University leaders cannot be public intellectuals

Jeffrey Flier in Times Higher Education:

During nine years as dean of Harvard Medical School, I enthusiastically supported efforts to enhance diversity, equity and inclusion. Two years after leaving that role, I recently tweeted my view of a new policy at the University of California, Los Angeles requiring diversity, equality and inclusion issues to be incorporated into all promotion and appointment dossiers. Although I still support its motives, I opposed the policy as an intrusion into the objectivity of academic assessments.

I also noted that I could not have said this as dean – and the ensuing tweet storm of positive and negative comments about my views only served to reinforce that point.

In principle, leadership roles in academic institutions perfectly position incumbents to be public intellectuals, robustly engaging with educational, scientific and political issues of the day from their distinguished perches atop the academic pyramid. Unfortunately, anyone holding this view would be severely mistaken.

Academic leaders, such as university presidents and deans, can issue anodyne pronouncements on various matters as long as these safely align with the views prevailing in their communities.

More here.