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?