3.771 supporting the humanists, cont. (169)

Willard McCarty (MCCARTY@vm.epas.utoronto.ca)
Tue, 21 Nov 89 17:49:52 EST

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 3, No. 771. Tuesday, 21 Nov 1989.

(1) Date: Tue, 21 Nov 89 00:23:00 EST (12 lines)
From: "Vicky A. Walsh" <IMD7VAW@OAC.UCLA.EDU>
Subject: Re: 3.763 supporting the humanists, cont. (126)

(2) Date: Tue, 21 Nov 89 01:10:00 EST (13 lines)
Subject: Re: 3.765 support of humanities computing, cont. (189)

(3) Date: 21 November 1989, 09:03:23 EDT (23 lines)
Subject: rude mechanicals

(4) Date: Tue, 21 Nov 89 09:30 EDT (91 lines)
Subject: supporting the humanists

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Tue, 21 Nov 89 00:23:00 EST
From: "Vicky A. Walsh" <IMD7VAW@OAC.UCLA.EDU>
Subject: Re: 3.763 supporting the humanists, cont. (126)

Excuse me for nit picking, but we aren't doing ALL that bad at UCLA. Of
the 50 some faculty members who applied for one in the English Dept.,
all but 2 received the computer of their choice. We have a ways to go,
but we are getting there. As to supporting computing in the humanities,
my staff consists of people with training and experience in both
computing and humanities and who have chosen to do so, not necessarily
as a second choice.
Vicky Walsh, Director of Humanities Computing, UCLA
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------18----
Date: Tue, 21 Nov 89 01:10:00 EST
Subject: Re: 3.765 support of humanities computing, cont. (189)

Perhaps it will take a lot of time, decades, and lots of
institutionalization of work categories, and the rest; but in Los
Angeles, auto mechanics are getting a minimum of 45-50$/hour. Beats
lots of humanist Ph.D. work. Or supporter work too. Librarians have
long complained about the poor treatment they get from the readers of
books, the professors. Etc. Kessler again. But I can say that some of
the supporters at UCLA are rather snooty towards the fairly ignorant
profs in my department, acting sometimes as if they are keepers of very
arcane secrets.
(3) --------------------------------------------------------------26----
Date: 21 November 1989, 09:03:23 EDT
Subject: rude mechanicals

When I had a farm and had surplus firewood, I used to sell truckloads
occasionally to fancy folks in town. They wanted to treat me as an
ignorant yokel, but my air, and my L.L.Bean parka, were uppity, so they
did not know what to make of me and were very uncomfortable, especially
when they gave me money. In the early seventies a student of mine made
the strategic mistake of wearing a hat with a brim (the kind of hats
that often say CAT or Landmark in this part of Ohio) when he came out of
a university building on a snowy day. A professor going in took one
look at him and said "Why can't you people do something about the snow
on the stairs?" It must be something in human nature that always makes
us want to look down on somebody; thus the technicians, the carpenters,
the roofers, the butchers, the wood-splitters will always be looked down
upon, no matter how intelligent, sensitive, or even well-read they may
be. Only if you have been one of the rude mechanicals or technicians,
dish-washers or short-order cooks, can you understand what it is that
makes revolutions or makes the "little people" capable of hating the
"big people" quite so much. The same rule applies with teachers of
technical writing, botanists who teach how to grow food, or computer
technicians. Roy Flannagan
(4) --------------------------------------------------------------87----
Date: Tue, 21 Nov 89 09:30 EDT
Subject: supporting the humanists

Humanists as Computer Support Professionals
Willard McCarty's recent posting turns a problem of market economics and
frustrated ambition into a theological and moral problem of the
sufferings of the Humanist as Job in a Satanic influenced Academia.

For the humanist as the computer support person who feels frustrated for
not having her work not considered of equal value with the publishing
academic, the best advice is to seek employment extra-academically.
There is a well-paying market for humanists with technical knowledge and
competence; though a free-market subject to two-weeks notice, at best.

However, David A. Bantz brings a bit of commonsense and reality into this
discussion in his suggestion that academia ensure that humanists as
computer support be treated as professionals. Professionals require
complete support in their tasks in terms of reimbursement for attendance
at conferences, and professional development courses.

I return to Willard's practical suggestion to ease the burden placed on
humanists as computer support persons:

Computer support persons should receive tenure for their efforts
regardless of lack of publications. Why tenure? What is so magic about
tenure? In the case of publishing academics, the argument,
traditionally is that the purpose of tenure is to ensure academic
freedom. How does that argument apply to non-academically functioning
humanists as computer support personnel?

Willard's argument seems to be that without the support of computer
professionals, the ethereal research work of traditional academics would
have no material realization; and, further, this material support is
somehow instrumental to creating new ideas. So, therefore without
computer support, the ideal world of ideas would float away. The
computer support people should, therefore, receive tenure.

Apart from the practical problems of determining how a noble tenure
committee could evaluate the contributions of individual computer support
people, Willard's argument also applies to non-humanists with junior
college degrees. Indeed, the janitorial and maintenance staff more so
deserve tenure. I don't know how many academics would fail to produce a
publishable work without their morning coffee served up by the
indefatigable cafeteria worker. He too should be eligible for tenure.

Willard's argument is the best reductio ad absurdum for the abolition of
tenure that I have seen, despite the fact that he did not intend it so.
Every staff member in the university, in one way or another, could be
instrumental to scholarly production, and so should be eligible for

This point introduced by Willard is a sub-set of the general question of
how humanists in the extra-academic world can be recognized as fully
fledged and contributing members to scholarship. The Ph.D. who happens
to drive taxis or work for IBM as a programmer has hardly any access to
the delights of academic privilege, such as free and open access to
university libraries, and computer networks. Some of these people even
publish once in awhile, and attempt to participate in conferences at
their own expense and on their own time. But they are treated as
outsiders because whevenever they happen to get some space at
conferences or in journals, their obtainment of this scarce resourse
reduces the opportunities of a young academic who might have used the
same quantity of space for tenure credits. Remember the Ph.D. taxi
drive won't gain tenure for publishing or presenting papers.

In this broader context, of extra-academically employed Ph.D.'s who
strive to maintain links to academia, the institution of tenure has
become an institution of sinecure. Moreover, the narrow problem of how
to invite humanist computer support personnel into the ranks of academia
as deserving of equal treatment with publishing professors, becomes
broadened to the problem of how to open the doors, including the
electronic ones, to humanists earning their living outside academia.

However, let us not turn an economic or market problem where worthy
ambitions are frustrated by the monopolistic access to scarce resources
by tenured and unionized professors, into a quasi-theological thesis
about Job-like computer support personnel suffering because of their
lack of recognition. Regardless of one's occupation in life, one often
finds oneself in situations where one is treated unfairly due to many
factors, the most cruel of which happens to be the blind workings of
market economics. Rather than shed tears and grumble about one's
plight, one might find it more useful to squeeze through the narrow
cracks in the walls of academia, and gain whatever access one can gain to
university resources. Though, admittedly, editorial and conference
boards could be more generous than they are to those whose mailing
address happens to be a private one rather than an institutional one.
Sheldon Richmond