Kate Natishan - Manifesto

Scholarship ought to be a conversation.
Too often it seems that scholarship and research, especially in the humanities, are thrown out into the ether and left there to float aimlessly with little to no interaction with its peers and colleagues. Lindsay Waters suggests that "There may be some departmental colleagues who are incapable or afraid or simply do not want to read each other's work, but who is it that really does not want books to be cracked? Not academics, I submit, but administrators" (Waters 14). Perhaps this is the case, but it need not take an act of violent rebellion to change. Open a damn book. Talk to your colleagues, ask them what they're doing, and look up on occasion from your own research long enough to realize the implications it has for not just your specialized field but also for other fields within your department, in your college, and for the public. We end conversations before they can even begin by indulging the incessant need for publication that risks going nowhere, the constraints on our time serving as blinders to what else might be happening just next door, just down the hall.

It is not just a lack of communication that shuts down conversation, but a fostered feeling of superiority and perhaps entitlement. Our audiences must be at our level or higher - so few of us write for the public, write for open understanding of our material. I feel that this is not necessarily done on purpose, but is the result of the language we have been taught: "Even theory, meant to open things, can become the means to shut them down… The academic entrepreneurs use words to separate themselves… and turn language into something antinatural and antihuman" (Waters 40). What happens when we can no longer explain ourselves to those outside our specialization? This is the danger of depending on obtuse language and jargon to discuss our work: it becomes just as obtuse, just as obscure, and just as irrelevant to those that do not already have some understanding of it. We run the risk of losing ourselves in our pomp: “Hegel's success was the beginning of the 'age of dishonesty'… first of intellectual, and later, as one of its consequences, of moral irresponsibility; of a new age controlled by the magic of high-sounding words, and by the power of jargon” (Popper 28). We are at a loss before we can even start speaking.

The academy ought not put pressure on scholars to publish for the sake of publishing.
Your book has been published. There is a feeling of satisfaction that comes with the appropriate reviews and credentials, the extra tick on your CV, and the step towards tenure (or the promise that you'll keep it) behind you. I wonder how many academics then think, "Who is going to read this?" I wonder too, how many care anymore? The core of this statement, of this issue, is the belief that continuous publication is necessary, that the more titles attributed to one's name or the higher the quantitative impact one has in the field (or at least, the market), the more qualified this individual must be. The publish-or-perish model is a terrifying prospect (especially to this grad student) that any hopeful job seeker in any academic field must face head on, especially if they intend on applying to (and working at) an R1 level university. "The problem is that the advocates of the market say that what cannot be counted is not real… To the extent that people consider the free market framework the ultimate framework, we have allowed a 'one size fits all' mentality to hobble the university" (Waters 9). This hobbling in seen in the quantity-over-quality threat that has glutted publishers - yes, there is ostensibly more research being down now than there was any number of decades ago, but it is still suffering from the publish-publish-patent-publish drive. The value of research threatens to slip and worse than that, the ethical integrity of our work is being undermined by those too pressured by this push to actually do the research they have proposed (see: any number of faked credentials, falsified data, and plagiarism. Every case cripples the university and the integrity of the colleges, labs, and departments therein.

"We are experiencing a general crisis of judgment that results from unreasonable expectations about how many publications a scholar should publish" (Waters 18); this leads me directly into my next statement:

The model of capitalist production ought not to be the model by which universities are run.
It is not just the overproduction of material that is a cause for alarm and concern. Waters warns, "Product is all that counts, not the reception, not the human use. This is production for its own sake… For the academic under this regime, [their] life's work has been cordoned off from living experience; practice counts for nothing" (36). In the push for publication and production, we are forced to distance ourselves from living our work in any way, from creating experience with it and from it. It is not just publication that has become a part of this production machine, though, but also degrees. How many undergraduates does your department attract? Your degree program? How many graduates? How quickly can a department turn out Masters and PhDs into the world? (Where they go after they cross the stage with a diploma, by the way, seems of little consequence. Their checks have been cashed.) Taking longer than an allotted amount of time (ie: two years to finish an MA) is disastrous, and I get the sense that the department, advisors, committee members, and an overwhelming sense of inadequacy all take their pound of flesh each semester over the "appropriate" deadline. The theory must then be that this over-staying of students is a sign of inefficiency and a waste of the department's (and in turn the university's) time (and time = $) and must be evaluated as such. Inefficiency has no place in this model and thus the appropriate pressure must be applied to maintain the blistering output. And what cost to the student? Well, surely sanity and a thorough understanding and interaction with the material are too much to ask.

Popper redefines surplus population as "The accumulation of capital means that the capitalist spends part of his profits on new machinery… These machines, in turn, may be intended either for the expansion of industry, [or] they may be intended for intensifying production by increasing the productivity of labor in existing industries" (366-367). The capitalists in question here can be read as the university and the machines are students and faculty producing research that inevitably contributes to publication and patent output and to the expansion of the institution. This then allows the cycle to continue, with the university then attracting more and more students (rather than capping enrollment, as has been suggested by Mr. Duckett), who in turn produce research, become faculty, and so on…

If we continue to use this model, the academy shifts from being a place of learning to a credential machine, supported by the workers that are urged to produce ever more material, else be replaced by someone that can.

Teaching and scholarship ought to find balance.
I have heard, from any number of faculty members at R1 level universities, that "teaching" is considered a dirty word. A decent professor has managed to find ways of teaching just one or two classes or sections per semester; an excellent one has found a way (usually involving one or more graduate students) to stay out of the classroom entirely unless it is absolutely necessary to make an appearance, and better yet has little to no direct interaction with students. This, too, (ideally, some might say) is the work of graduate students. I have also met faculty members that find this practice deplorable (while just as many, if not more, find it delightful) but do not dare fight the system too hard, often due to a pressured need to pursue their own research (see normative statement #2). In entrenching themselves in research, the faculty drifts away from the concrete issues often brought up in the classroom, and away from "the basics" of their own subject matter - after all, we are often told the best way to learn something (or to maintain a knowledge of the fundamentals) is to teach it.

Steve Fuller notes, "At its best, the university was a catalyst of social change when its two functions engaged in mutual regulation: teaching curbed the esoteric tendencies of research, while research disrupted the routinizing tendencies of teaching… However, this delicate balance between the two functions is in danger of being lost" (25). It is too easy for either teaching or research to become a stagnant routine, with neither engaging the other. However, when properly balanced, I feel that these two intertwined aspects of academia feed into each other: new ideas are taken from the classroom and worked into research, while research then informs what we bring into the classroom. Constant interaction with both fundamental and cutting edge material has the potential to keep an enthusiastic flame burning and creates a somewhat symbiotic relationship of feedback between generations of academics and professionals.

Scholars should not have to find covert ways of disseminating their research.
It has been my general experience that universities both speak out against censorship and practice it in subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) ways. What a university will and will not publish, what it will and will not support as "valid research"; what advisors will or will not consider appropriate avenues of inquiry. Too often innovative and intriguing trickles of study are forced to veer back to the deep-cut river of the status quo, marked as "unscholarly" or "trivial" or any other number of derisive adjectives that undermine original thought or thinking that has (according to someone) gone too far outside the box. It is the cry of those too entrenched in their own research, in their own lines of thinking, in the fear of being called "too radical" or, perhaps worse, "too permissive" of research that does not lend itself to bolstering an institution towards the coveted R1 status.

Not only are we limited in what we print, but at times even in the places in which we speak. Academics - it would seem especially junior faculty and graduate students - are urged to carefully choose the conferences they attend and the professional organizations to which they belong. Presenting at certain conferences - especially those that may mix industry, the public, and academia (I am thinking specifically of my experiences with MythCon, ComicCon, and WonderCon) - may be seen as less-than-professional. Waters summarizes this general feeling aptly: "More deathly than peer review is peer pressure. 'You won't get credit for such a publication when it comes time for a promotion or raise.' And, 'You'd better not attack the ideas of this senior member of the profession in print, you lowly assistant professor, if you know what's good for you.'" (58-59). This kind of pressure can come from advisors, senior faculty, and colleagues and I feel that it only creates an uncomfortable shroud around the academy, and around the humanities. I feel that we shouldn't shun opportunities to not only interact with the industries that we critique and study, but to also disseminate our research to the public. We all know how to talk to our peers and junior and senior colleagues, but it is another experience entirely to deal with a knowledgeable public - and make no mistake, those that attend these events are often knowledgeable, and they will ask questions. Preparing yourself for volleys from all sides, and to speak in such a way that everyone, not just other academics, will understand you is terrifying, exhilarating, and enlightening. It gives us yet another light to shine on our work, and another way of realizing its cultural relevance: things we may forget while up in our ivory towers.

The humanities ought not to be a handmaiden to Science.
"The profit motive suggests to many concerned leaders that science and technology are of crucial importance for the future health of their nations" (Nussbaum 7). There is nothing inherently wrong with Nussbaum's assertion, but the consequences of this believe place all that is not science or technology under a finer microscope.

While there is nothing wrong with doing service for others, we ought also retain a sense that we are not just handmaids, but messengers and kings (or queens, if you will) in our own right. The thought that we have no other purpose than to serve STEM fields and even social sciences is depressing, and if I think about it too long I begin to wonder what I'm doing here. I could have gotten my degree in technical writing and been done with it, if that was the only purpose I could possibly fulfill in pursuing a BA instead of a BS. We must be more than the place to which engineers (and others) outsource their writing, but in turn, "Universities are finding it increasingly easy to redline the humanities" (Waters 17). To keep ourselves in the game we are being forced to justify our existence in relation to the thoroughly quantifiable output of our scientific and mathematical colleagues. I do not feel out of line in suggesting we should not have to do this. Lindsay Waters suggests that a large part of the humanities is learning critical judgment (31-33); this is our purpose, not only with those within our fields but our duty to anyone we influence, whether it the underclassmen crammed into their literature service course or perhaps curious upperclassmen that are venturing outside their field - it may also be a curious public, wondering what we have to contribute to the conversation on contemporary issues. If we are to remain relevant, we cannot stay in hiding, and we cannot diminish ourselves to a place behind and to to the left of science. We can affirm our place by advocating the quality of research over quantity, by balancing teaching with scholarship, by investing in our students beyond the numbers they produce for our department. We are more than just the “watchful stewardship” that Nussbaum suggests; we must also contribute to the "culture of creative innovation” (10) or risk being undermined as fluffy and obsolete.

"Right now, if you’re going to get a real education, you may have to be aggressive and assertive" (Edmundson) - if we want to be able to GIVE a real education, we will have to become as aggressive and assertive as Edmundson urges our students to be.

Works Cited

Edmundson, Mark. “Who Are You and What Are You Doing Here?” The Oxford American. 22 Aug 2011. Web.

Fuller, Steve. "The Sociology of Intellectual Life." Themes and Contestations in Contemporary Academic Inquiry. 30 Oct 2011. Web.

Nussbaum, Martha C. Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010. Print.

Popper, Karl R. The Open Society and its Enemies: Revised Edition. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1950. Print.

Waters, Lindsay. Enemies of Promise: Publishing, Perishing, and the Eclipse of Scholarship. Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press, 2004. Print.

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