Think Tank Applicants

They call me in droves, recently minted PhD recipients often very talented, seeking employment at a think tank. In another more open period in our history, these same people would energically be seeking positions in the Academy.

Why, after all, should they be in the think tank business? As I see it there are two overarching reasons.

One, the tenure system along with the elimination of forced retirement for professors (Can Senator Moynihan ever be forgiven for his stand on this matter?) militate against the opening of positions. There aren’t jobs available. After all, why should someone give up the world’s best welfare program [four hours of teaching a week, two hours of advisement, 3 months vacation, all on a full time and generous salary].

Second, and perhaps most noteworthy, PhD recipients are eager to leave the political hothouse the university has become. According to many, these former students had to hold their nose and accede to the left wing agenda in order to get their advanced degrees. Now they want to be liberated.

That reminds me of a story from our national history. When Woodrow Wilson left Princeton where he served as president to run for governor of New Jersey, a reporter asked, “Why would you leave the comforts of university life for the turmoil of the governor’s position? Wilson thought for a moment and said, “Because I want to get out of politics.” Keep in mind that was roughly a century ago.
Conditions have certainly magnified since then with tenured radicals using academic space as the launching pad for reformist activity. Notions of objectivity having been relegated to the ash heap of history. Is it any wonder that serious scholars are turning away from their own breeding ground?

As a job applicant said to me recently, “there is simply more openness and fairness in a think tank, than any major university.” Moreover, think tanks advertise their ideological agenda if they have one while universities conceal theirs behind fluorid rhetoric.

I shouldn’t be surprised by the expression of frustration, but I am disappointed that an institution predicated on the free exchange of opinion has now become the purveyor of a political orthodoxy that drives likely professorial candidates from the campus.

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Herb London

Herb London is president of the London Center for Policy Research.

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