Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Do Grants Make You a Sell Out?

I've never posted before. But with whoever the hell is running this place outing us all and Merely Academic saying my lack of posting must be because I'm stupid, I decided now was as good a time as any.

At the end of the semester, I often sit back, consider the state of academia, and get in arguments on Facebook with colleagues at other institutions (the tequila doesn't help - or perhaps it does!). One topic we covered recently was a fairly complex one: grants and integrity.

I'm a psychologist while my colleague is in the dreaded humanities. The social sciences, especially psychology, are currently experiencing a surge in grant pressure from on high. The assumption is that because we study people that we could theoretically be a part of any grant. And that's sort of true. I am myself seeking NSF grants for the first time as a result of this pressure, and it's actually not too much of a stretch.

But my colleague seems to think that grants dirty her. The mere idea of applying for a grant is somehow disgusting because it means that the humanities, as a whole, need to justify their existence through their ability to pull in external funding. My response to this is: well sure - why not? Progress in the United States is largely driven by corporate initiative - even technologies developed by universities often end up being distributed because a venture capitalist decided to invest in that technology. The technology is useful and beneficial to humanity. But you still need money so that other people know that. So what's so bad about seeking grants?

She adds to this - and this is the part that I wretch over - that ANY attempt to justify the existence of the humanities is contrary to its purpose. That somehow "reading literature" alone makes a contribution to the Academy. I'm not saying that reading literature isn't useful - it develops many important life- and work-related skills for students, like critical thinking. But it doesn't create the large-scale change the universities should be striving to make.

I suggested that English departments might try offering programs to business executives: "Understanding the Ethics of Mergers through Literature." What a fantastic way to demonstrate the value of the humanities while simultaneously maintaining control of your purpose! But even this is apparently "selling out."

Am I crazy here? Secretly, I do feel like I've sold out a little by seeking NSF funding. But it's not that bad. And the advantages it brings my university, my department, my graduate students, and even my own career seem worth it. Isn't a little selling out worth 4 years of guaranteed funding for two graduate students? She makes the "slippery slope" argument, but I'm not sure I buy it. Thoughts?


  1. Yes, you're crazy.
    "Understanding the Ethics of Mergers through Literature"?
    As the flakes say, "Huh?... Whatever...."
    I prefer this: "Understanding the Ethics of Mergers through Bourbon."

  2. What "large scale change" should universities be trying to make? Seriously. I want to know. Because the changes that are happening now aren't good for universities, or anyone. Who do you think are the people that are "responsible" for these changes that should be made? Faculty? Students?

    We all know the answer to that. The administration is responsible, and their changes should NOT be made, because they wish to turn the university into a business. I don't see why anyone in the humanities should be cooperating with the corporatization of the discipline.

    We shouldn't need to "demonstrate the value of the humanities" to bean counters that want to transform the university into a corporate entity, as if being economically valuable to business is the arbiter of our worth. These people need to demonstrate their value to us.

    You are not crazy. You've just drunk the kool-aid. Throw it up before you start to do damage.

  3. I find a lot of this confusing. There seem to be several different things going on at once in this post, but it seems to boil down to some kind of inchoate demand that the humanities demonstrate their worth, presumably through outside grant money, with some anonymous colleague in an English department supposedly claiming that grant money sullies the humanities.

    There are so many problems here one doesn't know where to start, but I'll take a stab at it:

    The post starts from a position of total ignorance--and therefore a false premise--about how grants are won in the humanities and many social sciences, and what exactly those grants entail. That ignorance then leads the poster to a number of patently false conclusions.

    First, in the humanities and many social sciences, grant giving agencies tend to fund individual projects, or award residential grants somewhere where the individual winner of the grant can research and/or write up already done research. It is almost unheard of for someone in the humanities to win a grant that would fund a large multiple-investigator project that would lead to patentable intellectual property. So the notion that somehow a literature professor, or even an anthropologist (I know there are some noteworthy exceptions in that field, just bear with me) should bring in outside money to support herself and a couple of graduate students is simply out-of-touch with reality (I'm being unusually polite here. What I mean to say is fuckwitted).

    Second, the kinds of individual grants that someone in a humanistic or allied social scientific field wins are usually fairly paltry. They might, in the best case scenario, cover two-thirds or so of the individual's salary so that the individual in question can apply for a leave. Most residential fellowships and even the bigger portable grant-givers start out from the expectation that the professor's university will "round-up" the difference between the grant award and full salary during the period of leave. Some employers, like mine, tend to do so without protest because they like the prestige associated with having lots of Guggenheim winners, or whatever, on their faculty, so they want to encourage humanists and social scientists to apply for this kind of funding. Other schools refuse to round-up, saying basically that they are happy you won, and willing to let you take unpaid leave, but it will be up to you to feed your family on your greatly reduced salary. Some people accept those terms. Others simply drop out of the game and don't bother trying for outside funding anymore.

    Third, Guggenheims, SSRCs, Mellons and so on, never come with the kinds of stipulations that the big money, multiple-investigator grants in the Capital s sciences do, since there is never going to be a fungible outcome of that research. There is usually the explicit requirement that the winner publish, and winners often have to send copies of their books and article offprints and so on to the agencies that funded the research, but that's usually the most onerous requirement, and it helps those agencies renew their sources of funding by giving them something tangible they can wave around as an exhibit of what their grants paid for.

    Which leads me to my final conclusion: The English colleague must be completely fictitious, because the kinds of outside funding people in literature win cannot, by definition, sully anybody's work. So I call bullshit on the whole post.

    But thanks for trying, better luck next time.

    Archie out

    p.s. How does revealing a list of screen names that are already publicly available in at least two ways out anyone? Now that's fucking stupid

  4. This must be something that is so drastically different from field to field that I just plain don't get it. You can't do decent science without a grant. I know, because I drank too much in grad school and was demonstratively mediocre. Now I can't get a grant so I'm relegated to mediocre computational work. Mediocre because 1) without a grant, I'm using the monkey from Project X and a pair of TI-83's (he uses one with his hands and the other with his feet) as processors, and his pencil is almost out of lead 2) I was an experimentalist, so I'm entirely self taught at computational chemistry and I resort to on-line discussion groups for help and sometimes my questions are like "D is the letter after C, right? just checking" and everyone has a good laugh at my expense (and then of course they kindly help me).

    I'm hoping to get something wrapped up soon and that it's impressive enough to get a tiny grant so I can buy some equipment and start getting back into the lab.

  5. It...would honestly never occur to me that grants are about justifying one's field's existence. I thought they were about making it possible to do the research one wants to do. Silly me.

    I mean, I'm a social scientist too, and I can see how the necessity of grants would be different in the humanities. But even then, I'd be more inclined to regard a grant as being more about paying a kick-ass graduate student to be your research assistant for three years, and less about selling out.

    I don't work at a U.S. university, though, so maybe that's the difference?

  6. @Angry: I disagree about the fungibility of humanities work. For the most part, it's impossible to distinguish this po-mo bullshit from that po-mo bullshit. It's all bullshit. Really, the thousandth time that they "problematize" the eighth stanza of Hamlet (or whatever) is no better or worse than the 999th time.

  7. Um, well, humanities are cheap, and those guys who like to read the Shakespeare are also teaching all the required writing classes for far less than what the scientists generally make. Grants are almost entirely to facilitate some occasional leave (to prevent suicide) or to travel to an archive--> hardly bank-breaking scenarios. I can do my research and teaching with a chalkboard, chalk, access to the internet, and a once-a-year trip that I often pay for out-of-pocket. I apply to what grants are available and bring some in (usually archive specific ones that give you a few thousand bucks to come and hang out with their records.)

    It's like some NCAA school complaining about having to field a women's volleyball team when women's volleyball doesn't bring in money. Yes, and women's volleyball also doesn't (generally) require 70 scholarships for underachieving students or an insane number of facilities either. You're talking about a completely different set of requirements and expectations here.

    And yes, you're colleague is probably a snob. But I get the sense you are willfully misunderstanding what he is trying to say.

    Also, what Archie said.

  8. I agree with Angry Archie that this is some sort of fiction, but what I got out of it was that the psychologist saw himself as a forward-thinking person while the literature professor was this out-of-touch elitist living somewhere in 1909. I agree with StellafromSparksburg that there is an undercurrent of pro-administrative, pro-corporate thinking that makes me think this might be a stealth post by some admin person or some corporate flack who sells educational software to colleges. In any case, please try harder Ricardus.

  9. I don't get how grants are a sell-out. If someone wants to pay you to create text by churning Shakes Beer, Don Tay or Dusty Yevsky through the po-mo meatgrinder again, take the money and run. All of us text-grinders secretly long for a sinecure so we can sit stooped over our dusty tomes. Why is it a sell-out to take one when offered?

  10. Mostly, what Archie and Cleo said (though I think, and the resulting discussion suggests, that there's a germ of an interesting question or two somewhere in there). Grant funding in the humanities simply works differently, and on a much smaller scale, with many fewer opportunities to sell our own or our universities' souls for profit even if we wanted to. Most humanities research doesn't cost much, but it also doesn't offer much opportunity for universities and/or programs to skim off a nice percentage for "overhead" or "administration" or whatever (which is one major reason universities like grants), and/or for patents or startups or similar profit-making engines.

    There might be a few exceptions in the up-and-coming field of Digital Humanities, and perhaps in some K-14 teacher-training ventures, but that's about it. For the most part, bankers don't *want* to think about the ethics of what they're doing, through literary study or any other means. They do want their employees to be able to write, and my department has looked a bit into public/private partnerships in that area, as well as into getting retirees to pay nice amounts for short, non-credit "personal enrichment" courses, but that's about it, and we haven't made much progress with either.

    For the most part, humanities departments make their contributions to the their universities, and to society at large, by teaching basic skills (writing, research, critical thinking, cross-cultural and cross-historical understanding) relatively cheaply.

    Unfortunately, for reasons Archie pointed out, there's a definite "them that has, gets" pattern emerging in what funding is available to humanities scholars: for those of us who don't receive any sort of research support for our jobs, and don't make enough to do much saving, it can be very hard to fund a research leave through grants, since nearly all of them are designed with the assumption that the recipients' home institution will provide some sort of match. This pattern, combined with the pressure to publish early and frequently, may actually explain some (but not all) of the "po-mo bullshit" about which Bubba complains; it's a lot easier, and quicker, to "problematize" an easily-available text using a well-accepted formula than it is to go digging around in archives or otherwise searching for evidence and/or ideas that might broaden the existing conversation.

  11. I must say, this conversation is making me nostalgic for the old humanities debate over whether it's selling out to write (or participate in) a work aimed at a popular audience, with or without the expectation of profit. For the record, I'm all for serious attempts at popularization; I think they strengthen the discipline in the long run.

  12. Some years ago (where Some > 10) most grants were from the science sector and they were taxed (typically at the 50% level). Those taxes paid for power, water, hum profs salaries, etc. and I was happy to pay to support the range of Depts that make a University = universal ed.

    Now under our tuition driven budgets, Hum Profs should feel no shame as their teaching loads carry more than a significant fraction of the total schools budget. All the boats are floating (sinking) now.

  13. This is your first post ever and you're bitching about how you were pressured into it? What a terrific addition you are to the blog. See you again in June.

  14. @Cassandra: Yeah, I miss that debate too. Even though there was only ever one right answer to the question, it was always fun to wind the purists up and watch them sputter. I've been thinking about a number of potential trade press projects once my current, already under contract book is done. Lots of serious scholarship has appeared in trade press books. If making a little extra scratch is selling out, then consider my ass on the auction block baby. I want me some real fucking royalties next time.

  15. @Angry Archie & Cassandra... You might think we have no perspective on that, but I just had a satisfying curriculum perusing experience that sort of relates and which I'm going to share.

    I've taught crappy, pointless, almost misleadingly titled "Chemistry for Non-majors" courses at a few different places. They all suck. They should all have been called "Chemistry watered down to be force fed to people too dumb for real chemistry, but who need to learn the same old boring crap as the chemistry majors learn in their first year.". But this is the first time I'm teaching it here. So I asked if I could see the previous instructor's syllabus etc.

    It's a genuine non-majors course. Instead of just going through the major's course and ignoring all that pesky math, it's a real bonafide course for non-majors. It's like the How Stuff Works version of chemistry. There's a chapter called "Food". There's a chapter called "Art". There are chapters titled "Medicine", "Materials" and "The Environment". And all of the elementary ed majors who need to take this for their science requirement are actually going to be able to use it one day. And most of them will dread it when they register, but a lot of them will wind up enjoying it.

    I don't know how well that relates, but I'm all manic about the Spring right now. And mania about 5 weeks from now beats the reality of the stack of papers I'm still looking at 4 hours after grades were due. Color me shamed.

  16. An old boyfriend from HS looked me up on FB; long story short, he's at an R1 doing Big Important Research (which will hopefully someday help people with diabetes). We got onto the topic of salaries, somehow. He'd just gotten a big grant ($10 million) to fund research into the foreseeable future; it also meant that even as an assistant professor, he will earn more than double my salary. He doesn't teach (and doesn't like it, so I guess it's a good thing). He does research, and manages some gradflakes. He told me I should get a grant. I asked him who was paying big money for poets who teach composition and literature? *Silence*

  17. @Angry Archie/@Strelnikov - Hrm... disagreeing with the basic facts of my post with a couple of assertions and absolutely no evidence... sounds like humanities to me!

    I assure you, the person I was talking to does exist, though her expertise may be more limited than I assumed - or she didn't explain it to me very well - or I did not interpret it correctly. Your explanation about how humanities do get grants is enlightening - presented in a fairly bitchy way, but informative, thank you for laying off the booze long enough to give me that much.

    In any case, unless you are telling me that the humanities have absolutely no relevance to anything outside the ivory tower, there's no reason that someone in the humanities could not be part of a science grant. If, for example, someone was studying online communities in order to improve virtual teamwork, I imagine that the narrative surrounding community creation would be of interesting to someone studying English/anthropology/something?

    Of course, perhaps this is all just because I don't really understand what humanities research is, as you point out - I don't deny that my entire understanding came from that one conversation. But no one in English (especially) is doing themselves a favor by refusing to explain what value their research has as if they shouldn't need to.

    @Reg W. - Way to add to the discussion.

  18. Jae/Jennie has nailed it. The point of grants for research is to enable one to do research that otherwise one couldn't do. In Humanities, pretty much everything I want to do I can do from the library my university already provides me with, with the computer I've already got, and with the occasional (self-funded) trip to a bigger library. I don't need research assistants and when I have them I find it hard to think of anything for them to do that I couldn't do quicker myself.

    So wasting my time applying for grants when I could have been actually DOING the research and getting stuff out the door in the same time is pointless for me, because I get a lot more credit for publishing than I do for getting grant money.

    However, the university would like me to get grant money, because they get about half of it and the university's credit rises with the amount of grant money faculty pulls in. And my department would like me to get grant money because we are strapped for cash for grad students and this would enable us to support a couple more.

    So it's to my detriment to apply for grant money, because it wastes time I could have spent on publishing, the only thing I get credit for. But it's to the university's and the department's benefit if I do. So I do get leaned on to apply for grant money, without however being promised any benefit if I comply.

    My solution is in fact to apply for grants in Digital Humanities from time to time. This makes everybody happy and as long as it's a minor (internal) grant I don't mind because it doesn't take much of my time to make the application. However I have to make a major grant application in DH at the end of February and I am not looking forward to this process. However, I figure once every five years I'll put in an application and show willing. Not because I need or want the money or am even particularly interested in the project; but because it makes me look like a good academic citizen.

    So, in sum: why yes, it IS very different in Humanities. And it is infuriating that as universities increasingly move to a corporatized model they try to measure faculty worth on the basis of how much grant money we bring in, without first asking if we actually needed the money to do the work we do.

    I trust your first para was a joke, Ricardus. It wasn't clear, from the tone.

  19. @Ricardus

    I assumed on this blog we wouldn't have to explain to (mostly) other university faculty members "what value our research has".

    Is that what this blog is for? Justifying our existence to other academics that should know better?

    I pretty much assumed most people here would be horrified by things like the cuts at SUNY Albany, and the fact that their Classics department and their French department are disappearing. Are we not collectively horrified by that? Do we need to justify to each other the importance of Classics, and French, and English, and History, and Philosophy, etc.?

    When did that happen? When did we have to start explaining to each other why studing Plato and Shakespeare is a "good thing"? Or why people that teach in those fields should, oh, keep current in the scholarship produced by their peers?


  20. @Merely Academic - Your instincts are correct; it was partly joke and partly a test to see if the folks around here have a sense of humor. You can see how that went. :)

    That your department isn't explicitly promising benefits to grant funding is surprising to me and sheds a great deal of light on this. My dean has gone so far as to say that if we want tenure/promotions/raises/any other benefits at all, we need to have a grant. And not even have a grant - be PI on a fairly large grant (>$500k)! I was working with the assumption that this pressure was on humanities as well, and that there was a mob-with-pitchforks sort of resistance to "giving in" to these demands. Certainly there are some folks like that (see StellafromSparksburg), but there is a great deal more variability than I was previously aware of.

  21. @Ricardus

    You have to be kidding. Your first ever post starts with you bitching about how the moderator of this page and someone else have guilted you into posting.

    It's not a requirement, hoss. You don't have to post or read. You certainly don't need to take up one of the correspondent spots and then not use it. Your tenure doesn't depend on it.

    If you want to be a member of the community, you're very very welcome. I'm convinced though, given your record, however, that we won't see you again.

    So, thanks for that.

  22. @Ricardus: The only thing I said that was not demonstrably true is that you had made the Literature colleague up, so your accusation that I didn't back it up with evidence is just foolish fuckwittery. And my assertion on that score was based on the fact that in the many, many years I have been in this profession I have never, ever heard a humanist or a social scientist suggest that they would be selling out by accepting the kinds of grants such people get. It is such a stupid statement that I had to believe it was invented.

    Reading your response makes me suspect that you really did not understand what that colleague was saying at all, which was probably something along the lines of scientists sell out to get grants. I think that view is silly, although only a fool would deny that the agencies and organizations that hand out large funding packages do indeed influence what kinds of questions get asked in the sciences and what kind of scientists are valued in the P&T process. But that is not the same as saying that scientists who accept research grants are selling out.

    And grants are part of the T&P evaluation for humanists at top-tier schools. But it isn't about the money. It is based on the idea that if your research can't win grants, you must be doing something wrong. Actually, that's what it is about in the sciences too. Scientists don't get promoted because they bring in money. The money is an index of research quality (supposedly).

    And, sure, humanists can be part of larger grants. It happens. It is just rare. Our research is done individually 99% of the time. That's how it works.

    I won't dignify the "justify yourself" stuff with a reply. Just go back through some of the old threads to see how that works.

    And if you can't take a little harshness, this ain't the site for you.

  23. this may be slightly off the tread, but what kind of research is funded for humanities? In science we follow the data opening new lines of research, new technologies allow us to ask new questions.

    But how many books can be written on Plato, I mean unless a new text is found, is there a limit to the creative ideas on topics?

    My smoking gun example was finding a new book on Lincoln and the Civil War recently. I'm thinking what is new about this book, compared to others. As I read the back cover I find the premise is that Lincoln was gay. Should I be concerned that history Profs are just making shit up?

  24. I failed to complete my thought. So perhaps your colleague thinks grant funding will cheapen the humanities since it could drive people to make up crazy stuff in the competition for grant dollars.

  25. Hi everyone. Remember this is a shared space. Disagreements are inevitable, and it's great when we can explore them vigorously without also running people over. I'd urge all of us to try and avoid that sort of "Welcome to the NFL" posturing that pissed a lot of people off several weeks ago.

    I'm not shining a light on anyone in particular, but this comment thread has generated a number of emails with folks wondering if it's sort of rubbing up against the rules a bit too much.

    And, sheesh, my daughter just got home for Christmas, so, like, I have to bond with her instead of the damn computer!!! (And she has a new piercing. Please, don't get me started.)

    Leslie K

  26. The other problem is that applying for grants means looking for projects that could reasonably be expected to need money to do. So they'll need, at a minimum, research assistants and computer time. But thinking of a project that will need those things will make me consider quite different questions than thinking of projects I can do by myself or with a friend without any more assistance than I've already got.

    But the lots-of-computer-time-and-RAs projects won't necessarily produce any more interesting or useful insights than the kind I can do by myself with a text. Particularly since they're such a pain in the ass to administer, and you waste so much time doing administration instead of doing the actual fracking work.

    If choosing the computer time + RAs - type projects, because one can get grants for those, instead of the me-and-my-text type projects, because those are harder to get money for (since it's hard to think of WTF I would spend the money ON for one thing) is "selling out", then arguably applying for grants is selling out. But I don't think that's what your colleague meant.

    It's certainly true, though, that if we are being pushed into getting grants because the university likes them, we are likely to also choose projects that need grants to do, even though they're not necessarily interesting or useful areas of research. And this is a bad thing.

  27. What Humanists need is time to write, period. Grants allow for enough paid time away from the grading-intensive teaching Humanists do that we can have a thought longer than six words. We do not have gradslaves write up our research for us, we must find and interpret every piece of data, and write every word. Generally, these grants do not bring in enough to cover the adjunct labor that covers our teaching, either. So departments actually lose money on Humanities grantees. Where they win, though, is in interesting classes taught by people who are actually in conversation in their field, and, more crassly, in prestige: more publications.

    Cassandra's explanation is spot-on: ethnographies of reading communities, archival research, preparation of scholarly editions, and so on, are harder to do than theory books, especially on a tenure clock or a post-tenure review clock. Hence, more "po-mo bullshit," if you will, though I will not, thank you, dismiss any entire field or line of inquiry. There are good theory books and bad theory books, good "new interpretations of X text" books and bad ones, just as there are good and bad scientific studies.

    Read the damned book, ScProf, before you make yourself look any stupider. Lincoln was not "gay," because "gay" is a modern identity. Lincoln, like many mid-nineteenth century Americans, experienced highly sentimental, often erotic, relations with people of the same sex (in this case men), with much less stigma than we have today. This was possible *until* enough European medical literature arguing that those practicing same-sex eroticism constituted a "type" of person was translated into English or otherwise popularized by writers in English. You can track the process through reading Whitman's letters and poems. If some publicist uses the word "gay," that's not the author's fault, and you'll find that reinterpretations of historical figures and events are pretty key to understanding anything about the present.

    Rant over.

  28. Alert, Alert, bad words in the clubhouse! everyone email mommy to keep the tone and topics with the parameters allowed in the clubhouse!!! No strong or outside the norm opinions allowed!

  29. @Marcia Brady

    Please accept my deepest apologies for my lack of a full understanding of same-sex eroticism in the 19th century. I will never refer to myself as a complete human being every again. And do you also call your students stupid when they are ignorant of your research area?

    Now that computers have dropped in price, most science grants are for grad student support and summer salary. It would seem this should be true across all disciplines.

  30. @Reg W. - If you bothered to read posts other than those in which you were mentioned, you'll note that it was a joke. An attention grabber. Perhaps these are not common in the blogs you read? I will try to make my openers less interesting from now on, just for you.


    @StellafromSparksburg - I can't really speak to what this blog is for - that seems to be community-driven, so it is largely up to all of us. I also have no interest in seeking a defense of value from any particular field. I only find it interesting that any time anything is said even vaguely negatively about the humanities, everyone jumps down that person's throat. I fully admit, for comparison, that psychology is full of contradictions, and folks from other fields view its value in different ways (with some going so far as to say the field damages society). If I say the same about (for example) English, I get bombarded with justifications about how my definition of "value" is incorrect. That's a little weird.

    So I'm not saying that I want justification for the humanities. I'm saying that others do. And when some in the humanities refuse to provide that information (or go so far as to say that it's an inappropriate question to ask), it reflects badly on all of us (and fosters that aura of "elitism" that gets Republicans elected).

    @Angry Archie - You stated: "Which leads me to my final conclusion: The English colleague must be completely fictitious" and since the "only thing I said that was not demonstrably true is that you had made the Literature colleague up," I believe that makes the bunk of your comment not demonstrably true.

    So anyway... you think grants are indeed valuable in the humanities? Not to drag you too forcefully back to the topic, but that's what I'm trying to figure out here, and you seem to be saying they are, if only as a metric for judging the quality of someone's work?

    And I didn't think your response was harsh at all - just bitchy in tone. Perhaps a better term would be "confrontational" or "angry" (wink).

    @ScProf Your latest response summarizes my own experiences with both humanists and grants quite well.

  31. ScProf, I don't tell my students they look stupid when they look stupid, but you are not a student. I expect much better of people holding the Ph.D., in fact, of people holding the B.A., which ought to teach an open, curious, and respectful attitude. Your tone was contemptuous of two entire fields -- history and LGBT Studies. Not to mention the Humanities in general. And yes, that pissed me off. You looked like a fool, and you might want to check the contempt when you don't understand the first thing about what you are talking about. I would never presume to scoff at science like that.

    But I do agree with you about grants. Summer salary, research support -- and for those whose research cannot be done by others (which is true of the Humanities), teaching release time. No profits for non-profit universities.

  32. @Ricardus: You still get a D for reading comprehension.

    But on the "justification" front. Your post and responses suggest that you think the appropriate way to justify value is that research can be applied. The emphasis on "applied knowledge" is another way of saying that the outcomes of a particular research can be commodified--which is why Stella reacted as she did, as did others. If that is the only measure of value, or even of utility, then I would suggest that as a society we are well and truly fucked. Of course because a lot of funding in the sciences now comes from industry, it is inevitable that the applied branches of the various sciences are enjoying a period of dominance over their theoretical bretheren. It wasn't always so, and presumably the pendulum will swing the other way at some point.

    The reason humanists and a lot of social scientists get pissed off in these discussions is because the kind of people who ask the question, "what is the value of your research" are also the people who believe that only commodifiable knowledge is meaningful. I shouldn't need to point out how shallow that point of view is. More importantly, to use my own field and work as an example, working on the history of science doesn't produce any commodity, except books. But presumably, or hopefully, critical examination and reflection on science as a way of thinking about the world and a way of producing knowledge will help non-scientists better understand what scientists do, and will help scientists themselves think about how they go about what they do in a more careful way. To take ScProf's statement that scientists "open up new lines of research" as an example. Sure, that's what science does, except that what constitutes a valid new line of research varies a great deal depending on political, social, economic, historical (etc.) circumstances. Historians of science like me are in part preoccupied with figuring out how all the non-science stuff out there drives the science stuff. Scientists rarely think about those things because they are caught in the social system so to speak.

    I need grant money to pay for my travel and lodging at the places where the documents that constitute my evidence base are housed. I also, parenthetically, have to be able to work with documents in several different languages, and read many different kinds of obscure handwriting (paleography), which is one reason I can't hire research slaves to do my work for me. I'd just have to go back and verify that they hadn't fucked up their readings anyway.

    The same thing can be said of literary studies, or classics. So no, you don't need to find a new manuscript to write something about Plato, or Shakespeare, or Sylvia Plath. The way we think about these texts, and the meanings we assign them vary according to all the same kinds of factors that alter the kinds of research that scientists think are valuable. There isn't some fixed meaning to Republic that is spit out in a fixed form in classrooms across the country. What we get out of that text is different from what Machiavelli or Hobbes got out of it, and understanding how and why that is so, helos us understand ourselves better.

    Maybe you can't bottle that and sell it, but I like to think that it has value, and that if more people paid attention to it, the world might be a little bit better than it is.

  33. @Marcia

    I will very gently, very gently, prod you on the use of "open" and "respectful". I believe it is "open" to consider views different from your own, not to call me stupid. I also believe that calling me a "fool" is not very respectful. I understand emotions come into play, but I must ask you to follow the very rules you argue for.

    I believe you have read much more in my comments than I intended, my main point was to query on the effect of grant funding to history research, not to call into question the field itself.

  34. I defer to the very heroic, very articulate, very great Archie here. Archie, I'm a weary, aging femme dyke, but you have won my heart forevermore (you are free to give it to Goodwill if you find it icky).

    ScProf, I mean that a B.A. should bring its bearer "an open, curious, and respectful attitude" toward KNOWLEDGE, not just (or not even predominantly) PEOPLE, especially when said people are both misinformed *and* smug. In colleagues or students, I'll take one or the other, but not both. You said, and I quote, "Should I be concerned that history Profs are just making shit up?" How is that not dismissing a field? I could give a frack about your four-letter words, but your comments about the Lincoln book (no, I didn't write it and am not acquainted with its author) are both ignorant and arrogant. We are allowed to call that out on this blog, when we see it. If not here, where else?

    Over and out on this thread.

  35. What I think, Ricardus, is that requests to "justify the humanties" coming from anyone within any university that proports to support the liberal arts is insulting. We can talk about justifying how much of the core should be devoted to the humanities, etc., which is fine. But the call that we must justify our existence, and prove that we are "useful to humanity", is really insulting considering the source. Like a stay at home mom being being quizzed by her own husband as to what she "really does for a living."

    I get that sort of shit outside a university setting. Within the university, yeah, people should know better.

    It's actually not an inappropriate question for those outside the university environment to ask, because I don't think many people know better. But yeah, it's an inappropriate question to ask from those that as I said, teach within a liberal arts enviroment and should be better informed, and if it does crop up I always think the person doing the asking is being a dick. That's my presupposition, that they're being provocative and a general jerkwad. I admit that, and I admit that my predisposition towards this reaction does color my response.

    But that doesn't mean my points are invalid, or that I'm the equivalent of a torch-wielding villager screaming for blood. I'm not "refusing to provide information". I'm saying the question is insulting coming from another university professor, especially coded as it is with the seeming assumption that "value" equals monetary value. It's not elitist to expect our peers not ask us insulting questions.

    Much of a discussion is framed by the validity of the very questions themselves. If we presume questions are valid, that presumes the suppostions underpinning them are valid. Like "value" is monetary. Or that we're "refusing to provide information". It's not a refusal if the assumptions made by the question are annoying.

    In other words, I have answers. Many of them. I just don't want to dignify your question, and the way it was framed, with a considered response. So I'm questioning the question.

  36. @ Ricardus
    So you actually DO teach....interesting. My assumption that you were a corporate flack was due to all the "justify your existence, English department" stuff in your piece - you have to admit it sounds very corporate, or at least Glenn Beck-like. Anyway, good luck with the maze rats and the Young Republican meetings.

  37. Oops, forgot to "sign" that....


    Sparky Electroschock

  38. There are basically questions we are not allowed to ask....

    "Was Hitler gay?"
    "Do I have ring around the collar?"
    "Did the director of 'Hobgoblins' ever make a good film?"

  39. There is actually a serious issue related to Ricardus's question. Grants to medical researchers by pharmaceutical companies promoting their own drugs, sometimes in ghostwritten articles in medical journals, are a major concern. For example, see T. A. Brennan et al., "Health Industry Practices That Create Conflicts of Interest: A Policy Proposal for Academic Medical Centers," Journal of the American Medical Association 2006; 295(4):429-433.

  40. @anonymous:

    One of my favorite philosophers once said, "Who's the more foolish, the fool, or the fool who follows him?"

    Of course, in tandem with that is the question that needs to be asked of all trolls. Why do you bother to spend so much time hanging out in a place you think really sucks, with people you think suck even worse? You hover and read every post, then turn red in the face and fleck spittle. It's the same spittle every time, too. YOU SUCK! YOU ARE ALL HYPOCRITES! DIE DIE ASSFUCK DIE! Gawd. Can't you at least vary your routine or be a bit funnier or something? Anyone that's ever seen a troll anywhere knows you, and after awhile, you're all the same version of boring.

    It's Christmas, anonymous. Have an enema. Wrap gifts for your elaborate love doll. I'm sure you could find something better to do if you really thought about it.

  41. To those of you that are e-mailing Leslie K to complain, STOP IT! If you think someone is out of line or violating the rules, tell them yourself. If you don't have the courage to air your gripe, move on from the thread.

    Marcia, I think you owe ScProf an apology for basically calling her stupid and a fool. Name calling ( unless made in jest) is just uncalled for. I did not read her post as contemptuous. Her comment may have pissed you off and seemed ignorant, but that was an opportunity to teach her (and others) something you have particular knowledge and insight about. Without the slur on Sc, I enjoyed your discussion about Lincoln in 19th century context.

    Ricardus used a very effective technique to make sure his post provoked comments. Negative, controversial posts get long, involved commentary. Positive, rather innocuous posts get much less interaction or are ignored. There are lots of posts in the middle. But these emotional, sometimes angry posts do keep the blog interesting. I hope you all can start fresh without rancor on a new topic?

    I appreciate everyone's passion here and I must say, I learned a lot of interesting stuff.

    @Wombat. I have had similar experiences. Unfortunately, physics for non majors ended up being the history of physics with no math and no real science application e.g. explaining the usefulness of Newton's Laws. I never had to do that one thank heavens.

  42. finally, one member (Prof and Circumcision) of the clubhouse speaks reason and sanity, let's hear more post like that!

  43. Just as you never get off a boat, unless you are going all the way*, DON'T FEED THE TROLLS.

    * Apologies to Francis Ford Coppela

    And yes, I am guilty of troll feeding in this thread.

  44. I predict that Godwin's Law will become apparent somewhere around comment #62.
    Bets, anyone?

  45. I had to google on Godwin's law, very funny.

    I do not expect an apology from Brady, mostly because I would doubt its sincerity. I am taken aback by the demeaning comments in her response. What people across the Quad call passion, quite frankly, appears to be a license to be irrational. She had an excellent example of historical research to an outsider like me. But I had to weed through personal insults to get to the good ideas. I guess I stereotypically expect poor social skills from science profs, but I am a little shocked to see it come from arts&letters.

    In fact, many of the comments but what appear to be regulars (Archie, Brady, Streinkov) are demeaning in direct violation of the rules that I read on the main page. Are there different rules for newcomers like me? Is this what "anonymous" is calling the clubhouse (I am not getting the reference)?

    Clearly there are topics here that must be spoken with great care (I appear to have stepped on one) and it appears those topics are not listed (this is a lot like marriage). I admit I lack the skills and beg forgiveness if I have been heavy-handed in my questions.

  46. @Scprof: A certain level of snark and profanity is coin of the realm here. Usually it is for students, but sometimes it gets used on others.

    But for the life of me I can't see where I demeaned you. Are you really so thin-skinned as to take any challenge as demeaning?

    I did dump on the OP a little, but that is because his original question was, as I and others pointed out in a very reasonable way, based on a set of false premises.

  47. I'd only add that there is no clubhouse that I can see. But on these issues that in some way pit sciences against humanities and social sciences, you can't possibly be shocked that the humanists and allied social scientists would close ranks can you? As Strelnikov pointed out, these snide attacks that equate the value of a discipline with money have been coming from the right wing of American politics for some time now, and frankly we all get pretty fucking sick of them. But those people are hopelessly ignorant cranks. But Stella is right to say that we should expect better of our colleagues.

  48. Hey, ScProf, I do apologize. Ad hominem attacks really aren't helpful, and I'm sorry I lowered myself to that level. No need to doubt my sincerity, as the truly cynical rarely get so hot under the collar about what they perceive as dismissive comments about an entire field of knowledge. Were I truly insincere, I would not have bothered, believe me. Overearnestness can be an ugly thing.

  49. Merry Christmas Marcia and Archie,

    This cute and straight skinny girl loves you both very much.

  50. Overearnestness can be an ugly thing.

    Unt I think that it is just about time dat ve had some! He vill curse ze day dot he vos born a science professor!

    Sorry, I couldn't resist.

  51. I'm glad to see your apology, Marcia, since I thought you were a bit too quick on the draw and a bit too harsh (though I also understand your frustration). At the same time, your exchange with ScProf brings up a point that is, I think, relevant to the discussion: at a time when the role of GLBT people in American society is very much a topic of debate, law-making, and litigation, citizens really need to have some sense of the history of the concept of "homosexuality," which is, indeed, quite new, and they'd get it if they took any good, historically-informed American Literature class which included Emily Dickinson and/or Walt Whitman. In fact, while I may be skeptical that bankers could learn ethics through literature, I suspect that soldiers preparing for the end of "Don't Ask/Don't Tell" might get a lot out of studying Whitman, Lincoln, and/or Civil War soldiers' letters (and I suspect that some profs at the military academies, and the online schools that cater to soldiers, will be headed in that direction; I've met one or two of them, and they're good at translating between academic and military culture). One of the main things that panic about homosexuality erased from American culture was a vocabulary for unrelated men (and sometimes even related ones) to express their affection for each other. That's a vocabulary that could be very helpful to present-day soldiers, male and female (I suspect that women soldiers sometimes find themselves pressed into male molds, at least in this area of their lives).

    I may be a bit old-fashioned in this regard, but I'm all for bringing back at least a few comprehensive, probably chronologically-structured survey courses which examine changing ideas in both American and worldwide culture through the lens of literature and/or history. Such courses would help guarantee that our students -- and our colleagues -- have this sort of information available when they need to place current events and/or their own work in a larger cultural context. There would be controversy over what to include, of course (as there is about K-12 textbooks), but that's because the stories we tell about ourselves, our nation, and our world, and how we arrived at the present cultural moment, matter. And we all tell such stories; the only question is whether we're getting them from polarized radio and TV "news"/talk programs, or in a more nuanced way as part of a well-rounded education.

    We've tended to move toward more narrowly-focused thematic courses at the core level in the humanities, on the assumption that going deep rather than broad helps students develop transferable critical thinking and writing skills. I think that's true, but it can also lead to students studying what they're already interested in (or what fits their schedules), and missing the rest, which only intensifies polarization in both academia and the broader society. There's a lot to be said for providing broad cultural context, if only so that basic concepts of cultural history that have been floating around for 2 or 3 decades don't come as complete surprises to people who didn't major in the particular humanities discipline(s) in which they arose. At the very least, it would make for less-rancorous faculty meetings (and blog exchanges).

  52. And I'm not arguing that knowledge is only useful and/or worthwhile when it can be "applied," just that that 19th-century American poetry class, or that American Studies survey, might have some surprising applications.

  53. CDP makes a good point about pharmaceutical research; that's currently one of the scarier forms of co-opting scientific/academic objectivity through research funding. There are, of course, some earlier, less profit-driven examples (but, to avoid proving Godwin's law, I won't cite them -- okay, Tuskeegee was in the US, and the recently-rediscovered parallel experiments overseas were in Central America, if I'm remembering correctly, not Germany, and were run by Americans, not German, er, "refugees").

    Closer to home, some pedagogical "research" may not fall too far behind, though the potential profit (other than feeding the ever-spiraling growth of administrative/industrial complex)isn't so clear there. I'm sure much of it is worthwhile (and I certainly don't want to insult those who are studying learning and/or assessment of various kinds in a serious way), but it's also clear that publishers, who can't make the profits their shareholders demand in any other way, are pushing poorly-thought-out, buzzword- rather than research-driven proprietary curriculum and/or assessment "systems" for all they're worth. There are some real parallels to the pharmaceutical industry: many (though not all) of the problems are real, but the "solutions" are too often profit-driven rather than research-based.

    Okay, 3 comments in a row is definitely enough. Cassandra out.

  54. Merry Christmas to you too Cassandra and so true!

    One uplifting story for the holidays...I had a student last year give a beautiful, tear-inducing defense of NASA funding in class. (Like the kind that would come across really well on television. Or in a Congressional debate) He invoked not just all of the historical technological and scientific advancements that came out of the space race, but also a vision of our collective humanity. At one point, I believe he quoted Aristotle. I bet he could have done the same to defend the funding of all sorts of scientific research in a beautiful and easily understood way.

    His major was in one of the humanities. Just sayin'.

  55. I joined this discussion on grants since it differed from the usual whine about students. However, I see now that this is a humanist blog and I lack the, um, passion.

    @Archie, I will make a passing remark on your discipline since you feel I am thin skinned and you believe snark substitutes for clear reasoning. You seem to be a power player in the field of history/philosophy of science. However, those of us who actually practice science feel it is no accident that our senior faculty, when their science and math skills have faded, turn to the history of science.

    We enjoy reading the history of science. An analogy would be after a long day with Dante, picking up a pulp fiction novel. It's fun, light, like a gossip column. We invite you to our parties and we are generous with our time for interviews. But by no means mistaken that for us believing the psycho babble that has filled your field for the last couple decades. It lacks rigor and logic. I often wonder if artists feel they same way about art historians.

    In any case, just the opinion of one scientist. You just make that shit up.

  56. @ScProf: I'm afraid I just lost some of the sympathy I'd developed for you, and not only because I have friends in the history of science who started in that field, and whose work I very much admire, and enjoy. And no, I'm pretty sure that none of them are Archie; in fact, from biographical hints he has dropped, it's entirely possible that, if I know Archie in real life at all, it is as one friend or another's evil graduate advisor (caveat: at some point in the dissertation-writing process, all graduate advisors appear evil).

    Merry Christmas (or whatever else you choose to celebrate or not celebrate) to all.


  57. @Sc
    I'm a scientist and I don't read this as a humanist blog. And besides, I have enough passion to hang with any folks that are thoughtful, intelligent, dedicated and funny. It's too bad that you decided to go that one extra sneering step of your last post.

    I wish you didn't feel you had to close ranks. The idea is that a scientist like me reads these points of view and learns something from another perspective. For example, as a scientist, grant money is written for equipment, supplies, field work, lab time etc. It never really occured to me that these were not issues for someone doing archive work or writing a novel and as a result humanities would bring in less grant money as a result.

    I know lots of scientists who highly value arts and humanities. I love Monty Python, drink, paint and sculpt, and read the classics. I also love numbers, logic, lab work and more drinking.

    @Marcia thanksgiving

  58. Wow. Not much to add here except that those of us whose interests seem to straddle the fence between the sciences and humanities often get screwed over. The scientists expect us to get grants to help them and the enjoyment and study of Mathematics for the sake of itself is often overlooked as a serious discipline. What gives?

    Mathsquatch out.

  59. @ScProf: Oh no, now you're trying to hurt my feelings. Sniff... Haven't you made a big enough fool of yourself already? Quit while you're still only a little behind.

    @Prof and Circumstance: Oh, I don't think the closing of ranks thing happens all the time. Just when some knucklehead who has no idea of what humanists do or how they do it comes through and says everyone in the humanities is "just making it up" or its equivalent. I think that it is a rational reaction at that point. Despite his protestations, he isn't interested in a dialogue. An imperfect analogy would be some guy who lives in his mother's basement and his only knowledge of women is from internet porn. Then he goes out one day and sees a big group of women, approaches them and says, "I'd like to have a reasonable discussion of why women are all money-grubbing whores." I think you'd see a closing of ranks there too. It's lame, ignorant, and ultimately tiresome.

    That said there are a lot of scientists like you on this site, who are like the vast majority of scientists I know in real life: thoughtful and smart. The jackasses are a small annoyance by contrast.

    And happy holidays to all.

  60. I've enjoyed this discussion; many interesting issues. I had no idea, for example, that scientists didn't know that humanists don't actually need much grant money (as a rule) and so have less motivation to bring it in.

    ScProf, I'm afraid you outed yourself with your last post. For shame.

    @Prof and Circumstance, I have to disagree with one point: "To those of you that are e-mailing Leslie K to complain, STOP IT! If you think someone is out of line or violating the rules, tell them yourself. If you don't have the courage to air your gripe, move on from the thread."

    No. Engaging with trolls on-thread encourages the trolls and derails the thread. I would encourage people to email Leslie K if they see the need and let her handle matters as she sees fit, while we get on with discussion of the matter at hand, serenely ignoring trollishness in the knowledge that the most egregious examples will be deleted soon anyway.

  61. Merely Academic, I came to this discussion and make a few comments on grants. I was called smug, arrogant, thin-skinned and unable to take a challenge. All based on a few dozen words. Perhaps that is the nature of this blog (despite your rules posted on the main page claiming openness and tolerance), but relax, for I will not be joining in discussions here ever again.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.