Shallow Hal

I continue my pursuit of back-reading with s a piece called, “A Letter to Barrack Obama,” in the September 2001 issue of Harper’s, by George McGovern. Even at the distance of less than a year, it’s a remarkable piece, well-worth reading. McGovern, who says he’s never seen a president thwarted by “the kind of narrow partisanship that has beset Obama,” offers a kind of laundry list of proposals that might help the president, “on the road to greatness.”

What’s so refreshing about McGovern’s ideas is their ambitiousness, particularly after a long season of the Republican primaries, a debate poisoned by the worst sort of reactionary small-mindedness imaginable. One moment they are debating the morality of birth control and insisting on invasive medical procedures and the next Candidate Santorum is telling Puerto Rican’s that they are welcome to statehood anytime, all they have to do is learn English.

So maybe I was reading with a bit of angry skepticism this morning when I came across, “Wanted: Dedicated Deep Thinkers,” by By Peter A. Coclanis, in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Coclanis is thinking about the so-called glut of Ph.D.’s and, perhaps in a half-ironic fashion, proposing that corporate America embrace academia’s lost children as what he calls, “CIAO, or chief intellectual-arbitrage officer,” on the model of the “CINO, or chief innovation officer.”

The CIAO would “ask new questions, identify new trends, explore new niches, expand geocultural boundaries, project forward, and remember the past.” I can’t help but see this as the same small=-mindedness that McGovern’s piece so effectively rejects. If were to really cut the U.S. military budget, McGovern argues, for example, by 300 or even 400 billions dollars a year we would still have the largest military in the world and probably the largest in history.

That’s money for expanding access to education, bullet trains, Medicaid for all. If Coclanis is interested in dealing with the problems of academia, he too should get out of the tiny ideas sandbox and start thinking at the scale of cutting the U.S. military budget by 2/3’s. Why can’t we begin investigating proposals to restore tenure, full-time employment, and academic freedom of speech? Perhaps we could do that by cutting administrative budgets by, say, 1/2…

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol]

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