No free marketplace of ideas


In a scathing opinion piece in today’s Gazette, McGill profs Reuven Brenner and Gil Troy tear apart academia:

We don’t have today a “free marketplace of ideas” – not by any stretch of the imagination. What we have is a heavily subsidized production of “obscure jargons” – much noise, that is – with academics carving out, then jealously guarding, their turf.

Pompous wording, circuitous sentences and flaccid prose protect prerogatives and bamboozle students with buzz-words, elaborate models and unverifiable theories, leaving a trail of confusion that mediocre followers – in academia, media and politics, too – either mistake for profundity or just misuse when convenient.

I think that’s a little harsh. There are some very good professors out there, and I took more than my share of excellent, thought-provoking classes.

But Brenner and Troy aren’t attacking individual professors so much as the entire system of academia. And here, they aren’t too far off the mark. While their analysis is more bleak than anything, there is no denying that academia can be full of narrow-minded people who are oftentimes out of touch with reality. The overuse of jargon should be obvious to any first-year arts student. Too many professors have voiced concerns about the sacred cow of “publish or perish” being replaced by “toe the line or you’re out”. If your opinions are unfashionable, you’ll have precious little success finding a position anywhere.

I’d like to say things are getting better, but it seems that they are getting worse. Too many classes, instead of teaching students to become independent thinkers, instead require regurgitation of the professor’s ideas. It’s obvious this can lead nowhere positive, and maybe some soul-searching in academics is long overdue.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 DaninVan 06.06.04 at 8:18 PM

I don’t suppose you could provide a link to the actual article rather than the Registration page? (Thanks, I’m already a subsciber to the Vancouver Sun paper version which, you’d think, would allow me access to other articles, eh?)

As for the gist of the article, dead on. I can’t even have a discussion with my daughter (going into 3rd yr Arts @ UVic)without her throwing her ‘my-liberal-arts-left-leaning-profs-are infallible’ bs at me.


2 segacs 06.06.04 at 8:22 PM

Sorry Dan, I’d love to but the site won’t let me. The link is to the article but if you’re not logged in it’ll go to the registration page. Good ol’ CanWestGlobal…


3 Hanthala 06.07.04 at 9:52 PM

No worries, Danin, she’ll get over it. I did, but only at the Masters’ when I decided I’d rather die then become one of them (but, you know, its just the same politicking that goes on everywhere else…just wish it would not exist in a university, or at least be more subdued). Troy (not my favorite McGill Prof. but that’s another comment altogether) makes some good suggestions in the article (if I remember correctly, read it yesterday and won’t pay to read it again online). Something about making academic writings available (and–minus the jargon–understandable to the general public). Also opening up the university, classrooms and all, to the general public. I agree, that is the spirit in which university was created.


4 DaninVan 06.08.04 at 4:45 PM

I sent S.W.M.B.O. Jr. a reply meant for Sari; I’m in such deep doodoo you have no idea. (memo to self: “keep smart-ass comments to self”.)


5 segacs 06.08.04 at 7:13 PM



6 Hanthala 06.08.04 at 10:30 PM

Who knows, Sari, Danin appears to live in his own world 🙂


7 DaninVan 06.08.04 at 10:47 PM

‘Rumpole of the Bailey’. She Who Must Be Obeyed; don’t you guys know anything…? The Jr. is obvious, right?


8 segacs 06.09.04 at 3:43 AM

Ah, missed the reference. Well, based on the nature of your e-mails to me, I can’t imagine the doodoo is *that* deep…


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