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October 05, 2005


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Isn't the desire for economic determination of hierarchy over status determination of hierarchy merely a call (yet again) to complete the French Revolution -- this time in the academy?


"the insults and hierarchies that intensify among those tied together for years and years after tenure, in the wake of meeting upon meeting where one's academic associates far outlive one's friends, families, and marriages. Is status the best way to understand these insults and hierarchies?"

It's hard to read that and not think that academia would be better served with a more fluid labor market where talented professors could more easily switch jobs. From my time in school, I also knew plenty of senior professors who really deserved to be shown the door. Wouldn't more mobility lead to more interesting ideas? If you compare department faculties with say, editorial staffs at magazines, it's hard to imagine a magazine would be very interesting with the same staff for twenty five years. Maybe the analogy is off, but there has to be some overlap. It's true that universities are there for acquiring more knowledge, but they are also in the business of generating new ideas, and it seems like the way work is organized works against that.

Alan Stuart

King is, of course, wrong to generalize to such an extent about the failings of academia. It is, none the less, irrefutable that many academics overlook valuable sources of information as a result of their elitist attitudes. There is, undoubtedly, a tendency to be contemptuous of the views and opinions of non academics who, whilst lacking scholastic status, have considerable practical experience in the various areas of academic interest. I have heard it said in college circles that personal experience is too subjective and cannot, therefore, be trusted. It would seem that the only trustworthy sources are the writings of favored colleagues backed by copious footnotes referring to the work of other learned scholars. Obviously it is essential, in the interests of academic integrity, to prove one’s facts. In seeking new ideas and fresh thinking, however, we should never overlook the vast wealth of experience that lies outside university circles.
I submit, also, that it is important for our universities to play a practical part in the shaping of world affairs. They cannot achieve this by ignoring external views and opinions. It is of equal importance for scholars to be able to communicate their work in language that is understood by non academics. This is not to say they have to talk down to the general populace. In fact a large number of our learned scholars lack the literary ability to make their work understood by those who really matter as opposed to the small circle of their colleagues whom they are attempting to impress.


Was it George Bernard Shaw who said that “He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches?”
If so then George obviously was not familiar with the academic world. In our arrogant little sphere it is more like “He who can, teaches. He who cannot, writes books and attends conferences”
Alan is right. Too many of us are caught up in that little world of academic arrogance in which reality is treated with contempt and we waste our time learning more and more about less and less.
Research and analysis is vital but only has purpose if it enriches what we teach to our students and provides useful data to the community at large.
I could write a great deal more on this subject but I am beginning to nourish an evanescent notion that I am on the brink of a startling revelation that will rock the academic world. I must not waste this on a mere blog. I will save it for my next scholarly publication


Alan and Manion,

You must inhabit an academy vastly different from the one I inhabit. I simply don't know what you mean when you mention overlooking non-academic experience or treating reality with contempt. Both those positions strike me as right wing culture war parodies of the academy. Or perhaps an academy more suited to the old white men ensconced in prestigious universities for decades. But this academy hasn't existed for a while. And, the involvement of universities and academics in 'real' and public life is well known--from Kennedy's technocratic best and brightest to Dubya's own foreign policy brigades. Academic economists are highly active in policy making. And, what about scientists? Most university scientists depend on government funding for their projects. So, really, I have no idea who you think is so disconnected.

Additionally, don't academics live in the world? I'm a single mom with two kids--that strikes me as pretty real world. The workplace concerns of faculty with children (and sick partners or parents) are regular issues on our campus. Again, pretty real life, pretty everyday.

And, about those who can't make their views known to a wide circle: the same was true of Kurt Godel. Many important philosophical and theoretical texts are challenging. Not every thought can be or should be reduced to a sound bite. It's important to let people know that there are multiple modes of expression, modes that are more challenging and complex, more subtle, than what we get on television. In my view, those of us who write theory should resist the anti-intellectual demand that our work be immediately accessible to any and everyone. Learning to read and think takes time and experience.

One can make an analogy with art: high modernist abstract art is not immediately accessible; it takes time to learn how to read and understand it.


"One can make an analogy with art: high modernist abstract art is not immediately accessible; it takes time to learn how to read and understand it."
A perfect analogy. You have made my point in one brief sentence. I offer you a quote from a recent Associated Press report:
“LONDON - Congo the chimpanzee led a brief artistic career and enjoyed little critical success, despite the patronage of his contemporary and fellow abstract painter, Pablo Picasso. But nearly half a century after Congo's artistic career, some of his paintings are going on sale at a prestigious London auction house alongside works by Andy Warhol and Renoir.
Three tempera on paper works — brightly colored compositions of bold brushstrokes — will be featured as a single lot in the sale of Modern and Contemporary Art at Bonhams on June 20, the auctioneer said Wednesday. The lot estimate is between $1,130-$1,500.”


Your point involves what the market will pay for paint put on paper by a monkey?


Enough is enough..:)
Relax, Jodi.
When I saw Alan's blog I just couldn't resist stretching your left leg a little to see where it would take us.
I just adored that comment:
"Both those positions strike me as right wing culture war parodies of the academy. Or perhaps an academy more suited to the old white men ensconced in prestigious universities for decades."
You did a fair job of communicating on an earthly plane. Perhaps you should attempt a kinder, more tolerant communication with Allen. Perhaps he can be saved. :) Now wouldn't that be a feather in the old mortar board.
My main concern is trying to fathom what mad adventure our worthy president will embark upon next. (At least we now know it is bound to have divine endorsement.) :)
Have a good week and keep up the good work with those two kids you mentioned.

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