THE ROBERT W. WHITAKER ARCHIVE

archives
articles

NO, IT'S NOT DR. WHITAKER | 1999-07-10

In a radio interview a couple of weeks ago, I was referred to as a Ph.D. Southern Events referred to me as "Dr. Whitaker." For the record, it isn't true.

I am one of the legions of people who went through all the course work for the Ph.D., passed the comprehensive examinations for the doctorate, went off to teach in college, and never finished the degree. It is probably the best thing that ever happened to me.

It was not the best thing that ever happened to the University of Virginia, where I took all that graduate work. The reason it was bad for the University was not because I didn't get MY degree. It was because of the REASON I didn't get it.

Like about forty percent of the other people who do all the course work and go off to teach in college, I never finished my doctoral dissertation, or "thesis," as it is it often miscalled (a thesis is for a master's degree). The dissertation is a piece of original research or theory, usually a hundred pages or so long. All my graduate courses had been taken and my comprehensive exams had been passed with some to spare.

Even the hard part of my dissertation was over. I had presented my topic to the graduate seminar, where all the professors and graduate students heard my topic and cross-examined me on it. I had written a major part of it.

The last obstacle had been breached: I had gotten my first and second readers. These are the two graduate professors who are your sponsors. They accept your topic and sign off on the dissertation after it is finished. Both my readers were part of an independently funded section of the economics department called The Center for Public Choice.

While I was away teaching, a political science professor became Dean of Arts and Sciences. His first action as the new dean was to kick The Center for Public Choice out of the University of Virginia! So my dissertation was kaput. A better man might have gone back and started again. I was too lazy.

I was, in fact, notoriously lazy. In graduate school, we had almost no regular textbooks. Instead, each class was given a thick list of the latest academic articles to read for discussion in class. The year after I left the University of Virginia, one of the graduate professors was handing out his list of articles to read for the course, and some students complained about how long it was.

The professor said he knew of one student -- meaning me -- who had made it all the way through all the course work and comprehensive examinations without reading one single article in any of his courses. He told the class they were welcome to try not reading any articles, if they thought they could get away with it. As I say, I was not only lazy, I was famous for it. There was no way I was going to go back and start my dissertation over again.

But in the end, I cannot blame others for my failure to finish my degree. The simple fact is that I did not want it badly enough.

In any case, this situation cost the University of Virginia far more than it cost me. My second reader later won a Nobel Prize in Economics! If he had been at the University of Virginia at the time he won that Nobel Prize, it would have been one of those huge boosts for the school that universities dream about.

And, since The Center for Public Choice had its own grant money, the University would have had a Nobel Laureate without even having to pay his salary!

Public Choice finally won acceptance, but not because academia ever grew up enough to accept it. Public Choice became legitimate because those who DID get their PhDs in the field were enormous successes. One of them, James Miller, succeeded David Stockman as Director of OMB. Another was for many years editor of the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal. Several Nobel Prizes were awarded in Public Choice, two of them to former professors of mine. One was kicked out of the University, as I said. Another had left earlier on his own. If he lived to see it, the dean who booted The Center for Public Choice out of the University of Virginia was humiliated.

I could say that this experience soured me on academia. Unfortunately, the record shows that I had never been sweet on it in the first place. The professors who got me my fellowship and brought me to the University of Virginia were openly contemptuous of regular academic opinion.

They probably felt that my main qualification for graduate work with them was the fact that I had always been down on the academic bureaucracy. I gave academia hell while I was in college.

Academia likes to think of itself as a collection of true intellectuals. But our society has allowed social science professors to create a completely inbred bureaucracy. In the real world, it would be astonishing if social scientists had turned out to be anything BUT an inbred bureaucracy.

If a physics professor has a theory that doesn't work, experiments will soon show him up. If engineering professors are allowed to push idiotic ideas, bridges fall down or planes crash. In the real sciences, there are practical limitations on silliness.

But in the social sciences, Political Correctness rules. Nothing a social scientist says has to work. His only job is to please other social scientists. In the social sciences, experts choose other experts, and the only thing anyone has to satisfy is fashionable opinion. The result is an inbred bureaucracy. How could it be anything else?

Social science professors are the only people who decide who will become a social science professor. There is no outside control, because nothing they propose ever has to WORK.

Every group of humans which is given money and power, and is subject to no outside control whatsoever, has always turned into a self-serving bureaucracy. Those who insist that social scientists are "intellectuals" have never explained why this same degeneration should not have occurred among them.

The big problem here is that the study of bureaucracy is part of the social sciences. A student of bureaucracy who was also an intellectual would ask, first of all, whether he himself had become a bureaucrat. But, precisely because it IS an inbred bureaucracy, the social science establishment will never ask that question.