Are think tanks replacing academics as the generators of big ideas? In an opinion piece in the Prince Arthur Herald, Jackson Doughart writes about what he sees as the “growing irrelevancy of academics”. Doughart refers to a column by Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times in which Kristof states of university professors that “most of them just don’t matter in today’s great debates”.
Doughart writes: “In my experience, there are some professors — including ones who have taught me a great deal — who have no interest in being public intellectuals, and who wouldn’t write a magazine article or go on the radio if you paid them. Some of them share in the snobbery to which Kristof alludes, while others simply work in fields that would be of little interest to the public”.
What role do think tanks play? Doughart writes that “A couple of years ago I attended a lecture by Brian Lee Crowley of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute. Himself a former economics professor, Crowley argued that in the industry of big ideas and public policy, universities have taken themselves out of the game. When television and radio programs, magazines, and newspapers need expert commentary, they now turn to think tanks and public-policy institutes instead of university professors. All of this redoubts upon not only the existing academic class that we support, but also the system of scholarly and educational training which they influence”.