Academics and Policy

Earlier today, I published an op-ed in the Washington Post entitled "Scholar on the Sidelines." In it I noted that aside from economists and scientists, very few academics have been appointed to policy positions in the Obama administration. The 2008 TRIP poll of 2,700 international relations scholars shows that of the twenty five most influential scholars, only three have ever held policy positions. This is quite different from a few decades ago. I said the fault for this gap lies with the academy rather than the administration, as scholars pay less attention to how their work relations to the policy world, and advancement comes faster for those who develop mathematical models, new methodologies and theories that are unintelligible to policy makers. The resulting vacuum is filled by the more than 1,200 think tanks in the US which house experts ready to comment with a bias that reflects their founders and funders. I said that the withdrawal of of the academy is a loss for our democratic processes.

I received more positive responses to this op-ed than almost any I have written. But some said that I was wrong to blame only the academy. They argued that the political process has become too centralized in Washington and that think tanks house experts who not only tailor their writings to the political winds of the day, but consist of people who are simply ladies and gentlemen in waiting for political favor in the Washington court of the day. I would be curious to know whether others think the problem is more with the academy or with the political process.