Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Every time I try to get out they keep pulling me back in 

Reader Paul Nelson send me a link to Critical Mass on the question of tenure again. Erin seems rather punk today about the prospects of the humanities.
The academic humanities stink, ethically speaking. They stink so bad that I wonder a lot--a lot--about whether there is any ethical way to inhabit them at all. So you tell students the truth when they ask {about going to graduate school --kb} ... but that's hardly organized resistance or a coherent critique of the system. ...

What Crews is basically saying is that whether or not a department invokes "collegiality" as a criterion in tenure decisions, all tenure decisions in the humanities are ultimately decided according to that criterion. It's a harsh statement to make about your home discipline: that its standards of excellence are those of the popularity contest. But it's damningly, all too visibly, true. This is one reason why I think tenure probably ought to be abolished, at least in the academic humanities. It's been corrupted and abused beyond recognition by people who won't even admit, by and large, that this is the case. Such people don't deserve the privilege and the power that tenure confers.

[picks up jaw] I'm certainly not about to defend "collegiality"; at the same time, what gets published (so that you don't perish) is going to be driven by what the market is buying for publications. As I mentioned a few days back, faculty -- and in particular, those in the humanities and in the newer social sciences -- really dislike reference to anything called Truth, when the capital means that there's one that exists objectively. We're not talking interpretations of Twain here -- we have historians who say they cannot tell us the Truth of what happened when, and the denial of general principles in comparing the political economy of two places in the world. The swamp that these have become we find in Erin's following post of a letter from someone who's decided from reading the blogs that academia isn't for him or her. While I'm glad that student's eyes are opened, I'm sad that there will be two fewer hands draining the swamp.