Monday, March 25, 2013

Lassen's Sloppy Scholarship

This Guest Editorial is from Gregory Gunderson, Ph.D.
While I usually let my colleagues worry about administrative decisions, such as selecting a new university president, in this circumstance, I feel I must speak up.

One candidate, Gregg Lassen, caught my eye because his dissertation on nation-state power is in my area of interest. I was curious to read what he said about measuring state power, but my curiosity quickly turned to concern. I feel the dissertation is disturbingly weak and limited in scope. I will point out four areas of special concern. First, for a dissertation completed in December, 2010, it is quite outdated. The literature review is based almost entirely on sources that are several decades old – many of them from the 1940s. While in some dissertations this may be valid, there has been much done in the field of measuring state power more recently. Mr. Lassen’s analysis should have included fresher material.

Second, as a scholar of international relations theory, I was disappointed to see Mr. Lassen’s introduction focus only on realism and disregard a myriad of recent and important theories with the line “the realist perspective… reflects the world as it is rather than the world as we wish it to be.” While Mr. Lassen is free to have his opinion on the importance of realism, I find it intellectually disingenuous to ignore idealism, structuralism, constructivism, feminism and other standard tools of analysis in the field without a better, fuller, more satisfactory explanation. Addressing such theories would have improved and deepened his analysis of nation-state power.

Third, while I understand Mr. Lassen’s focus on more tangible and, presumably easier to quantify, measures of nation-state power, his analysis simplistically ignores important variables such as national will and, perhaps most important, cost tolerance. If Mr. Lassen intends for his “balanced scorecard” approach to help us understand nation-state power in a comparative manner in world politics, he is simply mistaken to leave out these important concepts.

Finally, I was disturbed by the sloppy scholarship in Mr. Lassen’s manuscript. At one point, he paraphrases the work of George W. F. Hegel and provides a citation from 1942. Imagine my surprise to see that Herr Hegel was still publishing 111 years after his death! Of course, this is being nit-picky and focusing on a simple error. Surely the 1942 date is a re-print and that fact would be evident by checking the references page. A quick look at the bibliography revealed that not only did Mr. Lassen repeat the mistake, but compounded it by providing an incorrect title for Hegel’s book – it is Elements of a Philosophy of Right, not simply The Philosophy of Right as recorded by Mr. Lassen. He also repeated this mistake on numerous occasions including citing Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan as published several hundred years after the philosopher’s death.

As a faculty member at Eastern, I would like to see our university become more academically rigorous. We should demand that our next president display such rigor in his own academic works.


Anonymous said...

Dr. Gunderson...hahaha...still killing it! I had him in 2006?7? and he knows his field. Glad to see he is just as merciless with a potential boss' paper as he was with mine:)

Richard Day said...

I love this comment. Thanx.

That's the way it's supposed to work. It doesn't matter who you are, your work ought to be the thing that distinguishes you. It is a credit to Dr Gunderson's courage and scholarly chops that he let's the work speak for itself and is willing to sign his name to it.

That your undergraduate paper may not have fared well under his scrutiny is simply part of the learning process. But for a Ph D dissertation to fail to rise to the level of a Master's Thesis, calls into question the student and the program that awarded the degree.

The issue for us is whether we are satisfied with a president whose scholarship seems so clearly to have fallen so short.

Anonymous said...

Not sure why the guy is even coming at this point. We should have sent him this and given him the opportunity to remove himself from consideration, but in looking at his history I doubt he would had stepped back.

We can do better than this.

Anonymous said...

Like that he could laugh at himself in light of the criticism today, but telling folks that he has the mind of a businessman and the heart of an academic doesn't absolve him of academic capability expectation. Don't like a university president candidate who admits he isn't a competent academician. I realize lots of folks lead institutions that aren't but we can do better than this guy.

Anonymous said...

I agree with all of you. This guy is not qualified to be at Eastern.

But yet nobody seemed a bit concerned when Stu Silberman took over at Prichard. Silberman has no concept of the history of education --- probably does not know the difference between Dewey and Pestalozzi, but so many remained silent. Stu Silberman as the successor to Robert Sexton? Unbelievable!

Anonymous said...

The fact that they DID bring him in tells us all we need to know about our Board of Regents.

Anonymous said...

I have serious concerns about the vetting process (was there one??) for the presidential candidates if this guy made it into the top 3.

Me said...

If you run Gregg Lassen's dissertation through plagiarism detection software, you'll find that significant chunks of it are plagiarized. His PhD should be revoked. He could probably be disbarred for the plagiarism as well if it was reported.