Academies & Publics

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One of the very best thing for me about reading blogs, particularly those from separate contexts, is what Frans Johansson calls the Medici Effect (Amazon), the sometimes productive insights that come when you bang together ideas from different domains. It's also what Greg Ulmer calls conduction. But anyways, I was tidying up Bloglines this morning, and each of the following entries struck me for longer than usual. They're speaking to different issues, but in obvious ways, they started speaking to each other in my head:

First, Ray Cha's discussion of "academics in the role of public intellectual" at if:book. Cha looks at the recent CHE collection of high-profile academic bloggers commenting on the Juan Cole situation, and among other things, writes

I do not mean to suggest that every professor needs to blog. However, on the whole, university presidents and department heads needs to acknowledge that they do have an obligation to make their scholarship accessible to the public. Scholarship for its own sake or its own isolated community has little or no social value.

And then, over at Easily Distracted, Timothy Burke picks up a thread from some discussion of the Ward Churchill controversy, in a post called "Core Truths":

I think it’s worth trying to figure out how intellectuals can operate in multiple arenas or discourses. [snip, with a big However in between these two excerpts]

Quite aside from the problem of assuming the political virtue of doing so, I think it’s anything but clear that legitimating a distinctly non-scholarly epistemology inside academic discourse empowers those that hold to that epistemology: more likely all it does is slightly change the configuration of turf wars for academic resources within universities.

Often, when my wires are crossed as they were by these two entries, I'll try and sort through my reactions to come up with something more univocal. No such luck today, I fear. There are points I agree with in each, but also, as I think these excerpts demonstrate, a fundamental disagreement when taken together. You might say that the two entries, as well as the conversations that they are responding to, are unified by a concern for epistemologial spaces that differ or depart from the space traditionally demarcated (and thus legitimated) by the institutions of discipline and university.

Now, if I haven't confused these posts enough, I can easily imagine careful arguments to be made in opposition to each as well. And rather than try and sort through them here, I'll leave you to assemble your own conversational knot. Neither represents a discussion that a single blog entry is likely to conclude to anyone's satisfaction.

That is all.


I don't agree that we have an obligation to make scholarship accessible - either in language or in terms of access. We can if we want. but we are not obligated to do so regardless of how universities are funded. We work within specialized discourses that are simply not accessible for all kinds of reasons. If they were, we wouldn't have had to study for the PhD nor would we have our own outlets for publication and discussion.

But in the case of Cole and Churchill, other issues arise. One is a conflation of all supposedly "controversial" academics who have made their ideas accessible for the public (via a blog or a public declaration, for instance). Yet Cole is not Churchill. What they have done or do is very different. To judge both the same is a mistake (as it is a mistake to lump all tenure issues in one basket and say everything is allowed when you have tenure).

I don't like either Cole or Churchill. But the least problematic, to me, seems Cole. With Churchill, I don't believe he is immune from a harsh response for saying something stupid. Neither, as Jenny has pointed out, was the president of Harvard immune for his sexist remarks. He was forced out of his position by the response. No one came to his defense for what he said ("but he has tenure!").

With Cole, I still have not seen any evidence that blogging stopped his appointment. Since he is an academic, I'm sure he is aware of how job searches work at all levels of experience. Being well known or not in his field and being a blogger may have had nothing to do with what happened at Yale. Who knows? Who knows why anyone receives or doesn't receive an offer? The answers - as we've all said many times - are always difficult to pin down. And who knows if he is such a great scholar (he may be - but I'm not in his field, so my judgment is only based on his blogging reputation). He is not obligate to blog. He wants to. With desire, there are consequences. Good or bad.

So, in that sense, he seems the least problematic. He still has his job. He still blogs. And, one would assume, he will publish in his field again when he wants to. He kept his public desire (to blog). How did he pay for being public? Churchill, it seems to me, paid for saying something stupid (which drew attention to other issues which led to the move to fire him). The lesson there, it would seem, is to not be stupid. An important lesson for anyone.

Maybe this comment will spark some discussion or conduction?


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This page contains a single entry by cgbrooke published on August 1, 2006 11:25 AM.

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