February 3, 2010
Ivy League Critical MassBy John Kelly
"One man's meat is another man's poison," as the saying goes. Let me explain a most striking case in point. Last year at about this time, David Brooks of the New York Times anticipated an enormous intellectual dividend for our country. After cataloguing the Obama administration's numerous Ivy League J.D.s and Ph.D.s, and with no mention of their real-world experience, he went on to write:
While Mr. Brooks was pleased to finally see intellectual meat on the Washington bone, many others were dismayed to see this Ivory Tower culture reaching critical mass in our government. Brooks's comment was an instance of arrogance acknowledging itself. More realistic people were concerned at seeing an inexperienced, extremely nonrepresentational elite about to pilot the powerful federal government.
If Mr. Brooks felt it suitable to render such a smug assessment with so little apparent evidence, then I feel it necessary to offer a contrary assessment.
The suggestion that a seasoned and well-balanced administrator having a Ph.D. or a J.D. may be well-suited to govern would seem inarguably correct. Yet these administrators probably constitute the most culturally remote and least experienced presidential administration in history.
The country needs more than a narrowly focused intellectual dividend. Take away this administration's heap o' sheepskin and you have a group of people lacking the qualifications to do anything other than mouth obscure intentions and display self-esteem. Note that those are traits shared, according to a Scientific American article, by many inhabiting our country's finer penal institutions. Source material for this wisecrack provides food for serious thought.
The very fact, as that article stated, that degreed sociologists and psychologists had erroneously assumed that criminals have general low self-esteem is an indicator that the former depended heavily on pure speculation. The moat surrounding their intellectual castle was deep and wide. Criminals and their counselors may have long known answers to questions Ph.D.s have only recently bothered to ask.
If Obama's administration had felt their deficiency of practical experience, they would have gone about slowly and cautiously gaining it during their first year's apprenticeship. To the contrary, they have attempted to move mountains of legislation at lighting speed. They obviously value practical experience less than their education and ideology.
Ask yourself this: Would you be a passenger on a plane piloted by someone with an aerospace Ph.D. but no practical flying experience? Or would you rather be a passenger on a plane piloted by someone having extensive flying experience but no Ph.D.?
Government depends heavily on academic testimony and research for informed decision-making. The contemporary American university, academics' home turf, is the fountainhead of politically correct thought. P.C. has become like a physical constant, as is gravity. It is balanced into every academic discussion.
Climategate revealed "researchers discussing how to manipulate historical temperature data." This is a glaring example of the willingness of academics to falsify data and propagate unproven assumptions. Progressive agendas figure heavily in the funding pursuits of academic science. While presenting opposing arguments is essential to scientific inquiry, "scheming to muzzle their critics" isn't.
Larry Summers, leading economist, Harvard president, and himself a victim of academic ridicule, advised academics going into government, "If you cannot offer a better critique of your proposal than your opponent, you have not examined it carefully enough." Has the traditional need for self-scrutiny been replaced by misrepresentation of fact and opponent ridicule? Present-day academics have culled their intellectual opposition to the point of extinction.
Perhaps the ultimate example of academics' tyranny was the expulsion by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory of their director, Dr. James Watson. The Nobel Prize-winning co-discoverer of DNA stated politically incorrect yet verifiable test results concerning the human I.Q. His talk to the London Science Museum was soon canceled.
The business world has been invaded by academia via the MBA. Those marketing the degree have attempted to replace the school of hard knocks with a certificate. Looking at MBA success rates, McGill University professor Henry Mintzberg took "a list of Harvard Business School superstars ... tracked the performance of the 19 corporate chief executives on that list ... Ten were outright failures ... another four had questionable records at best. Five out of the 19 seemed to do fine."
As Werner Patels of Agoravox.com puts it, "Being able to run a business requires, first and foremost, good common sense and life experience. No school or executive MBA program can ever teach or replace that."
University professors, consciously or unconsciously, tend to mold students into their own image. Gospel for the academic progressive is this: "If it is good to use men as they are," Rousseau writes, "it is much better to transform them into what one intends them to be." Duke professor Michael Gillespie said of students that after attending "four years of college, they are 40 percent more liberal than their parents." Without natural, real-world incentives, universities expose conservative students to grade reduction and the possible denial of credit and credentials.
Contrived or appropriate, the politically leftward-leaning university is commonplace. Disproportions exist at Berkeley, where "Democrats outnumber[ed] Republicans on the faculty by a ratio of nine to one," and at the "University of Colorado, where the number of registered Democrats on the faculty exceeded the registered Republicans by thirty-one to one."
The butcher, the baker, and the computer chip-maker -- each project their characteristic worldviews. Academics do likewise. The natural tendency of academics in government may be to transfer the modus operandi of their native institution to governance, leading them to insist rather than request, demand rather than serve, and scold rather than listen. Citizens may be seen as undergraduates, who when becoming too noisy and contrary can be threatened with demotions and fines.
Back in 1975, U.C. Berkeley physicist Charles Schwartz wrote Academics in Government and Industry. In it, he states, "It is told that 800 years ago, at the University of Bologna in Italy, professors had to obtain permission from their students and had to post bond in order to leave town on private business." Schwartz was then worried that a big corporation might pay a Ph.D. chemist to tell Congress that their new product is safe when it really isn't. In 2010, something worse may have come to pass.
Last year, an Obama brand package of academic goods was delivered to the voting public. Now voters seem to have found that those goods came with instructions they are reluctant to follow. Voters, like customers, expect service. What Obama delivered was something different. The voters are expected, even to the point of fines and jail time, to serve government rather than be served by it. Says Charles Schwartz, "I do not imagine the university as an ivory tower; it should be interactive, it should serve society."
Our government is based on Natural Law. We as Americans insist to be allowed to live as we are. Employ academics as teachers of theory and tools of research, not as authorities.