June 26, 2020

Academic Lynchings

Timothy Birdnow

is  a story about an academic lynching.

Under Transference of Skills: "The training and mentoring of new generations of professionals must be attended to by proper relationships of ‘masters and apprentices’ without dilution of standards. Hudlicky described two conditions which must be met if the successful transfer of skills is to occur: first, the knowledge in question must be transferred within three generations, or risk being lost forever; second, there must be ‘an unconditional submission of the apprentice to his/her master.’ This applies not only in the sciences but also in art, music, and martial arts…. Submission to one’s mentor is rarely attainable today. Many students are unwilling to submit to any level of hard work demanded by professors. The university does not support professors in this endeavour as it views students as financial assets and hence protects them from any undue hardships that may be demanded by the ‘masters.’ This situation, coupled with the fact that professors have less and less time to mentor students in the laboratory, cannot provide for a productive transfer of skills, especially the maintenance of standards and integrity of research.”

Apparently you cannot even hint at the notion that people should be judged not on the color of their skin but on the content of their work.

From the article:

Research prowess is no longer as important as willingness to mouth the appalling commonplaces of political correctness

Acquisition of this knowledge, according to Polanyi, required precisely the unfreedom recommended by Hudlicky — followed (with the acquisition of the aptly named Master’s degree) by autonomy in thought and action increased beyond what would have been capable in the absence of the devoted apprenticeship in question. Such a process can only be undertaken by a pupil capable of regarding his or her teacher as a true mentor, and by a mentor bent on the eventual production of a pupil more capable than him or herself.

None of that, according to Hudlicky (and this is a not unreasonable hypothesis in this day and age) is possible in the university as currently constituted, even in the hard sciences. Not only is it not possible, he implies, but it is no longer posited even as an acceptable aim. In a properly functioning institute of training, however, it might be argued that disciplined and contractually-mediated temporary subjugation to higher authority is eminently desirable, despite the limited sacrifice of casual autonomy that might require, if the person or persons to whom the subjugation is made are true experts. It is the willingness to undertake this apprenticeship, as well as the capability of superseding it, that makes up the master in "Master’s degree”—a designation that Brock still grants, despite potentially colonial overtones at least as damning as those that characterized Hudlicky’s writing.

That is the sum total of Hudlicky’s academic crimes. He has faced severe retaliation on no less than six separate fronts for his hypothetically unforgivable thoughts — the two we have already discussed, and four more, including, third, the cancellation of an entire issue of the journal Synthesis (published by Thieme), which was to be dedicated to his 70th birthday and for which invitations had already been sent to more than forty prominent scientists; fourth, the elimination of any mention of his work in yet another journal, Highlights in Chemistry; fifth, a statement by a European chemical society (not as yet made public) hypothetically critiquing his ongoing collaborations with researchers from that continent; and sixth, his transformation into whipping boy by his own faithless professional colleagues at the administrative level at Brock University.

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