As folks were emailing me and I was noticing the pattern of conflation (what we do with where we do it), most of the writers were staff, and most of my thinking was -- accordingly -- about staff.
When I got a little more distance from the topic, though, it struck me that faculty are at least as likely to presume ties between the kind of work that they do and the fact that they're working for a university. While this sort of association might be obvious, it's probably not as logically valid as it once was.
People outside academe teach, and do research, and theorize, and write on just about every subject under the sun. Some of them are "public intellectuals", working at think tanks and the like (or just independently). Some of them are just working stiffs, holding down government jobs or engaging on consulting projects. Some of them work in research-oriented companies or industry-funded labs. In fact, prior to coming to Greenback, I hired a number of folks with PhD's to work for me. I even had to fire one or two.
It's probably a misleading analogy, but one of the things that brought this realization to the front of my mind was a comment that I heard about how we (as a culture) can imagine Armageddon more easily than we can imagine a different economic system. Or a significantly different residential pattern. Or pretty much any significant, but scope-limited, social change.
Another factor was the fact that, shortly after I started writing this blog, I got an inquiry from a professor who'd just been turned down for tenure. She was somewhat incredulous that there were potentially interesting jobs, paying (more or less) living wages, associated with universities, which weren't in any way faculty. For probably ten years as a student and seven as an instructor, she hadn't paid much attention to anyone in any other line of work. (If that's true, it might factor into the fact that she was turned down for tenure, but getting turned down is so common these days that I hesitate to draw any conclusion.)
Anyway -- if colleges and universities are going to succeed as thought leaders during a phase of history in which Western society is going to have to totally rethink itself, all of us are going to have to be able to envision ourselves doing things differently than we do at present. And doing different things than we do at present. And, maybe, even doing things somewhere different than we do at present.
Just a thought.
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