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Home > Debates Last Updated: 14:30 03/09/2007
Debate: Comments

Comment on the Gyohten paper and Rejoinder to Mr. Kinoshita's Comment

Toshihiko KINOSHITA (Professor, Waseda University)

Comment on the Gyohten paper:

I have read Mr. Gyohten's paper and would probably have agreed with him before I became a scholar. Now that I am a professor myself, I wonder if Mr. Gyohten is right about what is really at issue today. I think Mr. Gyohten's main point is summarized in the following paragraph:

"It is quite unfortunate that there is no theory to back up reform in a country like Japan, which needs reform urgently. ------- Scholars in social science are the worst. Their mission is research and education, but none of them are doing the job satisfactorily. Quite a few college professors are appearing in mass media as social critics or TV commentators, but none of them has ever made any internationally renowned contribution to an academic discipline in political, economic, or other social sciences. The fact that there is no Nobel Prize winner among Japanese economists is just one of those examples. While there used to be some "brains" who gave theoretical support to political leaders during the high economic growth era, there are none now. Without theoretical support, reform won't be successful. If we know the need for reform but do not want to yield to the new economic order completely and insist that there must be a third way for Japan, we must construct the third way by a theory, not by a hunch or by a feeling."

I have a few comments on this point. There seems to be some confusion in Mr. Gyohten's argument about the lack of Nobel Prize winners among Japanese economists on one hand and the lack of theory for reform in Japan on the other. I don't see much of a relation between these two things. We had better deal with the first issue, i.e., the lack of internationally renowned scholars in Japan, separately from the second issue.

At any rate, Mr. Gyohten seems to be criticizing individual scholars. But research and education do not exist in complete isolation. Instead, they are closely linked to the society at large. For example few Japanese companies are willing to hire social sciences students out of graduate schools. Under these circumstances, the quality of graduate schools would only decline if we tried to expand the size of our graduate education. It should also be pointed out that scholars are absorbed by administrative duties for various institutional reasons.

Mr. Gyohten would probably say that scholars should go back to their campuses to deal with those problems themselves. But the reality is that we professors have meetings and conferences week after week and month after month with no successful reform in sight. At the same time, those professors who are making good policy recommendations are not really accepted by governmental committees or councils, where those who advocate the same old positions are welcome. The fundamental problem may be that the public in general is not yet intellectually empowered to evaluate scholars appropriately.

Having said that, I must admit that, generally speaking, Japanese scholars themselves are not working hard enough and are not up to international standards at all. However, that is a result of the bad environment surrounding scholars, the lack of public understanding of education, the lack of public policy to promote competition among scholars as well as among schools. These fundamental problems can not be solved even if scholars go back to their campuses.

So I fully understand what Mr. Gyohten is trying to say, but I am afraid that not much change will occur even if Mr. Gyohten is listened to by many scholars. Foreign observers would probably say that Mr. Gyohten's argument sounds logically clear and persuasive, but does not explain what really needs to be done to change the reality in Japan.

In any case, not only scholars but also politicians, journalists, business executives, lawyers, and others must think about what is needed for Japan to survive the 21st century. If the public is willing to take risks, act boldly, and listen to academic opinions, scholars would certainly try to work hard to respond to public needs even in adverse conditions. Otherwise, the public should just ignore scholars and proceed by themselves.

Toyoo Gyohten

President, Institute for International Monetary Affairs

Rejoinder to Mr. Kinoshita's Comment:

As Mr. Konoshita pointed out, it may be true that Japanese scholars are suffering from their bad research environment. But it is up to the scholars themselves to find a way to make it better. I do not believe that politicians, administrators, or taxpayers will intervene to improve the research environment for scholars.

I once taught at Princeton University in the U.S. for about a year. I was impressed by the fact that very detailed student evaluations of all their professors are conducted at the end of each semester, and evaluation results are sent to the professors. From their evaluations I had an impression that students are quite objective in observing the strengths and weaknesses of each professor and do not necessarily appreciate those professors who give out good grades easily. I would like to propose that Japanese universities should introduce this system after examining evaluation items carefully.

Even overseas, university presidents and deans are absorbed by their fund raising and administrative work like their Japanese counterparts. Their experience in administration may be useful for their future careers. The problem in Japan is that not only department (or university) heads, but also regular professors are unable to concentrate on research due to their involvement in administrative work at many universities. If this continues, those universities will decline in quality and eventually will be rejected by students and society at large. I believe that such a university rating system has already begun in Japan.

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