Sunday, January 10, 2010

Prophets of doom and peddlers of revolution

Over the past week or two I've seen lots of people re-posting William Pannapacker's much acclaimed/reviled article, "Graduate School in the Humanities: Just Don't Go". I'm guessing that this recent renewal of interest is coming from the fact that Pannapacker has a another article out and the Chronicle has bumped up his old one to put it on display next to the new (they convey much the same message, with a little bit more thought this time about where one might go outside of the academy).

There is a valuable warning here for students, and I think the Chonicle articles are worth taking a look at. Yet criticisms that Pannapacker and others simply throw up their hands in despair when we need to do something about the problem are also worth making, and these arguments have certainly been made. Of late, by Adam Kotsko and Roland Boer (here and here).

Anyone who reads clavi non defixi knows that I'm not really much of a radical as far as calls for revolution and organizing go. But I must say that in the case of the structures at work in academia today, the Kotskos and the Boers are the only ones that I see saying anything very substantive about what the problem is and how to move forward in resolving it. They may be right or wrong (and Adam is quite clear that he's just trying to figure out what's best, and he's open to suggestions), but they certainly seem to be heading in the right direction of actually engaging with what's at stake rather than denying it or simply writing woeful articles about how terrible the situation is.

I realize that we're inundated with these state-of-the-academy reports, so I'm not trying to overburden everyone with them. But it does seem that... if this is really a problem... it would make sense to start thinking about a solution rather than continue to spin our wheels putting together the perfect CV. I made the point on An und für sich that I'm sympathetic but I don't know how much graduate students can do compared to faculty, and it may be that we need to wait for faculty senates and administrative staff to make changes with regard to budget and hiring (any faculty readers can feel free to pipe in on their thoughts here).

My only point, I suppose, is that those who see organizing and radical changes to the structure of the university as going too far (and believe me, I'm uncomfortable with it too) should at least be able to acknowledge the fact that precious little has been proposed in terms of viable alternatives. That in itself should be reason enough to take these calls seriously. From there I'd be happy to hear from others why these are not viable solutions and what a viable solution might look like. Until then, we should thank the peddlers of revolution for getting a conversation started.


  1. Excellent conversation starter. I tend to just ignore the harbingers of doom and stick my head in the sand pretending that tenure won't go anywhere if I just believe in it hard enough. I'm happy to be introduced to new resources for thinking about the issue. And I look forward to what others might think here. If we really believe the humanities to be a necessary and vital part of American education, we need to be able not only to articulate way but to make real strides in its defense.

  2. I agree in large part with your conclusions and A.D. Ployd's comments. Something I think that William Pannapacker's article fails to recognize, though, is that, for some, education is an end in itself. Now, It would be a lie, if I said that I didn't hope, even dream, for that seemingly mythical "tenure position" (visualize me genuflecting in veneration). However, I am someone that has already spent a decade teaching concurrently as a theology student. So, while he may be giving some a dose of reality (which he does indeed offer, fairly), I fail to see why many graduate and doctoral students shouldn't just go ahead and earn the degree.

    Great post.

  3. Perhaps we should be less concerned about the University system than the question, very pressing for the Church, on how to train our clergy differently than the expensive, often ineffective, inconvenient and failing system we now have.

    How can we send pastors and theologians to school for free and take care of their families?

  4. Evan,

    Here is a link to the 06-07 fact book on Theological Education published by ATS.

    ATS reports that there is an upward trend in the hiring of full time faculty in ATS member universities and seminaries (approx. 3600 positions in member schools for 06-07). I know it is just a piece of the "pie," but may be interesting nonetheless.