In our last blog post, I spoke of the courage that Bernard Amadei displayed in going outside the traditional academic path to do what he felt was right. In this second piece of the discussion, I would like to build upon that idea and talk about the need to challenge the existing academic structure as it relates to the global development crisis.
Academia is where many ideas are born, nurtured, and brought to a level of fruition that allows others to fully implement them. Many academics spend entire careers studying a single mathematical equation or psychological phenomenon. In the area of global development, academics from sociology, geography, political science and other fields have spent entire careers searching for better ways to help others and to understand the reasons for global poverty. Most of these individuals work without fanfare. Many of these individuals make great sacrifices in their careers because they are not conducting more mainstream research.
It is this last fact that worries me greatly. When did we get to the point that doing the right thing requires courage because helping others is not always considered valuable? I am concerned that at some point, it became more important for academics to display quantity of publications and grants rather than quality and impact of research.
Somewhere along the line we decided that building fiefdoms of graduate students and lab space became more important than inspiring others through talks and classroom discussions. Somewhere along the line we lost our way and billions of suffering individuals are paying the price.
The global community cannot afford for us to continue on this path. Academia can provide critical components to the puzzle of global development. But achievement should not be measured in graduate students, published papers, and grant money. It should be measured in impact and collaboration. Let’s start rewarding academics who cross disciplinary lines to work with others who have critical field and cultural knowledge. Let’s start recognizing the importance of ethics and justice. Global development is not limited to clean water and roads. Global development is also improving the state of mind, the quality of life, the political situation in each country.
Until academics can understand this broader need, we will be missing a critical partner in the fight for global justice and development.