This was something else, that I also need to publish, but right now, ahead of that, I am taking a few notes on book structure. Chapters, in reverse order, planned over many years, some needing real updating — although I do NOT see that the issues have really been resolved:
* Anzaldúa — and see Saldívar-Hull 2000 on that, among other texts [we have her book in the library]
* Tropicalismo … do I have something new to say? — Think about it in part about something that came after institutionalization of modernismo (cf. Johnson, institutionalization of modernismo)
* Guillén — and for this period NOTE: Ortiz’ “cubanidad” is NOT an essentialist construct like Freyre’s Luso-Tropical Man (both see sugar plantations as keys to their national situations, and have been read as seeing these as places where black/white blur, in contrast to what happens in the United States). See JC Pino, “Fernando Ortiz, Gilberto Freyre and the Myth of Mulataje.” He says Latin America in the 1930s had many competing visions on how to build a nation from multi-race societies.
* Also for this period: ¿Antropofagia? (Note the idea of Lat. Am. as labyrinth, ontological quest.) Antropofagia goes with avant-garde/30s and also Tropicalismo, one sort of has to have it, although this has Been Done so unless I am doing Something New I might put this into one of the other chapters. Lúcia Helena has pointed out that it started with G. de Matos, who already committed a parricide of the colonizer. See Leila Lehnen, “The meanings of Cannibalism in Glauco Ortolano…“. This is an old text but I liked it, and Ortolano is interesting. And go back to Randal Johnson’s ideas, that I have used before and are not new but that I understand more. Keep going.
My book is not about mestizaje and nation-building, but about racial hierarchy and the state. I’m looking at Independence wars not as anti-colonial Independence but as civil wars and international wars. I suggest Sommer is projecting the 1930s project into the 19th century, which is actually about fragmentation, failure, inability to found nations.
15.II.2014: This page and thread were originally “What is a Scholar?” — notes for a non-corporate research agenda — and then became “Ponder,” self-healing notes for me. Now they are “Books,” so I can note in the comments thread the books I want to get hold of one day.
I have assembled the series of posts on scholarship from my old site here, for purposes of further thought. I will add the new posts on this topic as I write them, and I also recommend this related post by Oso Raro. I intend to boil this text clear.
What Is A Scholar?
Having turned my Dolce far niente post on ‘procrastination’ into a scholarly article, I am planning a sequel, entitled “What Is A Scholar?” As I developed the first article, I realized the extent to which the malaise which besets academia can be attributed to the loss of scholarly skills and values, as universities have become increasingly corporatized.
I have been thinking about this for some time. In this profession, I often feel as though I am trying to drive square pegs into round holes. I used to think it had to do with the students I happened to have, or about the state of my discipline(s). Upon further consideration, I have realized that a big piece of it isn’t about either of these things, but about the faculty. Scholars, it seems, have been gradually replaced with ‘academics’, and true academic training has given way to ‘professionalization’.
This began happening about thirty years ago, from what I can discern, about the time the plans were made to lead us into Reaganomics and the national situation to which I allude in an earlier post. A friend says that instrumental value has replaced intrinsic value, and that academic values have been replaced with academic lip service. It is disconcerting to live and work in this situation. The “What Is A Scholar?” article should, at the very least, help to clarify the discomfort.
Is it the rapid proliferation of fast, thin Ph.D. programs on the model of corporate training which has produced a generation or two of poorly educated, yet overly ‘professionalized’ people who are certified academics, but not scholars?
A scholar, for example, knows original sources and standard editions, and cites these. It is one thing to cite someone’s study of, say, the Ramayana, if it is the study which is in question. It is another thing to cite the study when one actually needs to cite the Ramayana itself. I wince when I read articles which take the former tack, and which in their torpor tend to reveal that the author didn’t know the Ramayana before beginning work on the article–and still doesn’t, even though they are now weighing in on it.
I do not mean to sound like the prescriptive E.D. Hirsch, although I do concur with David Kaufer that the problems Hirsch attempts to address are real. Part of what I mean is that scholars are not here just to repeat information. We are here to look at things from the ground up, or as the articulate Hans Sluga told us years ago, from their roots.
It is time to give some positive examples of scholarship, and I will offer one from my own experience.
We did not have Advanced Placement English at my high school. I did not even take English for College Bound Students, as the course schedule conflicted with French. I thus soon found myself in a college class in which the other students had skills I did not.
We were to write an essay on the Odyssey, as was the custom at my university. It was to be a free essay; no citations from secondary sources were required. We had a set of problems to consider, but I did not know where to begin, or even where to begin asking questions. So I set out for the library.
There I found some interesting books, from which I garnered ideas. One of the books, I realized, was by a professor at my university. I knew this because I had seen his name on an office door. The book, however, was seven years old. This is interesting, I thought, but is it still current? Luckily, this man is at my university, so he must have an office hour.
I duly discovered the office hour, where I found the professor. Your book is interesting, said I, but it is seven years old. I would like to know, do you still agree with it?
In substance, yes, said he, but that book is an incomplete discussion of the matter. I have this offprint of a more recent article on the same text, which you may have, if you would like. I have this other piece, in page proofs, of which you may have a copy if the Xerox machine works.
If you are interested in something really new, which I must ask you not to cite since it is just a draft, I can give you a copy of this manuscript. If you would like to speak with someone who has disagreed with me vehemently in print, you might consult [Professor B]. Her office is across the hall.
The entire transaction lasted about five minutes. I went away satisfied, now having enough to react to so that I could write a paper.
This was a scholarly interaction, and it took place at a large state institution. Say anything you want about how this was a fifty year old man, flattered that a seventeen year old blonde who wasn’t even in his class, came to ask about his book. It was still a scholarly interaction on all sides. From it, I learned that a scholar will answer your questions seriously, no matter who you are. To put it a little differently, a scholar assumes that others might also be scholars.
As the faithful reader may know, I have been trying to feel my way towards a description of good scholarship and scholarly values by looking at examples of poor scholarship.
Some readers have noted that many of the examples I have tried out so far are about teaching, not about research and publication. However, I am not trying to define research productivity, but to come up with a working list, if you will, of scholarly traits and values.
I have talked about teaching to the extent that I have because it is one of the first places where symptoms of better and worse scholarship show. I do not perceive a dichotomy between teaching and research. This may be a point I should develop further.
For now, though, I have an example of poor teaching as a result of poor scholarship. I have just come from a library where an advanced undergraduate I know asked me questions about bibliography for a paper she was writing in a discipline related to mine.
I quickly came to realize that the question she had been asked to answer was poorly informed and terribly out of date. It had been framed in such a way as to interdict almost any analytical point of view. Indeed, the question as framed could only have elicited sterile, opinion-based debate. Finally, the student had been given some very vague ideas about sources and focus, which spanned about a thousand years of history.
It became clear that her professor was teaching something he did not know much about, and that he did not realize he was so poorly informed. Worse yet, it became clear that he did not have a good grasp of issues having to do with defining the scope of a project, formulating research questions, designing a study, and so on.
This does not mean that the man does not publish, nor that what he publishes, is devoid of interest. It does suggest, though, that he is not the best of scholars, and that he is not really treating his students like scholars.
Seeing my earlier “What Is A Scholar?” posts and the comments they elicited, an emeritus professor writes:
Scholars have to be educated in some fundamental way, educated as opposed to trained, though they can and perhaps should be trained also. Training without some amount of real education to start with will produce the results you describe, and which I encountered at times among fellow graduate students and, to a much greater extent, among fellow assistant professors when I first went out to each at that level.
Education can be the result of dinner-table conversation or recreational reading as much as of what is learned in the classroom and it will surely be a mixture of these and other elements, but without it training will not create scholars. Therefore I agree with you and am not surprised that some ex-trainees are annoyed at your remarks.
In the humanities, as they were once called, the damage was done in part after the second world war (in the U.S.) when streamlined Ph.D. programs modeled on those in the sciences were introduced. An A.B. degree from a school you thought was cool followed by three years of course work and a quick thesis produced narrowly focused people ignorant of closely allied disciplines. Of course this was not the only cause, and the decline of the high school probably was an even greater problem; but enough.
I would add that the emphasis on ‘professionalization’ and ‘training’ over actual education undermines integrity. The appearance of productivity is valued more than productivity itself, and actual productivity is not necessarily recognized. One of my commentators on an earlier post asked how I expected people to give a deeper, more scholarly feel to their work, given what our workloads are nowadays. This commentator has a point about the workloads, but the reference in his comment to scholarly ‘feel’, not substance, is telling.
When academic work loses sight of scholarly virtues, it veers toward ideology and propaganda, and away from any form of clarity. Here are some examples, taken from my office hours this week.
My stalled dissertator confuses me because he was an undergraduate in my department in an earlier era. At that time he did not have the problems he is experiencing now. The other day I asked him point-blank: what has this graduate program done to you? Why do you seem to have lost, rather than gained research skills in your time as a graduate student?
He said our graduate program does not permit independent thought to the same degree as does our undergraduate program. As an undergraduate, he was expected to formulate his own arguments, and justify and support them. As a graduate student, he was only expected to choose theories and apply them to texts. This, he said, interdicted thought. Now he is expected to design and execute a project of his own, and he feels at sea–despite having done an excellent job on his undergraduate honors thesis, for which he undertook independent research abroad.
A colleague in Computer Science to whom I mentioned this problem said that applying a theory to a text did sound to her as though it would take some thought. I know exactly what my student means, though. Theory is theory, and is meant to be used as such, not as a recipe or an algorithm. It can help to describe, explain, and illuminate, but it was never meant to prescribe or assign meaning in a mechanical way.
I have a struggling honors thesis student, too. Her project is historical. Her data comes primarily from written sources, which are housed in archives. Her topic, however, is of current interest, and it inspires conversation and controversy. Many of the people she talks to think her project is or should be an ethnographic one. Rather than read what people wrote in the eighteenth century, they say, she should be interviewing twenty-first century people about what they believe happened in the eighteenth century. They seem not to realize that this would be an entirely different study, in a different subfield. It would give different results, to be sure. But it would not address the same question.
A very senior colleague says he enjoys this sort of confusion. To him, it means the field is still ‘alive’. Indeed, confusion can be productive, and it can be a sign of change. The sorts of confusion to which I allude in this post, though, are signs of stagnation. They make me tired. In these cases, training does not complement education, but blocks it. Scholarly work should increase energy and enhance perception–not drain energy, nor blur the view.
Tomorrow is Sunday, Oxalá’s day. Stand in the light.
Now the emeritus professor has struck again. A detective, he has cracked my identity and comments outside the site, so I am posting his comments here.
You have been skirting one issue about scholars on the altar of political sensitivity. I hinted at it in a previous message when I referred to ‘dinner-table conversation’. Those who have no dinner table in the sense referred to, and no conversation, are legion nowadays. Everyone complains about it. Children raised in these circumstances are not ready for preschool and certainly not for prime time. And some of them get doctorates. And it is not something you can say at a meeting, or in a letter or memorandum.
I just finished reading a book that involved the great eighteenth century English naturalist Joseph Banks, who sailed with Captain Cook and brought back wonderful collections to dazzle the Royal Society. He, and later Darwin and so many others, were gentlemen in the traditional sense, landed gentry who did not have to work for a living. Their scholarship was a hobby, so to speak. Each worked in his field of interest for the love of it. The professional classes of the 19th and early 20th centuries inherited some of this attitude, which also, by the way, existed in the field of sports, at least some sports.
In my childhood the greatest tennis players and golfers were amateurs, though some of them turned professional before they retired. Track and field was all amateur. People who came from families, rich or poor, where ideas and books were prized were said to have ‘background’. It is obvious that many present-day professors do not have it. They come from people like the members of Ronald Reagan’s kitchen cabinet who believed, like him, that a university was nothing more than a place you went to get a diploma entitling you to a better job. . . .
It sounds terrible, doesn’t it…and it needs ‘unpacking’…but there’s something to it. My Arabic teacher, whose English was imperfect, used to refer to ‘the bourgeois aspiration’ (in the singular). Perhaps those who have the bourgeois aspiration should go directly to professional schools and be done with it. I have an excellent colleague in my very own department who actually is landed gentry, and some other really good ones who actually grew up in tin shacks.
But we’re not in the nineteenth century any more, and I don’t believe we should have either landed gentry or tin shacks. Given the simulacra that are able to pass for scholarship nowadays, however, we do need to re-place education ahead of ‘professionalization’. Hence this series, “What is a Scholar?”
Excursus A: In A Trans-Discipline
This post ought to be entitled “What is a Scholar? VII”, but I would like to give that title a brief rest. Today’s ruminations are deep and diffuse, and I am too tired to craft a coherent post. I will therefore make a few notes, each of which will be developed more fully in due time.
+ The emeritus professor of yesterday’s post complains of Ph.D. programs which are too narrow. I have doubts of my own, however, about B.A. programs which are so broad as to be superficial.
+ The School of Education at my university offers a course called “Reading”. When I first saw this, I was shocked, wondering whether this institution actually taught basic reading for college credit. I then realized that it was a course on how to teach reading. Ever since, this has been a course I wanted to take, since the teaching of basic reading is often what goes on in my office hours. I would really like to know how to do it more systematically. I do not understand well enough what students at this skill level need to know, or what sorts of awareness(es) I need to unlock for them so that they can read.
+ Some of the more important elements lacking in my students’ linguistic capabilities are:
1. Basic vocabulary;
2. Adequate control of syntax;
3. Ability to draw inferences;
4. Ability to handle ambiguity;
5. Capacity to grasp the fact that a word, a sentence, a text, or a problem may be complex.
+ I do not give a grade higher than D to a paper which does not contain, explicitly or implicitly, some form of a thesis. I do not understand how it is that my advanced undergraduates have made good grades in sophomore level courses in English without having learned to formulate an argument. Even in graduate school, it appears that many students learn how to write reports on or summaries of other peoples’ arguments, but not how to interpret their own data or make their own arguments.
+ I find imprecision confusing, and I am not comfortable with it. People are sometimes surprised by this, since both my office and my house are adorned with aesthetic objects; I appear to be ‘arty’. Such people believe that ‘art people’, and ‘language people’, tolerate imprecision well. But it is actually ambiguity which we tolerate. Art and language require as much precision as anything else. And, as I suggested in my Dolce far niente post, high standards (and high degrees of precision) make things easier, by making them clearer.
These were the thoughts that distilled themselves in the back of my mind today, as we moved into finals week. My title came to me as I wondered, where are the tools of my discipline?
I do not have only one discipline; I have managed to spend most of my time studying in interdisciplinary programs or, since I started taking jobs, teaching on split appointments between two or more departments. So I am hardly opposed to interdisciplinarity, and I am well aware that the traditional disciplines are artificial constructs, with limits that can be arbitrary and constraining. Disciplines, however, do have traditions, and they offer tools. It is fun to be interdisciplinary because you get the tools of more than one discipline. To undertake interdisciplinary work should not mean one is denied the tools of any discipline. This happens all too often.
Interdisciplinary programs are in fashion. They are cool, and they are attractive in an era of budget cuts. If you cannot justify two Ph.D. programs to your Board of Regents, you may be able to throw them together into one, which you will sell by calling it ‘innovative’. This can work well. It can spell disaster, however, especially when ‘interdisciplinarity’ dispenses with rigor and offers a smorgaasbord in its place.
At my institution there is a strange cohabitation between literature and the social sciences. It is strange because while it is a cohabitation, it is not really a relationship. People seem to slide from one discipline to the next in a promiscuous manner, but not to bring the disciplines together in a rigorous way (or a ‘deep, meaningful’ way). Recent results include a Ph.D. student who got a degree, but is not employable, and an M.A. student who, similarly, got his degree but was not admitted to any doctoral program. Both students are intelligent and could have done far better than they did, had they been allowed to. It is most unfortunate.
Excursus B: The Bourgeois University
Does this weblog impinge upon my research and writing time? Not at all. It helps me gather my thoughts; it causes me to write more quickly, and more clearly.
Some reading for today is Stanley N. Katz, “Excellence Is By No Means Enough: Intellectual Philanthropy and the Just University,” (Common Knowledge 8:3 [Fall 2002]: 427-438). I will not summarize the article here, nor will I repeat its useful list of references in its entirety. I will, however, make a few notes.
+ As the title suggests, the article is a critique of the drive to “excellence” of which we have all seen evidence in the propaganda of our respective universities.
+ In the current age of market capitalism and budget cuts, the liberal arts have taken to defending themselves by arguing that they provide measurable economic and social benefits (as I did, blatantly and successfully, in my most recent grant narrative). Such arguments are attractive to legislators, but higher education “has gone too far in the direction of such functionalism” (Katz 432).
+ Bill Readings’ The University in Ruins (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1996) is a strong critique of this trend. He says that the centrality of the humanities in the university has been displaced because the university is now a “transnational bureaucratic corporation.” ‘Excellence’ means performance in the market, and part of the cognitive dissonance academics experience is the result of the clash between the pre-modern origins of the university (i.e., the university as “the home of ideas, the archive of a people’s culture” [Cohen 433, cit. in Katz 432]) and “the force of the market” (Readings 38, cit. in Katz 432).
This means that the ‘scholarly values’ I have been seeking to define really are an endangered species. I have decided to fight back. In his story “The Bourgeois King” (1888), Rubén Darío insisted that a poet is not an organ-grinder. If the university is transformed into a combination of a technical school and a research and development think tank in the service of industry, I might as well work in the bank.
I do realize how ‘conservative’ this sounds, although a more descriptive term, I think, would be ‘traditional’. I espouse a few more traditional values and activities. Anarcho-syndicalism, for instance, is very traditional.
What is a scholar? Only now, arriving at the seventh post on this question, have I come to a simple answer. A scholar is someone attempting to learn something. If scholarship takes place within an institution such as a university, the scholar will normally get degrees and promotions along the way. If degrees and promotions are the primary (or only) goals, or if the activities leading to these achievements come into conflict with the goal of learning, scholarship falls by the wayside. The best teachers are those who are themselves in the process of learning something. To be in the process of learning something is to be engaged in research.
I will not go into detail on the fact that my sophomores’ largest problem is not understanding the material at hand, but acquiring reading skills I already had by the sixth grade. Nor will I spend time lamenting the fact that too many of my graduate students still have this problem. I will not point out with any great vehemence that the graduate student the university has in its employ to rewrite the incoherent theses and dissertations of other graduate students, so that documents can be filed and degrees produced, assures me that these problems exist campus wide. I will merely note the fundamental immorality of the policies which have given rise to this state of affairs, and move on. The lack of integrity here is a central problem.
I cannot recommend the Katz article, to which I referred yesterday, highly enough for its brief, yet incisive excavation of the decline of learning. Observe one of the titles to which he refers: Julie A. Reuben, The Making of the Modern University: Intellectual Transformation and the Marginalization of Morality (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1996).
Heirs to the Enlightenment like John Stuart Mill believed that the university was not a place of professional training but of liberal education, for those destined to direct the multitudes. The mere expansion of an elitist structure, and the simultaneous exposure of this stucture to the forces of market capitalism, has created institutions which do not promote actual learning, but a simulacrum thereof. Such institutions reinforce, rather than close the ‘thinking gap’ to which the systematic underfunding of primary and secondary education and the erosion of civil society have given rise.
Unlike some of my undoubtedly scholarly interlocutors, I believe in organic intellectuals and popular education. In other words, I do not believe learning should be reserved for the traditional elites. I have no nostalgia for Mill’s time–or Rousseau’s, or Plato’s. I work for an institution of whose existence Paulo Freire might approve. I doubt he would approve of what it is doing, however. I see that we are striving for style; I find that we lack substance.
The issue is not the intellectual weakness of the professors, or of the students. The issue is place of learning in this society, within and outside of universities.
A friend who did not know I was taking notes for an essay on the nature of scholarship, adds to these notes that scholars form and test hypotheses, and seriously consider opposing points of view. She has trouble with graduate students who only want to cite sources which agree with their own preconceived notions. These students say that since they are not in the sciences, they should not have to make hypotheses.
Another friend reminds us that a way to discuss hypotheses without mentioning them as such is to ask, “What question will your project answer?” This is a fair point, except that I have found it to work only with undergraduates. Graduate students either don’t need this hint, or are far too confused to take it.
I say we are all in science. Science, or scientia, means systematic knowledge. There is no scholarship without science, understood in this sense. I also note that many students and some faculty appear to believe that a paper should not have an argument of its own, but rather be a kind of extended report based on secondary sources. A student of mine errs in the opposite direction, mistaking description for advocacy.
My friend in prison, meanwhile, speaks of being a teenager in Shreveport, Louisiana. He had a good voice back then, before all those years of smoking and drinking. Down at the corner, men would buy him beer to sing. So he would sing, and make up songs. “It was all blues.”
I am amazed to hear from the Graduate School that we are ‘no longer’ to permit students to cite the Wikipedia in theses and dissertations. They have just discovered that it is not a definitive source. I, of course, do not even allow undergraduates to cite any encyclopedia as a definitive source, except in those unusual situations in which it is appropriate to do so. That the Wikipedia has been considered a definitive source by our graduate school up until now, explains a good deal of my confusion.
A curriculum related question to consider is whether the existence of academic coaches, how-to manuals and self-help books, marketed to graduate students and assistant professors, are good things or not. Are these aids actually helpful, or do they provide (mis)advice and (mis)training to people who are not getting the level of advice and orientation they need from actual professors in their fields? Is this phenomenon helping to convert universities into their own simulacra?
I am now located in the extreme West, where the waves crash.
I added this final paragraph to my post Male Privilege II:
Men expect complicity in the maintenance of male privilege. If complicity is not granted, they will attempt to extract it outright. They will turn any intellectual and emotional tool available to this purpose. Some of these tools, although they are presented as neutral and universal, and can be used, by many different people, for a variety of purposes, may have in fact been designed with this violent purpose as one of their available attributes.
Then I read this paragraph in Black Amazon/Guyanese Terror’s post Generation Me:
Class privilege and recognition of play space (space where you can be incomplete or ‘off’ and not receive soul crushing or legal response) is parsed out very differently. Those girls got to have the space of both being morally superior but scientifically protected.
At the same time, I am still trying to get into some kind of reasonable shape, a paper which deals in part with Enlightenment thought and the cultural and intellectual worlds of peoples living at the margins of modernity.
The presence of these three thoughts at the top of my mind at the same time, with Lisa’s post On Why I Think Graduate Students Should Publish backing them all up in at least an oblique way, and some recent conversations, with various parties, on the relationships between ‘facts’, memory, thought, intuition, feeling and the issue of validity, in addition to the imminence of the fall semester, have, in their precipitous conjunction, made me realize it is time to continue posting on the question of “What Is A Scholar?”
My first nine posts on this matter were reactions to frustration with some of the poorer teaching and research I have encountered lately. My frustration was not so much with the quality of work – nobody does their best work all the time – but with the fact that it seemed to be considered adequate and even good. Being the tolerant, open-minded sort, I am receptive to many different readings and approaches. Poor work confuses me because I think, initially, that I am missing something. It takes a while before I realize that no, I am not – the problem is that something is missing. I decided it was time to go back to my hard-ass roots and stand for serious, as opposed to fluffy scholarship. Those posts emphasize rigor.
I wish to remind everyone that rigor should never be deployed in such a way as to stamp out what Black Amazon calls ‘play space’. We are all familiar with stories of famous scientists, who came up with their brilliant hypotheses while playing. It is interesting to note that intellectual exploration undertaken by minorities and women, is often uprooted as ‘illogical’ at the point where it is, and should still be growing in the more freeform area of ‘play space’.
Now, as Melquíades’ manuscripts had probably already foreseen, the “Male Privilege” and “What Is A Scholar?” series of posts are converging. It is time to highlight one of the many thoughtful comments made on this weblog. I refer to comment 3, below, written in response to some other comments (1 and 2) on my post What Is A Scholar? X.
1. At the end of this post, PZ remarks that,
It is interesting to note that intellectual exploration undertaken by minorities and women, is often uprooted as ‘illogical’ at the point where it is,…
Although this view is widely held, especially in the Liberal Arts and Humanities, it is not, as a matter of fact, entirely historically accurate. For instance, L. Pyenson and S. Pyenson’s (1999) book Servants of Nature has an extensive discussion of the scientific contributions made in colonial regions, that had a significant impact. There is also significant evidence of the impact of women in the sciences. The National Academies Press has a good selection of publications detailing the facts. Women Scientists in History also provides a number of useful resources, albeit in a more popular form.
2. PZ, I was just trying to demonstrate that the claim that,
“…intellectual exploration undertaken by minorities and women, is often uprooted as ‘illogical’…”
In the cases I cite, these groups were not “…uprooted as ‘illogical’…”. In fact, these individuals made significant contributions that were acknowledged both at the time and now. The point here is a scholarly one. It is scholarly to get the facts right, even if it goes against the certain kinds of ‘received wisdom’. It was also for this reason that I provided the citations.
This commentator would like us to think he is offering constructive criticism and useful information. It appeared to me, however, that he in fact wished to engage one’s energy and time, without really putting in the effort it would take on his part, to understand the post and its contexts. I did not feel like engaging with that. Another commentator written a useful critique of his strategy.
3. I was not sure what this commentator’s point was, in relation to the argument of the post, so I went back and read the entire paragraph (always a useful scholarly activity).
When citing a text for the purpose of making a point, it is always useful to cite the entire passage rather than half a sentence. If one reinserts the phrase this commentator cites in order to critique…something? (I’m not quite sure what the point is) into its context (the last paragraph of a post on one of the nastier forms of misogyny in academia), one may see that the statement about attacks on the intellectual exploration of women and minorities (”uproot”) is not about whether or not such intellectual explorations exist at all or have even been valuable or influential, but rather about the fact that quite often (so-called) “rigor” is used to denigrate those efforts, and especially in “play space.”
Or, in other words, I’m not sure why this commentator has isolated a quotation, marshalled a few minor examples that do not pertain to the larger idea being expressed, and then made a somewhat snide remark about PZ’s “scholarship” as a response to the idea of this post, which is about the ways that an intellectual culture expresses hostility to the free play of ideas-in-process. If one is expected to waste one’s time marshalling the extensive anecdotal and scholarly evidence that exists about the history of misogyny and racism in the sciences, in academia, or even in the blogosphere (yes, such scholarship exists as well, and no, I’m not going to cite it here because this is not an academic publication and I don’t have to do your work for you) simply in order to refer to its existence at all, then we never get to our own ideas at all; we are simply doing work that others choose not to do when they refuse to see what is under their noses.
Or, to go back to the beginning of this post:
I would like to thank the first commentator for providing such a clear example of a ’scholarly’ attitude which believes itself to be objective, but is not, and whose non-objectivity appears in fact to be rooted in white/male privilege. Yet more, I would like to thank the second commentator for her clarity, and for her more truly objective scholarship.
In the late 1980’s, I was finishing my dissertation and listening to the Iran-Contra hearings, 24/7. A satirical song came on the radio, to the tune of the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby”:
lied to the point of a question
and nobody heard.
True scholars do not lie to the point of a question.
As Queen Latifah said only a few years later:
By the tone
of my voice
you can tell
I’m a scholar.
All o’ y’all feel me, now. The semester is starting.
Now I am on my way to give a presentation on United States immigration policy, as part of a panel. This is for a college honor society, and I am articulate on the matter. I am doing it as a favor to the faculty advisor of this organization, since few faculty are interested in performing this kind of service, and fewer students are willing to speak up on immigration in public so close to September 11.
I should not necessarily be doing this, however. I am informed in a general way on this topic, and able to speak and engage with an audience, but I do not conduct research on immigration policy, nor do I teach it. That means that as a scholar, I am not competent in this area, strictly speaking–even though I do have some expertise on it, and even though I can justify speaking on it as a public intellectual.
If an honor society I were advising, wished to hold an event on immigration policy, I would not respond by rounding up informed, but yet random faculty members and students to speak extemporaneously on the matter, as the advisors of this organization have done. I would suggest we approach a true expert in the field.
I would advise the students on how to locate, choose, and contact such a person. I would then help them apply for internal funding to get that person here. Students would then be honing actual academic skills, learning new things, and meeting new people. They would not (as they will this evening) be listening to their professors and classmates speak to each other in the same echo chamber, one more time.
One of my former universities has just declined the opportunity to have Dustin Hoffman teach a theatre workshop there. The reason given was his lack of scholarly publications. Who do you think has the most impressive record scholarly or creative accomplishment – Hoffman, or the members of the committee who turned the proposal down?
In many institutions teaching, research, and service are ranked in that order, although with my R-1 mentality, I tend to value research first. This having been said, I will now expound briefly upon three banes of my academic existence.
1. Those individuals who claim a primary interest in teaching, when what they really mean is that they like to pontificate, wield power over students, and avoid learning anything new themselves.
This is a relatively small Bane, as it need not affect my own life, except when such individuals also become really lazy teachers, doing an actual disservice to their students, with whom I then have to deal in some manner; or when they rise to positions of power, from whence they are able to oppress researchers.
2. That standard advice whereby one should spend as little time and effort as possible on teaching, since it is not rewarded, and focus all energies on research productivity which will “move you up and out.”
Out in this context means out towards the wider world, not necessarily toward a different job – just out to a broader perspective than that of one’s usually dysfunctional and claustrophobic department.
This appears to be pragmatic advice, and I fully understand the spirit in which it is given. However, it is a major Bane. I object strenuously on two grounds. It is irresponsible to students, and it doesn’t work. If you have classes to give, they will inevitably take up a certain amount of your time. It is possible to save time on any given day by letting up on something, in some manner. However, the bottom line is, it is less stressful and time consuming to do a decent job, and to plan for that. You then come away refreshed, unworried, and even inspired. “At least we got through it” is a draining thing to have to say. It is the kind of statement which makes me want to watch the television I do not have. “Well, now that’s done!” is more chipper. If I can say that, I am also motivated to use the gym membership I do have. “That was fun and interesting,” on the other hand, is the sort of reaction to class that makes me want to sail home and write.
3. Arguably the worst Bane of all is the perception that service and administration are worthless. People seem to believe that in order to prove their identity as intellectuals, they should be unable to accomplish anything practical at all. This means in practice that others must carry this burden for them. I do not know how these individuals imagine that the great universities were built, if not by up to date intellectuals who could in fact think practically about how an institution of learning, or a worthwhile degree program, could be effectively designed and run.
I could, of course, say a great deal more about all of these Banes, and tell colorful anecdotes about each. Perhaps I shall do so one day. In the meantime, I will point out that many of the better Professori are good at all of these things. They go together, b****** (as my students would say, outside of class).
While the Banes I have discussed here may be in some senses Three Capital Banes, there are others. And all Banes are based upon fallacies. It is, for example, a fallacy that all institutions are equally problematic. It is a fallacy that it is possible to do exactly the same things at all institutions. It is also a fallacy that all meritorious individuals can work themselves “up and out,” except after the manner of the bodhisattvas. (It’s the economy, for one thing. And to get a dollar, you have to have one. And gaps, once created, often tend to expand. Note, however, if everyone left, we would only create gridlock around Harvard Yard, and reap illiteracy elsewhere.) The fallacies that “speaking up” can get you fired just like that, and/or that it is pointless as it will get you nowhere, are particularly widespread.
1. That which destroys life, especially poison of a deadly quality.
4. a disease in sheep, commonly termed the rot.
Synonym: poison, ruin, destruction, injury, pest.
Origin: oe. bane destruction, as Bana murderer; akin to Icel. Bani death, murderer, OHG. Bana murder, bano murderer, murder, OIr. bath death, benim i strike.
Finally, with respect to the putative, eternal battle of teaching and research, or teaching versus research (and I will remind you, Carnival and Lent go together), what about asking a different question, about marking time, going through the paces (and publication, by the way, can be like that; I speak from direct experience) versus engaging intellectually in some way or another. It could be a magnum opus one year, an interesting seminar another, and a creative administrative stint at yet another moment. In the end, they still go together, and one way or another, is good enough for me.
One of my students wrote an honors thesis on the controversy which surrounded Rigoberta Menchú after David Stoll alleged that there were false statements in her testimonio. This student read virtually every book and article then in print about the issue. She said to me, “This is the academic Jerry Springer show! It started out with a disagreement between two people, and now the entire audience is slugging it out on the floor!”
I will not attempt to summarize the entire debate here, but it was somewhat unnerving to those who had an interest in the literal truth of Menchú’s narrative – the first paragraph of which contains this sentence: “I’d like to stress that it’s not only my life, it’s also the testimony of my people.” I never thought veracity in a ploddingly literal sense was testimonio’s cornerstone. Stoll’s interest in discovering Menchú’s “untruths” is primarily political. He disagrees with her politics, and wishes to discredit her so as to discredit these.
In Nebaj, Guatemala, I had a conversation with a man who put it slightly differently. “Stoll is just envious. He is a man, a Euro-American, a Ph.D., and a professor. She is a woman, a Native American, and a Guatemalan, with very little formal education. But her book has been very well received academically in the metropolitan countries. She achieved First World academic success without preauthorization. This he cannot forgive.”