universities bleeding intellectuals
Post #512 • April 7, 2005, 11:11 AM • 21 Comments
Diana Rohten, Mind the Gap:
While universities continue to play an important role in intellectual culture, increasingly they are no longer the only game in town. With the rise of the knowledge economy and the spread of decentralizing technology, the academy is ceding authority and attention to businesses, nonprofits, foundations, media outlets, and Internet communities. Even more significant, in my mind, the academy may be losing something else: its hold over many of its most promising young academics, who appear more and more willing to take their services elsewhere and who may comprise an embryonic cohort of new "postacademic intellectuals" in the making.
Rhoten primarily focuses on scientists but I couldn't help but think about my own decision not to pursue a PhD in art history and a recent event thrown by MIT that Miguel Sanchez correctly characterized as a Black Sabbath tribute.
Regarding the former, I realized at the time that my desire to write about art countermanded a PhD program, which if you think about it, is pretty crazy. I mean, that's the apotheosis of art writing, right? Well, no. Art writers make fun of these people.
Regarding the latter, while I recognize that academe ought to be the place where you can have a drunken, possibly vituperous discussion about angels and the heads of pins, one does have to question whether at least some forehead-clutching and beard-stroking executed in the name of "inquiry" don't serve anyone except the participants, and as such, anyone who can sell his thinking is going to self-select out of acedemia even as the humanities continue to throw heavy grease on the sidewalk of reality and revel in the ensuing slippage.
Meanwhile [scholars] are also discovering myriad opportunities outside the university where they can do intellectually creative, scientifically rigorous, broadly relevant work that lets them fuse their academic training with their nonacademic interests. While some of these opportunities can be found in many of the likely companies and laboratories, they are ever more cropping up in previously unprecedented places like, for example, the Molecular Sciences Institute, the Public Library of Science, Google, Vulcan, and the blogosphere.
Where, alas, one can do one's work without jumping through hoops and where one may find a bit of an audience for one's efforts outside academia. You know, the real world.