Your Discipline Versus Your University?


An increasing number of academics simply adopt what Albert Hirschmann would call an “exit” strategy—they care more for their discipline or, more to the point, their research network than the university that employs their labour and affirms their status.

So says sociologist Steve Fuller (Warwick) in a brief interview published at Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective. Fuller says that this exit strategy, encouraged by the emphasis on research, “amounts to a radical disengagement with the university as an institution.”

On his view, “the university as an institution is doomed without academic leaders who defend the university as a distinctive institution on its own terms,” and by “academic leaders” he means administrators who began as academics. Yet “academics have had a passive aggressive attitude towards the university: They think they should be running the place, while lacking enough interest in its total operations to put in the relevant effort.”

In other words, the modern university, by stressing extensive research, incentivizes faculty identification with disciplinary co-members across the world, yet in doing so erodes faculty bonds to their home institutions, leading faculty to relinquish governance, weakening the distinctively academic character of universities, and thus threatening the conditions that make their extensive research possible.

This sounds interesting, but I cannot tell whether it is a real problem. It has the feel of a false dilemma, and it is unclear (from the interview) what the empirical support is for a number of key claims. Additionally, left unmentioned are the benefits of stronger identification with one’s discipline or research network. I just thought I’d flag the claim here and see what people think.

An additional set of questions concern whether philosophers are especially prone to prioritizing the discipline over the university. If so, is this because philosophers, moreso than those in other disciplines, are more connected with others in philosophy, mainly via the internet? I’ve heard people say this, but is it true? We have a fairly robust blogosphere, and there is a lot “professional friending” amongst philosophers on Facebook. But I have no data on this, nor much first hand comparative experience (maybe non-philosopher readers of DN can chime in on this point?).

Munro - Field of Light

(Bruce MunroField of Light Uluru)

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