Avoiding Trivialities

The “Times Higher Education” published recently a piece by Adam Graycar, titled
(see also here).- one of the few occasions that I comment on any articles, briefly making two points:

All right and important. I still would like to add one point, subdivided: (i) generally, doesn’t result-oriented, mostly empirically-oriented (“evidence-based”) research as standard expectation and kind-off methodological ultimate ratio contribute very much to such competitive orientation even before it comes to considerations concerning publication? I suppose such research is more inclined to competition than “fundamental research” (“Grundlagenforschung”). (ii) isn’t already the entire system of (mass)education as PRIMARILY “vocational training like education, driving (future) researchers into the direction of competition-driven instead of knowledge-enhancement driven? – This begins already when looking at the way of dealing with applications by students for courses – see some experience-based views.

The reason for mentioning it here is a short discussion I have had here in Helsinki in connection with a PhD-student. I was wondering that his work is cumulative and also based on/linked to earlier publications, co-authored with others. In Finland, at least it is a possible. I know about “collective/collaborative work” – actually my own diploma thesis in a cooperative manner.
Sure, there are terms and conditions as especially the need to sign and thus confirm that some part is the individual work …
My habilitation can be considered as cumulative. Now, here in the Finnish case it is about cumulative and collective. Shouldn’t that be the norm, also considering that cumulative is not only about the past, but also about “a stepping stone”, part of an ongoing cumulation and growth. Doesn’t the opportunity to co-author a thesis also acknowledge and highlight that any – tiny or large – work is part of a collective effort, actually the strive if humankind for truth? Making such exception of co-authoring cumulative work as thesis could be a tiny to overcoming individualist competition as foundation of academic work, too often resulting in arrogance or failure.
Indeed, Dante expressed it succinctly, reflecting the need to think about social and societal practice:
considerate la vostra semenza: fatti non foste a viver come bruti, ma per seguir virtute e conoscenza.
Annunci

science – new readings from the tea leaves

It is surely getting exciting now – on the back-cover of the book
Abundance – The Future Is Better Than You Think
authored by Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler we read:
Breaking down human needs by category – water, food, energy, health care, education, freedom – Diamandis arm Kotler introduce us to dozens of innovators and industry captains making tremendous strides in each area: Dean Kamens’ Slingshot, a technology that can transform polluted water, salt water or even raw sewage into high-quality drinking water for less than one cent a liter; Qualcomm Tricorder X PRIZE which promises a low-cost, handheld medical device that allows anyone to diagnose themselves better than a board certified-doctor; Dickson Despommier’s ‘vertical farms,’ which replaces traditional agriculture with a system that uses 80 percent less land, 90 percent less water, 10 percent fewer pesticides, and zero transportation costs.
Now, I am not scientist but social scientist – and some scientists insist that there is a difference, science being the only ‘precise’ and ‘reliable’. Admitting that I am social scientist ‘only’, and thus speaking so to say as layperson, I still dare to conclude that something is odd:
zero transportation cost means the stuff grows from nowhere, just being there as the famous honey and milk rivers, the roasted pigeons just waiting to find a open throat and probably we all standing there, mutated to cows.
Oh, lads, mind: there is huge difference between scientific analysis and reading tea leaves as there is a difference between peoples’ visionary dreams and nightmares that are only profitable for minorities.
And that
[t]he authors also provide a detailed reference section filled with ninety graphs, charts and graphics offering much of the source data underpinning their conclusions
reminds a bit of the claim of most of religions: you have to believe, even if you cannot see it. And in case of doubt we make things visible.
What makes all this even more interesting is that New Princes, self-nominated, as for instance Ray Kurzweil and Sir Richard Branson are full of praise of the book – those are major players of RIP = RIp-off Profit businesses, exactly those who followed the Thatcherite programmatic of There is no such thing as society, which seems to translate well into – ‘We, the Soeders, Thatchers, Blairs, Zuckerbergs – sitting e.g. in Davos  on the Bilderberg, making sure that humankind’s future will end with stultified individuals, bleating like sheep.
Who ‘they’ are? – Here is what
Chrysta Freeland
writes in her book
PLUTOCRATS .THE RISE of the NEW GLOBAL SUPER-RICH and the FALL OF EVERYONE ELSE [39 f.]:

The best known of these events is the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, invitation to which marks an aspiring plutocrat’s arrival on the international scene—and where, in lieu of noble titles, an elaborate hierarchy of conference badges has such significance that one first-time participant remarked that the staring at his chest made him realize for the first time what it must be like to have cleavage. The Bilderberg Group, which meets annually at locations in Europe and North America, is more exclusive still—and more secretive—though it is more focused on geopolitics and less on global business and philanthropy. The Boao Forum, convened on Hainan Island each spring, offers evidence both of China’s growing economic importance and of its understanding of the culture of the global plutocracy. Bill Clinton is pushing hard to win his Clinton Global Initiative a regular place on the circuit. The annual TED conference (the acronym stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design) is an important stop for the digerati, as is the DLD (Digital-Life- Design) gathering Israeli technology entrepreneur Yossi Vardi cohosts with publisher Hubert Burda in Munich each January (so convenient if you are en route to Davos). Herb Allen’s Sun Valley gathering is the place for media moguls, and the Aspen Institute’s Ideas Festival is for the more policy-minded, with a distinctly U.S. slant. There is nothing implicit, at these gatherings, about the sense of belonging to a global elite. As Chris Anderson, the curator of the TED talks, told one gathering: “Combined, our contacts reach pretty much everyone who’s interesting in the country, if not the planet.”
Recognizing the value of such global conclaves, some corporations have begun hosting their own. Among these is Google’s Zeitgeist conference, where I have moderated discussions for several years. One of its recent gatherings was held in May 2010 at the Grove, a former provincial estate in the English countryside whose three-hundred-acre grounds have been transformed into a golf course and whose high-ceilinged rooms are now decorated with a mixture of antique and contemporary furniture. (Mock Louis XIV chairs—made, with a wink, from high-end plastic—are much in evidence.) Cirque du Soleil offered the five hundred guests a private performance in an enormous tent erected on the grounds; the year before that, to celebrate its acquisition of YouTube, Google flew in overnight Internet sensations from around the world.

But mind …

How to define appreciation?

[http://deacademic.com/dic.nsf/dewiki/1490665]

or a bit like carrying another cross today …

Well, one of the requests, a student in need of a reference, the Imperial College, as so many others, applying imperial methods and exploiting the labour force of academics instead of employing external assessors — but at least kindly acknowledging … see the highlighted words.

Now, so far so bad. The best step then, after submitting an auto reply is arriving, indicating the imperial understanding of valuing the work: an e-mail with three pages [reformatted as normal text], the beginning of it reads as follows:

Thank you for your email.
We are currently experiencing a high volume of enquiries. Please read the information below as it may answer common queries.

It does not say that the reference had been received, and the rest to the information actually concerns students who applied or want to apply.

Disrespectful is the term that comes to my mind. And if I would like to study, seeing such mail I would even as student look for another university. Rejecting raking I am wondering: if we are living in a world of rank and file in its military understanding, the highest positions occupied by reps and admins, we may think about the gutter rank: which institution makes it to the lowest ranks?

It reminds me of another university, after submitting a reference fro a student there I received for weeks and month  ads, asking me to subscribe to one of there courses. I don’t even know if I would accept a job offer from such unwilling, unknowing, unsensitive …, well, there is something nice when returning medieval standards – talking about un-deservring was quite common those times though it usually punished the wrong people ….

Honestly: Would you buy a used car from this man?

Would you buy a used car from this man?
Supposedly it originates in an anti-Nixon Poster from 1960.
Here is another question, seriously:

Can one as academic recommend students, honestly interested in understanding the world, eager to learn to a university that presents itself this way?

Well, the undue application procedure – one of many – did not allow me to remain silent … – so a letter went as well to this crowd:

Dear something – or somebody, I find it always extremely disrespectful to be approached by a machine, writing on a very personal issue, namely the assessment of the personality of a young man or woman who is looking for a responsible position in our societies. Furthermore it is highly unprofessional as mails of such format are often ‘auto-spammed’ – yes, machines with artificial intelligence know the difference between AI and AB [artificial bashfulness]. Also, using a no-reply address as sender lacks professional circumspection, not considering the rights of the recipient to move away from the address, change it or the like …

In the mail I received I found the sentence:

We require the use of the online recommendation process since it is the most efficient method to submit a recommendation to the Office of Admissions. The applicant’s file will not be processed until your recommendation has been submitted.

You should add: ‘for us’ as this what you respect instead of students and academic colleagues: Hobsons and FSBs convenience and efficiency, i.e. business-interest, distinct from academic requirements and standards. It is for you the most efficient way, not considering that you [i.e. Hobsons/FSB] shift your responsibility and workload on a person [i.e. individual academics] that is supporting students by offering a free, i.e. unpaid service to you [i.e. Hobsons/FSB] facilitating your work of evaluation. If you would imply external evaluators, it would be a rather expensive undertaking for you, while currently we as academics are covering these. – Sit down, please, and think twice about the truth of the meaning. I did not need the over forty years experience to come to this conclusion, but this time surely allowed me to witness an decreasing respect of academic and human standards in what is still called Higher Education. Sending letters that do not allow to clearly identify the sender, actually – from my understanding – sent by some company on behalf of a university, is suspicious.

BTW, the procedure in this case, if compared with that of other universities, is for the referee one of the worst and most complicated I ever came across  there had been several in over forty years. Furthermore, even the boxes that have to be completed for the referee-data are not allowing for differences in national systems etc. – more lack of international experience and professional standards on your side.

As stated on the website of the Dean [https://www.fuqua.duke.edu/about/our-dean], accessed on the seventeenth of January 2018, 21:08:
Checking Boxes is Not Enough in Ensuring Diversity – this, taken cum grano salis, is also applicable when it comes to dealign with applications and asking for references. There is good old request: FROM WORDS TO ACTION. You see … much to be done
I dare to hope that students learn other business models too at FSB, and learn also some respect – Alfred Marshal already made us aware of the need of such education, not boxing young people.
Sincerely worried about the future of Third Level Education in your country [unfortunately Fuqua School of Business is not known which also means I did not know where it is located before checking on the web – seemingly you assume everybody knows it, it is just another fault],
Peter Herrmann, respectfully still classified as human being
Prof. Dr. Peter Herrmann
Students, presenting such work as Hobsons and FSB do, would surely fail my courses.
And I dare to add: it is tremendously sad, that these things, the undue tyranny of administrations in non-administrative areas, are too often just swallowed and only few academics rebuke this bold takeover of universities, just complaining and moaning in silence …
PS: After writing ad sending this epistle I received a phone call – definitely a positiver sign, though at the end confirming that there are different departments of the university or actually agencies that are not part of the university dealing with issues, after they get some rather general information – the one seize fits all kind of, indeed ‘advancing business’ though far from acting as force for any good  that goes beyond personal or the institutions interest. Exactly the pattern of that teaching of economics that brought us the crisis of which we will celebrate in September the the anniversary – Happy Birthday Crisis, enjoy the profits you make out of squeezing honest people, mind the adversaries.

Higher Administration versus Higher Education

Recently, Denis Rogatyuk wrote in a telesur article about

Britain: University Teachers Launch the Largest Strike in Modern History

There we find the sentence

university staff, lecturers, and students have organized picket lines, rallies, occupations and protests across all major cities in the country in their bid to defend their future livelihood and bring the university administration back to the negotiating table.

Well,it deserves some slow reading, becoming fully aware of the fact that administrators are not mentioned. – Admittedly and importantly,

In a number instances, the vice-chancellor of the University of Newcastle, Chris Day, came out in support of the academic staff’s decision to strike, while Glasgow University’s Vice-chancellor, Anton Muscatelli, joined the staff on the picket lines on February 27th. Even the Conservative Minister for Universities, Sam Gyimah, expressed support for further negotiations between UCU and UUK

[An image from a University and College Union rally in London on February 28th. | Photo: UCU]

Of course, the one point is simply a matter of the ‘organisational framework’: Administrations are formally responsible for dealing with the issues of payment. However, considering that today admin-staff in UK universities gets higher pay [raises] as academics, the underlying is getting clear: universities are money generating systems, the academic freedom and academic standard seems to be – in the institutional  light – increasingly a necessary, though not valued by-product – as it is with any other commodity. – Achieving high academic standards is a matter of private engagement.

In this context another point should be mentioned, though just anecdotal: I talked to several colleagues, who confirmed that forty, four-five percent of standard teaching is nowadays at their uiversity undertaken by casual teaching staff. Mind: standard teaching. These teachers, often highly committed, still have another commitment: paying rent and getting some food on the table.

Leisure Time

It is Chinese New Year and Spring Festival, Seollal in Korea, where the Olympic Games may be part of what they claim to be: a step to the peaceful unification of two countries, which would be a real and global platinum medal – and it is about celebrating and leisure time. Let us join in this difficult matter.

… unfortunately human nature improves slowly, and in nothing more slowly than in the hard task of learning to use leisure well. In every age, in every nation, and in every rank of society, those who have known how to work well, have been far more numerous than those who have known how to use leisure well. But on the other hand it is only through freedom to use leisure as they will, that people can learn to use leisure well; and no class of manual workers, who are devoid of leisure, can have much self-respect and become full citizens. Some time free from the fatigue of work that tires without educating, is a necessary condition of a high standard of life.

 

 

[Marshall, Alfred, 1890: Principles of Economics; MacMillan and Co., London, 1930: 718]

Academia Now and Then

I am wondering if and in which way we can and have to speak of changes in the academic world.

Putting it into a question one could ask:

Can living in the academic world be compatible with working academically?

It has something religious – similar to the questions, leading to and accompanying the Reformation, criticizing the institutionalised church in order to rescue faith.

It has something ancient philosophic-economical, where we find the contrast of Oikonomia, roughly  use-value oriented and resource-respecting management of the household  and Chrematistike, roughly the exchange-value oriented money-making, money becoming as fetish a use-value.

If we are generously accepting that different sides are justified, instead of insisting on a romanticised ideal, there still remains the

cui prodest, cui bono?

To be precise, it is not just the question who benefits. Centre-stage we have to ask

Where do we find systemically and what are the leading motives?

Looking at the distribution of income within the sector of Higher Education is revealing. And understanding that this is not the only sector where power is abused is frightening. And that power is often abused not just for private benefits, but where dependents are guided into wrong directions is a disgrace …

And there are still people speaking about freedom of thought and speech? Well, we see, it is not just a matter of a finger …, it can also be about having a different approach or uncovering injustice or speaking about it. And then people hear they should think outside of the box …?

Well, there is something biblical in all this as we know from Genesis 26 ff. – still encouraging some to ask Why can’t we do what we like to do?