Thursday, March 17, 2005

Fairness in Academia, Again

Go and read this excellent post by billmon. One of his quotes is this one:

For those on the right, true freedom requires more diversity--which, to them, means more conservatives in faculty ranks. "If the system were fair," says Larry Mumper, sponsor of the Ohio bill, "Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity would be tenured professors somewhere."

Now this is frightening. I wonder if Mumper knows what it takes to become a tenured professor? First you go to college for about seven years, most likely longer, and you write a doctoral thesis which is scrutinized by many. Then you spend several years teaching and doing research. In most colleges and universities your teaching is evaluated in each course and students are quite free to complain about you. Your research doesn't get published if your peers find fault in it, because academic journals mostly use an anonymous reviewing system and it is also customary to present research in seminars and conferences so that others can pick it apart. But publishing isn't enough for getting tenure; this also depends on how much you publish and the perceived quality of your publications. Most professors on tenure track work their asses off and still end up not getting tenured. Some of this is due to bias but the system is very stringent for everyone.

This is to guarantee that the final product, the tenured professor, is an expert in the field and knows how to look at an issue from all sides. And Mumper thinks that Hannity and Limbaugh are doing this? That if the system was fair they'd have their own endowed chairs somewhere? It makes me nauseous to think that Americans in powerful places have such a warped view of what academia entails. Like it's some sort of a baseball game where the rules can be changed at will.

Billmon's original post makes obvious the similarities of what the extreme wingnuts are doing and what the cultural revolution did in China. All extremist thought systems have similarities, of course, but it's true that in this case even the methods applied are very similar. Like the pretense that the revolution comes from the masses when in fact it comes from the party in power, and the desperate search for suitable enemies to attack. Ward Churchill is not a typical liberal professor, and Horowitz saying so doesn't change the truth at all.

But yes, it does remind me of the cultural revolution. Now where did I put my suitcase?