1/19/09

Out of Sync Times' Stanley Fish Eulogizes the institution of the Professor as Americans Inaugurate Professor Barack Obama

You talk about your intellectual who just doesn't get it. You talk about your thinker in the ivory tower who can't click with the world. That's Stanley Fish.

His blog post "The Last Professor" reports to us that he's read a book by his student, Frank Donoghue, “The Last Professors: The Corporate University and the Fate of the Humanities,” that claims the coffin is sealed on the institution of the Humanities Professor. We are heading, the book apparently argues, straight for a world where trade schools rule and Universities of learning cease to have any value.

Bleaker pictures of the landscape of academe, I have not seen painted.

The big problem that I have with Dr. Doom and Gloom is that he stands at the exact bottom of an educational cycle and considers that the end of the story.

Like world economies, with stocks in corporations traded in a market, the world of learning also faces its ups and downs. We have hit the low point in the valuation of learning at the end of a generation of national leaders who despised or ignored learning for its own sake.

The past eight years under Bush were the worst. Going back, Clinton was not rabid supporter of learning, nor was Bush I, nor was Reagan, and Carter was a disappointment in this department, need we go back further?

But Mr. Fish could take a look just at the headlines. Tomorrow we inaugurate a scholar from the University of Chicago as our president.

Few universities come close to Chicago in its heritage of promoting learning for its own sake, in valuing it highly, even the useless Humanities.

Sure, we have some radical colleagues there who will tell us that the authentic old traditions of learning have been expunged from that campus. We think that overly dramatic assessment is not legitimate. Complexity and contradiction are part of all healthy academic environments.

Sure, we have friends who will argue that Barack Obama is not a humanistic scholar, just a lawyer. We think that misrepresents a dichotomy that is not so stark. He is a professor of law.

Sure, we understand how dark it looks out of the deep anti-intellectual hole we have been forced into by those who misguided us and our country for so long.

But just as sure, the light is right there standing in front of you - not at the distant end of a long tunnel. Right there waiting to take the oath of office in just one day.

Let's see if all this talk about the fate of the Humanities is just as bleak after eight years or enlightened leadership that values learning, education and universities.

Tomorrow Professor Obama becomes President Obama.

1 comment:

drunkenfilosofer said...

I largely agree with what Professor Fish has to say, though I think his global tone is a little annoying — tenure may be succumbing to practicality in the United States but that’s perhaps only because the grand American civilizational experiment is coming to an end, (even if only to become the second grand American civilizational experiment.)

Tenure itself is a good idea but(I've tried to say more at http://clicheniche.wordpress.com/2009/01/19/keep-the-cheese-in-the-masters-room-the-stanley-fish-edition) but it has today been appropriated by a class that is only seeking to protect its way of life, rather than the grand idea of freedom and diversity of thought that was the original charge it was meant to guard.