On criticising the academia – how should we do it?

Breaking news! Academics are discontent and they want others to know this! I haven’t felt this excited about my work in a long time, so I decided to sit down and participate in this discussion.

Let’s introduce the two stories that made me write this post first: Peter Higgs on today’s academic system and an anonymous collective (or a single individual, who knows?) portraying themselves as the resistance movement of economics scholars (“Kauppatieteilijöiden vastarintaliike”) ranting about the entrance examination books for Finnish business schools. So basically Higgs was gently criticising academia today as an article producing factory that is distancing itself more and more from what academia used to and should be, while the collective is suggesting cigarette package stickers to the entrance examination books. Both pieces are thought-provoking, and we as academics should actively participate in discussions like these, but my rant here is about anonymity. While Higgs wasn’t masking his critique or hiding behind a cover, the collective, sadly, is doing so. And I think there’s something wrong with that.

Don’t get me wrong, I do understand it’s easy for Higgs to speak up as he’s a) retired and b) a Nobel laureate. When a scholar of his caliber says something, people tend to listen (the Higgs piece has been circulating in Facebook quite extensively during the last few days) no matter how busy they are churning out articles fit to be published in top ranking journals. Imagine me, still a pesky PhD candidate, saying what Higgs was saying: academia isn’t what it used to be and we’re heading towards our demise. Who would listen to me?

Anyhow, what I find irritating when it comes to the collective ranting about the corrupt nature of today’s business schools is its anonymity. To me it sounds like a sucker punch to a body part of your choice. To a large extent I agree with what they’re saying, but I was actually expecting – together with other people – some kind of concrete ideas on how we could change the current situation. But alas, nothing: only passionate words lashed out from the comforting shelter of a pseudonym about what is wrong with the system today.

However, it doesn’t always pay off not to be anonymous: jobs might be lost, reputation might crumble down like a house of cards, and so forth. But still I’d say there are many ways to criticise status quo!

So, what’s my point here? Simple: critique is a necessary driving force behind our attempts to make our society a better place, but it shouldn’t be anonymous if we want to inspire others to take action. There are many things we can do to improve our business schools, but faceless rant is certainly not the right thing to do here.

With this intro I’m hoping to pave way for my actual reply to both Higgs and the collective. Change is required, and we can accomplish it through debate and action.

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