“So, Will You Write Me a Recommendation?”

Back in 2010, this video was making the rounds on the internet (I believe that the original version is found here, on the site where these movies are made). On one level it is pretty funny, of course–lampooning the naive undergraduate student’s dreams for a career in “the life of the mind,” as it was once known, by means of a harsh introduction to the politics and economics of contemporary University life. The humor, it seems, is in the clash of viewpoints and both side’s dogged persistence to stick with their story, as if the conversation wasn’t even happening. Continue reading

Excerpt from Gregg Lambert’s “The Future of the Humanities”

On September 25, 2012, Prof. Gregg Lambert of Syracuse University’s Humanities Center, joined us in Tuscaloosa to present a public lecture entitled “The Future of the Humanities”*–the inaugural lecture in this year’s series on the place of the Humanities and Social Sciences in the contemporary university. As with all future talks in this series, we plan to post an excerpt from the lecture soon after it is delivered, inviting comments from those in attendance or from those reading this blog, knowing also that the lecturer is always invited either to post a new blog or respond to comments from other to these excerpts.

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Excerpt from “The Future of the Humanities”*

As I will return to discuss in the conclusion, given the growth of the tertiary sector globally [i.e., the service sector of the economy], let us briefly return to Marx’s earlier model. The problem with Marx’s entire theory of labour power is that it was premised upon the dominance of the manufacturing sector of 19th century economies in England and Germany, in which creativity and imagination were not among the potential to be developed as human capital stocks, and thus only belonged to the capitalists who creatively and imaginatively buy and sell labor or commodities. A worker did not need to be creative in most skills, only technically knowledgeable, and the only requirement was that he could be trained to perform a skill. Later on, the level technical knowledge increased and national programs of literacy and quantitative skills were put in place to train new classes of workers. Continue reading

Turtles All the Way Down

It’s the day after our inaugural lecture in 2012-13’s series on the place of the Humanities and Social Sciences in the contemporary university and I’m troubled by the student feedback that I’ve heard so far. It’s come from some of our undergraduate majors, who attended, as well as from an assortment of students enrolled in my 100-level introductory course who also attended. (“Write me a one page description and you can earn some extra credit in the course”–the professor’s old trick to get students new to the university to think a few new thoughts, and, as we used to say, expand their horizons.) Whether or not it was the intended message of the speaker–Prof. Gregg Lambert from Syracuse University–the students seems to have heard a message of lamentation for the future of the Humanities–not a description of how we got here or a renewed defense of our relevance but, instead, a (to their ears at least) dire message from a senior professor concerning the fact that they may be deluded to think that grad school might be for them (since they’ll possibly be mired in student debt that will take them decades to repay–making grad school sound like a bit of a scam); because they’re all just human capital, spewed into the global market from a never-ending pipeline, why continue in their studies? As one first year student who attended the lecture said to me today, sounded both intimidated and incredulous: “Declaring a major may be the most important decision of my life?!” Continue reading