prophilosophy

Professional philosophy news

Columbia Fires Two Public Intellectuals

Columbia Fires Two Public Intellectuals

About a month ago, The New York Times’s Nicholas Kristof wrote a much-discussed columncalling for academics to take on a greater role in public life. Most professors, he lamented, “just don’t matter in today’s great debates,” having instead burrowed into rabbit holes of hyper-specialization. PhD programs, he wrote, “have fostered a culture that glorifies arcane unintelligibility while disdaining impact and audience.” Professors, Kristof pleaded, “don’t cloister yourselves like medieval monks—we need you!”

Shortly before his column came out, Carole Vance and Kim Hopper, longtime professors at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, learned that they were losing their jobs because they hadn’t brought in enough grant money. Both, ironically, are models for the sort of publicly engaged intellectual Kristof wants to see more of. Vance has done pioneering work on the intersection of gender, health and human rights. “She has been a mentor and a leading influence on generations of scholars as well as activists and practitioners,” says Rebecca Schleifer, the former advocacy director for the health and human rights division at Human Rights Watch. Hopper, who divides his time between Columbia and the Nathan S. Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research, is both an advocate for the homeless and one of the nation’s foremost scholars on homelessness. Last year, American Anthropologist ran a piece highlighting his work beyond academia, noting that Hopper “has long urged anthropologists to take part in public debates, to translate ethnographic findings into policy proposals.”

His termination, along with Vance’s, suggests that scholars have good reason not to take this advice. Kristof is right that universities have become inhospitable places for public intellectuals, but he misses the ultimate cause. The real problem isn’t culture. It’s money.

Advertisements

One response to “Columbia Fires Two Public Intellectuals

Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s