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Home :: Archive :: 1996 :: September ::
Re: State of the Profession
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, SHK 7.0701.  Friday, 27 September 1996.

(1)     From:   David Schalkwyk <
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        Date:   Thursday, 26 Sep 1996 13:44:15 SAST-2
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0698  Re: State of the Profession

(2)     From:   Norm Holland <
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        Date:   Thursday, 26 Sep 96 08:29:11 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0698  Re: State of the Profession

(3)     From:   James Schaefer <
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        Date:   Thursday, 26 Sep 1996 12:06:53 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0695  Re: State of Profession

(4)     From:   Robert Appelbaum <
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        Date:   Thursday, 26 Sep 1996 11:10:38 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   The Profession


(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Schalkwyk <
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Date:           Thursday, 26 Sep 1996 13:44:15 SAST-2
Subject: 7.0698  Re: State of the Profession
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0698  Re: State of the Profession

I'm surprised that no-one has mentioned Stanley Fish in this discussion.  From
afar, where educational institutions and their relationship to public and
private funds and to their communities are presumably different from those in
North Anmerica, Fish's arguments have always seemed to be both spot-on and
parochial.  In other words, like all forms of institutional pragmatism, they
make sense only in terms of an institutional or communal framework which they
of necessity must take for granted.  Richard Rorty once said to me in Pretoria
that the kind of pragamtism that he was espousing "could probably work only in
a free, democratic, equal society like the USA, umm, maybe California, umm,
maybe Marin County."  That was remarkably honest.  Are the problems now being
experienced with in the profession not precisely a sign that the Fishian
concept of professionalism is no longer viable, if ever it was?  And that there
are material and ideological reasons why the Rortian ideal of conversation can
no longer exist in even Marin County?   (Have I got the spelling of this right?
 I've only ever heard it, never seen it written.)

David Schalkwyk
University of Cape Town

(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Norm Holland <
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Date:           Thursday, 26 Sep 96 08:29:11 EDT
Subject: 7.0698  Re: State of the Profession
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0698  Re: State of the Profession

Re Tom Ruddick's statement, "it seems to me that there's plenty of money being
spent on education in this country"--

Nationwide statistic: the U.S. spends seven times as much on a prisoner in
prison than a schoolchild in school.

May a psychological critic suggest that this reveals something about our
values, that we prize punishment and despise nurture?  --Best, Norm

(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           James Schaefer <
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Date:           Thursday, 26 Sep 1996 12:06:53 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 7.0695  Re: State of Profession
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0695  Re: State of Profession

I have a lot of sympathy for Jeff Myer's statements.  People go on to grad
school for many reasons, not all apparent even to the student. In my case,
being the first in my family to go to college at all, just being an
undergraduate was a means of escape from a life I knew I did not want.  But
what then?  As a humanities major, I had learned to ask questions, but that
wasn't going to get me a job.  Nine post-undergrad years as an orderly and
secretary and other mind-numbing jobs drove me to grad school with the hope of
teaching, but left me (1984) seemingly no better: overeducated and once again a
Kelly boy.  But during the five, ever more abstract, years in grad school, I
did learn what turned out to be practical, transferrable skills: how to write
concisely, how to think analytically, how to negotiate my way through large
organizations, and to take risks I would not have dared before.  It took me
several more years of scrambling before I began to get a foothold, but now I'm
in a job I could not have planned for, and I even get to teach occasionally.
Did I need a state-school's Ph.D. program to help me grow up and become
productive?  Maybe so.  Does my experience justify the social expense of
producing more Ph.D.'s than there are assistant professorships? Or the
individual cost of the student loans necessary to fund such a degree (a burden
I only recently paid off)?  Probably not.  But my experience has left me with
the belief that it is still possible to see even graduate education as an end
in itself, not just as a union card to a secure job.

Jim Schaefer

(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Robert Appelbaum <
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Date:           Thursday, 26 Sep 1996 11:10:38 -0700 (PDT)
Subject:        The Profession

Discussions of the state of the profession seem to me to be missing a few basic
points.

(1) There has been a significant net _decrease_ of federal and state funding
for higher education over the past 5 years, at all levels, and in virtually all
areas, except for the biological sciences and perhaps the computer sciences;
the problem is not simply a matter of shifted forms of aid.

(2) Mathematically, the more people who receive Ph.Ds every year, the more
people who are not going to get jobs doing what their Ph.Ds have trained them
to do.  The effect therefore of continuing Ph.D programs at the current rate is
not a democratization of education, a reaching out to the needy; the effect is
the production of a surplus of Ph.D.s, a surplus of false hopes, and a surplus
of ruined lives.

(3) There is no necessary correlation between the joy of education, or the joy
of continuing education, and the doctoral degree.  The joy of education may be
more valuable as a personal and social good than the credentialing process
entailed by the doctoral degree; but as long as higher education is organized
as it is, the doctoral degree will be valued precisely as a professional
credential, and institutions will continue to try to hire and to train Ph.D.s
precisely as they are hiring and training them today -- as professionals, with
expertise in highly specialized and complex fields.  _Pace_ a recent article on
this issue in the New York Times Magazine, and the implications of some of the
arguments that have appeared on this list, efforts to make the doctoral degree
into something less than the most rigorous professional training -- efforts to
make into a venue where people can pursue the joy of education for its own sake
-- can only have the effect of dumbing down the degree, and the profession
along with it.

(4) It is not elitist to propose that fewer universities try to produce fewer
PH.Ds over the next few years.  Nor is it elitist to suggest that only those
institutions which are best equipped to produce Ph.D.s should be the ones to
continue doing so.

(5) Clearly, there is a great deal of uncertainty and ambivalence about
teachers of literature ought to do, especially among teachers of literature,
and one of the sources of that uncertainty and ambivalence stems directly from
the professionalization of the study of literature. Is it not conceivable,
though, that professionally staffed and gifted institutions like (say) Prof.
Godschalk's school could do more for the public, for people interested in
literature, on a sub-professional level? That is, is it not conceivable that
some venues of higher education could be organized to do something besides
striving to reduplicate themselves as institutions?

We hear a lot about the ailing state of the profession, but it's been a long
time since we've heard much about open universities -- even though what most of
us really believe in is openness, the free exchange of ideas, the free movement
of literacy through all levels of society, the free and democratic development
of cultural production and critical reflection. But it's been a long time since
we've heard about professionals in literature and other disciplines banding
together to fight back, to fight back about the cutting in funding, to fight
back against the dismantling of higher education, to fight back against the
ideology of narrow vocationalism.  What we've heard rather is a collective
_sauve qui peut_. Well, it just may be that demographic pressures will finally
lead us out of this "crisis" without our having done anything on our own
initiative except to have played the game of sauve qui peut.  It may be that
these pressures will have an effect very soon.  And certainly a number of
institutions have been able to hold on to what is valuable about them and even
to grow during these difficult past few years.  Moreover, there are still many
successes in higher education: some schools have strengthened themselves as
tradition-based institutions, some schools have developed successful
innovations in inter-disciplinary and global learning, and some schools --
maybe most schools -- have continued to be just plain good at what they do,
modifying their approaches slowly but continuously.

But we should make no mistake about what has been involved on a personal level:
an increasing number of ruined lives, coupled with the increasing exploitation
of adjuncts and grad students holding on to the slimmest of hopes that their
lives are not ruined _yet._  Meanwhile, Professor Godschalk's main question has
gone entirely unanswered:  What is it that we think students ought to learn
today?  How do we think we ought to go organizing ourselves in order to teach
it?

Robert Appelbaum
 

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