Quote of the day, July 22 2011 — Intellectual snobbery hiding behind academic freedom

An empty auditorium

‘A senior professor of psychology recently asked me how, if he didn’t have tenure, he would be able to write op-eds criticizing his department chair and his college administration while keeping his job. I asked him how the rest of the world gets by without regularly denouncing their bosses in a newspaper.

At a recent conference where I spoke on collective bargaining in higher education, one professor questioned (and others in the room also fussed about) my right to speak on the subject without—she was incredulous—a Ph.D.! I might ask why a degree in medieval literature or molecular biology would qualify one to discuss the growing unionization movement on college campuses.’

– Naomi Schaefer Riley, “Academia’s Crisis of Irrelevance”, The Wall Street Journal, July 20 2011 (site accessed for quoting July 22 2011, subscription required to view full article)

Unfortunately, I have to concur that many holders of college degrees believe their degree makes them an expert in anything related to their field of study. And often they come to believe they are an expert on everything, even topics not directly related to their field of study. And conversely, anyone who does not have a degree — any degree! — is clearly not qualified to have an opinion about anything.

Ms. Riley’s article begins by noting that many lower-income prospective college students and recent college graduates are questioning the value of a degree since college is quite expensive and the cost of college continues to grow at a pace that far exceeds inflation. She notes the response of many college faculty has been to defensively close ranks and claim “reformers are not sophisticated enough to understand the system.”

That’s a perfect way to have a reasonable discussion with people — tell them they’re too ignorant or simple-minded to understand what they’re criticizing, instead of actually addressing the points they make.

On a side note, Ms. Riley has recently published a book about colleges & college professors, The Faculty Lounges . . . And Other Reasons Why You Won’t Get the College Education You Paid For. I don’t know if I’ll get around to reading it, but for anyone interested Frank Gannon wrote a review of it in today’s Wall Street Journal titled “Hello Adjunct, Meet Prof. Cozy“.

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