The academic world has gone into high dudgeon this week thanks to proposals from Arizona Congressman Jeff Flake to cut nearly $11 million in federal funding to political science programs throughout the country. Via Meadia friend and esteemed colleague Roger Berkowitz weighs in on the matter in a post at Bard College’s Hannah Arendt Center blog:
I don’t want to disparage the research, which I am sure will be of interest to a subset of academic political scientists. This research may even, over years, produce insights that gradually merge with the fruits of other research to change and even improve our understanding of how multiparty negotiations impact complicated international topics. And, yes, $700,000 is less than a drop in the bucket in the federal budget. But when looking at the Federal Budget, at a time when students are being forced into bankruptcy because they can’t repay student debt, is this where the government should be spending its money?Congressman Flake, who I never have heard of before happens to have a Masters degree in Political Science; he understands that these grants have multiple uses. First, they advance the general knowledge of the social sciences. They also advance the careers of the political scientists who win them. What is more, the vast majority of the funds dispersed go to subsidize the administrative costs at our nation’s colleges and universities. And here is where the proposed funding looks mighty suspect.The researchers proposing this study are from Dartmouth. Dartmouth is a fine school, also a small school that happens to have an endowment of over $3 Billion dollars.
Read the whole thing.
As we’ve had occasion to note here at Via Meadia
, the US currently produces far too much “academic research,” and much of it is worthless. Some of the worthless research is directly subsidized by government grants; some of it is indirectly subsidized by academics in taxpayer supported universities whose job descriptions divide their responsibilities between teaching and research; some of it is paid in the form of tuition by students and parents on the same basis. And finally, some of the worthless research is produced on their own time by academics trying to beef up their prospects for promotion and tenure.There is a real baby and bathwater problem here. While much academic research is so worthless that not even other academics in the same field bother to read it, some of this research represents high triumphs of the human spirit, opens the door to new medical treatments, or otherwise deepens our understanding of the world around us and increases our ability to live richer, better lives.The reconstruction of the American university is going to take some time, and nobody knows now exactly how the new system should look. In general, Via Meadia
thinks that the “research model” works less well in the humanities and in most social sciences than it does in the natural sciences. In many cases, undergraduate teaching could be separated from scholarly research with no loss to the quality of undergraduate education — and perhaps a substantial gain.In any case, we think Congressman Flake’s proposals deserve a fair and careful hearing. The policy usefulness of most political science research is at best questionable; at a time of tight government budgets it makes sense to look hard at non-essentials.