About Aaron McCollough
English Literature Librarian, University of Michigan
This week Inside Higher Ed picked up the story of a report that is likely to aggravate many of the faculty members we serve as English Literature specialists. Does it have any resonance for us as librarians?
Emory University Professor Mark Bauerlein’s paper was produced by the Center for College Affordability and co-hosted by the Cato institute (a Libertarian think tank). Bauerlein is also the author of a book called The Dumbest Generation, about new media’s degrading effects on education, attention span, etc. So, it is fairly safe to suspect some bias underlying his audit of contemporary literary scholarship.
Here’s a short snippet from the Inside Higher Ed piece (citing Bauerlein):
“Many professors enjoy their work, finding it rewarding and helpful to their other professional duties, but if their books and essays do not find readers sufficient to justify the effort, the publication mandate falls short of its rationale, namely, to promote scholarly communication and the advancement of knowledge,” Bauerlein wrote in the report. “To put it bluntly, universities ask English professors to labor upon projects of little value to others, incurring significant opportunity costs.”
Bauerlein is no doubt right that something is not working quite the way it should be in scholarly publishing in the humanities. I’ll be the first to agree that tying academic credentialing to monograph and article publication has gotten out of control. As a librarian, too, I sometimes have to think long and hard about buying monographs that are costly but seem narrowly focused in a way I can’t believe will be useful to others. But none of this seems to be his real focus. He claims to be advocating for more emphasis on teaching, which sounds fine, but is this kind of report really likely to lead administrators to change credentialing criteria or is it likely to help them justify hiring fewer permanent faculty?
Further, as the Inside Higher ed notes, tracking citations proves little about impact when studying the Humanities. After all, Humanism tends to privilege individuality over consensus, persuasion over precedent.
What do you think? Does the kind of efficiency Bauerlein seems to be describing come at a cost that is justifiable or not? Are there other, better ways to address the problem he identifies? Are there problems with academic publishing in the field that he is overlooking (or other dynamics in the profession he should be taking into account)?