All posts filed under: Education

What Happened When We Tried to Debate Immigration

Immigration and diversity politics dominate our political and public debates. Disagreements about these issues lie behind the rise of populist politics on the left and the right, as well as the growing polarization of our societies more widely. Unless we find a way of side-stepping the extremes and debating these issues in an evidence-led, analytical way then the moderate, pluralistic middle will buckle and give way. This is why, as two university professors who work on these issues, we decided to help organize and join a public debate about immigration and ethnic change. The debate, held in London on December 6, was a great success, featuring a nuanced and evidence-based discussion attended by 400 people. It was initially titled, “Is Rising Ethnic Diversity a Threat to the West?” This was certainly a provocative title, designed to draw in a large audience who might hold strong views on the topic but who would nonetheless be exposed to a moderated and evidence-led debate. Though we would later change the title, we couldn’t escape its powerful logic: On …

Academics’ Mobbing of a Young Scholar Must be Denounced

The latest victim of an academic mobbing is 28-year-old social scientist Noah Carl who has been awarded a Toby Jackman Newton Trust Research Fellowship at St Edmund’s College at the University of Cambridge. Rarely has the power asymmetry between the academic mob and its victim been so stark. Dr Carl is a young researcher, just starting out in his career, who is being mobbed for being awarded a prestigious research scholarship on the basis of his peer-reviewed research. While getting a position like this is normally a time for celebration for junior academics, Dr Carl has gone to ground, unable to defend his reputation from libellous attacks, as he has been instructed not to talk to the media. Three hundred academics from around the world, many of them professors, have signed an open letter denouncing Dr Carl and demanding that the University of Cambridge “immediately conduct an investigation into the appointment process” on the grounds that his work is “ethically suspect” and “methodologically flawed.” The letter states: “we are shocked that a body of work …

The New Evolution Deniers

Evolutionary biology has always been controversial. Not controversial among biologists, but controversial among the general public. This is largely because Darwin’s theory directly contradicted the supernatural accounts of human origins rooted in religious tradition and replaced them with fully natural ones. The philosopher Daniel Dennett has described evolution as a sort of “universal acid” that “eats through just about every traditional concept, and leaves in its wake a revolutionized world-view, with most of the old landmarks still recognizable, but transformed in fundamental ways.” Fearing this corrosive idea, opposition in the US to evolution mainly came from Right-wing evangelical Christians who believed God created life in its present form, as described in Genesis. In the 1990s and 2000s there were repeated attempts by evangelicals to ban evolution in public schools or teach the so-called “controversy” by including Intelligent Design—the belief that life is too complex to have evolved without the aid of some “Intelligent Designer” (i.e. God)—in the biology curriculum alongside evolution. But these attempts failed when scientists demonstrated in court that Intelligent Design was nothing …

Academia’s Case of Stockholm Syndrome

Earlier this year, we launched Researchers.One, a scholarly publication platform open to all researchers in all fields of study. Founded on the principles of academic freedom, researcher autonomy, and scholarly quality, Researchers.One features an innovative author-driven peer review model, which ensures the quality of published work through a self-organized process of public and non-anonymous pre- and post-publication peer review. Believing firmly that researchers can and do uphold the principles of good scholarship on their own, Researchers.One has no editorial boards, gatekeepers, or other barriers to interfere with scholarly discourse. In its first few months, Researchers.One has garnered an overwhelmingly positive reception, both for its emphasis on core principles and its ability to attract high quality publications from a wide range of disciplines, including mathematics, physics, philosophy, probability, and statistics. Despite its promise, many academics worry that leaving peer review up to authors will grind the academic juggernaut to a halt. With nothing to stop authors from recruiting their friends as peer reviewers or from publishing a bunch of nonsense just to pad their CV, how should academic …

Thirty Years After ‘The Closing of the American Mind’

Over thirty years ago, Allan Bloom—the late American philosopher and university professor who was the model for Saul Bellow’s Ravelstein—published The Closing of the American Mind. He began with a startling declaration: “There is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative.” Relativism, Bloom claimed, “is not a theoretical insight but a moral postulate, the condition of a free society, or so they see it.” Students “have all been equipped with this framework early on, and it is the modern replacement for the inalienable rights that used to be the traditional American grounds for a free society.” What students “fear from absolutism is not error but intolerance.” At the end of the opening paragraph, Bloom summarized the result: “The point is not to correct [their] mistakes and really be right; rather it is not to think you are right at all.” In the ensuing pages, Bloom argued that modern universities were failing their students in part because postmodern trends …

The Problem with ‘The Journal of Controversial Ideas’

A group of academics recently announced plans to launch a new journal focused on research that its authors fear could lead to a backlash, putting their careers and perhaps even their physical safety in danger. With these concerns in mind, the journal will allow authors to publish their work anonymously, subject to peer review. Some are applauding the launch of what will be titled The Journal of Controversial Ideas. They view it as a needed response to an academic and potentially broader culture that is increasingly afraid to grapple with sensitive topics and seeks to suppress ideas that may have merit but are socially unpopular. However, we think the creation of a journal like this, while serving as a prophetic warning about the new moral culture taking hold of academia and the future of our institutions of higher learning, may be a counterproductive way of dealing with the problems it addresses. First, it is worth asking whether the concerns prompting the creation of this journal are warranted. Some writers and academics claim that stories of …

The Case for Dropping Out of College

During the summer, my father asked me whether the money he’d spent to finance my first few years at Fordham University in New York City, one of the more expensive private colleges in the United States, had been well spent. I said yes, which was a lie. I majored in computer science, a field with good career prospects, and involved myself in several extracurricular clubs. Since I managed to test out of some introductory classes, I might even have been able to graduate a year early—thereby producing a substantial cost savings for my family. But the more I learned about the relationship between formal education and actual learning, the more I wondered why I’d come to Fordham in the first place. * * * According to the not-for-profit College Board, the average cost of a school year at a private American university was almost $35,000 in 2017—a figure I will use for purposes of rough cost-benefit analysis. (While public universities are less expensive thanks to government subsidies, the total economic cost per student-year, including the …

Jews Revolutionized the Universities. Will Asians Do the Same?

In 1905, Harvard College adopted the College Entrance Examination Board tests as the principal basis for student admission, a blind test that favored intelligent applicants even if they lacked poise or polish. By 1908, Jews—most the children of immigrants—constituted 7% of the school’s student population—double the percentage of Jews in the U.S. general population. By 1916, Jewish enrolment was 15%, and by 1922 it was more than 21%. Harvard’s president, Abbot Lawrence Lowell, became alarmed by what he perceived as a serious problem. This was not because (or not only because ) Lowell harbored anti-Semitic views. As he wrote to a colleague in 1922, “The summer hotel that is ruined by admitting Jews meets its fate, not because the Jews it admits are of bad character, but because they drive away the Gentiles.” (His observation was not incorrect—although he was wrong to assume that Jews in universities would have the same off-putting effect as in hotels.) Today, we are watching what may well be a reprise of this scenario, with Asian-Americans as the targeted group: …

Warning: Telling a Lame Joke in an Elevator can Endanger Your Career

I am a professor of international political theory at King’s College London and bye-fellow of Pembroke College, Cambridge. I am a fellow of the British Academy and a member of the International Studies Association (ISA). Several years back the ISA voted me the “distinguished scholar of the year.” This year it censured me, not once but twice. I was guilty of saying “ladies lingerie” in a lift, and more disturbingly in their eyes, of writing a conciliatory email to the woman who had overheard me in the lift and filed a complaint. I appealed against this decision, but earlier this month was told my appeal had been rejected. During the second week of April 2018, the ISA had its annual meeting in San Francisco. It attracts many thousands of members from multiple disciplines who do research on international relations. The meeting consists mostly of panels at which scholarly papers are presented and discussed. I stayed in the San Francisco Hilton, the venue of the meeting. On the third afternoon, I was going up to my …

The Free Speech Crisis on Campus Is Worse than People Think

Last month Samuel Abrams, a politics professor at Sarah Lawrence College, published an op-ed in the New York Times titled, “Think Professors Are Liberal? Try School Administrators.” Abrams, who describes himself as conservative leaning, pointed to the titles of some recent events put on by his campus’s Office of Student Affairs: “Stay Healthy, Stay Woke,” “Understanding White Privilege,” and “Microaggressions.” He described these events as politically lopsided and noted that this kind of highly politicized socialization of college students is occurring throughout the country. A lot of campus critics have pointed to the left-wing political skew of faculty, he said, and have worried about indoctrination in the classroom. But indoctrination is much more likely at campus events outside the classroom, and the political skew of administrators in charge of student life is even greater than that of faculty. (He surveyed a representative sample of 900 “student-facing administrators” and found a ratio of 12 liberals for every conservative, compared to 6 to 1 for academic faculty.) Remember, Abrams is a tenured professor commenting about a widely …