Jennifer L. Bailey: A spectacular failure of leadership
An essential element of a democratic society is reasoned debate about important issues. It was the deeply ingrained suspicion that the public could not conduct such a debate that made the thinkers of the ancient and early modern period so sceptical about the idea of democracy. Today we recognize that the manipulative techniques of public relations and advertising threaten the quality of public debate by substituting emotion and feeling for sustained, rational argument.
The role of the university should be that of the guardian of reason. Here society places some of their best educated individuals and pays them to think about issues of significance. It is for this reason that the proposed move of the Dragvoll components of the NTNU to the Gløshaugen location is the occasion of great concern. Within the university, there has been no debate on the issue, simply an assertion by its leadership that such a move would be good for the university.
What does this really mean? How much closer must it be?
What form must this physical integration take in order to realize the projected benefits?
How do we know that moving the Dragvoll components closer to Gløshaugen will foster greater cross-disciplinary cooperation?
What are the genuine costs involved, not just in terms of money but in terms of time and effort?
How will these costs be distributed within the university community?
How long will it take?
If a university supports such a dramatic change in the work-life of a significant share of its employees, then it should have solid answers to these questions. No social scientist could make such a vague and unsupported assertion and expect to be taken seriously by colleagues.
If we are even to play at democracy, these issues should be openly discussed. If there is a convincing case to make, then the leadership should make it to those of us who are to suffer most from it. The best we can say at this point is that there has been a spectacular failure of leadership. To dismiss out of hand as misinformed the opinion of a significant portion of this university community is to suggest that democracy itself is a faulty concept.
The fact that no debate has taken place and no genuine cost-benefit study exists suggests two things. First, it suggests that the argument that the "University benefits" is bogus and that this line of reasoning cannot stand public scrutiny. What must really count, then, is, the underlying politics of the move, that is, the unequal power distribution between the Dragvoll and Gløshaugen environments. The old maxim of realist politics applies: "the strong do what they will and the weak suffer what they must." Second, like Bush invading Iraq, this university has committed to an idea with no real study of the costs or idea of the consequences.