14.0609 what DO degrees mean?

From: by way of Willard McCarty (willard@lists.village.Virginia.EDU)
Date: Tue Jan 23 2001 - 03:40:40 EST

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                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 14, No. 609.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

             Date: Tue, 23 Jan 2001 07:39:43 +0000
             From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk>
             Subject: what degrees mean

    Recently I was asked to comment on an MSc programme proposal. I'll spare
    you the details and cut to the chase: there was, as far as I could
    determine, no academic content in the programme whatsoever. It was a
    skills-training programme. A day or so later I received as e-junkmail an
    advert for degrees-by-purchase, no work required, BA, MA, PhD. Usually I'd
    treat the latter as merely a joke, but in the dark-light of the former I
    simply got depressed.

    My reaction to the MSc proposal, which I took valuable time out to give,
    wasn't intended to be snobbish and, on rereading, I couldn't see that it
    was in any way. It simply stated in detail that there was no academic
    content. (The skills-training was flawed too, but that's another matter --
    or is it?) I was left wondering about the social status now accorded to
    skills, to the craft of doing something well, that would compell someone to
    cloak skills-training as an academic degree programme.

    Please note: I am not in any way wishing to denegrate skills or training
    programmes designed to impart them. I know, we've been by here recently
    (see Humanist vol 14 on "corporate universities"), but I continue to think
    that it's useful to have our categories straight. Craft does have something to
    do with intellectual power. I spent years teaching calligraphy, in which
    skill has
    a quite specific meaning and critical thought a strong basis in conventional
    forms, in "doing things right". Calligraphers who follow Edward Johnston's path
    will take up an applied kind of palaeography, learning to write out each
    major hand in historical sequence as a means of developing in themselves
    a physical knowledge of how letterforms came to be. Yet clearly calligraphy
    and palaeography are different, go in different directions, however much
    they learn from each other. An academic degree in calligraphy as such wouldn't
    make any sense to me; one in palaeography certainly does.

    Another useful example is the academic field of public administration, where
    theoretical and historical understanding of governmental policy, politics,
    systems theory, sociology and several other fields, I'd imagine, come
    together and
    inform practice. Unlike palaeography its students do not as a rule become
    rather better administrators, outside the academy where they are valued for
    effectiveness on the job. How does humanities computing, also an applied field,


    Dr Willard McCarty / Senior Lecturer /
    Centre for Computing in the Humanities / King's College London /
    Strand / London WC2R 2LS / U.K. /
    +44 (0)20 7848-2784 / ilex.cc.kcl.ac.uk/wlm/

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