Academia ain’t what it used to be

Malcolm Gaskill has a poignant, observant and very nicely-written piece in the London Review of Books, entitled “On Leaving Academia”.

In​ May, I gave up my academic career after 27 years. A voluntary severance scheme had been announced in December, and I dithered about it until the pandemic enforced focus on a fuzzy dilemma. Already far from the sunlit uplands, universities would now, it seemed, descend into a dark tunnel. I swallowed hard, expressed an interest, hesitated, and then declared my intention to leave…

There are many parts of this that resonate with my experience, though my involvement with academia in recent years has been much shallower than his. I am also intrigued about the ways in which Covid is suddenly shaking up the methods of teaching that have been the norm for decades, if not centuries. Some good things will come out of this, I’m sure. But I also share much of his yearning for the past.

Three responses went through my brain in quick succession:

The first was that the ongoing success of universities now will depend chiefly on hiring lots of young, eager academics, primarily because they don’t know how good things used to be.

The second was that the bureaucrats who oversee universities should note one important thing here: this is not the dusty nostalgia of an old gent in his seventies coming to the end of his career. Gaskill is 53.

But my final thought was of a little phrase in a book of poetry and trivia from my childhood. It simply had the title “The Good Old Days”:

These ARE the Good Old Days. Just wait and see.

Thanks to John for the link.

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1 Comment

It’s an ill wind blows nobody any good.

Taking a sabbatical from teaching, I’m earning my living copy-editing philosophy and theology for foreign academics. (I say “foreign” but I live abroad so most are, in fact, more local to me than to JQSF. I’m the foreigner.)

What did they all do during lock-down, with no pesky undergrads to trouble them? Write!

So I have two books on the go, one on emergence (i.e. philosophy of maths/science) and one on Hellenistic (i.e. Pagan/Jewish/Christian) theology. Great fun!

As for the extent to which one should feel sorry for academics – maybe it depends on what they do? I help one lady with her writing who actually does contribute to a cure (or improved treatment) for cancer. She deserves better pay, certainly: anyone who works in a room full of fridges deserves decent pay. On the other hand, most of those I help in the humanities are getting paid to pursue their hobby. My other job is as a painter and you won’t hear me complaining about a lack of tenure. If people like my pictures, they buy them. Why should scholarship be different?

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