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Poli-Sci Prof: Higher Education Needs More Political Activism

Poli-Sci Prof: Higher Education Needs More Political Activism

“we need to rethink the relationship between advocacy and the academy”

Jessica F. Green teaches at the University of Toronto. She claims that the academy is “an inherently conservative institution” which is just bizarre.

She writes at the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Why We Need a More Activist Academy

I’m having an identity crisis. As a graduate student in political science, I learned to be objective. I was taught to be analytical, methodical, and scientific. I learned to proceed incrementally — immersing myself in others’ research, meticulously assembling modest, falsifiable hypotheses, then dutifully reporting the sources of bias, potential problems, and with trepidation, my findings.

In short, I had politics trained out of me. Instead of engaging in climate politics, my area of expertise, I study them. Instead of advocating, I analyze. This is my profession, and yet I feel that I am shirking my political responsibility as a scholar to do something.

But what to do? The academy is an inherently conservative institution, one that generally does not reward advocacy. Yet, addressing the existential threat of climate change will involve radical action and radical politics. As experts, we are in a unique position to participate in political debates.

I recognize that calling for more advocacy from within the academy will make many people nervous. The legitimacy of the university as an institution rests on the reputation of scholars as impartial researchers. In the realm of climate science, Roger A. Pielke Jr. calls on scholars to be “honest brokers” — experts that “expand (or at least clarify) the scope of choice” for decision-makers, but refrain from suggesting a specific alternative.

But the production of knowledge is necessarily political and cannot be otherwise. Choosing to ignore this reality has diminished the influence of political scientists in the public sphere.

In short, we need to rethink the relationship between advocacy and the academy. The time for being an honest broker has passed.


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