is special assistant to the vice president of institutional advancement at Queens College, City University of New York, and executive director of the University of Venus blog and nonprofit. She is currently writing her first book: Fantastic Reading: Comic Books and Popular Culture.Read Mary's entries
September 30, 2011, 12:57 pm
Written with Michael Brown.
Note to our readers: As we move on to the next phase of our writing partnership, we would like to thank you for joining us this past year at Old School, New School at The Chronicle. We firmly believe that more academics should write in public and use public venues to actively engage ideas and readers. We thank The Chronicle for hosting us and our editor, Jean Tamarin, for her amazing support and enthusiasm for our work. We would especially like to thank Lee Skallerup Bessette, Janni Aragon, Ana Dinescu, Vanessa Vaile, Cathy Davidson, Jason B. Jones, Billie Hara, Jessie Daniels, Alondra Nelson, Melonie Fullick, Steven Schwartz, Robert Herzog and so many others who have helped shape our ideas over the past year through their comments here on the blog, on Twitter, Facebook, and e-mail. We look forward to having you continue with us as we write the book that…
August 23, 2011, 12:07 pm
Faculty who choose to act on their sense of social responsibility, beyond research and teaching, are not often rewarded by universities, and perhaps should be. I do not feel confident in what I believe might be done to remedy this situation. I am not sure that encouraging public engagement without clarifying what it means and entails is even a benefit to society.
Most of us would probably agree that engaging the public is good for some things and bad (or matters of indifference) for others. An example of a bad idea is the attempt to promote racism or fascism by faculty who claim to have arrived at their ideas rationally and according to some notion of the good of society. Should we reward such a project even though it seems to be an instance of engaging the public?
Once we try to define what we mean by the words “public” and “community” and what it means to “engage” them,…
August 10, 2011, 5:22 pm
If writing op-ed pieces for newspapers such as The New York Times and The Boston Globe is considered public engagement, why isn’t that considered community engagement as well? Shouldn’t community engagement be part of public engagement?
From an institutional perspective, does community engagement require that campuses be active in their local “host” communities, or would communities in cities across the state, country, and around the world count? What are the goals of this engagement? What if your students are from the targeted community? Is the goal to benefit your students, faculty members, community, or a combination of the three?
For many institutions, the goal is engagement rather than impact.
When I Googled “Office of Community Engagement,” my first hits were higher-ed institutions. For example:
- “Community Engagement fosters, encourages, and promotes…
August 8, 2011, 5:25 pm
Written with Michael Brown
Mike: I have to admit that I’m not comfortable saying that there is an anti-intellectual tendency in American life. Intellectuals have always been a minority, and their work has always appealed primarily to specialists. So claiming that some present condition is due in part to such a tendency doesn’t quite get to the most general obstacles to critical thinking, creativity, and the like. Randy Martin’s recent book, Under New Management, provides a slightly less pessimistic account of changes in higher education than what you seem to be saying, though I must admit that I am torn.
Mary: I don’t think that intellectuals are necessarily aligned with a specific political ideology, and the anti-intellectualism I have seen is evident from folks on both the right and the left. There is a strong knee-jerk reaction to higher education in general,…
July 26, 2011, 1:11 pm
I think we can all agree that higher education is a major social structure of civil society. I would like to think that it follows that it is also an important space for civil discourse. That said, what components are necessary to encourage dialogue rather than silence dissent? The anti-intellectual trend that is deeply embedded in U.S. culture marginalizes and silences academics in society and also silences less moderate academics on our campuses. I am a firm believer in the idea that including all voices in the mix creates stronger and more creative and innovative solutions to the problems we face. However, true inclusion requires respect and compromise—two practices that are sorely missing on campuses and in contemporary society.
Denying the political dimensions of higher education is impossible, on both a practical and theoretical level. Life is political. Life is a series of…
July 21, 2011, 12:59 pm
Should we agree with Stanley Fish and others who feel that we should eliminate references to politics in debating the importance of the humanities and the future of higher education? Is it even possible to defend the humanities without placing the debate in an abiding political context, whether we like it or not? We need to acknowledge that the debate is taking place at the very moment that policy initiatives are aimed at reconstituting the curriculum and the institutional structure of higher education. Haven’t we already admitted that to conceive of the humanities in the context of higher education is to ask what is at stake in the debate—on all sides? This is a political question.
One part of defending the humanities has to do with the idea of critical thinking: that is, the sort of critical thinking that is both grounded in the humanist disciplines and crucial for any…
July 15, 2011, 1:34 pm
Written with Michael Brown
Mary: Faculty members and administrators often talk over and around one another. When it comes to discussions about the crisis in the humanities and ultimately, the crisis in higher education, many faculty members take a theoretical approach to the issues. On one level, those arguments are very appealing. But they rarely have the power to translate into practical, on-the-ground changes that can be immediately implemented at our institutions.
Perhaps I am too pragmatic, or perhaps I am just frustrated. I have sat through too many faculty senate meetings and department discussions that debate the finer points of theory and mission without ever coming close to a hint of strategy and implementation. There is a great need for people in our institutions who can translate theoretical ideals into actual practices. Many faculty members are fantastic at espousing…
July 1, 2011, 6:01 pm
Short-term economic goals are insufficient to justify sacrificing longer-term goals, and there is agreement among economists and sociologists that job creation in the short run is no longer on the agenda of those in power. So the problem of higher education is not merely one of meeting short-term job needs in a way that can be made compatible with the long-run goals of education. It is that those goals are also no longer on the agenda; and the defense of the humanities is certainly as weak thus far as Iain Pears says it is. But these are not sufficient reasons to abandon a principled defense of them in the interest of an education oriented toward job training for a jobs market that is unreliable, volatile, and unpredictable.
The problems with the current attempts to defend the humanities are clear: (1) The opposition seems to be uncompromising in its attempt to institute a core…
June 27, 2011, 12:01 pm
Iain Pears calls for a new model for the humanities, telling A.C. Grayling that he and his generation had their opportunity to protect the humanities, and they failed, miserably. Instead of coming together to create a shared vision, they squabbled over course modules, created inhospitable departments filled with petty competition and back-stabbing peer review, and spent their time and energy setting course for their own individual success stories—every tub on its own bottom.
If the purpose of higher education is to create engaged, critical thinkers, then we have failed. If the purpose of higher education is to create economically productive workers, then we have also failed. Can we create a model that simultaneously meets the demands of democracy and capitalism? Or is education, like health care, doomed to sit at the uncomfortable crossroads between our political dreams and our…
June 22, 2011, 3:16 pm
Written with Michael Brown.
Mike: In the debate over the New College of the Humanities, what is often missed is that the so-called attempt to “protect” the humanities is more fundamentally designed to protect other fields from anything that raises questions about the increasingly narrow and short-term ways in which those fields are defined –as essentially oriented to markets in products and jobs. To me, this seems to be what is involved in the most prominent attempts to preserve the humanities by isolating them, and by freeing the other, so-called practical, fields from socially critical reason. So, although I agree that the problem of how to preserve the humanities is important to engage, it is also important to look at the problem of how to protect the market-oriented fields from losing their sense of a connection to society.
Mary: Interestingly enough, the humanities are…