Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Academia and Diversity

Mark had a link to a tenure round-table that was a good reflection of the current argument about tenure that seems to be making the rounds. It's a rich area for discussion but I wanted to focus on an argument by Cathy A. Trower:

Research shows that Generation X values qualities that are in conflict with this system: collaboration, not competition; transparency, not secrecy; community, not autonomy; flexibility, not uniformity; diversity, not homogeneity; interdisciplinary structures, not disciplinary silos; and family-work life balance, not “publish or perish” careers.

Curiously enough, by making the argument that the institution of academia is in conflict with the current values of Generation X might be one of the best arguments to leave well enough alone. Consider, the principle of diversity is that diversity, by trying a lot of different approaches to problems and being inclusive of a wide range of viewpoints, allows us to find solutions more efficiently. The idea that a long standing institution is taking a wildly different approach than that of the current default approach actually suggests that keeping the system in place is a way to enhance diversity.

This is not to make me an apologist for the academy. There are many issues with the modern academic system that could use resolution. But the argument that it is in conflict with the values of a particular generation seems to be one of the weaker arguments for doing away with the whole enterprise.


  1. We gen Xers also dislike overly long sentences that use too many semi-colons.

  2. I also found it interesting that the author identified the university environment as being more comeptitive than the alternatives (and, implicitly, that this is a bad thing). Isn't the magic of markets based on competition?