ko, Ramadoss, Seeman, etc., can be done on a need-to basis. But more importantly, opening dialogues with students is not needed to convince them of their futility, but to provide them with a hope that someone from the Central Government is respecting their opinions enough to talk with them. We often get talked to, it is hard for people to talk with. During the height of the language crisis, Nehru sent Indira Gandhi as an ambassador to open a dialogue with the local DMK leaders of that era. And Indira Gandhi did a great job in bringing the DMK to talk with the Center somuchso that the DMK chose to ally with Indira when the situation arose (1971 elections). That the DMK-Congress alliance went belly-up after that is great credit to both sides in the equation.

Without getting too regionally involved in how India chooses to vote at the UN, it is at least incumbent on the Central Government to explain how it has forced/coaxed/encouraged the Government of Sri Lanka to act on perceived human rights violations of Tamils in Sri Lanka, providing a shared vision of dignity and hope within a United Sri Lanka model, reconstruction of demolished temples and villages in the North and the East, etc. How has the Central Government aid announced in 2008 after the end of the War been spent? Any random observer would tend to appreciate the positive role played by the Central Government in this mess, provided they get to see its perspective. As a popular wisdom goes, Good Intentions are not Enough! It is time to talk, to people in Tamland, to the Government of Sri Lanka, to the Tamils in Sri Lanka, and especially to the protesting students in Tamland (independent of their utter stupidity).

3) And finally, from Linky. The report is best read pictorially.

As much as I would like to see the rise of China from a scary-eyed perspective, I would say, "bring it on." My personal experience having reviewed hundreds of papers (if not a thousand and more) that get flooded into the Manuscriptcentral system in EE from China, Korea, Japan, Europe, Australia, India, and even the US has been that most of the papers are junk with stale ideas meant to ensure that the CV gets padded by a few lines this way and that. The new competitiveness that I see from Chinese academics is not a great cause for alarm because of their uber-productivity, but a great cause of alarm for how they flood a system that is already strained at the margins (find three good reviewers for your paper and you will be in the 95th percentile and above in terms of how the review process works). In some of the high eigenfactor score journals, earlier, one could expect profound reviews that makes the author(s) think through their ideas once more. But these days, one should be very happy if at least one reviewer follows your idea deep enough to provide an intelligent response. The simple fact that I get at least a few review requests every week in an area that I have abandoned in all but spirit (and yes, I do accept every single one of them in the vain hope that I will uncover a brilliant idea before it gets published) just tells a random observer how remarkably over-strained the whole system is by the flooding that is CV padding. I pity the IEEE for it has become more of a company culture than a professional association-based community values driven culture --- a sad price to pay for globalizing engineering.

Coming up next: Making sense of the Northeast verdict 

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