Professors, Don’t Cloister Yourselves

Nicholas Kristof delivers an effective Sunday op-ed in the New York Times, Professors, We Need You!

Some of the smartest thinkers on problems at home and around the world are university professors, but most of them just don’t matter in today’s great debates.

The most stinging dismissal of a point is to say: “That’s academic.” In other words, to be a scholar is, often, to be irrelevant.

That’s how it opens. Kristof continues later:

A basic challenge is that Ph.D. programs have fostered a culture that glorifies arcane unintelligibility while disdaining impact and audience. This culture of exclusivity is then transmitted to the next generation through the publish-or-perish tenure process. Rebels are too often crushed or driven away.

And here’s his summary of the piece on Facebook:

My Sunday column argues that academics have marginalized themselves from the grand national debates, in part by nurturing a culture of unintelligible writing. And when they wall themselves off from public influence, we’re all the losers.

Link to full piece, Professors, We Need You!

Update: Erik Voeten pens a good response to Kristof at the Washington Post, Dear Nicholas Kristof: We are right here!

I think that Kristof means well, and there is surely something to the general themes he touches upon. I am not saying that all is well in the land of pol-sci academia. Yet, the piece is just a merciless exercise in stereotyping. It’s like saying that op-ed writers just get their stories from cab drivers and pay little or no attention to facts. There are hundreds of academic political scientists whose research is far from irrelevant and who seek to communicate their insights to the general public via blogs, social media, op-eds, online lectures and so on.

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