Why the Columbia firings matters

About a month ago, The New York Times’s Nicholas Kristof wrote a much-discussed column calling for academics to take on a greater role in public life. imagesMost professors, he lamented, “just don’t matter in today’s great debates,” having instead burrowed into rabbit holes of hyper-specialization. PhD programs, he wrote, “have fostered a culture that glorifies arcane unintelligibility while disdaining impact and audience.” Professors, Kristof pleaded, “don’t cloister yourselves like medieval monks—we need you!”

As reported in The Nation, Shortly before his column came out, Carole Vance and Kim Hopper, longtime professors at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, learned that they were losing their jobs because they hadn’t brought in enough grant money. Both, ironically, are models for the sort of publicly engaged intellectual Kristof wants to see more of. Vance has done pioneering work on the intersection of gender, health and human rights. “She has been a mentor and a leading influence on generations of scholars as well as activists and practitioners,” says Rebecca Schleifer, the former advocacy director for the health and human rights division at Human Rights Watch. Hopper, who divides his time between Columbia and the Nathan S. Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research, is both an advocate for the homeless and one of the nation’s foremost scholars on homelessness. Last year, American Anthropologist ran a piece highlighting his work beyond academia, noting that Hopper “has long urged anthropologists to take part in public debates, to translate ethnographic findings into policy proposals.”

“His termination, along with Vance’s, suggests that scholars have good reason not to take this advice. Kristof is right that universities have become inhospitable places for public intellectuals, but he misses the ultimate cause. The real problem isn’t culture. It’s money.

“Like many schools of public health, Mailman operates on a “soft money” model, which means that professors are expected to fund much of their salaries through grants. (Many professors there, including Vance and Hopper, work without tenure.) Recently, the amount expected has increased—from somewhere between 40 and 70 percent of their salaries to as much as 80 percent—and professors say that it’s become a hard rule, with less room for the cross-subsidization of those who devote themselves to teaching or whose research isn’t attractive to outside funders. Meanwhile, the National Institutes of Health, the primary source of grant money, has seen its budget slashed. These days, only 17 percent of grant applications are successful—a record low. Continue reading “Why the Columbia firings matters”

Broad public misunderstanding of ENDA

Half of Americans support a law banning job discrimination against gays and lesbians, according to a new HuffPost/YouGov poll. But the poll found that even more Americans falsely believe it’s already illegal nationally to fire somebody for being gay, reports HuffPost

“The Employment Nondiscrimination Act, which would ban workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, will come up for a vote in the Senate on Monday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has announced. The bill currently has the support of every single Senate Democrat and two Republicans.

“According to the new poll, 50 percent of Americans favor a law banning workplace discrimination against gays and lesbians, while 42 percent oppose one.

“Democrats in the poll supported a law like ENDA by a 61 percent to 35 percent margin, while independents were also more likely to favor than oppose one, 47 percent to 41 percent. A majority of Republicans, on the other hand, said they were opposed, by a 51 percent to 41 percent margin.

“The poll also found that few Americans are even aware that federal law doesn’t bar employers from firing people for being gay. Only 13 percent said they believe such discrimination is legal, while 69 percent said they think it’s illegal.

“While 21 states have passed laws protecting gay people from workplace discrimination, there are no federal protections in place. Federal law does bar employers from discriminating on the basis of race, color, sex, nationality, religion, age or disability.

“Republicans in the new poll, who were least likely to say that they supported banning job discrimination against gays and lesbians, were also the most likely to say they thought firing someone for being gay is already illegal nationally. Seventy-four percent of Republicans, 68 percent of Democrats and 66 percent of independents said they thought it was already illegal to fire somebody for being gay”.

 

More at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/01/enda-poll_n_4183384.html