These are the pages of the notorious blog I began publishing when I was working at the Government Department at the LSE in the spring of 2006. What I wrote here got a lot of attention. Too much really. Reading these pages today they sound perfectly innocuous. At the time, however, they were an outrage, at least in the minds of my bosses at the LSE. They were not used to people expressing themselves online.

"I'm a corruption expert at the LSE"

LSE

 

I have a friend, lets call him "Jonathan," who is an expert on corruption. I mean, he wrote his PhD about corruption and he knows everything about the ins and outs of how businessmen, maffiosi and politicians jump into bed together. Jonathan is a serious scholar,  he is smart, he works hard.

But Jonathan works at the LSE. Now when he introduces himself to an audience: "Hi, I'm Jonathan, I'm a corruption expert, I work at the LSE," everyone will say, "yeah, we hear LSE professors are experts in this field. Ha, ha."

What's outrageous is that someone like Jonathan has to go through this. Years and years of impeccable scholarship have been undermined in one fell swoop. Howard Davies, David Held and Meghnat Desai should call Jonathan up personally and apologize.

I also, however, think all the hardworking scholars at the LSE should react more forcefully. How can they just sit there and let their careers be taken away from them? All you have as an academic, in the end, is your reputation.

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academic corruption 101

medieval scholarCorruption, in the classical Roman tradition, meant "dependence." If you are dependent on someone you are not free. You are not free, for example, to speak your mind or to speak the truth. The opposite of corruption is thus independence.  Independence is particularly important for universities.  It is only if universities are independent that they can fulfil their function -- to teach and to carry out research according to the highest intellectual standards of excellence. What a "highest standard of excellence" is is determined by the university itself. This is why we have seminars, examinations, pro et contra debates, peer-review, and so on.

It was in order to deal with corruption that universities, already in the Middle Ages, made themselves independent both of political power and money. The best way to assure independence was to give university professors tenure, good pay and lots of free time. Academics are often accused of living in "ivory towers," but ivory towers are important - they help protect us from corruption. And, besides, you can see the world so much better from a bit of a distance!

As soon as universities have to start looking for money, or as soon as they look for political influence, they will inevitably become corrupt. That is, they will lose their independence. When that happens the university's internal standard of excellence is usually undermined - seminars lose their critical edge, examinations are dummed down, peer-review is ignored.

The story of the corruption scandal at the LSE is thus a story of dependence - on Gaddafi, but more generally on money and on power. The only way to deal with the problem is to restore the university's independence. To make sure that universities are publicly and adequately funded and that the money is given with no strings attached. But much responsibility rests with the professors too - they should stay in their ivory towers and not nurture dreams of worldly glory.

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bye!

 

It’s February 1st and I no longer work at the LSE. I wrote a letter of resignation to Howard Davies. There’ll be a pdf here of course — and here it is!

I worked at the LSE for some 12 years. Much of it was great. Above all to get a first proper job, to have a monthly salary, to develop courses and to interact with students, to have reading and writing as a career. Meanwhile Diane and I started our adventure together, in our new house, with one kid after another. What in life could be better?

On the darker side: the LSE version of the British class-system and the pretentiousness of some colleagues in the Government Department. They always suspected that I didn’t take them seriously, and they were right of course. Then the whole blogging and free speech issue — everyone from Howard Davies down trying to shut me up. Sigh. Deep sigh.

My new university, NCTU, is a great improvement in these respects. It’s not a commercial venture, they are not dependent on student fees, and they don’t give a damn what I say in my blog. Besides I like living in a country where I’m forced to learn things every day. Learning things, after all, is what my life’s about. London has already receeded behind the horizon.

But the real excitement is happening away from academia. We are looking for a Chinese-style house up in the mountains outside of Hsinchu. We’re going to keep goats and grow papaya. The kids are getting settled. Rima is already fluent in baby Chinese and Saga is quickly becoming a Chinese teenager. We look forward to many more years here. Again, what could life offer that’s better?

“I put down my robe, picked up my diploma,
Took hold of my sweetheart and away we did drive,
Straight for the hills, the black hills of Dakota,
Sure was glad to get out of there alive.

And the locusts sang, well, it give me a chill,
Yeah, the locusts sang such a sweet melody.
And the locusts sang with a high whinin’ trill,
Yeah, the locusts sang and they was singing for me,
Singing for me, yeah singing for me.”

Bob Dylan, 1970.

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evaluating my summer school course

sausagesThe evaluations are now in for the summer school course I gave at the LSE last summer.  Right-click and save this link. Naturally I would have liked 100% of the students to have loved the course, but it never works that way. These results are good enough (and very similar to what they’ve been every other year I’ve taught the course). The one person who really disliked the course may have been a right-wing American …

I believe strongly that if we are to charge a lot of money for our courses, the very least we can do is to tell prospective students what previous students have thought about them. If education is being sold like so many sausages, it should be clearly labeled. All university teachers should do this. “Some teachers may be embarrased by bad results.” I bet they would be, and if they are they shouldn’t be teaching and the students should know about it beforehand.

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we're back!

Forget the Footnotes is back up again despite the attempts to shut us down. More rants, musings and news from the frontiers of science will follow shortly. The day of full freedom of expression has arrived! Thanks to blogs, everything will finally be made public. Woe to all those whose lives cannot stand public scrutiny.

‘Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, UN, 1948.

Stay tuned!

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police on vacation

It seems the thought police has gone on vacation. The hits on the site come from new directions lately. Even the very busy person in the general Guildford area seems to have taken time off. I like it — it adds a human touch: thought cops on vacation, skiing with their kids. How sweet! Well, they deserve a break.

To simplify surveillance in the future I have added a ’subscribe to updates’ link in the sidebar. As a subscriber you will automatically get notified via email whenever something new happens on the site. This way you don’t have to check back all the time. Nifty and nice.

Comment (0) Hits: 285

we're back again!

Forget the Footnotes is up and running again after some editorial revamping. What follows below are my rants on politics and society, musings on life in general, and plenty of the latest news from the frontiers of science.

The critics were no doubt correct — the previous version of the blog contained far too many literal truths. As a result this version will contain only half-truths, ironic overstatements and tongue-in-cheek seriousness. If you find tongue-in-cheekery difficult to swallow, I suggest you stop reading immediately.

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my 15 minutes

I started this blog in January 2006. For the first couple of weeks of its existence it had about 10 visitors per day. Then I began blogging about my employer, the London School of Economics, and about what it’s like to work and study at an elite university. Suddenly interest in the blog erupted. One day, May 4, the blog had over 5000 visitors.

My great fortune was that the blog was banned — first by the convenor of my department and then by the director of the LSE itself. As they both made clear, I was not allowed to speak about the School in an unauthorised manner or ’serious consequences’ would ensue. After some reflection I decided to keep the blog up. It was an easy choice in the end since the statues of the LSE guarantee the right to the freedom of expression. The controversy eventually hit the papers — first the LSE student newspaper, then the Guardian and the Times Higher Education Supplement. Hence all the visitors to the page. See the sidebar for more information.

With some very few exceptions none of my colleagues was ready to publicly support my right to free speech. Instead the LSE students rallied to my support, signing petitions and writing encouraging emails. Ironically these divergent reactions only proved what I had been saying all along — that its students are LSE’s greatest asset.

This story is now over. The LSE authorities decided not to pursue the issue in the end. Very wise on their part. Yet the conclusion is less than satisfactory: the initial reprimand I was given has not been retracted and I can’t help thinking I’m owed an apology. Still it is of course a victory. The powers-that-be have backed off, I’m still blogging and I intend to go on doing so. Hopefully everyone — including the LSE director — has now understood the importance of some set of rules which governs internet use by students and staff.

The number of visitors to the blog has gone back down — not to 10 a day but to about 100. It’s calmer that way. Much as I like being read, I hate the controversy. In the next couple of months I plan to write a book about blogging and freedom of speech in democratic societies. That’ll be my revenge — a nice academic kind of revenge, with footnotes and all!

But I’m moving on. We’re pulling up our stakes and leaving for Taiwan in a couple of weeks. I’ll come back to London for sure but not to the LSE. Enough is enough. The world is a large place and there is much to see and do.

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China syndrome

If you wonder why I’m banging on about freedom of speech on the internet, check out today’s news:

A Chinese Internet writer was sentenced to jail for 12 years on Tuesday for “subversion of state power” after backing a movement by exiled dissidents to hold free elections, his lawyer said. Yang Tianshui, 45, who has been in custody since last December, did not plan to appeal, a protest against a trial he felt was illegal, his lawyer, Li Jianqiang, said. “We expected the result, but we are still dissatisfied because he is innocent,” Li told Reuters.

Unless we live by our own rules, how can we ever criticise the Chinese authorities? How can various LSE experts travel around the world preaching freedom of speech unless the institution itself embraces it fully?

Speaking of China, Jessamine Garden talks about me. Chinese characters required. (No, I don’t understand it, but it looks great!)

终于有个有良心的出来批判LSE!!

收 到Amar的信,government专业的讲师Eric Singmar在LSE的openday上对着想申请LSE的学生说,我们的老师都忙着发表文章,课其实是Ph.D准备的,由他们代劳,还不如申请 Metropolitan,至少你能多见你的老师几面,而且”researches are less heavily emphasized”and” lesser institution”。他进一步指出 “What I do know is that the in-class student experience often differs very little between the LSE and a place such as the London Metropolitan University.”

他声明选择来 LSE完全是因为有出色的学生和cosmopolitan的组成结构。这一点说的太中肯了!但他声明他没有compare LSE to Chinese institutions,他说不希望LSE成为Chinese authority那样压制言论自由。Gosh!!

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what I want

The LSE authorities are clearly trying to put the whole issue of blogs and freedom of speech behind them. My 15 minutes of fame seem to be coming to an end. The official statement from the LSE director claims that ‘we regard the matter as closed.’ At long last they even seem to be winding up the investigation into my crimes and misdemeanours. Let’s hope so anyway.

Yet the bigger issue remains. The present situation is untenable. This is what I want to happen …

  1. there must be an official LSE policy on blogging and other internet use by students and staff. No one should have to go through the kind of harassment and abuse that I have had to suffer during the past six weeks. An offical LSE policy — ‘a bloggers’ charter’ — would protect internet users, guarantee our right to speak and make sure that no one can censor or intimidate us.
  2. more generally — no more hypocrisy on free speech. The LSE explicitly incorporates article 19 of the UN Human Rights Declaration in its charter. This article guarantees everyone the right to freedom of expression. The LSE must live up to its own rules. There is a difference between a great university and Walmart or the Chinese authorities. For example: all students and staff must be allowed to criticise the LSE, privately and publicly, without threats of retaliation.
  3. academic freedom. The right of academic staff to speak freely in the classrom must be explicitly guaranteed. No more official Powerpoint presentations, no vetos by heads of departments or LSE administrators.
  4. the LSE needs a much better way of communicating with its students. The School must begin to really listen and engage with student concerns. The obvious way to do this is for the LSE administration to start blogging. I’m very much looking forward to the Sir Howard Davies blog! What a great way to recruit new students!
  5. in fact, everyone who reads this should start their own blog. A blog allows you to speak in public, in your own words and in your own fashion. This is particularly important for people who previously never had a public voice. Blogs are incredibly empowering and as such a great — you could even say a necessary — complement to human rights. If you only have your own blog you can even take on the British establishment — and live to tell the tale.
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Kire Ramgnir, the original founder of this blog, was a senior lecturer in Comparative Fantasy in the Department of Grovelment at the London School of Ergonomics and Patriarchal Science. He was in his day a picturesque iconoclast, an irreverent believer in the truth, and a constant thorn in the backside of the powers-that-be. He was also a certified talking head IOU, IUD. In his spare time he was known to take his children to poison pigeons in the park.

Kire was found dead in the Thames, just off Westminster bridge, at low tide on April 1, 2006. The cause of death seemed to be associated with his feet somehow or another becoming embedded in concrete. “These kinds of accidents are only too common,” said a spokesperson for the Department of Grovelment. “We know Kire was a great DIY enthusiast and he always got himself mixed up with quickly hardening substances. It is true Kire was a critic, but we didn’t really mind.”

Kire will be much ignored by all those who thought they knew him.

comments:

Erik
Hi there JDM! I’d say, don’t do it, unless you are contemplating a UK career (or unless there some o...
JDM
Hi. I am a U.S. citizen contemplating doing a PhD in International Business at a British university....
Aussie
Hi Erik, Just found your blog in one of my daily moments of vague despair… which is death to the mo...
WannabePhD
Hi Erik, glad to hear (well, read) from you. Actually I did not end up in Sweden again as you seem ...
Erik
Hiya Depressed! I haven’t read Kingsley Amis but I recently read a review of his work in the NYRB. A...
Frustrated/depressed
Hi, I’ve just found your blog and am fascinated by it. I’m about to start my 2nd year of full time P...
Erik
Hi Ji-Quandt! Now that’s a good idea! Or like my friend in Thailand always asked: Erik, why are you ...
Erik
Hi there WannaBe, Apologies for not answering sooner. I’ve been in transit between various lives (m...
Erik
Hi UpNorth, yes of course you are right. Denmark is surely the place to be. The PhD student grants a...
Erik
Hi USMaster’sGal, that’s a great perspective on things. There is no doubt that you are correct. The ...
USMaster'sGal
Erik- Found your little writeup rather entertaining especially as an aspiring Ph.D. Interesting to ...
UpNorthTheyAreFree
Hi, this is just to chip in on Erik’s comments about the advantages of Scandinavian educational inst...
Ji-Quandt
I agree with you! That is why I stopped doing polisci research. Why write research papers the public...
WannabePhD
Hi Erik, hi everybody, I suddenly remembered this post (you’ll get later why…) and I thought it was...
Erik
Hi Dart, apart from Sweden I don’t really know enough to comment intelligently. Still, a country t...
dart
hi Erik this discussion seems to be centered on the US/UK PhD question, what about other western Ph...
ErikPhDWannabe
Hi Erik, Thanks; I have a pretty good rationale for doing the PhD. I intend to use the expertise de...
Erik
Go for it! At least for a couple of years. But take every shortcut you can and don’t have any illusi...
Erik
Hi PhDWannabe, I don’t know much about business PhDs but in general it’s a very good idea to have ...
PhDWannabe
Hi Erik, shame on LSE for their treatment of you. I recently received an informal offer for a busin...
Hi Erik, Glad to hear you’re doing fine down there and you’re still active in the blogosphere (god ...
bye! in Joomla Article
Hi there, thanks for asking. I never thought I’d stop writing this blog but in the end it turned out...
bye! in Joomla Article
Hi Erik, When you get the time could you please explain why you quit posting and possibly offer som...
bye! in Joomla Article
Firstly, I just want to say that it took a lot of courage and conviction for you to make the comment...
Hi Anonymous, I completely agree with you. The LSE is a great school almost exclusively because the ...
You may also be interested in this blog: http://alecturersstory.blogspot.com/
bye! in Joomla Article
Hiya, great blog! Very, very good. Please write more and please don’t write anonymously. It makes al...
bye! in Joomla Article
Hi Bob, I think Jingbin’s explaination re. Taiwan vs China was brilliant but missed one important e...
bye! in Joomla Article
Hi Ben, I guess I got tired of always being associated with the LSE and all that. I want to move o...
bye! in Joomla Article
Why no more blogging? Having written your book have you concluded that they are more trouble than t...
bye! in Joomla Article