It’s Time We Tackle This Directly

On Facebook the other day I read a post by a doctoral student in the US who, near done the degree, is venturing into a possible career outside the university; the post repeated a theme we’ve long heard in the humanities: we generally conceive of learning and research too narrowly and, by extension, graduate training ought to be re-calibrated to take into account the many other futures for which we might be preparing students.

I admit that I found this post rather frustrating — not because of what the student wrote but because we still inhabit circumstances in which this needs to be said. For, speaking as someone whose own doctoral training spanned the late 1980s and early 1990s, these conditions are entirely familiar to me.

Sure, we can cite the 2008 economic collapse as ramping up these problems but, as significant as that was, that’s just a change in degree, not kind. For the humanities job market has been terrible for decades and, despite each new generation of doctoral students bemoaning their plight, as they look toward a highly competitive job market, I really don’t see much that any doctoral degree granting school has done to try to address this head on. Simply put, I was writing on these same problems 20 years ago or more (for example, here [from 1996] and here [from 1997]), and I was hardly the first to see the problem and thus not alone in discussing it — so what have we been doing about it all this time? Continue reading

On Having an Effect

Picture 2It’s National Adjunct Walkout Day, during which university instructors who are not part of the tenure-track system (or even those who are) may not be showing up to teach or, instead, may take this opportunity to have a “teach-in” during which they depart from the regularly scheduled material, to whatever extent, so as to ensure their students understand some of the challenges facing higher ed at this particular moment in history.

It’s a snow day here at the University of Alabama — we’re expecting a few inches, perhaps, and so the state is shuttered tight and prepared for the worst, having already emptied local store shelves of both bread and milk — so a blog post will have to do today. Continue reading

It Ain’t Sexy But….

conteingentfacultyWe have Kelly Baker on campus, here to give the second annual Day Lecture. On the ride to Tuscaloosa form the Birmingham airport the other day, we got talking about the issue of contingent faculty in academia (a topic on which she has blogged) or, more specifically, about how the issue plays out in the academic study of religion. We talked about the American Academy of Religion’s current forays into the issue (e.g., a task force she is herself involved with, an academic relations sub-committee my own colleague here at Alabama, Ted Trost, is involved with, and even a workshop on “best practices” at the upcoming national conference in San Diego). As a onetime instructor (having held three consecutive one year contracts at the start of my career [1993-6]) and a longtime member of the AAR — the main professional association for US scholars of religion, but also the largest national association for scholars of religion in the world, hence it has an international reach — I’ve got a thought of two on what the leadership of this group ought to be considering before it decides what it wants to try to accomplish. 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.


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