Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ Disinterested

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Oct 26, 2007

Originally posted on Half an Hour, October 26, 2007.

Responding to Matthew K. Tabor

Honestly, from a leftists’ perspective, I can’t get over how much whining and caterwauling there is from the right about leftist teachers, professors, whatever.

If people want more right-wing teachers, there’s a really simple way to do it: pay them more.

That way, you’ll get teachers who are motivated by the money passing on capitalist values rather than people who are motivated by social service talking about cooperating and sharing, about rights and diversity.

Honestly, the right wing lot is so tiresome. If you don’t like what you’re getting, in either teachers or professors or whatever, go out and spend your money and buy some. That’s how the market works, isn’t it?

Fergoodness sakes, I just wish the right would quit whining about how hard done by they are, how the left is discriminating against them, about how they never get a break. Sheesh. It rings so hollow after, you know, eight years of Republicans running the country into the ground…


You say “I want disinterested teachers and scholars who don’t inject their personal politics into subjects like history… The point is that there’s a dearth of intellectual diversity or, at the least, an imbalance that’s keeping us from providing the very best education possible.”

Same point holds… if that’s what you want, don’t complain about it, pay for it.

You can’t force teachers into (what you call) ‘disinterested’ or ‘intellectually diverse’ (what I read as ‘right wing’ - these words you use are just euphemisms). You have to hire people who are already right wing - and since they are motivated by money, not service, it costs more.


I know what the word 'disinterested' means.

But don't forget, I come from a political tradition that includes things like Marx saying, "everything is politics."

So it's is neither unusual nor surprising for someone like me to say that, when you take the politics *out* of something, you are left with (what might be called) conservatism or right wing thought.

But another way of saying the same thing is to say that the 'disinterested' stance is just another political stance (think, by analogy, of the way people who are religious argue that atheism is just another religion, or that it is, at the very least, a religious stance).

From my perspective, to take the personal interpretation and personal interest out of a discipline - whether it be history or mathematics or computer science - is to change that discipline, to present it as a sterile unreal abstract.

The fact is, facts - even scientific and mathematical facts, much less historical facts - are based in and founded on interest. Why would we care whether 2+2=4 were we not grounded in a system of counting and measurement? Why would counting and measurement be important were we in a society ruled by abundance rather than scarcity?

Or philosophically, to understand what numbers mean, what things like probability mean. Is probability, as F.P. Ramsay argued, a matter of subjective interpretation, based on (say) how much we would *bet* on a proposition?

In the same way, telling students where, say, milk comes from, carries with it just as much in the way of interpretation and value.

To take out the interpretation is to take out the left-wing. And all that remains is the right-wing. Which is why I think that 'disinterested' is a euphemism for very very political.


Let me also address this:

“If we’ve got a problem with our professoriate, there’s no reason we can’t take different approaches to hiring, firing and tenure. It’s not as if professors are born into a role - someone hired them, oversees them and continues to pay them.”

What sort of ‘different approach’ are you suggesting? Some sort of political screening?

See, the problem is, publicly funded institutions have evolved according to the determinations of elected representatives, over time, regarding how they should be run.

And one of the fundamental determinations they have made is that professors get to choose their own political affiliations.

Let’s say (for the sake of argument) that this has resulted in a generally left-wing skew (keep in mind that, compared to me, and from my frame of reference, they’re more right wing than left wing - especially in view of survey results like this).

This simply is the result of highly educated professionals electing to support one political perspective over another.

What sort of mechanism will you use to change this?

Well - what you *could* do is simply get the public out of the university business. Then you could go about hiring whomever you want.

But that would cost a LOT of money - and the public (who actually pays for the system) would never support it. Yes, you can create a few elite right-wing institutions, but for the general run of educational institutions, you’re stuck with what the public wants - and what the public wants is a politically independent professoriate.

I’m not sure there’s enough money in the world to convince left-wing professors to become right-wingers, or to get the public to support a policy of hiring for politics over merit.

But - it seems to me - if capitalism were right, then the money would be there to hire a more diverse lot of professors, IF that’s what the people who pay for it want.

But the right won’t pay - and simply wants to force the people who DO pay to pay for the things the RIGHT wants.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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