In the news (again)

They are writing about me in The Beaver again, the LSE student newspaper. Yes, I did cc them in on the “Xmas Card to the LSE bosses.” An institution like the LSE must learn to live by its own rules.

Btw, the web page has started listing my blogging book as forthcoming. It’s just a dummy page so far — and I’m not sure about the title the publisher has chosen, “A Blogger’s Manifesto” — but the price is just right — 8.99 pounds. It’ll come down to about 4-5 pounds when resold.

The Footnotes, one year today

The Footnotes is one year today! And what a year it’s been. Lots of posts, lots of comments, and well over 70,000 visitors. As a way to celebrate 365 days of impertinence, I here republish the very first post:

A funny thing happened at work today. The most pompous of my colleagues — Oxbridge education, plummy accent, egg on waist-coat — was giving a long and particularly tedious talk. Then he drew something on the blackboard. An impromptu map, I think, but at this stage I was no longer paying attention. He continued speaking but turned around repeatedly and added to the map. For each addition the picture began to look more and more like a penis. After a while there was no doubt. There it was: a perfectly formed manhood in all its fully erect glory. Testicles, pubic hair and everything. I began laughing. First a little snicker, than a louder guffaw. Heads were turning in my direction. I whispered my observation to the person next to me who made a face of disgust. How dared I! Not funny. Not funny at all.

It was childish of course. Very childish. Both to laugh about it and to blog about it. “I can’t write that,” I thought, “my colleague is too easily recognizable.” Then again the joke was mainly on me, not on him. If I chose to be childish in public, it was my decision. Besides, this is a free country, right? I can say what I like. And I did.

Talking to prospective, Asian, PhD students

Dear Prospective Asian PhD student,

I know you really want to go to the United Kingdom to study. There are very famous universities there — Oxford, Cambridge, LSE, and many others. This is, you’ve been told, where the best students in the world meet the best professors. If nothing else, your parents will be endlessly proud of you and you’ll have a future job in the bag. The prestige value of a UK PhD is immesurable.

Still, I suggest it’s a scam. They are taking advantage of your eagerness to get ahead in life through educational means. Perhaps it’s time for a short reality-check:

  • English universities really aren’t all that good. Far inferior than the best American universities and certainly not much better than universities in Scandinavia, Germany or France.
  • Don’t forget, PhD programs in UK universities, in contrast to American, have no course component. All you get for your tuition fee — some 12,000 pounds per year — are a few chats with your supervisor. When you factor in the cost of living in a city such as London, this is likely to be about as much as your family’s entire annual income.
  • Add the lousy weather, the lousy food and it all becomes very unattractive indeed. Yes, and I forgot the barely concealed racism against anyone with an East Asian accent. They’ll take your money, but they won’t take you seriously. More on British racism here.
  • If you go ahead with your UK PhD, what you’ll soon realize is that you’ll be far better off doing your research back in your home country. You’ll save money that way and most likely you’ll be closer to your primary sources. Before long you’ll find yourself sending 12,000 pounds off to the UK every year and getting absolutely nothing in return — no library access, not even an absent-minded supervisor.  It’s like an international aid program in reverse. Before long the absurdity of the situation will be hard to ignore.
  • The only thing you’ll get in the end is the alleged prestige of a UK degree. Yes, this is still worth something today but only since universities and employers in East Asia are slow to catch up on the serious trouble that UK academia is in. The Singaporean authorities have. They are not encouraging students to travel to the UK for a PhD anymore. Other Asian countries will soon draw the same conclusion.
  • Let’s assume that the prestige of UK universities has a half-life of about 50 years. If that’s true, your PhD won’t be worth nearly as much by the time you are ready to go on the job market, and it’ll be worth even less some decades into your career.

The obvious alternative is to do a PhD in one of the many outstanding universities in East Asia itself. There are many that give courses in English, full of world-class professors and world-class students. NCTU, where I work, is a great example. The cost here is far, far lower — including living costs — and you’ll have a much easier time adjusting. There is no racism and no behind-your-back condescension. There are no woolly sweaters and no woolly grub. And most importantly, the prestige value of your East Asian PhD is a commodity whose value is on the rise.

Good luck!

My last cohort of LSE students just graduated in London. Yes that’s right, somewhat perversely the Master’s students who have their exams in the spring only graduate in December.

For graduation, students from around the world fly back to London, often together with their proud parents. But not that many academics bother to show up for the ceremony. LSE faculty, famously, like to bugger off as soon as the term ends. The graduation itself consists of a mock-Oxbridge costume party and a cocktail thingy with watered down champagne and taco chips. I wonder what the parents make of it? Is this what they paid all that money for? Yet they are consistently very, very proud.

Let’s forget about awkward graduation ceremonies and about taco chips. We had some exciting times together. You were good friends of mine for a while. So full of ambition and fun, intelligence and self-doubt. I learned from you and I hope you learned something from me.

My life has moved on since London and so have yours. It’s a good thing. A life that moves on is always better than a life that grinds to a halt. Good luck to you all! Don’t follow leaders, watch the parkin’ meters.

Xmas card to LSE bosses

Christmas is a time when you look back on the year that’s been and you send Christmas cards to those you remember particularly fondly. Of course I couldn’t stop myself from thinking of my bosses at the LSE. Where would I be without you? Not the owner of a semi-famous blog and not an emotional asylum seeker in Southeast Asia..

Anyway here it is … to be delivered by the Members of the LSE Free Speech Group.

Dear members of the Free Speech Group,

My name is Erik Ringmar and I’m a senior lecturer in the government department. During the past year I was engaged in a controversy with the convenor of my department, George Philip, and with the director of the School, Sir Howard Davies. The reasons for the controversy were 1) a speech I gave to prospective undergraduate students at the Open Day event on March 22; and 2) my personal blog in which wrote about the Open Day event and other business having to do with the School. In May the controversy became a national news story.

I’m enclosing copies of two emails, one from George Philip, the other one from Howard Davies. My contention is that Philip and Davies are in breach of the LSE’s code regarding freedom of speech. As you know, the Code explicitly incorporates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations, 1948, which states that…

Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his or her choice.

And as the same LSE Code makes clear:

Action by any member of the School or other person contrary to this Code, will be regarded as a serious disciplinary offence and, subject to the circumstances of the case, may be the subject of proceedings under the relevant disciplinary regulations, as promulgated from time to time.

As you will see from the emails, Philip reprimanded me for speaking to students in my own fashion and Davies issued threats against me for things I wrote in my blog. As a consequence my right to free speech has been taken away. They have, as far as I understand it, acted “contrary to this Code” and their actions should be “regarded as a serious disciplinary offence.” As members of the Schools Free Speech Group, I ask you to rule on their behaviour and to censor them in accordance with the rules of the School.

Quite apart from the details of my case it is obvious that the School needs a policy on free speech which protects bloggers and other internet users from threats, reprimands and intimidation. The current rules are not enough. There are many students, staff members and departments, that maintain blogs and we don’t know what we can and cannot say. Establishing such a code is a matter of some urgency.

yours sincerely,

Erik Ringmar

Google search terms

This is kinda interesting: a list of the recent Google search terms that have taken web-surfers to this site.

  • bigpricks
  • US PhDs better than UK PhDs
  • cecile fabre zlatko PhD take to court
  • “sprung a leak”
  • unofficial guide to lse
  • killing Tony Blair
  • eric ringmar lse
  • acromegaly in horses
  • career day speeches
  • “ain’t no altars on this long and lonesome road”
  • getting laid in hsinchu
  • lse freedom of speech blog
  • swedish girls are so beautiful
  • US mid-term elections
  • dooced from the LSE
  • famous lse anthropologists
  • what are footnotes and their importance
  • howard davies utter fool of himself
  • why I hate IKEA

Diane suspects it’s MI5 or the CIA that googles for “killing Tony Blair.” I’m telling her they have more sophisticated methods of catching terrorists. I’m right, aren’t I?

Dr Oliver Curry has hit the headlines with a prediction regarding the future of the human race. According to research reported on the BBC, in The Sun, Der Spiegel and just about everywhere else, mankind can look forward to tall women with very pert breasts and womankind can look forward to men with big pricks. Apparently we’ll divide into two subspecies — the tall, genetic, elite and the dwarfish illiterates with low foreheads and even lower IQs. In addition we’ll all be coffee colored.

Oliver Curry is no biologist, he got his doctorate from — of all places — the Government Department at the LSE! His PhD was heavily funded by something called Darwin@LSE which specializes in passing off assorted right-wing bullcrap as scientific research. If you want to know what Dr Curry thinks of women, check this out.

As for racism among LSE staff see this piece in the Guardian (more “evolutionary psychology,” I’m afraid …)

There are lunatics in every discipline but for some reason political science is particularly bad at keeping them in their padded cells. Dr Curry’s PhD supervisor was professor Keith Dowding, who must have been dozing just informed me he was wide awake the day this joker slipped by to get his degree. Dr Curry will no doubt go on proudly displaying his LSE credentials to every media outlet and rightwing think-tank.

Does this prove that the government department at the LSE now has evolved to a stage where it only produces degenerate offspring or was this a freak mutation?

State power unveiled

I wanted to blog about Aishah Azmi, the classroom assistant in Dewsbury, UK, who was ordered to remove her veil in the classroom by the head of her school. But I find it curiously painful to write about. Once Tony Blair got involved, and the courts, it got too ugly.

I think about the classroom assistants in my children’s school in London — miss Muna and miss Saida — and how beautiful they looked in their hijabs. How their way of dressing affirmed their identity as proud, capable and professional women and as great role-models for the many Muslim children in the class. To force them to take off their dress would have been to denude them — to strip them of their identities.

Aishah Azmi’s crime was to cover her face, in accordance with Muslim custom, in the presence of male grown-ups. When children and women were around she was not covered. But why do women have an obligation to reveal themselves on men’s terms? Why do they always have to make themselves available to men?

For an immigrant it is a major statement when you take off the clothes of your homeland and put on the clothes of your new country. But it is equally significant when you refuse to make the switch. Wearing traditional clothes is to make the statement: “my past matters,” “I came from somewhere, you know,” “I was someone before I was turned into this ‘foreigner’ who you despise.”

Since the choice of clothing is crucial for our sense of who we are, it must be left up to each individual. A state which strips its people by force is repressive.

Gagging orders

A current LSE student just sent me this story:

I have an interesting detail to add to the free speech discussion at LSE: There’s a volunteering programme called ‘email-a-student’: It allows prospective students to send a mail to the LSE with questions about student life etc. which are then answered by a current student. So being a current student I went to the introduction meeting for this thing today, and I found something odd about the programme: All incoming AND (!) outgoing mails have to be sent via a LSE admissions official and will be screened. So I guess I can’t really write about everything I want to. I mean, this programme is no use if I just tell prospective students what they already know from the website!

Compare this with an email I got from the LSE undergrad administration the other day:

I am writing to you regarding a number of requests from prospective applicants to meet with academics, received recently by the Undergraduate Admissions Office, Selectors and Departmental Managers and Administrators.I would like to remind all staff that the School Policy states that contact details for academic staff should not be released to prospective applicants/students. In addition to this, all requests for meetings with academic staff should be forwarded to the undergraduate mail-box so that the UG team may deal with any queries that applicants may have.

Let me re-assure you that in the vast majority of cases, the undergraduate Admissions staff are able to answer any questions applicants may have. In cases where they are unable to do so, they will be happy to contact the relevant academic and liaise with the enquirer appropriately.

I am sure you understand that these measure are put in place so that academic colleagues are not placed in a difficult position where conflict of interest may become an issue. Thank you for your understanding on [sic] this matter.

In other words: prospective LSE students can communicate with current LSE students only if the emails are censored by the LSE undergraduate office; there is to be no contact at all between prospective students and staff. We are all gagged.

Is this in the best interest of prospective students? Is it in the interest of the LSE? What about … well … the freedom to communicate freely?

I wouldn’t believe any of this was possible at a first-rate university like LSE if it hadn’t been for the way I was treated by the very same people. They have the mentality of prison wardens.

Evaluating my summer school course

The evaluations are now in for the summer school course I gave at the LSE last summer.  Right-click and save this link. Naturally I would have liked 100% of the students to have loved the course, but it never works that way. These results are good enough (and very similar to what they’ve been every other year I’ve taught the course). The one person who really disliked the course may have been a right-wing American …

I believe strongly that if we are to charge a lot of money for our courses, the very least we can do is to tell prospective students what previous students have thought about them. If education is being sold like so many sausages, it should be clearly labeled. All university teachers should do this. “Some teachers may be embarrased by bad results.” I bet they would be, and if they are they shouldn’t be teaching and the students should know about it beforehand.