Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Kristof: Professors Suck, Think Tankers Rule

Nicholas Kristof's op-ed in the New York Times over the weekend is stirring a massive debate about the relevance of university professors vs. think tankers.

Here are some excerpts:
Some of the smartest thinkers on problems at home and around the world are university professors, but most of them just don’t matter in today’s great debates.
The most stinging dismissal of a point is to say: “That’s academic.” In other words, to be a scholar is, often, to be irrelevant.
There are plenty of exceptions, of course, including in economics, history and some sciences, in professional schools like law and business, and, above all, in schools of public policy; for that matter, we have a law professor in the White House. But, over all, there are, I think, fewer public intellectuals on American university campuses today than a generation ago.
A basic challenge is that Ph.D. programs have fostered a culture that glorifies arcane unintelligibility while disdaining impact and audience. This culture of exclusivity is then transmitted to the next generation through the publish-or-perish tenure process. Rebels are too often crushed or driven away.

The op-ed quotes a few think tanks scholars and studies, including those from New America Foundation (NAF), the Brookings Institution, and the Stimson Center.

Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) President Richard Haass weighed in on Twitter, saying that the upside to the "irrelevance of much work in university social science department's is a larger role of policy-relevant think tanks."

Here is a piece from Alejandro Chafuen titled "Will Think Tanks Become The Universities of the 21st Century?"

The book "Do Think Tanks Matter?," which was reviewed by Think Tank Watch, has a discussion about professors vs. think tankers.

Do universities actually have better scholars than think tanks?

Here is one point of view from an Emory University professor in response to Kristof's piece.  Here is another view from a Georgetown University professor.  Here is the response from a professor at San Jose State University.  Here is what a professor at LaGuardia Community College says.

Susan Marquis, the Dean of Pardee RAND Graduate School at the think tank RAND Corporation, says this: "Pardee RAND Ph.D.'s get real-world work experience and rigorous academics to improve governance."

Here is an On Think Tanks piece on the synergies between universities and think tanks.  Here is more on the difference between think tanks and research universities.

Just as a reference, there are 1,823 think tanks in the United States, and 2,870 4-year colleges in the US.

The debate about universities vs. think tanks continues...