Scholars versus Academics


I posted this as a status update and then decided to expand and post

Last week, we were discussing how increasingly we are producing “academics rather than scholars” – Lisa Guerrero. That the demand to publish, to be competitive on the job market, makes reading breadth and depth, to be truly interdisciplinary and broad focused, increasingly difficult. The neoliberal university is a space for the production academics (and commodities) rather than scholars or intellectuals.  Often times, it seems like jobs, promotions, and recognition comes from our ability to produce rather than unpack; it comes from our ability to create rather than being creative.  I know I have been guilty of this, feeling the need to write and write.  Part of it came from the community that results from writing; part of the pressure came from how writing has come to be a space of voice, to engage in conversations, and to hopefully be a space of activism (necessary given geographic isolation).  It also is certainly the result of persistent feeling of needing to prove myself – yes, imposter syndrome.  But the demands and expectations of the profession, which seems to run counter to the demands and expectation of being a scholar and an intellectual.

I also think this is consequences of growing class sizes and even the demand that graduate students teach their own classes (and sometimes during every semester of their program) rather than be TAs or GAs. And clearly, at universities with shrinking faculties, there is growing demand for service, for mentoring students even among graduate students.  This is felt particularly acutely by scholars of color; female scholars of color see tremendous demands along these lines (thanks Venus Evans-Winters for this reminder).  Further along, the demands of mentoring, writing reviews, meetings, and writing letters of recommendation increase, and all of this takes away from one’s ability to continue to grow as a scholar.

Even when I was a graduate student, I felt the demands to teach and write hurt my ability to read beyond dissertation (other than 1 year where I just read 120 books). For me, I had years where I was working 2 or 3 outside jobs — tutoring, lecturing at another university, GA for prof at another university, working at King papers – on top of TA and course work.

Even now, the demands to publish and publish more, to produce timely scholarship, to attend conferences, to engage in public writing, etc. seems to work in opposition to continuing to develop scholarly skills and curiosities. I know this is something Imani Perry has also emphasized; how reading, thinking, and expanding the conversation takes (core elements of intellectual production) time. I been thinking about this all week and this is why my reading game is in overdrive. I also thought about this after running into Cedric Robinson, one of my mentors at Santa Barbara. Among the many things I learned from Cedric, Doug Daniels, Claudine Michel, Gerard Pidgin, Kofi Hadjor, Otis Madison and others was the importance and love of reading. 10 books in a quarter class was commonplace. This has been a week of important reminders; it has been a week where my love of reading has been rekindled.  It has been a reminder of how reading is so essential for scholarly and intellectual development; how reading cannot be simply about next lecture, next article or book, or the search for the perfect quote, but rather intellectual curiosity, scholarly development, and continuing to rebuild the scaffolding and foundation for my everything I do.  Yes, reading is fundamental; reading is listening and growing.  And more than anything, reading is the process to not only get ingredients but to expand the imagination of what is possible

9 thoughts on “Scholars versus Academics

  1. I completely agree – however I’d go a step further I think of myself as an *employee* before any other designation be it academic or scholar – the way the system is set-up, my main concern isn’t “how do I make an original and worthwhile contribution” – it’s “how do I hit my performance target and keep the greens flowing?”

    As an employee my main concern is to keep a roof over my head.

    You want a journal article a year, I’ll knock out an article a year sure it’s on a well-covered topic but who cares as long as I hit the target right?

    In term of how I use my time, it makes me crafty, I don’t do book reviews, I don’t get involved in editing, I do nothing that isn’t measured by my performance targets or will take time away from hiding the performance targets.

    And here’s the punchline – I sailed pass my peers who were all busy trying to be scholars in a world that rewards employees.

    • Thank you for this. I was beginning to think of myself as unscholarly or..lazy, being that it takes me a long time to read and process, rather than produce produce produce. Of course, I am not in a doctorate program, but other actual scholars, Theresa Perry for one, are encouraging me to do so, and I was thinking that my desire to just read and process kept me exempt from the scholarly mold. But I shall rethink it now.

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