Higher education bubble: scholarship

Maybe scholarly publications have peaked, and are about to decline, suggests Mark Bauerlein.  He tracks citations for a sampling of schools’ English literature faculty, and finds most underread.

One conclusion:”the overall impact of literary research doesn’t come close to justifying the money and effort that goes into it.”

If we assume a bubble model, with years of rising scholarship eventually exceeding sustainability, then we can expect a crash.  Lit crit output should seize up and decline.

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3 Comments

  1. skjandrews

     /  December 15, 2011

    …which is unfortunate. You never know what is going to pay off–or what outside funding agencies will be interested in seeing. e.g.

    http://alcalde.texasexes.org/2011/11/ut-faculty-bring-in-twice-as-much-revenue-as-they-cost/

    Writing arcane articles and going through the peer review process may not have direct payoff in these terms, but it could be argued it’s continued training. Also, picking on literary studies in this way is sneaky: we all know the only thing English profs study now is Buffy and Twilight 😉

    In any case, the more problematic drift of the article is suggesting that admin should lead this discussion as opposed to getting faculty within the department to take a look at it themselves. The author doesn’t really have a solution (except, it seems, to have more associate professors teaching English comp., which doesn’t exactly scream efficiency.)

    There is an interesting dilemma here, but the solution is hardly straightforward. I’m sure you could find similar results in Bio or Chem departments, where faculty publish loads of co-authored pieces that ultimately have little direct effect, but whose cumulative effect is significant but hard to measure. But, as Bryan points out, that doesn’t gel as well with the cultural narrative that the humanities are pointless.

    I could actually spin a completely different narrative about what these numbers show. Namely, that a lot of intelligent faculty are still stuck (whether by choice or by institutional pressure) teaching intro to lit classes or narrow classics seminars on people like Melville and Eliot. After having to read Moby Dick two times a year with 50 different students, you start to see the world through White-Whaled glasses, if only to keep yourself interested. That and with the increased teaching loads, all you can afford to do is piddle around with a marginal exercise of scholarship rather than stepping back to craft some canon-shifting, paradigmatic insight. So when he complains that,

    Who can read all of the 80 items of scholarship that are published on George Eliot each year? After 5,000 studies of Melville since 1960, what can the 5,001st say that will have anything but a microscopic audience of interested readers?

    It is really the result of a situation where, despite the supposed 30% of time faculty are supposed to be allowed for research, they can really only spare 10-20% after grading, advising, planning, committee work, peer reviewing, keeping their CV updated, turning in progress reports to the admin, and occasionally bathing and brushing their teeth. The incentives are flawed, sure, but it is because there is no way to really expect earth shattering scholarship in this environment. Research is ultimately only nominally valued by all but the actually research-intensive institutions. It’s just a hypothesis, but the institutional pressure to teach more and do more university service is pretty pronounced. The “research identity” is indeed a powerful allure, but it is more of a salve to keep professors from experiencing the cognitive dissonance that comes from realizing you are really just a worker like all the other people in the world.

    or something like that.

    Reply
  2. skjandrews

     /  December 15, 2011

    I also think that, to prove it is a bubble, you’d have to prove that the low number of citations/reads per article is somehow a recent trend in scholarship. A good test of his hypothesis that this is a bubble (or a bust) would be to look at similar sets of articles published over the past 50 years.

    The general issue of keeping up with all these articles seems to be reminiscent of Vannevar Bush’s complaint (back in 1945!) that scientists couldn’t possibly keep up with all the articles in their field. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/As_We_May_Think

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  1. The dissolution of the universities « Scanning for Futures

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