Friday, January 28, 2011

More on the future of scholarship

British academics are not happy about the idea of having to justify their research in terms of "impact". (I'm not happy about the idea either.) Meanwhile, Stanley Fish, provoked last fall by SUNY Albany's announced termination of its French, Italian, classics, Russian and theater programs, has suggested university presidents rebuke state legislators:
...drop the deferential pose, leave off being a petitioner and ask some pointed questions: Do you know what a university is, and if you don’t, don’t you think you should, since you’re making its funding decisions? Do you want a university — an institution that takes its place in a tradition dating back centuries — or do you want something else, a trade school perhaps? (Nothing wrong with that.) And if you do want a university, are you willing to pay for it, which means not confusing it with a profit center? And if you don’t want a university, will you fess up and tell the citizens of the state that you’re abandoning the academic enterprise, or will you keep on mouthing the pieties while withholding the funds?

That’s not the way senior academic administrators usually talk to their political masters, but try it; you might just like it. And it might even work.

Good luck with that. I think the future of "non-impact" research funding is with grants and donations from private foundations and individuals. The median voter hasn't acquired a taste for scholarship in any discipline. Even the median alum of a big state school probably cares a lot more about the performance of its football team than the prestige of its scholarship.

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