Gary Cornell on Jonathan Gruber's Indiscretion

Link to Gary Cornell’s Stemforums website

I am delighted to have another guest post by Gary Cornell. This one is a reaction to my post “Jonathan Gruber in the Hot Seat.” (Note: Gary had an excellent guest post very early on in the history of “Gary Cornell on Andrew Wiles.” He also had a nice guest post recently on the Mathbabe blog: “Bring Back the Slide Rule!”) Here are Gary’s thoughts about Jonathan Gruber:

After Miles posted about “L"affaire Gruber,” I emailed him about my shock that somebody who had done so much consulting for government was so lacking in “Washington smarts.” He mentioned that “economists have a tradition of frankness among themselves.”  But it seems to me while this may be strongest among economists, it really is quite common for tenured academics in general. After all, as the joke goes, “tenure means never having to say you’re sorry.”

But I then went on to explaining how the National Science Foundation where I served as a rotating program director, had a very successful method of turning tenured faculty into temporary, reasonably high level government bureaucrats-who could and would get into a lot of trouble if they did or said the wrong thing! What they did was send you off to “rotator camp” for a week or so. At rotator camp you actually spent a lot of time learning how to talk - something tenured professors rarely have to worry about. For example, we were told to remember that we weren’t “giving grants” but “recommending them” or when we spoke to people we could never say we planned (as we all did) to favor young academics over senior people. (Amusingly we were told that could tell people that we would be favoring “recent Ph’D’s” over senior faculty, because saying the former made us guilty of “age discrimination” which was illegal,but the latter statement was fine!)

What I remember most vividly though, even after more than 20 years has passed, was how they ended things:

If there is only one thing you take away from these few days, let it be this: don’t do or say anything  that you wouldn’t want spun by your worst enemy on the front pages of the Washington Post.

Gruber, in spite of all his governmental consulting, apparently has never learned this!