Unexpected idea in the packing area

Good stuff. The reference to Taylor makes up for the lack of reference to Humboldt. We might even think of the Tayloring of the university as its de-Humboldtification. Here’s a quote from Taylor on “scientific management”:

It is only through enforced standardization of methods, enforced adoption of the best implements and working conditions, and enforced cooperation that this faster work can be assured. And the duty of enforcing the adoption of standards and enforcing this cooperation rests with management alone.

It does seem many believe the university can benefit from such Tayloring ….

On British higher education’s Hayek appreciation club | Stian Westlake | Science | guardian.co.uk

British higher education’s Hayek appreciation club | Stian Westlake | Science | guardian.co.uk.

I think Stian Westlake is on to something here, though I think the explanation goes deeper than British academics’ secret memberships in the Hayek Appreciation Club (HAC).

Before any academic is considered for membership in the HAC, she first must become a super secret member of the super secret Humboldt Alliance (SSHA, or just HA for short). It was Humboldt, after all, who argued not only that research and teaching should be integrated in the person of the professor (a claim I support), but also that the university must be autonomous from the state (a claim I question, to a degree).

Underlying Humboldt’s demand for autonomy is a view Isaiah Berlin termed negative liberty. Briefly, negative liberty entails freedom from constraint or interference. Positive liberty, on the other hand, allows some interference insofar as such interference may actually allow us to exercise our freedom on our own terms. For those who espouse negative liberty — including not only Humboldt and Hayek, but also Popper (mentored by Hayek) and Berlin himself — autonomy means laissez faire. For those who espouse positive liberty — including Kant, Hegel, and Marx — autonomy means self-determination.

Humboldt also held the view that the state will actually benefit more if it leaves the university alone than if it attempts to direct the course of research in any way. I discuss similarities with Vannevar Bush, the father of US science policy, here. But the same argument gets recycled every time any policy maker suggests any interest in the affairs of the university.

Before there was a Hayek Appreciation Club, Hayek was a member of the Super Secret Humboldt Association. I’m pretty sure that Humboldt was also a member of the Super Double Secret Lovers of Aristotle Foundation (LAF); but that’s difficult to prove. Nevertheless, it was Aristotle who laid the foundation for Humboldt in arguing that what is done for its own sake is higher than what is done for the sake of something else. Aristotle also thought that the life of contemplation (a.k.a. philosophy) was better for the philosopher than any other life. But he didn’t take it as far as Humboldt and argue that it was also better for society.

To me, there’s a relation to this post on the CSID blog, as well.

Autonomy, negative and positive freedom, and broader impacts

I’ve been continuing to think about the topic I broached in a previous post. There, I described what I termed ‘old’ and ‘new’ ways of thinking about autonomy and accountability. Of course, my ‘new’ ways are not all that new.

Here I want to sketch very briefly some recent thoughts I’ve had as a result of teaching my class this past semester at UNT in ‘Science, Technology, and Society’, my recent attendance at the ‘Broader Impacts Infrastructure Summit‘ at the University of Missouri, and recent discussions with colleagues. I want to thank my students for forcing me to try to get my thoughts in enough order to be able to stand up in front of them and teach. I also want to thank Steve Fuller for turning me on to some new reading material and Bob Frodeman and Adam Briggle, with whom I tend to discuss everything.

I don’t want to blame any of them for these thoughts, of course. But I mention them, in part, to indicate ways in which my own thinking is influenced by these ‘non-research’ activities. In particular, my teaching this past semester has hardly been separable from my research. This notion that teaching and research can be — and should be — mutually reinforcing in this way is one of two main Humboldtian theses about the university. For short, let’s call it the integration of research and teaching (though I’m on record about my suspicion of the term ‘integration’).

The other main Humboldtian thesis about the university is that it should be autonomous from the state. This same notion was expressed in the post WWII era by Vannevar Bush, whose “Science — The Endless Frontier” forms much of the conceptual basis of science policy. In my previous post on autonomy and accountability, I argued that we needed to get past an account of freedom as freedom from constraint by the state. What I did not say in the last post is that this is precisely the account of freedom that both Humboldt and Bush share.

This notion of freedom is very much like what Isaiah Berlin describes as ‘negative freedom’. Under such a negative account of freedom, any interference on the part of the state with the sort of research that’s performed at universities would be an assault on freedom. I think this is the sort of freedom most academics believe in, whether they know it or not. The idea is that academics should be free from outside interference. Only free in this sense will they be allowed to roam wherever their curiosity would take them.

According to my ‘new’ account of autonomy, however, freedom means self-determination rather than freedom from restraint. This notion actually corresponds in many ways to what Berlin describes in the essay cited above as ‘positive liberty’. Under this conception of freedom, requirements such as the NSF’s Broader Impacts Merit Review Criterion need not curtail academic freedom, as long as they don’t take away the academic’s ability to self-legislate. Instead, such requirements could be seen under the rubric of ‘interference without domination’ as outlined by Philip Pettit in his account of Republicanism (thanks to Steve Fuller for that reference — have been trying to read some about Pettit and Republican political theory in the past day or two).

I am not quite comfortable with transferring ideas straight from political philosophy to the realm of knowledge policy. But I’m not worried here about making a mistake in the details. I think there’s something helpful in seeing things this way.

One more point that may seem unrelated — though it isn’t, I just won’t be able to make all the connections here. At the Broader Impacts Summit, it became clear that there were two ‘camps’ forming. Again, I’m going to speak loosely. One camp wanted to claim broader impacts as its area of expertise — let’s call them the BI-Experts, though I believe most of them would consider themselves experts in science education and outreach. What they were pushing, albeit in still-developing form, was to make broader impacts activities a side show to the real research. It would be a rigorous sideshow, mind you. But broader impacts activities ought to be the realm of BI-Experts, rather than scientists, who can’t tell outreach from a hole in the ground.

The other group — and interestingly, it tended to include former and current NSF program officers — had what I labeled a Humboldtian view of broader impacts. The idea was that intellectual merit and broader impacts should be integrated in the project (and perhaps in the person of the Principal Investigator). Without wanting to limit broader impacts to teaching, this view is consistent with the Humboldtian position on the integration of research and teaching.

However, the Humboldtian take on broader impacts actually depends on a positive notion of freedom. If one were to take a negative view of freedom (as I think Humboldt does), then one would be more inclined toward the BI-Expert approach. Why? The BI-Experts will run interference for the scientists, who will then be free to perform their research without having to be concerned with broader impacts.