The latest issue of Academic Matters is online. Included in this month’s issue is an article by political scientist and former Conservative campaign manager Tom Flanagan discussing why “true” academics rarely run for political office.
In the past, Flanagan says Canada has had plenty of political leaders who have taught at the university level. However, with the exception of a few, none spent a substantial amount of time as full-time academics engaged in the research of the academy.
He notes that university professors make more than the most Members of Parliament and that leaving the Ivory Tower for Parliament Hill results in another sacrifice: the lost of the guaranteed job-security of tenure.
Other observations made by Flanagan include the fact that politics is not about the pursuit of truth or knowledge; but the pursuit of power and popularity.
To my mind, the most important observation he makes is that many academics avoid politics because they are forced to put their field of study aside for the years they are in public office. An MP who is elected into a majority parliament will serve for five years. In many fields of study, an academic absent for five years will face great difficulty reintegrating into their field and will have damaged their academic career in their absence.
In the piece, Flanagan also addresses his own personal experience as a senior staffer for both the Reform and Conservative parties.
One observation Flanagan fails to make is the difference in freedoms afforded to backbench MPs compared to the lowliest tenured academic. A tenured academic can express pretty much any opinion they have on any matter of public interest. A backbench MP is much like a children’s pull-string doll: pre-programmed to say maybe three or four meaningless answers no matter what is being asked.
There is also the matter of how irrelevant Parliament has become with the centralization of power in the Prime Minister’s Office. (A centralization that Flanagan has helped contribute to.)
The real question is not why academics don’t run for Parliament, the real question is why any esteemed academics would want to banish themselves to the backbenches of Parliament and have less influence over the direction of Canadian public policy than a member of the rock band U2?
On the web:
Academic Matters – www.academicmatters.ca