Monday, May 03, 2004

Bum rush the exits 

The exodus of academic bloggers is growing. Along with Critical Mass (who might or might not close her blog) and Invisible Adjunct (who is still reading blogs, just not writing), we also read about exits at Frogs and Ravens, Academic Girl (at least there will be a Post-Game Show), and Mister B.S. and delays and holding actions at Household Opera. Lilith wonders if these decisions are irreversible or whether they are useful, lengthier sabbaticals. Perhaps. It's not uncommon in macroeconomics to take a year or so off to do policy work somewhere, and in older days a little stint at a forecasting shop like DRI or Wharton did wonders for the resume and the academic career.

Blogchild John Bruce makes the point that most of our blogs are missing the point.
When I started reading Critical Mass a little over a year ago, I was concerned (and my comments there reflected it) that there was an assumption that if this or that particular problem -- especially loony left-wing or radical feminist bias -- could be eliminated from academic life, then everything would be fine. A year ago I had the same concern for what I saw on Invisible Adjunct -- that if all of us non-tenure-track part-timers could get tenure-track jobs, everything would be fine. I think over a period of about a year, both blogs came to reflect a view that things weren't so simple -- there are problems much closer to the core of academic life.
SCSUScholars points to an ABC PrimeTime segment on cheating at an Ivy League institution. I've mentioned this issue several times here, with the confidence that it's as pervasive at the Ivy League as it was in a second-string place like USC when I taught there. Let's forget affirmative action, speech codes, and the like: if some very large proportion of any school's students are getting through by cheating, you have a problem of institutional corruption on an enormous scale. The political disputes covered by FIRE and blogs like Critical Mass and SCSUScholars are simply a sideshow in comparison.
I will dissent from John on this point even though I think it's a good one. It's good because it is simply very hard to imagine how academic cheating on this scale -- and I think John is right that it's fairly widespread -- can be countenanced. But it is. And it is because, in my view, the causes of it may turn out to be exactly the political disputes that Erin and FIRE and we cover. (And I cannot tell you how honored I am to be put in the sentence with those two excellent sites.) What lies at the base of the political dispute is a visioin of how the world is, whether we are able to ignore constraints and objective truth to construct our own vision of reality or whether education lies in showing students where the constraints are, how truth is pursued, and how others have pushed out the frontiers. It is as if, as Sowell suggests, only one side wants to play by Marquis of Queensbury rules and the other will bite your ear to win.
Having committed themselves to a vision and demonized all who oppose it, how are they to turn around and subject that vision to searching empirical scrutiny, much less repudiate it as evidence of its counterproductive results mount up?
If you cannot subject that vision to scrutiny, then you deny that scrutiny is real or valid. You deny facts, and once you do that it is easy to cheat, and to condone cheating.

I'm not sure that relates to why Erin and the others are leaving academia, but I suspect it does. And in case you're wondering, I'm not going anywhere any time soon.