Landing : Athabascau University

Inside Higher Ed: "Revising Research: Maybe universities aren’t using English professors' time in the ways they should."

Who's behind the Center for College Affordability and Productivity think tank? Its new "report" (commissioned by whom?) about literary research as "inefficient" is specious and insidious, premised on a neoliberal dogma of "efficiency" wholly inadequate for measuring the value of literary study.

Oh, and this Gawker report about the CCAP report isn't helping:

To translate that into American: liberal elite college professors are using your money to write about, probably, homosexual pornography! Or, worse, the tepid ennui of upper middle class life in a university town! And worst of all, nobody even cares: although English lit professors are turning out published writing at an incredible pace, most of their work is never cited by other "scholars" in the field, according to Bauerlein's research. And if it's not cited by other scholars in their own stuff, what's even the point?

Is Gawker being ironic? Or just vicious and ignorant? If I can't tell, we might have a problem. And what kind of professional treachery is embodied in an English prof publishing an economic-impact study on the uselessness of English research?


  • Interesting. There was an article in the Sunday NY Times about how law schools aren't teaching 'lawyering,' too.


    Gawker is always a bit tongue in cheek (think Perez Hilton), but the issue of affordability and relevance is a typically American issue, I think: the race to accredit private, for-profit post-secondary institutions (which, like their non-profit private cousins, have high tuition rates) is driving a lot of the conversation about the 'value' of a post-secondary degree. That, and the number of Americans now eligible for grants as military servicemen and woman...and don't forget that they are entering the next presidential election cycle. President Obama had included post-secondary education and degree completion as a major initiative with his stump and inaugeral speeches; I suspect we'll see more hyperbole over the next few months about 'useless' degrees. My guess is that the college affordability issue that the Democrats have been pushing for will be countered by the 'silly degree' arguments in a thinly veiled Republican and Tea Party attack. Why make college affordable, they'll say, when people are studying, say, post-apocalyptic narratives and zombie stories? What's the value in that?

    Heather Clitheroe November 21, 2011 - 3:55pm

  • You probably can't make a case for "Usefulness" in research (that's not a bad thing -- your case for Interesting is much stronger for it!!), but I'd imagine you're not really pointless enough to warrant the annihilation of the entire discipline until you start talking about zombies and heterosexism, or post-apocalypse and white supremacy. (An acquiantance's MA thesis was recently flagged on the Michael Coren show for "uselessly" addressing white supremacy in feminism... or, um, indoctrinating future teachers with radical left gibberish, apparently. Yikes.) I think Mark's right tagging this as both an attack on English in general and a way to use "controversial" humanities research to exemplify "useless" ideas, politics, and people.

    sarah beth November 21, 2011 - 4:27pm

  • (Or to rephrase, I guess: I don't think it's about the literature, even the extra-"useless" pop culture stuff, but rather that certain kinds of literary research have a particular critical purpose that some folks are very deeply invested in saying doesn't exist. So those kinds of research are held of as examples of the humanities' uselessness, and the humanities' uselessness becomes proof that those kinds of research have no use. I hate that I can't edit comments when I figure out how to be articulate half an hour after opening my mouth...)

    sarah beth November 21, 2011 - 5:11pm

  • What's vexing is that so much valuable cultural production and scholarship is devoted precisely to critiquing the Utilitarian ideology that has been installed as "common sense." As Oscar Wilde said - in a pointedly political way - "all art is quite useless."

    A recent issue of English Studies in Canada was devoted to responding to an analogous tirade against "useless" Humanities work, but this was - more predictably - by a corporate news columnist, Robert Fulford. (There's a special plane in Dante's Inferno set aside for the likes of him and Margaret Wente.) ESC's readers' forum in this issue handed Fulford's ass to him - assuming he bothered to read it.

    I like Pearson's response best: queer youth studies can indeed save lives. There's one superb example of what the fierce Humanities is "good for."

    Mark A. McCutcheon November 22, 2011 - 11:13am

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