Allow Me to Lodge A Complaint: Mark. C. Taylor on Destructuring the University

1399584814_96276a8d82_oMarc C. Taylor, chairman of the religion department at Columbia University, argues for a networked, postdisciplinary, posttenure post-university academy in an editorial in today’s New York Times. I’ll leave contending with Taylor’s argument to others, although I have to note, first, that the Times, once again, accidentally–as it were–gave voice to management instead of the worker, and, second, that, in imagining the new academy, Taylor somehow still finds room for his own field of study. E.g., “I attended a meeting of political scientists who had gathered to discuss why international relations theory had never considered the role of religion in society. Given the state of the world today, this is a significant oversight”: it strikes me that in the academy Taylor pictures religion studies could be performed much more efficiently and effectively (his watchwords, not mine) by cognitive scientists and sociologists. Let that rest. Also: I’d be surprised if Eileen, who has so often promoted thinking through and in the futures of the university (for example or for example) had nothing to say against about Taylor.

As for me, finally actually speaking, I just have to point out that Taylor, not once, but twice offers medieval studies as a perfect exemplar of the creakiness of an academy he wants us to perceive as obscurantist and antiquated.

[Evidence 1] Each academic becomes the trustee not of a branch of the sciences, but of limited knowledge that all too often is irrelevant for genuinely important problems. A colleague recently boasted to me that his best student was doing his dissertation on how the medieval theologian Duns Scotus used citations.

[Evidence 2] Transform the traditional dissertation. In the arts and humanities, where looming cutbacks will be most devastating, there is no longer a market for books modeled on the medieval dissertation, with more footnotes than text.

Let us just wonder: Are we coming up, perhaps, on the 500th anniversary of “Duns Scotus” as the paradigm of useless thinking? Perhaps we need a supplement to the Dictionnaire des idées reçues? And: has the footnoted medieval book (?) ever belonged to the market? And, while Taylor would have me believe that the time of the citation–a wonderful thicket of heterogenuous time, of scholarly community, of conversation, and, yes, of demonstrating seriousness of purpose–has passed, given that his editorial cites no one, I wonder if he’s aware that others (e.g., here and here) have thought hard about a post-monograph academy, one that–inter alia–no longer outsources its tenure decisions to academic presses.

(image from here via a creative commons license)

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