Friday, March 24, 2006

# Posted 1:05 PM by Patrick Porter  

THE INSULARITY OF UNIVERSITIES: One of the advantages of Oxford university, I thought, was that it was federal, or decentralised. It is a loose, often inefficient, confederation of colleges. While this creates great adminisrative confusion and overlap at times, I think its intellectually very healthy. Because its multipolar, its harder for an aggressive faction of a discipline to 'capture' a department.

A good history department will be a cacophany of conservatives, Marxists, postmodernists, liberal humanists, postcolonialists, British empire nostalgia buffs, believers in high politics and vast impersonal forces, big picture polemicists and meticulous pedantic hair-splitters.

But to have true 'diversity', that is, intellectual diversity as well as ethnic, sexual or gender diversity, an institution needs to be beyond monopolisation. If it becomes a place where the control of a few powerful committees rewards a group with a monopoly over a department, several things happen.

Firstly, a conformist intellectual environment can set in. Dissent or disagreement is met with hostility. Secondly, you get the misuse of public funds, which is compounded when various powerful academic warriors form coalitions, spawning gigantic conflicts of interest. They might sit on panels and give themselves copious money for research. So, for example, in Australia one member of the panel that awards research grants nationwide was awarded $880,000 to study the idea of the body in modern Japan.

While the idea of the body in modern Japan sounds intriguing, imagine what else could be done with that kind of money. A lot of postdoctoral scholarships. A lot of new jobs in an underfunded academy. Or maybe put it towards new combat vehicles for our armed forces. I suspect that one woudn't fly.
(5) opinions -- Add your opinion

'...new combat vehicles for our armed forces.'

I do not agree with your above statement at all. You can relate the appropriations of such funds to development and sustainable activities but not to protection of armed forces in their oil-thirsty humvees! Your opinion just drives the message home the point of focusing $$ towards vehicles and war than society. Instead, I think it would have been appropriate if you had said the following:
'...new combat malaria vaccine(s) for developing countries' Disgraceful suggestion of amouring yourselves in places you dont belong.
I think Patrick might have been joking on the combat vehicles point
oil-thirsty humvees!
The first anonymous is clearly such an irony-challenged individual that he or she has no place reading a blog like Oxblog. A disgraceful comment.
I've done my share of mocking the "intellectual diversity" movement (deservedly, in my view, when it comes to David Horowitz's version of it), but I do agree that some aspects of intellectual diversity deserve to be valued. So long as there's a common commitment to asking good questions (and debating the criteria for judging them) and generating good answers (and debating their methodologies), I think intellectual diversity is to be prized and nurtured. Yet from outside the academy, the actual diversity is hard to see and the common pursuit of truth is often characterized as elitism ("who are you to say intelligent design isn't a valid scientific theory?"). When you get into the real world of American academia (looking outside, say, the top 10% of the close to 4000 higher ed institutions), such hostile and misinformed views ahve real consequences. Any suggestions as to how to identify the commonalities that make intellectual diversity worth valuing and make actual intellectual diversity more visible?
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