Monday, April 27, 2009

End the University as We Know It - Or More Crap from the NYT

Op-Contributor - End the University as We Know It - Op-Ed -

There is no longer a market for books modeled on the medieval dissertation, with more footnotes than text. As financial pressures on university presses continue to mount, publication of dissertations, and with it scholarly certification, is almost impossible. (The average university press print run of a dissertation that has been converted into a book is less than 500, and sales are usually considerably lower.)

I have not (yet) published my dissertation on Women's Bodies, Men's Souls: Sanctity and Gender in Byzantium, although I still have hopes.

But this NYT op-ed piece is both americano-centric, and ignores the reality of what a dissertation is about. A dissertation is meant to be narrow. Anything that is not narrow is little more than an opinion piece.

Furthermore, it is worthwhile in and of itself to try for a limited number of years to engage one's mind in an intense understanding of at least one thing.

There is an observable and significant difference in the teaching style and abilities of Ph.D. vs Masters degree holders. Typically masters students have no real grasp of the hierarchy of sources (there are exceptions, of course). This may be fine in introductory level courses, but not more focused courses.

And ultimately there is the elitist claim. Studying at the highest level (although the US/UK PH.D. falls short of some of the German or Finnish highest degree strands), makes one in some sense a better person.

Sadly my Greek is good enough to to translate from what is essentially a trot. But I get more from Homer in Fagles or Lattimore's translation.

But I firmly believe, and assert, that the by now very rare ability to read and enjoy Homer in one's head - where one grasps the references and subtleties of grammar makes one, in some sense a better person. Someone indeed who has made good use of the time they are given in this universe where consciousness is gift we hardly yet grasp.

I can fully grasp Shakespeare, and at least some of Voltaire. And I think that makes me in some sense a better person that someone who only grasps techno music.

I am prepared to give equal kudos to those mathematicians who can see the Platonic beauty of maths.

I refuse to the cowed by the grade-grubbing Wikipedia copying students who claim to be "professionals" without the ability to appreciate the grand tradition.

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