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26.10.06

Cloning the system

Does this sound familiar?
Time to degree is a problem not only because of the embarassing labor practices it is associated with. It is also an intellectual problem. The obstacles to [academic] professional success are so high at the portal that students are largely self-sorted before they get there. They already talk the talk in class, and their main goal in graduate school is to learn how to talk it at conferences. And the obstacles at the other end, the placement and tenure anxieties, don't exactly encourage iconoclasm. Time to degree, job placement, and the tenure rate virtually guarantee a culture of conformity. The profession is not reproducing itself so much as cloning itself. One sign that this is happening is that there appears to be little change in dissertation topics in the last ten years. Everyone seems to be writing the same dissertation, and with a tool kit that has not altered much since 1990.
(Menand, Louis: "Dangers Within and Without", quoted in Bérubé, Michael: What's liberal about the liberal arts? : classroom politics and "bias" in higher education. W.W. Norton, 2006.)

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