I hope that we can rescue some of academia. I’m aware it is at risk of being destroyed—in 2020 I was informed by people on the moderate right that they would destroy the universities in a heartbeat, other than STEM, as they think many disciplines in HASS have become utterly debased and corrupted. That’s when my bubble was popped, and I don’t think I’ve gotten over the shock yet.

I am reluctant to comment on other disciplines, it’s true, simply because the nature of academia is (unfortunately) a bubble. And until COVID hit, I lived in a very little private law bubble, where, in Australia, UK and other Commonwealth jurisdictions, at least, things mostly seem to work very much as they always have. We write treatises, we write textbooks, we don’t get grants, we teach, we engage in scholarly debate - the criticisms of friends on the right seemed overblown to me, and did not reflect my own experience of academia, where my colleagues were scholarly, rigorous and seeking truth, and (mostly) open to different views (okay, there are a few silly turf wars, but I think that comes with the territory, alas).

Moreover, I am allowed to dabble in all kinds of things, from offshore trusts in the South Pacific in one publication, to 19th century cases involving bees in another, to policy considerations for the calculation of contract damages in the next, to Indian colonial codification of law in the next. My decision not to go for grants has been a tremendous boon - it gives me more time for writing, less stress, and I don’t have to stick to one topic. I would get very bored if I had to stick to one topic for three years. There’s so much more to learn! Horses for courses, I suppose. We’re all different, and others like to mine a topic out.

I just love knowledge, and I read very widely (currently reading something on the Gunpowder Age in China, probably not relevant to my main work in contract damages, but WHO KNOWS? I read a book on the Institutional Revolution in 19th C England for fun, and discovered it was directly relevant to some of my work: watch this space, I do hope my jointly-written article on Roman and 19th C English history of currency and standardised measurement and its impact on contract law is accepted for publication (currently with referees). So I am very much into preserving knowledge for future generations, and linking things which might not have previously been linked.

But a friend in the public service (who had to deal with a bunch of academics lately) said to me glumly last year, “You know you’re a unicorn in academia? You write clearly, you have common sense, you’re practical.” I was shocked by this—the friend is generally “progressive”, and I had never expected her to be negative about academics—nor have I ever thought of myself or my colleagues as unusual. Then I began to think about her comments. I do think my field might beget clarity and common sense because it has constant “reality testing” (in the words of my friend Lorenzo). In other words, commercial law is constantly being formed and reformed on the anvil of the courts, legislature and case law, and the extent to which one can engage in fancy is therefore limited by what the courts and parliament say, and what occurs in practice in commerce. In areas which are more theoretical, where the only reality testing is by other academics, I can see how things might get out of control. I believe peer review has failed as a means of reality testing, and is mostly not useful. But THAT is a topic for another post.

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You sound like the ideal academic - broadly curious, interested in things for their own sake, driven by the desire to know more, rigorous enough to do the work, and excited to communicate what you find to your colleagues. Pretty much the kind of person that the academy is supposed to foster.

My impression is that your friend is correct, and you're a unicorn. Some fields are worse affected than others, of course. Indeed I think that's been a key enabling feature for the subversion strategy deployed by the brain worm marxcissists. Academics in different disciplines don't talk to each other very much due to the cloistered nature of the community, meaning that the infection can spend years incubating in a field or a department without others really noticing. As you noted, this has chiefly affected fields that don't have much, or any, direct contact with reality. Standards of debate and scholarship in the grievance departments are abysmal to a degree that is hard to believe, even after the hoax paper prank by James Lindsay et al.

But really I think the core mechanism has been the takeover of university administrations, which is the true power center at most institutions.

In any case, to my mind the ideal of academia is essentially a place largely composed of people such as yourself.

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Administration is another point - haven’t gotten to that yet. The massive administrative bloat - administrators upon administrators… Watch this space.

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Yeah, the bloat is another factor of course. That in itself is a huge resource drain. Which would be bad enough but no worse than any other sclerotic bureaucracy. Combine it with the tendency of administrators to act as ideological police and it gets really bad.

It's also an opportunity for disruption, though, because institutions that discard that bloat can save a lot of money, meaning cheaper tuition and/or a proportionately larger professoriate, which in turn can be a bit more intellectually free since they aren't constantly looking over their shoulders lest they displease the zampolit.

Looking forward to your take!

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Another fab post Katy! Probably, your next post should shed light on the severe limitations of public law yet attracting more funding, PhD students etc. :-/

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Thank you Justin!

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Reading your first piece, it indeed occurred to me that I've seen a similar problem in my own field, and have had discussions about those issues, as well as the ones described here, with my colleagues. I noticed that they tended to think of it very narrowly through the lens of our specific field, which you initially did as well, and I think this may be related to the tendency for academia to canalize the attention of academics - most academics are very reluctant to talk about anything outside of their direct experience or area of expertise. This then has a deleterious effect on the ability of academics to take note of global problems in academia, and also I think has a negative impact on research since it incentivizes a hyper-specificity that tends to give an advantage to work of no interest beyond a very small group of scholars.

All of the problems you noted here are quite global and at the moment, rather dire. As you implicitly suggest, the way to resolve them may be found by taking a step back and asking - what are we really doing here? What's the actual point?

Because at the moment the point seems to be: climbing the greasy pole by publishing papers and winning grants.

Whereas the point should be: preserving, passing on, and extending the knowledge base of the human species. At least that's my feeling. No one ever founded a university or endowed a research chair because they thought "what the world really needs is a mountain of impenetrable garbage papers produced by hacks trying to maximize their publication metrics". Or, even worse "a jobs program for armies of useless midwit administrators", which really seems to be the main function of universities at the moment.

Sadly, after generations of the perverse incentives created by the grants system, the academy is now dominated by the sort of narrow-minded careerists whose strategies and personality profiles are optimized for winning the grants game. Genuine scholars motivated by raw curiosity and a love of knowledge are rare in the ivory tower. This is a massive obstacle for reform. It may well be that the formal academy must simply be abandoned, and reconstituted outside.

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That very long comment above was supposed to be in response to this. Erm, still learning my way around Substack.

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Hah! Yes, good thing you noticed - I expect you wondered why I hadn't replied :)

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"I’ve got my spoon ready…"

"Double, double, toil and trouble ... "😉🙂


Much of Academia certainly seems to qualify as that rather noxious brew that either needs some serious leavening stirred into it, or being put into the toxic waste dump.

Somewhat apropos of which and ICYMI, a couple very good articles on the topic:



A classic and cogent comment or two from the latter:

"Universities are madrassas for woke stupidity. -- James Delingpole"

"To quote Upton Sinclair, 'it is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.' ...."

Apropos of the latter, may be some reason to argue that the tenure system is part and parcel of the problem.

But, in case you missed Matt Walsh's documentary on that "age-old question" -- "What Is a Woman?" -- American skeptic Michael Shermer had a more or less cogent review of it that highlighted a quote from a University of Tennessee "professor" [AKA transgender ideologue] which may well serve as something of an epitaph for Academia in general:

"But [professor] Grzanka’s dodge is not uncommon in academia today, and in exasperation with Walsh’s persistent questioning in search of the truth, Grzanka pronounces on camera, 'Getting to the truth is deeply transphobic.' ...."


Houston, we have a problem ...

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Heh, my novel features Shakespeare. I do not deny a bit of a witchy nature.

It strikes me that US academia is in particular trouble, and indeed US society in general (so polarised and fractured). I can’t get over the adjunct lecturer whose contract was not renewed after she showed a medieval picture of Mohammed (presumably Persian, the Shi’a always had different views on that, as one of my Persian friends explained to me some years back). This is *after* warning students who might be offended that she was going to do so beforehand, and explaining the context of the image and its educational purpose. Refusing to rehire her was an utter disgrace. https://www.bostonglobe.com/2023/01/28/opinion/academic-freedom-adjunct-instructors-who-arent-so-free-speak/?event=event25

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A lucky shot ... 🙂

But "Excited States of America" always seemed kind of apt. ICYMI, an Atlantic article by the author of "Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire" that's basically a synopsis of the book:


Arguably "infected" much of the world.

I'd seen a passing reference to that Mohammed story but will look into the Boston Globe article a bit later.

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