Becoming your enemy
Posted by aogFriday, 02 January 2009 at 17:59 TrackBack Ping URL

I have been reading some discussions of the tenure system in modern American academia, particularly this post at Critical Mass, which contains this quote —

We can’t reasonably ask them [prospective professors] to complete five to eight years as doctoral students and post-docs and not provide some stability once they’ve finished. We also can’t make them directly subject to forces as volatile as student enrollments, endowment fluctuation, and annual budgeting.

Why not, I wondered. Sure as heck anyone in my field has to spend years to get properly trained and is then subjected to things just as volatile (just ask any of the geeks on the street in California who were also on the street after the Dot Com Bust of 2000). It seems to me that the problem is more about why would anyone need that much training to be a professor? Surely a better solution would be to reduce the time investment required. But of course, the reason there’s such a requirement is because it’s about culling, not training, which tells you just how desirable those positions are.

I was lead, though, on to a larger related thought, twigged by one of the othe comments. Isn’t it interesting that despite the despite of the humanities for the sciences and engineering, the former has been remade in the image of the latter? All the research, papers, publishing, etc., the jargon and putatively rigor? All copied, quite inappropriately and uncomphrehendingly, from the technoids, in the process destroying what value was there.

Comments — Formatting by Textile
cjm Saturday, 03 January 2009 at 06:57

humanities degrees should be printed on post cards and handed out on street corners.

David Cohen Saturday, 03 January 2009 at 10:12

It’s actually not the hard sciences that they’re imitating. It’s Psychology, which is surprisingly rigorous. We take all our stats from the psych department and they’re into some pretty bleeding edge stuff (see, e.g., my post on my problems with my data set in hierarchical linear modeling). At the same time, the psych department does a lot of experiments, with all that entails.

As for the insulation of academics from the real economy, when it comes to tenured faculty, it’s astonishing. Of course, that just makes the position of junior faculty all the more tenuous, because their positions are the only places cuts can be made.

Annoying Old Guy Saturday, 03 January 2009 at 11:40

Mr. Cohen;

That makes me wonder about materialism and its effects in this situation. After all, one nice thing about these techniques is that they produce clear results whereas good teaching is far more difficult to evaluate. Could there be a vicious cycle in which the relentless materialism and reductionism from the humanities creates ever more pressure for that type of result, leading to more effort to produce results, which leads to more materialism and reductionism? And no one is able to step back and say that they’ve killed the patient during the surgery? I am reminded of the point of this post over at Brothers Judd which touches on a similar point.

P.S. I corrected your name, hopefully it was really you and not a coincendetally named newbie.

Harry Eagar Saturday, 03 January 2009 at 13:24

While tenure has economic effects, not every judgment has to defer to economic outcomes. Surely you learned that much from your hero G. Bush?

The justification for tenure, as I understand it, was to protect people engaging in free inquiry from the hysterical attacks of rightwing delusionists.

erp Saturday, 03 January 2009 at 14:24

Yes, Harry. More doublespeak from the left. I remember all those professors being hung by VRWC in my youth.

Annoying Old Guy Saturday, 03 January 2009 at 14:41

If only one could find a mechanism to protect people engaging in free inquiry from the hysterical attacks of leftwing delusionists. But I think it says something that the MAL needs such protections but the right wingers either do not need or do not deserve such. Perhaps the MAL should acquire some philophies that can actually stand up to inquiry.

David Cohen Saturday, 03 January 2009 at 17:47

Yes, it was me.

The Department makes no bones about the fact that teaching is almost irrelevant to getting a good job, which means a job at a research university. It’s not completely irrelevant to getting tenure, but its much less important than publishing (say 90/10), won’t get you tenure by itself and the more you’ve published the less it matters.

It’s through peer review that academic disciplines maintain discipline.

Tenure is, depending on how you count, 200 to 300 years old. I doubt it was right-wing delusionists they were worried about.

Harry Eagar Sunday, 04 January 2009 at 15:31

it was rightwing delusionists the teschers had to worry about when I was at Cow College (my favorite lecturer became a victim to the Greek colonels, for pete’s sake).

The attacks on intellectual liberty have always tended to come from the right/authoritarian wing. And, as Acton demonstrated in his own rightwing career, you cannot get to the right of the censors.

Annoying Old Guy Sunday, 04 January 2009 at 16:01

Yet all of the modern campus speech codes came from the Left. I don’t remember any rightwing delusionists behind the silencing of Larry Summers. Can you think of any actual examples other than misty personal memories of your college days?

erp Monday, 05 January 2009 at 08:26

Harry, it’s the left that limits speech, not the right. Donna Shalala, another lefty female star, invented the method of curtailing free speech. From Wikipedia: “Under her chancellorship and with her support, the University of [Wisconsin-Madison] adopted a broad speech code subjecting students to disciplinary action for communications that were perceived as hate speech.”

As I’ve been saying for years, the left has mastered semantics to the extend that most people have no idea that their very thoughts have been co-opted.

Harry Eagar Monday, 05 January 2009 at 11:10

The left has gotten on the bandwagon, but always is a long time, and it may be the correct trope is that administrators always oppose free speech. It was dozens of generations before any leftists got into that position.

However, I doubt you can find any speech codes on the left that match those at, eg, Liberty University. Or Catholic U., for that matter.

Annoying Old Guy Monday, 05 January 2009 at 11:27

Yes, it’s always hard to match reality against imaginary archetypes.

But you might check out the archives at FIRE. Perhaps this one as a starting point.

erp Monday, 05 January 2009 at 15:06

Cherished shibboleths are difficult to dislodge no matter how they strongly they run contrary to fact. One problem I think Harry has with some of the rest of us, is that we define left and right differently than he does.

Today’s conservatives are more closely aligned with traditional/classical liberalism and today’s left wing liberals/progressives are more closely aligned with the radical politics of Marx and Lenin and Gramsci’s fascism.

It won’t be long before we’ll be treated to Obama’s 21st century version of the same.

Post a comment