Advice for the MacArthur Genius Grants
I had heard of the MacArthur Foundation and its Fellows Program, where they give grants of $500,000 (turns out it has gone up to $625,000) to people who are doing work that they want to encourage. A bit of reading on the matter yielded the dismaying impression that, to a considerable extent, the Program functions as just another liberal self-congratulatory scheme, awarded disproportionately to professors at places like Harvard and Berkeley.
In other words, I grew concerned at the prospect that many of these awards might be serving merely to burnish the résumés and supplement the wealth of elite northerners who were already pretty well-positioned to pursue their talents and their visions. Maybe I had been overly idealistic about the MacArthur Foundation in general, and about this program in particular. But it seemed appropriate to offer a suggestion that might eventually facilitate some improvement; hence this email on March 23, 2014:
Dear MacArthur Foundation:
A bit of reading suggests that you choose fellows based on somewhat parochial perspectives, and that your fellows are often relatively well-heeled individuals, academic or otherwise, who don’t need financial assistance in order to continue their work. There is a sense of insider dealing and personal favoritism among members of a smug elite.
Those impressions may be mistaken. They seem nonetheless to be a part of your public image. In response to such impressions, you may find it advantageous to introduce a minor innovation.
The innovation I suggest is to allow people to create profiles on your website and to recommend themselves or someone else for consideration. Hope springs eternal. People want to think that at least they have a chance of being noticed.
This form of recommendation would bring no guarantees. It would not amount to formal nomination. It would simply create a list from which alternate nominees could emerge, should your nominators or administrators wish to view some such source of otherwise unnoticed talent.
The profile-buiding webpage might allow people to Add a Focus, much as one might add a point of education or past experience to an online resume-building webpage. For each area of focus, the user might be offered the options of providing a 50-word summary, a link to his/her explanatory webpage, and a link (or an excerpt from a text) from some third party, discussing the merits of the specified endeavor.
A further option, possibly requiring volunteer screening assistance like that rendered on Wikipedia and many other websites, would be to permit browsing readers to enter endorsements (or at least to click a “Like” button) for profiles they deem worthy.
Thank you for considering my suggestion.
Filed under: Letters to the CEO | 1 Comment
Tags: awards, criticism, critique, elitist, fellows, fellowships, foundation, genius, grants, MacArthur, narrow, reform