10.0872 independence, interference, purpose

WILLARD MCCARTY (willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk)
Mon, 21 Apr 1997 22:40:54 +0100 (BST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 10, No. 872.
Center for Electronic Texts in the Humanities (Princeton/Rutgers)
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
Information at http://www.princeton.edu/~mccarty/humanist/

[1] From: Marc Fonda <mfonda@magmacom.com> (85)
Subject: Re: 10.0868 independence, interference, purpose

At 10:07 PM 4/19/97 +0100, you wrote:

>The following from the autobiography of the inventor of the birth-control
>pill, Carl Djerassi, <cite>The Pill, Pygmy Chimps, and Degas' Horse</cite>
>(1992, p. 136):
>"My aspiration for an academic career, I am now certain as I cast my mind
>back to the late twenties, was predicated largely on my yen to conduct
>research on my personal intellectual turf without apparent outside
>interference or control. Such a view of life in academe, especially
>nowadays, is naive, because the search for monetary support for one's
>research is so tough, time-consuming, and even demeaning that it constitutes
>a form of control frequently more oppressive than that always assumed to
>exist in industry...."

Well, this is certainly the case in the Humanities here at Ottawa U. All
humanities departments are now required to develop a revenue generating
service/business using their specialized knowledge. This is true of all
departments at the U of O. It seems that the federal-provincal transfers to
Universities have been reduced so much (equal to the operating budgets of
three Canadian Universities) that the deparments must become partially
self-financing in order to remain in place. In our deparment, 'sciences des
religions', we are starting a traning/consulting business in intercultural
communications. This is deemed to be a good move to the people involved
simply because, as students, they can't find any funding. Fortunately, it
won't take many of the students too far astray from their studies. But I
can't really see how this would help the people in christian studies and,
indeed, they havn't involved themselves.

>Of course "industry" doesn't exist for us in quite the same way as for a
>biochemist or pharmacologist, say, but Djerassi's observation does raise
>some questions relevant to humanities computing. One set of them arise when
>(as I think at least prudent) we try to equip our students for non-academic
>life, or ourselves face or continue to live a life outside the academy.
>Another gets harder and harder to avoid as the walls of academe are
>undermined by the control Djerassi speaks of, hooked to the funding of big
>or even medium-sized projects. The walls suffer also, however, from neglect
>or mismanagement because they seem to many no longer to serve a tolerable
>purpose. We still raise the banner of "academic freedom", but do we have any
>idea of what this freedom is for, as well as from?

Good question - of course most of us, myself included, are not too clear
about the history leading to the development of the ideal of academic
freedom. My guess is that in the West it had something to do with the
church, which has a history of 'mind' control, if you will. (If anybody out
there does know the real story, I'd appreciate learning about it as, I am
sure, would others). It is curious that one generation after another has to
learn about the importance of these things all over agian. Perhaps this
functions to keep the enterprise revelant while open to change?

However, when a society in general tends towards a specific fantasy of
economics and consumption such as that of North America, the university is
bound to go along for the ride. Universities do mirror society and its
interests over time. Today's universities reflect a social fantasy about
wealth, worth, and finances. Administrations are top heavy, like
corporations. They employ people with degrees in business administration,
rather than people who are demonstrably comitted to being educators.

Employing people with different understandings of what the University is
supposed to be results in a conflict of imaginations. One is freedom to
think and teach what is thought, the other is to make money - which requires
a good public image. It is like the difference between the commerical artist
and the 'suffering artist'. The former tends to use his or her skills in a
more shallow way to a more practical end, the latter - no less purposefully
- is drawn (pardon the pun) to the exploration and expression of inherently
more deep things - i.e., less commerical. Regardless of what the myth of the
suffering artist brings to our imaginations, there is a different approach
to things both in art and at the university. That difference is this:
production for consumption and production for production's sake.

The Internet is just another pearl in the social fabric being reflected by
the University. Production for consumption seems to be a driving force on
the corportate Internet and I have found myself doing something similar -
developing a Web site to help in the job search. This has led me to more
work on various Web sites, but I'm still not teaching.

The business model has even entered into my independent writing. "How should
I write this book?" I ask myself constantly. Should it be designed for
sales and accessibility or for a restriced academic audience? Which would
bring the most in finding that job? How much of it should I include on my
Web site? At which point would it enter the public sphere? My point is
percisely that the social fantasy of the economy, our particular subsistence
methods, and the present economic situation have already undermind my
'academic freedom'. What I believe is required is the emergence of a
different public impression of the university (one that is more accessible
to people in general?) which must appear concurrently with a new global
economic strategy - one that isn't so stronlgy informed by greed and other
'heroic' characteristics.


Marc Fonda
The Fondarosa - imaginal selves, societies, and cultures - coming soon!