Generalists and Interdisciplinary Work

The following from Zachary Ernst is highly illuminating in terms of recognizing the assumptions of modern academia:

While I was still an assistant professor, I had published in several different areas – I had papers in ethics, action theory, game theory, logic, and philosophy of science. The chair of my department was unhappy about this, and he told me so. He said, quite explicitly, that it would be very difficult for me to get tenure with such research breadth. This may sound unbelievable to someone outside of academia, but his reasoning was quite sound. Tenure decisions were made largely based on whether the faculty member had developed a reputation in the field. And it is easier to do that if you repeatedly publish in the same narrow subset of the academic literature. Spreading myself around too much, I was told, might result in my having failed to achieve a reputation. At the time I had this conversation, I had two distinct feelings. On the one hand, I felt that this was totally absurd – how can the ability to publish in several distinct areas be considered a liability? But on the other hand, I had to admit that he was right, and that this was good advice.

Notice how the assumption of modern academia is to collect data, not to produce people. A generalist might be the best sort of person for producing people, but certainly wouldn’t be the best sort for advancing the mystical progress of the data machine we call the modern project. This tempts me to say, tenure be damned, I want to be a Christian educator.

ht: Discover Magazine Blog; Caleb Gates

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