Saturday, August 27, 2016

Safe spaces etc. Mark Graber, (his daughter), Farrell, Leiter (with links to more), the statement by Ellison at U Chicago.

Farrell's  "The University of Chicago is made of safe spaces", is the closest to being interesting.  He quotes a 10 year old paper.
As the university became increasingly differentiated into schools and departments, and factions within schools and departments, and factions within factions, it became internally conflicted. The members of a faction tend to reserve the most intense feelings of hatred for their intellectual neighbors rather than for the inhabitants of far-away worlds. This makes it very hard for faculty in the same, or closely related, fields to agree on appointments and curriculum design.

Protective structures followed faculty infighting: strong walls sprang up to separate the departments and schools, and federalist structures emerged. The voting procedures that aggregated the preferences within and across departments and schools became ever more complex. The university thus developed an intricate internal organization to protect the faculty from each other.
As if bureaucratic infighting were not as old as bureaucracy itself. The author is a political scientist, not a historian. And as we all know, history is bunk.

The beginning of "Darwinian Medicine for the University", by Susanne Lohmann.
The university: its defects and defenses 
Darwinian medicine explores the evolutionary origins of sickness with the goal of treating the sick more effectively. By spelling out what evolution had in mind, so to speak, when it endowed the human body with the propensity to get sick, Darwinian medicine helps us assess the benefits and costs of alternative medical interventions.

The distinction between defects and defenses is central to Darwinian medicine. A broken leg is a defect—one would not want to leave it alone just in case some good comes of it. A fever, on the other hand, is a defense: it brings discomfort, it creates tissue damage, it depletes nutrients, and in extreme circumstances the patient might die from it; but fever also serves a useful function—it keeps bacterial pathogens in check, it serves as a signal to the patient to take it easy, and under ordinary circumstances it helps the patient survive. Darwinian medicine takes the position that fever is an evolved response, with the implication that we must trade off the costs and benefits of suppressing a fever when treating it.

This paper applies Darwinian medicine to the university. Much that looks like a defect of the university is in fact a defense. Defects are bad; they need to be eliminated. Defenses look bad but they are subtle design solutions that evolved in interaction with a demanding environment; they need to be preserved, or at the very least it needs to be recognized that eliminating them comes at a cost. The vexed institution of tenure is an example of a defense, as are the impossibly rigid boundaries separating the disciplines.

Effective university reform must distinguish between defects and defenses so it can eliminate the defects and go lightly on the defenses. Making such distinctions requires an understanding of what the university is for—what problems the university was designed, or evolved, to solve.

I contend that the function of the university is to enable deep specialization. The structures of the university emerged to solve several problems: how to nurse deeply specialized scholars, how to protect them from each other and the outside world, and how to pool the results of their distributed inquiries.
"Darwinian Medicine" in the context of the social sciences is a way of turning human history into the equivalent of paleontology. Back to Jared Diamond. When Farrell tries to defend politics, as he is above he does a lousy job of it, falling back always on the superiority of academics who claim to "understand" politics and therefore rise above it. "As scientists, WE understand how YOU behave".

Consider, for a moment, an economist and a historian who are coming up for tenure. They have very different takes on the issue of globalization. The economist thinks “more is better,” and he has money and material goods in mind. In his Panglossian world, everybody benefits from free trade, especially the poorest of the poor, and if the countries that are political and economic basketcases would only adopt the superior political and economic institutions of the West, they could work their way out of poverty and achieve the same high standards of living as the West.

In comparison, the historian looks through the glass, darkly, and sees globalization as the direct descendant of colonialism and imperialism. If the West is rich (and it is of course merely materially rich; spiritually it is impoverished), it is because the West stole from the poor—it extracted resources from the countries it colonialized and as a by-product screwed them up politically and economically, which is why many of the former colonies are such a mess.
The political scientist comes to the rescue.
In its early fighting years, the medieval university was as intellectually vibrant as its structures were pliable. Once its structures, and the associated protections, got locked in, the university ossified intellectually. The scholastic method, wild and wonderful in its early years, matured and joined the establishment, finding its apotheosis in Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica (the title itself has an end-of-history quality, quite unlike Abelard’s title Sic et Non, which has an open-ended air about it). The scholastic method degenerated into an ever more refined system of logic-chopping exercises applied in a
mindless and mechanical way to questions of great irrelevance, as in, how many angels are there on a pinhead. As the society surrounding the university became more interested in history and language, and more empirically oriented, the scholastic method was doomed. 
The medieval university missed the boat come the Renaissance. In Italy, many universities continued to apply the scholastic method for one hundreds years after the society around them had reinvented itself in full. The intellectual underpinnings of the Renaissance were developed in private academies outside of the university. Humanist ideas got picked up by newly founded universities, including universities in Northern Europe far away from the geographic center of Renaissance action.
The above is all pretty obvious, with no need for Darwin references. "Today, the German university is largely moribund." Lohmann's is as well.

When the university is seen as the only model of intellectual life the university and intellectual life itself ossifies. The academy is conservative by definition. The academic study of the present, the granting of degrees in politics and art, in creative writing and radicalism, puts concepts before experience, theory before practice. In the real world of unsafe spaces practice precedes theory. The empiricism of connoisseurship wins over pedantry. See Max Abrahms

The university is bourgeois. That it may represent bourgeois interests under monarchy or dictatorship does not make it radical. The radical university is modern pretense, the pretense of the cafe revolutionary. The brittleness of the academy now as in the past is in the teaching from truths rather than forms.

Science as technics is amoral. The humanities as forms and their interpretations engage morality directly, from a distance. That distance is both a luxury and a necessity; sometimes it needs disrupting. Sometimes politics trumps politesse. But seeing a moral imperative to disrupt is not claiming a legal right; it's claiming a moral right to break the law. The distinction is important. Those who ignore it cross the line dividing righteousness from narcissism.

Lohmann, last paragraphs.
Last not least, ossification depends on the university’s relationship to the outside world. Departments and disciplines that are not linked to constituencies outside of the university can keep right on trucking in self-refential circles. They will move with the times if they are permeable to the outside world. In medicine, faculty who want to get National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants must select research topics and employ methods that find the approval of the NIH, and since the NIH is tied to Congress, and Congress is tied to the American people, new developments in the external society feed into the medical schools and influence medical research. Thus, we now examine whether doctors treat African American patients differently, and we now include women subjects in medical trials. In the short space of a decade, biology has completely resliced itself as a discipline in response to the external job and profit opportunities offered by biotechnology. The case of biology is instructive because it shows us how important it is not to go all the way: molecular biology has lost its slack because it has been taken over by the profit motive. Ideally, the university is partially permeable to the outside world, and it is best for it to have multiple cross-cutting connections and multiple contradictory external constituencies.

Managing change in the university is not about putting centralized command-and-control systems in place or defining simplistic profit centres and performance standards or infusing the university with business values—this would be the death of the university. On the other hand, if the university is left in the hands of the faculty, it will surely turn into bone. Managing change is about designing decentralized structures that encourage competition, preserve diversity, and keep the university connected to the outside world.
She crosses back and forth between the technical and humanist academy as if they were the same: the model of the scholastics then and now. The actual as opposed to pseudo-technical university has never been moribund.

Noah Smith, see below, says Data Geeks Are Taking Over Economics. Geeks are still the problem.
more on the Chicago letter

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