Welcome to Academic Politics
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to The Faster Times’ new column, “Academic Politics.” If you are not here for Academic Politics, you are in the wrong room. Yes, sorry, chem lab is down the hall. Everyone in the right place? Good. I’m passing around a syllabus; you’ll probably want to take one of these.
Let me introduce myself. My name is Ken, but my friends call me Professor Mondschein. My training is as a historian—I’ll skip over the details, since they’re kind of dull—but I’m also a freelance writer (besides running the fencing club). If you’ve taken a class with me before, it might have been my column, “A History of Single Life” on Nerve.com. You might even remember my former e-zine CorporateMofo. If you’ve had me before and decided to sign up for another course, thank you; if this is your first time, welcome!
What is this column about? Well, I’ll start by saying what we won’t be talking about: We won’t be putting people down, espousing radical politics, or talking about overthrowing the current regime. We’ve all invested in the system, and I, for one, would like tenure one day. That’s not to say that we can’t be critical of higher education in America, but if we’re going to start digging under the foundations of the Ivory Tower, we should be examining it to see what’s holding it up, not trying to undermine the thing to bring it all to the ground. The former is a worthwhile inquiry; the latter would just bring a lot of rubble crashing down on our heads.
Rather, what I hope we can do is explore, in a fair and balanced way, how academia and the idea of the academic expert are used in public discourse. What’s the place of the public intellectual? What does academic freedom mean? How do political concerns show up in academic work? How do guys like Larry Summers go back and forth from the Ivy League to the government, and why do their ideas become policy? Is there a sort of elite groupthink in higher education? What’s the relation between ideas in the Ivory Tower and the direction we take as a society? What does this mean for social justice—and even how we define these ideas?
“Academic Politics” is an important subject, and not just for your gen-ed distributions. From the New York Times op-eds to The Daily Show, the pursuit of those who pursue knowledge is a major thread in our collective narrative. That’s all the more reason why we should spend some time picking it apart.
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