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Want to know why (some) op-ed columnists write bilge?

21 September, 2009

Via The Accidental Mathematician, I see that Margaret Wente – who, from what little I understand of the Canadian broadsheet establishment, is employed to be a Courageous Contrarian doughtily sticking up for the big guys against the little ones – is having a pop at the ivory tower. Or, at least, people she thinks are idling away in an ivory tower.

The whole thing needs to be read, if you want to savour le plein gôut of the vinegar and condescension – but inasmuch as it has a thesis, I suppose it’s summed up in this para:

The universities say the problem is money. If only they had more of it, they could do a better job of educating undergraduates. There’s just one catch. Educating undergraduates is just about the last thing most professors want to do.

Good to see that the Globe and Mail employs columnists with such good mind-reading skills, isn’t it?

Since I’m not one of the strawmen professors that Wente is cack-handedly disparaging, and since I don’t have time* to ferret around for counter-arguments and data, I’ll merely direct any readers of this post to the Accidental Mathematician’s own rebuttal, for the moment at least.

I’m mildly interested to see that one of Wente’s quoted sources is a (full) professor at my old stomping grounds, who on a quick look has more than earned his stripes and so is admittedly worth listening to if he has particular criticisms. It’s not clear to me that Clifton’s quotes – which to me say that people would rather do what they enjoy than what they regard as drudgery – actually support the more snide and deliberately vague charges that Wente levels. But then again, it’s not clear that Wente has anything to substantiate her charges, except `anecdata’ and a vague feeling that These Boffins Need To Be Accountable To The Consumer, Dammit. In fact, as I reread the article in search of the evidence for her assertions, it just isn’t there – just a string of assertions and resentment.

(And yes, this post is a transparent attempt to compensate for my failure to keep up with blogging on the Shavgulidze project. Haven’t forgotten about it, though; it’s just starting to sink towards the bottom of the intray…)

[*] lack of time due to effort to juggle a couple of research projects and prepare for my teaching this coming week. Somehow I don’t think Wente’s week is going to be that much more arduous than mine, or that of the full profs in my department, most of whom are teaching heavier loads than I am.

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