trying to open the box

 

Looking at how academic institutions deal with applications by students – and with lecturers who support their endeavour – when it comes to applications there seems to be little hope: one meets ignorance, lack of respect and unqualified ways of handling procedures – I referred to this issue earlier.. I suppose part of the problem is also that we usually accept such misbehavior and move on, allowing ‘them’ to move on their way. Hopeless …

“HOPE is what makes us strong. It is why we are here. It is what we fight with when all else is lost.”
– Pandora’s last words

With this attitude I wrote the letter/mail to some completely ignorant universities: if asking for a reference that supports students to follow their path of curiosity, has any meaning, there are some institutions that themselves delve in complete lack of meaning.

 

Dear colleague, I am writing to you after overcoming some hesitation and also after reflecting if there is any point in it.

Still, for the sake of students and due to my commitment to academia and academic standards I feel obliged to follow up on the way your university is dealing with applications. If there is any claim on hour side to be an academic institution of reputable rank and with an international standing, at least revisiting the following is highly advisable – to say the least.
Lecturers today are encouraged to move, and some actually manage to be engaged by different universities and research institutes – for my part I can humbly state that I had been in the lucky situation of being involved in teaching and research in different countries, linked to various institutions, amongst them those with high international standing. However, this also means that e-mail addresses change. Apparently, so I had been informed, your institution requires students to submit contact details of lectures whom they nominate for their recommendation, valid at the time of teaching. In other words, I had been teaching students who asked me for a reference after I left the respective university – and still the students are asked to provide contact details from an outdated position. In this light, what is really outdated is the requirement you set. It shows that your institution does not reflect standards of todays academia, and instead follows somewhat ‘provincial’, ‘parochial’ ideas. – I may add, that historically at least in Europe, the mobility of academics had been the norm, the settled, academic the exception – settled in terms of space usually also meant settled in thinking, lacking openness to exchange and innovation.
Now, moving on to the next point: In several cases it is [was] possible for me to keep the e-mail address from an earlier position. One option to deal with this is to check different mail accounts. Sometimes it is possible to forward mails; and another option is to set an automatic reply, informing and asking the sender to use a different e-mail-address. I had to chose with one of the accounts the latter option. So, the request for a reference, sent by our university to the one ‘official’ mail address, was answered by such automatic reply, providing an alternative address. Although the mail from your institution was not sent by a completely automated system and replies had been received, the responsible department or person did not consider to react in an appropriate way. On the contrary, later a reminder was sent to the same, inactive, address. This behaviour from your institution shows in my opinion cum gram salis the same attitude as that mentioned previously. It is highly disrespectful, ignoring the serious interests of students and showing no collegiality to academics. It is even topped by the fact that I once set a mail to the relevant department of your institution, using the ‘dormant address’. The rely I received gave apt evidence of the fact that the mail I sent was not properly read.
I may then add: the standardised ‘questionnaires’, used to ask to assess students, are substandard. In general I think it is questionable to use multiple choice questions and similar for such assessment – it is about young personalities and not machines or fat-stock. Still, if such approach is used, the design requires a bit more reflection. If a student of mine, would submit such questionnaire which I had been asked to complete, as part of exams, that student would end, on a generous day, with a very low grade.
Again, the way your institution is currently handling – at least – this part of the application process is simply appalling and lacks any respect towards students and those lecturers who are in a position to support their curiosity about learning. This part of their learning experience provided by you is apt to undermine such curiosity, and teach that studies you offer may not deliver what they promise.
Sincerely disappointed
Peter Herrmann

 

Prof. Dr. Peter Herrmann
Max Planck Institute for Social Law and Social Policy/
Max-Planck-Institut für Sozialrecht und Sozialpolitik
[section social law]
– Research Fellow –
….
skype: …
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__________
University of Eastern Finland (UEF)
Department of Social Sciences
PL 1627
70211 Kuopio
FINLAND
—-Corvinus University
Institute of World Economy
Faculty of Social Sciences and International Relations
Fővám tér 8
1093 Budapest
HUNGARY
_________
Active Member of the European Academy of Science and Arts
Annunci

mind snatchers

Back home now, taking up teaching again – and with this the “major challenge” we face – nolens volens

E.P. Thompson wrote in an article in 1970:

Collectively, all of us – all we liberal academics – were struck with a paralysis of will as the system not only grew round us, but built us into its own body-walls. Once inside there it looked as if we were running our bit of the show: but the show itself was being directed towards other ends.

Andrew McGettigan, also quoting this, comes in his review article in Radical Philosophy (186 – July/August 2014) to the conclusion that the really important thing about the book Warwick University Ltd. is the investigative journalism. The importance of such investigative journalism cannot be denied.
And I am right now again made aware of it: there had been the change, now the business school teaching economics with reference to the CORE-programme – I commented earlier on it, saying that there would be some progress at least. During the last days I learned that even this is a questionable assessment, reading in mails:
… we have to bear in mind when looking at the CORE information, that we are teaching economics to u/g students in a Business School and so interprete the information accordingly, although I do however understand that students might be interested these other areas. …
And
… As you state, the e-book is substantial and so we are clearly not covering all aspects in detail but the relevant staff are deciding which aspects of each unit to focus on. You can reasonably assume that we have discussed all of the “Key Points” listed at the end of each unit. …
 Looking then at other documents, I see exactly those walls, replicated and known …, and not touched.
With all the complains, however, we should never forget that there may be a mechanism here name “distraction by attraction”: Being carried away by the presentation of “simple facts”, scandalisation, and also the play with abstract ideas and models lets us easily forget the actual core of any academic work:
This surely goes beyond (and deeper than) descriptions and statistical meticulousness and the learning of formulas. Indeed, academics should refrain from moving on the stages, “cutting things into pieces”, describing facts like playing roles. But mind:

That’s enough words for the moment,
Now let me see some action!

While you’re handing out the compliments,
You should also make things happen.
Why talk so much of inspiration?
Delay won’t make it flow, you see.

taking up the “major challenge” we face – nolens volens. And the worse answer is:ignoring it, turning head and mind to business as usual, business in capital letters…

On the world, how we destroy it and how god made us doing it

An interesting and entertaining version of presenting (up to 1.13.46) the destructive power set free by continue do do what Albert Einstein problematised, namely that

Perfection of means and confusion of goals seem—in my opinion—to characterize our age.

(Einstein, Albert, 2914: The Common Language of Science”, a broadcast for Science, Conference, London, 28 September 1941here for the transscript).

And shows that god is result of this limitation of thinking …, and after creating and following god, we simply limit any progress of thinking further – or: we reduce ourselves on being no much more than a puddle. – Perfection of self-abasement … – I referred to this also in an earlier contribution.

academic bloomers

Something is going wrong in academia – is it a matter of the publishing sector or the awarding system? A sentence in Bruno F. Frey’s article on ‘Publishing as prostitution? – Choosing between one’s own ideas and academic success‘ (Public Choice 116: 205–223, 2003) does not provide the answer, though it importantly poses the question.

A well-known example is Akerlof’s “Market for Lemons”, which was rejected by the American Economic Review and the Review of Economic Studies as being “trivial”, and by the Journal of Political Economy for being “too general” before it was accepted by the Quarterly Journal of Economics, which was instrumental in him winning the Nobel Prize.

Will we be able to contribute to the debate during the next days in Shanghai, addressing conference on

Responsible leadership, global citizenship and the role of education – what might the last 10 years tell us about the next 10 years?

organised at theThe Sino-British College, USST, 上海理工大学中英国际学院 ?

Working from rather different perspectives and interests on the contribution, titled “‘Chinese Higher Education in an International Sitting: Progress and Challenges’” (together with Fan Hong/Rzepka, Remi) was already a challenge. The gain for me, against the odds: becoming even more aware of the difficulties to “put students first”.

If I will still be able total up on the new plan: writing an textbook for economics from and for the lifeworld perspective of which the fundamental is that another world is indeed, possible if it trust in the honesty “grand narrative of small people” as main bulwark against strives and lies of old and new princes, West and East.

see also https://youtu.be/6FJxTwHuotI

Disenchantment …

or enchantment …?
In sociology we know latest since Max Weber about the disenchantment of the world. And still we cannot completely grasp it … – You may remember an entry some time ago, when I wrote about a chat with a friend, looking at The Other Dimension.

There it was about emotions, the exceptional and the part of life we cannot and do not even want to explain. There is again another dimension, the enchantment and fascination we overlook so often for which we do not have the time. The enchantment by something that seems to be just routine, perhaps even left to the autopilot, and as it is part of daily life we forget to approach it – sure, not least a metaphor, but there is indeed some fascination in so many things that may seem so very ordinary, from approaching a another country by plane to the landing, looking into the eyes of friends. Don’t we do it nearly every day, and don’t we easily forget about it ?

Quoting again from the mentioned Other Dimension:

To take it from Adorno’s Dialectic of Enlightenment

Bourgeois society is ruled by equivalence. It makes the dissimilar comparable by reducing it to abstract quantities. To the enlightenment, that which does not reduce to numbers, and ultimately to the one, becomes illusion.

There is surely some Madness of Sincerity of which I learned again – finally

Men are never convinced of your reasons, of your sincerity, of the seriousness of your sufferings, except by your death. So long as you are alive, your case is doubtful; you have a right only to their skepticism.”

And isn’t the ease with which we are forgetting this also one of the major wrongdoings when we as teaches stand in class, not fully respecting the performance of the students, also by not teaching them that failing in the courses does not mean “to  be a failure”? And moreover, to teach indeed fascinating innovations, making easily forgetting the foundations that are needed tallow them to evolve? In a recent lecture, part of the teaching BA-students at BCC, I tried to do exactly the opposite.

Independent thinking ….

… and the small steps the academic world undermines it …

Two weeks teaching are over, today with the long Sunday sessions … – it is good to see the students (well, some of them) again being around, eager to learn, interested in understanding the world and gain independent thinking. Sure, independent thinking does by no means deny the meaning of work that had been done – putting all us of on the shoulders of giants and as well on those of the forgotten labouring masses of the academic world on which the monuments of giants are erected. Al this talk about giants and the acknowledgment of the pedestals on which they stand is not just about referencing but it is of fundamental importance to learn about the work that had been done, climbing on the shoulders of giants. And this is not least a matter of methodologies, theories and methods. Only this way we are able to work according to fundamentally important principles: Asad Zaman presents them in the following way:

The first of this is to consider the central role of institutions as mediators of change. … A second principle is “methodological communitarianism,” according to which only collective action creates social change … . A third principle is the strong interaction between the social, economic and political spheres which requires simultaneous consideration of all three … . A fourth principle is the reflexive relationship between theories and history. Changing historical circumstances generate theories designed to understand this change. In turn, theories affect history, since responses to change are mediated by theories. Finally, … social change is initiated by external factors, but understanding the process of change requires considering responses to these external stimuli by various groups.[1]

But what is then about independence? Just before taking up teaching again, I submitted an article to a journal – and the style guidelines deserve in the context of learning independent thinking some special attention:

The use of personal pronouns (‘I’ and ‘we’) is to be generally avoided in the text, as are phrases such as ‘This paper will analyze …’, since the paper itself is an inanimate object and incapable of cognition.

The age old and lasting Werturteilsstreit (value judgment dispute) in new veils. This dispute was at its height before WW I, in the early 1960 and it has its clandestine renaissance now — Doesn’t the quoted formulation suggest that any academic should leave personality, opinion, values etc, at the wardrobe when entering the ivory tower? – Sure, another reading is possible: academics of all disciplines, leave the tower and act in a responsible way wherever responsibility is asked for. Not least on the streets and squares – when crossing them and blocking them …

Coming back too teaching, the challenge remains: how to prepare academics to find the door of the ivory tower, making them thoroughly aware that getting in does not suggest one has to stay inside.

It is indeed still true what had been said in thesis 11:

The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.

Part of my tiny contribution to the interpretation and change can be found here in the lecture recordings, which will be frequently updated throughout the term.

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[1] Zambian, Asad, 2016: The Methodology of Polanyi’s Great Transformation; in: Economic Thought 5.1: 44-63; here: 46; I may add that I talked about methodological socialism in the book “Opening Views against the Closure of the World” which had been published earlier this year.