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Lecture relates gap of scholars and policymakers

| Wednesday, November 19, 2014

In a panel hosted by the Kellogg Institute, Abraham F. Lowenthal, professor emeritus at the University of Southern California and adjunct professor at Brown University, discussed the launch of his new book on the waning relationship between scholars and policymakers today. Michael Desch, chair of the department of political science, and Viva Bartkus, associate professor of management, joined Lowenthal for discussion of policy and academia.

Annmarie Soller, Hesburgh Center for International Studies, PolicymakersAnnmarie Soller | The Observer

Abraham Lowenthal, professor emeritus at the University of Southern California and adjunct professor at Brown University, discusses the ideological differences between policymakers and scholars Tuesday evening in the Hesburgh Center for International Studies.

In the field of international relations, a large gap exists between scholars and policymakers, and it is widening as policymakers demand black-and-white solutions and scholars become increasingly theoretical in their solutions, Lowenthal said.

Policymakers see scholars as “absorbed and abstract” and “primarily interested in crafting theories … rather than in illuminating much less recommending solutions to pressing problems,” Lowenthal said. Scholars, on the other hand, “disdain the simplifications and lack of analytic rigor” of policymakers “interested in outcomes but not in understanding causality.”

“It is fitting that I am here at this early stage because the purpose of the Keough School initiative and of this modest new book is exactly aligned,” Lowenthal said. “That is, to help develop stronger, more effective relations between scholars and policy makers with the aims both in improving policy and strengthening academic research and teaching.”

Lowenthal referenced the creation of the first new college or school at the University in almost 100 years: the Donald R. Keough School of Global Affairs.

“Developing more fruitful relations among scholars and policymakers is such an important and indeed such an obvious goal,” Lowenthal said. “But frankly, it has not been high on the agenda, either for most scholars or for most policymakers.”

Michael Desch, chair of the department of political science, illustrated the evidence behind the “gaping chasm” between academics and politicians.

“We did a one-of-a-kind survey of major national security decision makers … and asked them what of contemporary academic social science do you find useful in the process of actually making policy. And the answers were not encouraging. Not zero, but very little,” Desch said.

Desch said he attributes the main causes of the widening gap between scholars and policymakers to two main factors: first, changes in government where research and advice on foreign policy is now done internally within the government bureaucracy and, second, the change in public opinion where the citizens view academics and scholars negatively.

Professor Bartkus, associate professor of management, focused on the core aspect of rebuilding the bridge between scholars and policymakers. She said finding the common ground between scholars and policymakers does not entail a search for a place that already exists but rather envisioning and creating a shared space while having “the courage to take the first step.”

“Of course, [creating that common ground is] not going to be easy because we’re going to keep talking past each other,” Bartkus said. “I have an entire class where my students talk past each other. The beginning of Business on the Front Lines, we had MBA students and Kroc students; they talk past each other every single class. Why? Because there’s a whole set of MBAs who are looking at the Kroc students going, ‘How are you even relevant?’ And the Kroc students are looking at the MBA students, ‘How are you not evil?’”

“You have to put both of them against a really tough, substantive, important problem like rebuilding war-torn societies … for us to be forced to start having that kind of common language, common dialogue,” she said.

Lowenthal praised Notre Dame for taking “a very big and welcome step to address this combination of problem and opportunity” with the creation of the Keough School of Global Affairs, and he said he hopes that his book can also contribute to the same goal by “helping to illuminate what needs to be done and how to achieve success in building better bridges between the scholarly and policy communities.”

 

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About John Lee

John Lee is a sophomore Political Science major in the Hesburgh Program in Public Service and an Italian and Philosophy double minor. John loves discussing politics, philosophy, and theology, and possesses an insatiable hunger for new ideas, theories, and perspectives. John enjoys long walks on the beautiful beaches of his hometown in Southern California, reads many leather-bound books enshrined in an apartment that smells of rich mahogany, and tries reconciling his Icaratic hubris with his strong Catholic values. His conservative friends call him a liberal pundit, and his liberal friends call him a conservative snob, but John Lee is merely what he is: a Catholic-American who bleeds blue and gold.

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