9.628 editorial pot stirrings

Humanist (mccarty@phoenix.Princeton.EDU)
Sat, 16 Mar 1996 11:13:01 -0500 (EST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 9, No. 628.
Center for Electronic Texts in the Humanities (Princeton/Rutgers)
Information at http://www.princeton.edu/~mccarty/humanist/

[1] From: Willard McCarty <mccarty@phoenix.princeton.edu> (64)
Subject: pot stirrings

Perhaps it is my Irish heritage that causes me to think of Humanist as a pot
of stew which occasionally needs stirring or spicing up. In any case, here
follows a few stirrings from recent topics and an item or two in today's
local paper.

The threat to tenure. I am still wondering what essentially tenure means
hanging on to, now, in the latter half of the last decade of the 20th Century?

OED s.v. 1b: "gen. and fig. The action or fact of holding anything material
or non-material; hold upon something; maintaining a hold; occupation....
c. spec. (orig. U.S.) Guaranteed tenure of office, as a right granted to the
holder of a position (usu. in a university or school) after a probationary
period and protecting him against dismissal under most circumstances.
1957 V. Nabokov Pnin vi. 139 Pnin, who had no life tenure at Waindell, would
be forced to leave---unless some other literature-and-language Department
agreed to adopt him.
Ibid. 167 'Naturally, I am expecting that I will get tenure at last,' said
Pnin rather slyly. 'I am now Assistant Professor nine years.'
1976 National Observer (U.S.) 31 July 8/2 Idaho tried to abolish tenure a
year ago, but the teachers' lobby was so strong the bill was defeated.
1981 Listener 5 Feb. 166/3 Can universities in a time of declining resources
still preserve tenure in all its old form?

Surely, I think, it must mean hanging on (f. L. tenere, to hold) to
something more than simply a job. It must mean hanging on to something that
we can convince the tax- or fees-paying general public is worth preserving
in a time when guarantees of employment are getting like the proverbial
teeth of hens. Then I reflect on how American liberal arts colleges manage
to convince people to pay enormous sums, equal to the tuition costs of the
top Ivy League institutions, to send their daughters and sons to school
there. In the words of a colleague, what they are selling is a life worth
living, not job-training. The liberal arts college with which I am most
recently familiar does an amazingly effective job of marketing, and in fact
this college does deliver. Can we, as computing humanists, do as well? Do we
have anything of value to say to the world rushing to embrace the Internet?

The Internet, of course. Three articles on the subject in today's local
paper, the Globe and Mail, two on the front page, one on the next page. The
first two are combined under the common title, "Internet: Nations investing
in new technology, but are suspicious of assault by Western values". It's
the second that tugged vigorously at my attention this morning: "The
worldwide computer network is still young in the region [of Asia], but
already cyberspace resounds to the crashing of broken taboos, and collisions
with the powers that be." Literally "criminal" gibes at the monarchy in
Thailand; homepages for "everyone from Confucius to the Penthouse pet of the
month, including one for "the military junta that rules Burma's media like
an Orwellian ministery of truth"; cultures deeply offended by "the smut and
antigovernment invective" but governed by those who cannot afford to be left
out. The unfettered individualism so characteristic of the Internet and, at
least ideologically, of the society that created it comes into direct
conflict with very different ways of life. Surely, I think, this must be the
kind of thing that Humanists are best prepared to discuss.

The third article in today's paper is entitled, "The Internet comes to a
reporter's rescue". The basic story is one that we have all heard told many
times, of timely help from a distant source. What struck me, however, was
the reporter's observation that,

"The oxymoron of the uncommunicative communicators best defines our tentative
approach to the 1990's omnipresent 'I' word, the Internet. You'd think we
journalists would be an advance guard of Internauts , but that's just
not the case.

Indeed, we are collectively so unsure of what to make of a medium whose
applications seem to redefine the word amorphous that we have only recently
organized some in-house seminars on the subject."

Is it inaccurate and unfair of me to think that one could substitute
"academic computing humanists" for "journalists" in the above?