An Increasingly Ordinary Affair
The office work of research
August 26, 2012
Partly responding to my recent post on ideas versus their commercialization among writers and intellectuals, I came across this excellent and tragic paragraph on the state of intellectual work in this post:
Meanwhile, academic life is becoming an increasingly ordinary affair, a job in which you hurry from task to task in an attempt to satisfy the demands of your bosses. There was a time when a tenured professorship meant you could think whatever thoughts you like, and reaching this state of intellectual freedom was the goal. Now, it seems, smart people have another goal. They develop "ideas worth spreading", meaning by "worth" that they can make a great deal of money off it, enough to buy their freedom I guess.
I know we academics don't gain many supporters by complaining about our often cushy jobs, but the fact is, they have become a lot more like office work. And not just among mid-level administrators like school chairs and program directors: even research faculty are now often more like heads of lab divisions, spending much of their time doing sales and management rather than thinking and creating. Organizational operations certainly don't have to be a black and white affair, but one of the more mundane and therefore under-discussed aspects of the corporatization of the university is the fact that the professoriate—once its wacky, creative assets—are being processed into middle managers. Under such conditions, "intellectual freedom" becomes a luxury that nobody has much time for.
Related and even more under-discussed, a fact missed by recent austerity and efficiency arguments in higher education hell-bent on measuring work by time spent in the classroom: the professoriate is increasingly doing operational work for which they have no training nor competence.