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Op-Ed: Academia needs to be more activist

Forget everything you know about liberal bias in academia. For Jessica Green, an associate professor of political science at the University of Toronto, the profession isn’t political or activist enough.

Green writes in an op-ed titled “Why we need a more activist academy” about her desire to see academia become a more activist institution that works in political advocacy.

She sets the stage by explaining how she was “taught to be analytical, methodical, and scientific” instead of political as a graduate student:

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.

In the very next paragraph, she dispels with the notion that academy is liberal, and calls for a “radical” shift:

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.

Despite acknowledging that “The legitimacy of the university as an institution rests on the reputation of scholars as impartial researchers,” Green claims this doesn’t matter because, “the production of knowledge is necessarily political and cannot be otherwise.” Therefore, it’s time “to rethink the relationship between advocacy and the academy.”

The central issue Green discusses is climate change:

The existential threat of climate change requires that we use our expertise, and our position of privilege in the academy, to advocate for solutions rather than merely lay out options. Some academics do pursue “engaged scholarship” — which seeks to link real-world problems to broader theoretical insights — but this type of work is not prevalent.

This does not mean we should become lobbyists. Rather, our job going forward is to lay bare the entrenched economic interests that prevent governments from phasing out fossil fuels. This is going to be a pitched battle, yet we tend to see it through the lens of technocratic management.

Later in the piece, Green calls for scholars “not to be honest brokers, but to lay bare the entrenched economic interests that prevent us from a transition to fossil-free energy,” and to “plant a flag” and be “explicit about our political commitments.”

To conclude, Green asserts, “Let’s not fool ourselves: We can never be completely unbiased,” continuing, “while we can never be perfectly impartial, we can be transparent about our motivations.” Finally, she argues that there shouldn’t be a line between advocacy and academia:

Being an advocate and an expert should not be mutually exclusive. Rather, as educators and scholars, it is our responsibility to participate in public discussions. Choosing not to have a view, in the name of preserving our expertise, is an abdication of responsibility. That abdication works in favor of powerful interests, and against those seeking to reorganize power relations. There are stakes to the political phenomena we study. We have a professional responsibility to act.

Read the piece here. 

MORE: Liberal professors outnumber conservatives 28-to-1 in Ivy League 

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