Professional Schools and Social Responsibility

I have spent my academic career in a professional school and, as a result, I continue to read new studies that emerge about this aspect of higher education. Duff McDonald, The Golden Passport: Harvard Business School, the Limits of Capitalism, and the Moral Failure of the MBA Elite (New York: Harper Business, 2017) is a lengthy recent addition to this genre. McDonald, a freelance writer and editor, presents a rich, detailed portrait of this important business school, one he contends has become the center of Harvard University. While I think it could have used some editing, it really did not need to be so long, it is still worth the effort for anyone interested in this aspect of higher education.

McDonald provides a detailed history of this school over its century, its changing purpose, search for ideas and principles, and societal influence. For example, the much touted and well-known case method is placed in its institutional context, showing both its value and weaknesses as a pedagogical approach. We also obtain information about how HBS has been connected to the management consulting industry “has been joined at the hip to the business school complex . . . almost since the founding days of each” part of it (p. 199). We learn about the struggles to include women in the faculty, the uneven results in educating leaders and entrepreneurs, and the uphill battle to promote a social conscience for the school.

A topic of particular interest to me is how the HBS has handled, or in some ways, mishandled, business ethics. It is also a topic that fascinates McDonald, who states, “Over the course of its hundred-plus year history, one thing that the Harvard Business School has never figured out is how to truly integrate ethics into the curriculum” (p. 429). This is a statement that could be made, of course, about many professional schools. The first full course on the topic was not introduced into the HBS until 2003. A preoccupation with business school rankings and helping its graduates make money seems to have pushed social responsibility and accountability matters to the wayside. McDonald laments the “marriage of profits and politics.” He concludes by stating, that if the HBS wants to be “relevant – to be important – to the future well-being of us all, then it’s time they stopped pretending to make the world a better place and actually started doing so” (p. 578).

The Golden Passport will make anyone involved in a professional school reflect on what it is doing and how it benefits society. Some reviewers have complained that the book is too critical of the HBS. However, I doubt that it is.

On Tyranny

It is difficult to keep up with the political controversies in our country and abroad. Just when you think that it cannot get worse, or more bizarre, it does. There are, of course, many issues raised by these controversies archivists and other records professionals must ponder for their work and careers. The political environment’s transformation is affecting much of what we have assumed to be part of the archival mission in a democratic society, mainly because our democratic traditions and forms are fundamentally threatened. To understand these threats, I recommend a reading of Timothy Snyder, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century (New York: Tim Duggan Books, 2017).

Snyder, a historian of the Holocaust and European history, in his brief book gives us a poignant cautionary tale about American politics. You can read it in one sitting, although I found myself having to put it down in order to reflect on what he is saying. There is a lot of powerful stuff in its pages. Drawing on historical events, he reminds us why history is important and because of its importance why it is being neglected, twisted, and rewritten by contemporary politicians and commentators.

There is much in this book that should resonate with archivists, if they bother to read it. Snyder urges us to “remember professional ethics,” with this chilling assessment: “Authoritarians need obedient civil servants, and concentration camp directors seek businessmen interested in cheap labor” (p. 38). He adds, “If members of the professions confuse their specific ethics with the emotions of the moment, however, they can find themselves saying and doing things that they might previously have thought unimaginable” (p. 41). In other words, if we think we should not be involved politically, recognizing that in our case records are political creations and exists within a political context, then we risk the possibilities of becoming irrelevant or, worse yet, pawns in the process of undermining democratic governance.

Snyder urges us to “stand out,” not just to follow along in the pack. This has proved to be difficult for many archivists and their allies. Some say we must be quiet and objective, so that we do not draw attention to ourselves instead of our records. However, this presents the very real risk of undermining our mission to preserve the documentary materials that allow us to understand the past and, hence, the present. We need to understand that our mission is to preserve documents for this purpose not to preserve our profession or jobs.

This historian also urges to be more reflective by getting off of the Internet and reading books. In my years as an academic, I have seen my students, fortunately not all of them, spend more and more time on social media and less and less time in reading and reflecting about serious texts.

Snyder also urges us to “believe in truth,” something that is not particularly popular these days, even among some archivists. He writes, “To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is not basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle” (p. 65). Snyder makes an argument that “post-truth is pre-fascism” (p. 71), and his book is an exploration of why fascism can happen here. We know that there were archivists in fascist societies, happily plying their trade and serving the state. I believe that the archival mission is about serving a greater public good, but this takes conviction and courage. It means that a code of ethics is not about archivists being law abiding but about knowing when the high road is breaking the law in order to preserve important documentation, such as what we have seen some doing with evidence about global warming. A true ethics code must now incorporate into it a statement about resistance.

Throughout this brief tome, Snyder discusses the importance of knowing the past, arguing that a decreasing knowledge of history is a major factor in why so-called populist movements have taken hold and way politicians and pundits present lies as truth without hesitation or shame. Acknowledging the importance of the past and truth ought to make archivists happy. Indeed, a new element of the archival mission ought to be the role of societal fact-checkers. We present the documentary record in order to provide the materials for legitimate understanding of our history. At the very beginning of this book, Snyder states, “History does not repeat, but it does instruct” (p. 9). That instruction is not possible without archivists working to preserve the records. And, in order to do this, archivists will need to work in more courageous and sometimes controversial ways. That message is about the best I can pass on to the next generation of archivists. Snyder notes that “protest can be organized through social media, but nothing is real that does not end on the streets” (p. 84). See you there.

Forgeries and Thefts

There are many ways to value archives. One of the more surprising ones seems counterintuitive, their theft and forgery. Yet the growing scholarship on this topic, and the popular fascination with it, reveals that this is an important means to understanding why archival records are valued. The array of book-length publications on this topic, from broad historical surveys to specific case studies, also often discusses matters of interest to archivists. Studies of literary forgeries and their circumstances and motivations are of obvious relevance since these documents can find their way into legitimate archival collections. Studies of art and other forms of forgeries often lead to the fabrication of documents to develop a false provenance. Theft is an even more direct way of revealing how society tends to value archival and related materials, and archivists and other professionals who provide care for such valuable items need to be knowledgeable about how it occurs in order to enhance their security systems.

What follows is a description, not comprehensive but suggestive (that is, publications I have read), of the growing literature, scholarly and popular, about forgeries and theft. I am not including journal literature or references to movies and television shows, although these are definitely worth exploring as well. I have included a few references to fictional accounts of theft and forgery that are noteworthy for what they suggest about such activities in society.

Compelling Stories and Colorful Personalities

One of the reasons that looting, thefts, and forgeries attract public attention and interest is that they often represent compelling stories. For instance, there are numerous books tracking the Nazi confiscation of art and eventual recovery from Jewish individuals and families, such as Edmund De Waal, The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Family’s Century of Art and Loss (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010), Catherine Scott Clark and Adrian Levy, Amber Room: The Fate of the World’s Greatest Lost Treasure (New York: Walker and Co., 2004), and William H. Honan, Treasure Hunt: A New York Times Reporter Tracks the Quedlinburg Hoard (New York: Fromm International Publishing, 1997). The pioneering analysis of the Nazi campaign to loot Europe, in itself an interesting story, is Lynn H. Nicholas, The Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe’s Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War (New York: Vintage, 1994). Susan Ronald, Hitler’s Art Thief: Hildebrand Gurlitt, the Nazis, and the Looting of Europe’s Treasures (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2015) explores the bizarre story of one man looting on behalf of the Nazis and the subsequent story of his ill-gained collection. The possibilities of good stories also has led to some interesting fictional accounts, such as B. A. Shapiro, The Art Forger (Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books, 2012).

Many forgers have been colorful personalities and some have been the subject of book length treatments, such as Brian David Boyer, Prince of Thieves: The Memoirs of the World’s Greatest Forger (New York: Dial Press, 1975), a study of a free-hand forger and Frank Wynne, I Was Vermeer: The Rise and Fall of the Twentieth Century’s Greatest Forger (New York: Bloomsbury, 2006). We even have confessions of various kinds of forgers, such as Ken Perenyi, Caveat Emptor: The Secret Life of an American Art Forger (New York: Pegasus, 2012). There are other colorful personalities that we encounter in the world of falsified and stolen cultural heritage. Robert K. Wittman, with John Shiffman, a FBI special agent involved over two decades with tracking down art and other thefts, tells his story in Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World’s Stolen Treasures (New York: Crown, 2010). Morris Eksteins, Solar Dance: Van Gogh, Forgery, and the Eclipse of Certainty (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2012) tracks the career of art dealer Otto Wacker and his sale of forged Van Gogh paintings and subsequent trial in 1932. Anthony M. Amore, The Art of the Con: The Most Notorious Fakes, Frauds, and Forgeries in the Art World (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015) provides a set of case studies about art fraud focused on the personalities and the legalities. Perhaps the most candid forger memoir is Lee Israel, Can You Ever Forgive Me? Memoirs of a Literary Forger (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2008), providing numerous insights into motivation and techniques but not in a way that will elicit any sympathy from archivists. As a reminder that literary forger is nothing new, Joseph Rosenblum’s Prince of Forgers (New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 1998) is a translation of an 1870 study of the career of Vrain-Denis Lucas.

Forgers and their forgeries often make for engaging stories in their own right. Charles Hamilton, Great Forgers and Famous Fakes: The Manuscript Forgers of America and How They Duped the Experts (New York: Crown, 1980) is a well-illustrated popular account, with some useful information for archivists and other researchers. Another popular and useful account by another well-known autograph dealer is Kenneth W. Rendell, Forging History: The Detection of Fake Letters and Documents (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1994). That forgery had emerged as a major issue for archivists, librarians, collectors, and dealers can be seen in the proceedings of a 1989 conference on the topic, Pat Bozeman, ed., Forged Documents: Proceedings of the 1989 Houston Conference (New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Books, 1990).

As a result, there are a number of journalistic accounts of forgeries suggesting the public interest in this topic. Robert Harris, Selling Hitler (New York: Penguin, 19860 is a detailed account of the forgery of Adolf Hitler’s diaries, revealed to be a poor forgery yet one that initially fooled many experts and led to sensationalistic news coverage. Autograph dealer Charles Hamilton provides another account in his The Hitler Diaries: Fakes That Fooled the World ((Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1991). Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith, The Mormon Murders: A True Story of Greed, Forgery, Deceit, and Death (New York: New American Library, 1988), follows the ignoramus career of Mark Hofmann, who forged early Mormon imprints and documents, peddling them to the church, willing to purchase sources that were contrary to church history and doctrine. On the art side, Edward Dolnick gives us an interesting account in The Forger’s Spell: A True Story of Vermeer, Nazis, and the Greatest Art Hoax of the Twentieth Century (New York: Harper, 2008). Possibly the most detailed scholarly study of a forger is by Arthur and Janet Ing Freeman, John Payne Collier: Scholarship and Forgery in the Nineteenth Century, 2 vols. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004), a scholar who dabbled in forgeries concerning Shakespeare and other English literary figures.

Looting and Theft

We have witnessed wide scale looting in the Middle East in recent decades, focused on the theft of antiquities, a significant portion of which are archival in nature. Lawrence Rothfield, The Rape of Mesopotamia: Behind the Looting of the Iraq Museum (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009) considers the theft of materials from this museum in 2003, how it happened, and why it was allowed to occur; an excellent companion of supporting evidence, policies, and perspectives can be found in Lawrence Rothfield, ed., Antiquities Under Siege: Cultural Heritage Protection After the Iraq War (Lanham, MD: AltaMira, 2008). Some have responded to the criticisms about museums accepting materials of suspicious origins by defending their research and educational functions, such as James Cuno, Museums Matters: In Praise of the Encyclopedic Museum (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011) and Whose Muse? Art Museums and the Public Trust (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004). And it is obvious we are racing against time, as aptly portrayed by Joshua Hammer, The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu and Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2016). These studies reveal the debate about museum collecting and the mission of the encyclopedic museum, the kind of debate that has not occurred in the archives field (and that probably should).

We need to remember that many nations have been engaged in the most aggressive kinds of looting, something presented well by Christopher Hitchens, The Parthenon Marbles: The Case for Reunification (New York: Verso, 2008). The sculptures, long housed at the British Museum, have been a high-profile test case for when and how art and archeological objects should be returned to the country of origin. An interesting study is Sean McMeekin, History’s Greatest Heist: The Looting of Russia by the Bolsheviks (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), describing how this revolution was financed by the sale of art, antiques, and other sources. The pioneering study on this topic is Jeannette Greenfield, The Return of Cultural Treasures (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989), with numerous case studies of theft and repatriation from around the world, with conclusions about patterns and approaches. Archives and related materials have been regularly stolen by the victors going back thousands of years, creating a genre of archives now known as displaced archives. A recent volume considers this topic, with essays on post-decolonialization, European archives, the Middle East, and elsewhere, with discussion of laws and international treaties; James Lowry, ed., Displaced Archives (New York: Routledge, 2017). Astrid M. Eckert, The Struggle for the Files: The Western Allies and the Return of German Archives after the Second World War (Washington, D.C.: Washington Historical Institute and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013) is a detailed study of one complicated case. These kinds of instances remind us that archives and records are often inextricably intertwined in politics, something we are reminded about in Margaret Procter, Michael Cook, and Caroline Williams, eds., Political Pressure and the Archival Record (Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 2005).

We are not immune to looting in our own country as David Howard chronicles in Lost Rights: The Misfortunes of a Stolen American Relic (Boston: Houghton Harcourt Mifflin, 2010), the story of one of the fourteen original copies of the Bill of Rights stolen from a North Carolina courthouse at the end of the American Civil War. In every direction we look we can discover examples of documents and other objects that have been stolen and that either went into the hands of private collectors or were acquired eventually by archival, special collections, and cultural repositories.

Theft of art objects and archival materials has continued to occur because of the elaborate marketplace that often does not distinguish much between that has been stolen and that that has been acquired legally, as well as the immense prices that paintings and other art objects can command. A sense of the challenges can be seen in Peter Watson and Cecilia Todeschini, The Medici Conspiracy: The Illicit Journey of Looted Antiquities From Italy’s Tomb Raiders to the World’s Greatest Museum (New York: Public Affairs, 2006). Roger Atwood, Stealing History: Tomb Raiders, Smugglers, and the Looting of the Ancient World (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2004) demonstrates that although tomb raiding is very old that the modern world has seen its expansion because of a much more sophisticated market mechanism. Matthew Hart, The Irish Game: A True Story of Crime and Art (New York: Walker, 2004) follows the theft of art from an Irish estate in 1986. Sandy Nairne, Art Theft and the Case of the Stolen Turners (London: Reaktion, 2011) investigates the theft of paintings from the Tate in London in 1994 and other high profile art thefts. Anthony M. Amore and Tom Mashberg, Stealing Rembrandts: The Untold Stories of Notorious Art Heists (New York: Palgrave, Macmillan, 2011) considers the past century of thefts of paintings by this grand master and what it reveals about such crime. Phyllis Mauch Messenger, ed., The Ethics of Collecting Cultural Property: Whose Culture? Whose Property? (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1989) offers a set of case studies on acquisition violating ethical norms and sensibilities. Such thievery can be more complicated than making money, as we learn in Lisa Moses Leff, The Archive Thief: The Man Who Salvaged French Jewish History in the Wake of the Holocaust (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015), following the career of Zosa Ztajkowski, who produced scholarship about the history of Jews in France while systematically stealing and selling documents in Europe and elsewhere. One of the best books ever written about a thief follows the career of Gilbert Bland, Jr., who focused on stealing rare maps from archives and special collections, offering a comparison to legitimate collecting; Miles Harvey, The Island of Lost Maps: A True Story of Cartographic Crime (New York: Random House, 2000). Simon Houpt, Museum of the Missing: A History of Art Theft (New York: Sterling Publishers, 2006) provides a well-illustrated assessment of art theft across the globe.

Art and Literary Forgers

Partly due to the rising prices of fine art, there has been a parallel growth in art forgeries, leading to volumes of case studies of such fraud, such as Philip Mould, The Art Detective: Fakes, Frauds, and Finds and the Search for Lost Treasures (New York: Viking, 2009); Indeed, attribution and authentication of art works is a complicated process, involving collectors, dealers, and scholars, a process described through one case in John Brewer, The American Leonardo: A Tale of Obsession, Art, and Money ((New York: Oxford University Press, 2009). Some, such as Jonathon Keats, Forged: Why Fakes Are the Great Art of Our Age (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), have tried to show the role of forgeries in art and in society, depicting this activity as a sometimes legitimate, and important, means of expression. There are also scholarly assessments about the roles, aspirations, and motivations of forgers, revealing forgery to be a much more complex activity than is often assumed; Anthony Grafton, Forgers and Critics: Creativity and Duplicity in Western Scholarship (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990) is a particularly important, seminal, work. Judith Ryan and Alfred Thomas, eds., Cultures of Forgery: Making Nations, Making Selves (New York: Routledge, 2003) provides eleven essays of instances in the past where forgeries were used to bolster identity, memory, and meaning, not always as a means to fooling or tricking anyone. Paul Malszewski, Fakers: Hoaxers, Con Artists, Counterfeiters, and Other Great Pretenders (New York: New Press, 2008) is a popular account of why forgery has experienced a popular upswing in recent years. And forgery is not new. Ingrid D. Rowland, The Scarith of Scornello: A Tale of Renaissance Forgery (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004) recounts the story of the forgery of ancient Roman and Etruscan documents.

Nearly as interesting as art forgers has been the work by literary forgers, characterized by Nick Groom, The Forger’s Shadow: How Forgery Changed the Course of Literature (London: Picador, 2003).

We cannot forget the fact that early forgeries were not necessarily intended to deceive individuals and authorities, but they were often an effort to support legitimate claims, by adding documentary sources and evidence where none existed, such as argued in Alfred Hiatt, The Making of Medieval Forgeries: False Documents in Fifteenth-Century England (Toronto: The British Library and University of Toronto Press, 2004).

Conclusion

As I mentioned at the beginning of this blog post, what I have described here is not a comprehensive assessment of the scholarly and popular literature on the topic of forgeries and thefts. My purpose here is to suggest two things. First, given what archivists do, it is important that archivists be aware of these publications and that archival educators incorporate this into their teaching of students preparing to work as archivists. We can argue that this is important given that a major element of what has been considered to be the core knowledge of archival science, namely diplomatics, has to do with the authentification and trustworthiness of documents. Diplomatics re-emerged in an important way in light of the continuing shift to digital recordkeeping and the recognition of the increased fragility of such documents (for both areas see the work of Luciana Duranti). Now, we can add to this the increasing debates about alternative facts and fake news, threatening to undermine ay concept of evidence and truth.

Second, it is important that archivists see the need for new case studies and other research into thefts and forgeries. Much of what we have seen recently plays on the personalities of the individuals involved and the salacious details of particular cases, rather than their implications for archival work and mission. For example, one of the most high profile cases of document theft was that of research files from a tobacco company which ultimately played a major role in legislation about the health implications of smoking; see Stanton A. Glantz, John Slade, Lisa A. Berg, Peter Hanauer, and Deborah E. Barnes, eds., The Cigarette Papers (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996). Despite the importance of this case, archivists and other records professionals paid little attention to it and its implications. We need to do better.

 

A Commencement Address

On April 30th I was the speaker at the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Information Sciences commencement ceremony. This was the last commencement of the school, as it becomes the School of Computing and Information on July 1. This was a great honor, and a nice way of marking my own forthcoming retirement on December 31. I was asked to address the topic of the school’s focus on information ethics. Here is the address.

As a professional school, most students arrive here with specific vocational aims. This makes sense. However, if we fixate on just the practical, we shortchange you and ourselves.

Life is complicated, no less so than with the information professions. Technology has long been known to often have unintended consequences. The Web has contributed, as just one example, to issues now dubbed as fake news, relying on the notion that there will always be some people who believe almost anything, as they rail against what they perceive to be gatekeepers, just because they can find it on the Web.

Isn’t it ironic that what some are now calling the Post-Truth Age was not long ago confidently called the Information Age? By trying to focus on building and harnessing new digital tools, we miss the ethical implications of our work. It has taken me the better part of three decades to understand this. We need to remember that because our work is at the heart of the time we live in that what we do and how we do it is far more important than we usually think.

It is no secret that social media, buttressed by a glittering array of digital information technologies, now play substantial roles in national and international political, cultural, economic, and other activities. We believe we know more. However, constant haranguing about “post-truth,” “alternative facts,” and “fake news” suggest we really do not.

Ethics is an essential component in the education and work of all information professionals. By ethics we mean having sensitivity to the moral dimensions and actions of what we do. Technology is not something we can ever assume is neutral; it operates within society and its institutions and is affected by politics, economics, culture, and other factors, as many have suggested over quite a long time. Information ethics has been an important topic in our School since the 1980s.

We must be sensitive to the consequences of our use of information technologies, so that we do not develop and use ones with negative implications for society. As information professionals, it is our responsibility to act ethically, meaning even disobeying at times (by refusing, resigning, or leaking) what we have been ordered to do. This is, of course, difficult. We should not be surprised about the sometimes dismal role of information technologies in our society, since we often treat these technologies like part of a religious experience, determining how we think and act. This is why information ethics is so important. We, as individuals, need to be prepared to work ethically. Our information schools ought to be places where both faculty and students learn to contend with contrary views, skepticism, ironies, and other challenges.

Our School has had a long tradition of focusing on the ethical aspects of information work and use. Our previous dean, Toni Carbo, working with Professor Stephen Almagno, established a course and lecture series on information ethics. Professor Kip Currier now continues to teach the information ethics course, and he is also writing a new textbook on the topic. I teach a course on Archival Ethics and have written books and articles about such matters. There is also an Ethics Reading group, and out of it has emerged a project to produce a book of essays, tentatively entitled The Conscience of an iSchool. We are dedicating this book to our current Dean, Ron Larsen, who has supported our efforts to integrate ethics into the curriculum. I am hopeful that the new School of Computing and Information will continue to have a strong focus on ethical issues.

We are a nation built on laws, information, transparency, and citizens’ rights. There are also international human rights statements upholding such values. It is easy, in the transition from analog to digital, to grasp onto a technocratic belief – that technology dictates us and our activities. My purpose today is to offer some advice for graduates as you make your way into the profession and world.

Consider You Own Ethical and Related Beliefs and Principles. How each of you handles what I am discussing has to do with your personal moral and religious sensibilities. Some, philosophers and others, argue that you do not need religious values for ethical conduct. Maybe. But I think you need something that is bigger and better than yourself. Ultimately, faced with an ethical dilemma, what will guide you? If you have nothing to draw on, you will be lost.

Become Familiar with Your Professional Ethics Codes. Professional associations have ethics codes or professional conduct statements. While these vary in quality, sometimes too general or lacking enforcement mechanisms, they nevertheless provide a good starting point for understanding the ethical implications of our work.

Read Widely About Professional Work and Its Societal Context. Once you graduate, you cannot stop reading the professional and scholarly literature. Books, articles, Websites, all abound and offer many different perspectives about the role of digital information technologies. Read different perspectives and wrestle with contrary views.

Disconnect and Reflect on the Bigger Implications of What You Do or Want to Do. We have become so accustomed to hearing about the power of information, that we stay connected 24/7, giving ourselves little time, if any, to reflect on matters like the ethical issues we might face. We need time to reflect. Surfing and browsing on the Web is not the same as reading and reflecting.

Understand How Your Employing Organization Works and What It Values. You need to understand what you might face in your organization. Given the nature of work you do as information professionals, it is quite likely that sooner, rather than later, that you will encounter inappropriate or questionable actions. What will you do? Start preparing now for these challenges.

Question Everything. You need to be skeptical about what you do, asking hard questions, challenging yourselves about your intentions and aspirations, as well as challenging, when necessary, others. We all accept the power of the technologies we are working with, and this means we must accept the great responsibilities we have been given.

Listen Carefully. Become good, and respectful, listeners. Try to understand other points of view. We spend a lot of time talking over each other, creating greater problems.

Be Prepared to Speak Out. No one can deal with unethical issues and other related matters unless you are prepared to speak out. This takes conviction and courage. It is not easy. I am hopeful that what I am saying will begin to help you prepare to be this kind of information professional.

You are graduating from a university whose motto is Truth and Virtue. When you look at your diploma, you will see those words on its seal. They are not there by accident or without intent. They are not some secret code. These words provide practical advice to live and work by. I hope this will set a responsibility heavy on your hearts and minds as you move forward. Congratulations on finishing your degrees.

Thank you, and God speed.

Archives and Change

What follows is a draft of a text I prepared for a conference, not given because of continuing concern by the sponsors that my remarks are too political. The theme of this conference was change, and each presentation was to be limited to five or six minutes. My problem is the fact that archives and records are political by nature. For what it is worth, I am posting the text here.

I am an archivist. Many, if not most of you, have no idea what an archivist does. Tracing their roots back to the ancient world and having been established as a modern profession a century ago, archivists support the basic human impulse to remember. Archivists work to preserve records and the evidence in them and to document the past.

This seems pretty straightforward, but this is a profession undergoing great change and facing immense challenges in ways not imagined before. I want to discuss the changes I have seen in my career, covering 45 years, over much of the period we consider as the Information Age.

I entered the archives profession because of my interest in history, something I had acquired from visits with my father to battlefields, museums, historic houses, and historic sites and the gifts of many books starting in the late 1950s. As I got older, archival work, once I discovered it, seemed like the logical way for me to follow my interests.

In my career, I have had the opportunity to work with many fascinating documents, some quite famous – the 1649 Maryland Act of Religious Toleration, the original draft of Key’s poem “Star Spangled Banner” – and others less famous but just as compelling – an 1848 affidavit of someone claiming to be the last survivor of the Revolutionary War regiment the Maryland Line, an early nineteenth century letter describing a grisly grain mill accident and the community reaction to it, a first hand account of the famous eighteenth century evangelist George Whitefield preaching, and an 1863 diary of a militiaman during the battle of Gettysburg.

As I travelled around the world, I also got to see, and in some cases, touch, documents dating back more than several thousand years. Being an archivist gave me a ringside seat in experiencing the past.

I enjoyed making some minor discoveries, such as finding one of the earliest visual representations of Fort Wayne, Indiana in a civil engineer’s diary from the early nineteenth century. But more than making discoveries, I enjoyed connecting with the past. I have read letters, diaries, and receipts of many famous people, from Thomas Jefferson to Abraham Lincoln and Richard Nixon, and very ordinary folks, women running households and men growing food, seeking to understand how the documents were created and why they should be kept.

It has been a satisfying and interesting career. And I have had considerable fun, meeting interesting people, dead and alive. But a lot has changed sine I entered the profession. Now archivists are concerned with new kinds of digital records, non-Western notions of evidence challenging how we define a document, and complex laws and policies affecting access to records. These also represent interesting work, some of it just as fascinating as my earlier work with old manuscripts. But some of it has been disturbing, since the new digital technologies are more fragile and the laws and policies seem more repressive; our memory of the past seems more endangered than ever before.

Now we are in a society absorbed by debates about post-truth, alternative facts, and fake news – threatening to make the mission of archivists irrelevant. Time magazine’s April 3rd cover asked, “Is Truth Dead?” Truth, at least as an objective, is the keystone of the archival mission. If truth is no longer relevant, why strive to save the evidence of the past?

This is especially crucial since we are witnessing efforts to destroy evidence and information. The most dramatic, recent example of this is to destroy or close scientific and other data related to climate change available on government websites, such as that of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Some archivists are now working to capture and preserve data and evidence that is threatened concerning global warming, the validity of vaccines as medical treatment, health care options, portals to government information ensuring transparency and accountability, and the cultural heritage of past civilizations.

Working behind the scenes, these people have been called guerilla archivists or the less exciting data rescuers, including both professionals and citizen allies (programmers, hackers, librarians, and others). The notion of the guerilla archivist is a new term, drawing from the Spanish word for war, emphasizing a social activism dedicated to saving documents and other evidence threatened by war, genocide, political oppression, and other threats.

Whatever the reasons for such efforts to scrub away such evidence, the point is what would our society be like without the means to having knowledge of the past? Whereas once archivists mostly feared the implications of technology, the world has been transforming itself in many other ways. Leaks of information from classified government records have made the work of archivists and other records professionals more daunting. Growing unethical activities by political, corporate, and other leaders have brought new notions into the archival mission, such as social justice. Across the world truth commissions have been established, working to gather evidence about genocide and other crimes that otherwise would have been lost.

The question archivists must now answer is not whether they transform their mission, but how they do so to deal with these growing challenges, becoming guerrilla archivists, and, as the medieval monks did a millennium before, capturing and storing the records that so many wish to destroy.

If someone asks you to join into a guerilla archives movement, even if it seems counter to all your presuppositions of what an archivist is or does, join in. The future of the past needs you. And understanding your world requires your help – no matter what your nationality, ethnicity, race, gender, or culture – since without the evidence of the past we cannot hope to achieve such understanding.

For now, my battlefield is in the classroom, where I strive to equip a new generation of archivists with the knowledge they need to cope in this new world. But we need more than the handful of professional archivists now working. Come join us.

 

 

Reading Books About Higher Education

Reading Higher Education

As I near retirement, I have been systematically weeding my personal library. This is not as painful as many have discussed. I have focused on retaining a small portion of my library to support some ongoing research projects and possible guest lectures and other teaching. In the process, I have been able to cull the books down to the essentials and, as a byproduct, I have decided to prepare some bibliographic essays of core and classic writings on subjects of interest to me.

 

This first essay concentrates on an array of interesting, essential, and classic texts on higher education. I started reading on the topic thirty years ago as a means to understanding the world I now worked in. What follows should not be read as the best books on the topic, but merely as a set of useful readings that could be of assistance to faculty and others seeking to understand what the university in society represents, how it has evolved, and how it has responded to the challenges it faces. Many of these texts were used in my own writings about higher education and in my teaching a doctoral seminar on the nature of being a faculty member (a topic that has been given shrift in many doctoral programs).

The History of Higher Education

Colleges and universities have a long and rich history. We have a number of good histories of higher education. William Clark, Academic Charisma and the Origins of the Research University (Chicago: University of Chicago, 2006) traces the rise of the research university in early modern Europe, drawing on the use of rich archival materials; this is a a good context for understanding the historical context of later debates about and critique of the university. Roger L. Geiger, The History of American Higher Education: Learning and Culture from the Founding to World Two (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015) provides a richly textured assessment of the development of such education in the United States. Other excellent one volume histories are James Axtell, Wisdom’s Workshop: The Rise of the Modern University (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016) and John R. Thelen, A History of American Higher Education ((Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004).

We also have studies of the development of American research universities, providing the historical context for understanding what we now possess in terms of these institutions. Jonathan Cole’s The Great American University: Its Rise to Preeminence, It’s Indispensable National Role, Why It Must Be Protected (New York: Public Affairs Press, 2009) is a celebratory, but useful and informative, study of the subject. Cole followed this book up with his Toward a More Perfect University (New York: Public Affairs, 2016), addressing the emerging challenges such as increasing costs and the role of the humanities. A different, and noteworthy, historical study is Garry Wills, Mr. Jefferson’s University (Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 2002) focusing on Jefferson’s original campus design for the University of Virginia and his vision of higher education.

A Public Target

Higher education has been experiencing so much change, so many issues, and so many public attacks and critiques, that we even possess a genre of commentaries on the commentaries and research studies. Deborah L. Rhode, In Pursuit of Knowledge: Scholars, Status, and Academic Culture (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2006) is a worthy example of this. Rhode, a law professor, considers the changing nature of the mission, the impact on scholarship and teaching, the barriers to being a public intellectual, and other such matters. Some have noted the number of memoirs written by academics and have tried to assess what these mean, such as Cynthia G. Franklin, Academic Lives: Memoir, Cultural Theory, and the University Today (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2009). Others have focused on a few major sources of change. Kevin Carey, The End of College: Creating the Future of Learning and the University of Everywhere (New York: Riverhead Books, 2015) considers how the growing costs of obtaining a college education can be offset by the uses of new information technologies; it is a book that received considerable attention, but it raises as many questions as it provides answers about what higher education should be. William G. Bowen and Michael S. McPherson, Lesson Plan: An Agenda for Change in American Higher Education (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016) debunks many of the typical critiques or jeremiads about higher education, focusing on the most serious challenges, such as the need to develop a corps of professional teachers who are there to teach not to do research, administrative tasks, or other activities. There have been some research efforts to get at the heart of just what college students are learning, notably Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011). English professor Louis Menand, The Marketplace of Ideas: Reform and Resistance in the American University (New York: W. W. Norton, 2010) wrestles with the question of whether universities are preparing students in the best possible manner, examining liberal arts, professional education, and the preparation of individuals to become professors.

Classic Perspectives

There are a few classic volumes everyone should read about higher education. The nineteenth century book by John Henry Newman, The Idea of a University, ed. Frank M. Turner (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996) is the starting point for nearly every commentary on the modern university and its purpose in society. Clark Kerr’s The Uses of the University (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1963) is considered by most to be the foundational document for the modern research university, emphasizing the idea of the “multiversity,” complex organizations serving many different groups and supporting many different purposes. For a more recent revisiting of the Newman classic, see Jaroslav Pelikan, The Idea of the University: A Reexamination (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992); the Pelikan book should also be required reading.

Jacques Barzun, who lived longer than most of us, penned a number of influential books and essays about higher education, its mission, and its shifting fortunes. My favorite one is The House of Intellect, originally published in 1959 and reissued in 2002 with a new introduction. Barzun, in a manner seeming to be very current, addresses the challenge of what a university offers to society in the way of learning and knowledge production: “Though millions have literacy and hundreds of thousands have ‘education,’ plus the rudiments of a profession, it becomes harder and harder to find the few tens of thousands who are willing, let alone eager, to attend to intellectual matters” (p. 13). We have shifted farther into vocational training over the nearly six decades since Barzun published his book, reminding us that the problems we now face are the result of a long process.

Religion and the University

At the heart of Newman’s classic was religion as one of the pillars of the university. He is not the only one who has written about this. Warren A. Nord, Religion and American Education: Rethinking a National Dilemma (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995) examines the debates and controversies of this relationship as part of the culture wars then raging twenty years ago. A thorough historical analysis of religion in American higher education can be found in George M. Marsden, The Soul of the American University: From Protestant Establishment to Established Nonbelief (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994). Some scholars, such as Stanley Hauerwas, The State of the University: Academic Knowledges and the Knowledge of God (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2007) and George Marsden, The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), have attempted to make arguments about theology and religious perspectives as having legitimate places within the university.

From the Inside Looking Out

We should not be surprised that many former university and college presidents and other administrators have provided commentaries on the purpose and nature of these institutions. Many of these are collections of addresses given while they were in their academic positions, and, while interesting and sometimes useful, they are mostly not worth too much attention. There are exceptions. Donald Kennedy’s Academic Duty (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997) lays out the essential contributions universities provide to society, such as teaching, providing research, and telling the truth.

One of the most prolific commentators on higher education has been Derek Bok, a former president of Harvard University. From my perspective, his most important book is Universities in the Marketplace: The Commercialization of Higher Education (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003), one of the earliest assessments of the emerging corporate university. Bok considers the implications of the new corporate model on athletics, scientific research, teaching, and the role of the university in society, with some disturbing conclusions but some possible hope as well. Every book about this topic Bok has commented on and amplified his arguments. Bok also provided a kind of summing up of his perspective of American higher education in his Higher Education in America (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013), examining the origins of higher education, the nature of undergraduate education and then graduate education, the research function, and the issues challenging the continuing value of the universities. Another outstanding analysis of the corporate university is Gaye Tuchman, Wannabe U: Inside the Corporate University (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009), a detailed account of one university and how the corporate model has transformed it.

The Rise of and Controversy About the Corporate University

The notion of the corporate university has become the locus of debate about higher education. Some, such as sociologist Stanley Aronowitz, The Knowledge Factory: Dismantling the Corporate University and Creating True Higher Learning (Boston: Beacon Press, 2000), have posited plans to end the corporate university, taking on the current educational enterprise’s loss of any sense of the differences between “education, training, and learning” (p. 158). Others have addressed other contested areas, such as the control of intellectual property, as in Corynne McSherry, Who Owns Academic Work? Battling for Control of Intellectual Property (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001).

The Endangered Humanities and Liberal Arts

One of the casualties of the new corporate university has been any sense of the value of liberal arts, lost amidst the intense vocationalism and stress on getting good paying jobs. The role of the humanities and the liberal arts has been under much discussion and is the topic of many books. Here is a sampling: Frank Donoghue, The Last Professors: The Corporate University and the Fate of the Humanities (New York: Fordham University Press, 2008); Victor E. Ferrall, Jr., Liberal Arts on the Brink (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011); Martha C. Nussbaum, Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010); Mark William Roche, Why Choose the Liberal Arts? (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 2010); Michael S. Roth, Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matters (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014); Helen Small, The Value of the Humanities (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013); and Fareed Zakaria, In Defense of a Liberal Education (New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 2015). These books represent many different views about the importance of the humanities and the cost to society and students of its diminution in the curriculum.

Professional Schools

There have been some outstanding studies about the origins and subsequent development of professional schools in the university, including Rakesh Khurana, From Higher Aims to Hired Hands: The Social Transformation of American Business Schools and the Unfulfilled Promise of Management as a Profession (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007), stressing how schools moved away from their primary goals to create and sustain a profession to merely market the MBA as a product; Neil Henry’s American Carnival: Journalism Under Siege in an Age of New Media (Berkley: University of California Press, 2007) evaluates how the proliferation of new media has undermined professional journalism and the schools preparing journalists; David Labaree, The Trouble with Ed Schools (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006), is a detailed account of the challenges that such professional schools face in preparing teachers, connecting to educators and education associations, and securing a relevant role in the university; and Brian Z. Tamanaha, Failing Law Schools (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012), evaluates the problems these schools have had in sustaining themselves and placing their graduates. One would expect that in the modern corporate university that professional schools would thrive, but these studies suggest otherwise.

Teaching

Teaching has always been one of the core functions of the professorate, but it also been the subjects of much soul-searching and debate. Should teaching be restored as the central responsibility of the faculty? One of the best sources on higher education is the University of Chicago Guides to Academic Life, providing basic handbooks on all facets of the academy. Alan Binkley, et al, eds., The Chicago Handbook for Teachers: A Practical Guide to the College Classroom, 2nd edition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011) is a good example of this series with advice on everything from preparing a syllabus to delivering lectures and administering tests.

Not surprisingly, teaching has continued to be a major topic for reflection and advice. Ken Bain, What the Best College Teachers Do (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004) is the result of a multi-year study of what award-winning academic teachers do, offering lots of cogent advice for anyone embarking on an academic career. Given that one of the weakest aspects of preparing doctoral students for academic careers is in the area of teaching, this is a very valuable and useful book. Other notable and user-friendly books about teaching include James M. Banner, Jr., and Harold C. Cannon, The Elements of Teaching (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997); Mark Edmundson, Why Teach? In Defense of a Real Education (New York: Bloomsbury, 2013); and Jay Parini, The Art of Teaching (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005). One academic commentator, Leonard Cassuto, The Graduate School Mess: What Caused It and How We can Fix It (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2015), even goes so far as to argue that the source of the problems in graduate education stem from an over-emphasis on research and ignoring teaching and offers solutions to amend matters. Gerald Graff, a professor of English and Education, has offered two interesting books on the topic of teaching. Beyond the Culture Wars: How Teaching the Conflicts Can Revitalize American Education (New York: W. W. Norton, 1992) is one of many texts addressing the challenge for universities in the hey day of the culture wars, but it also offers up some timeless advice for those reflecting on teaching. Graf’s Clueless in Academe: How Schooling Obscures the Life of the Mind (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003) is an argument for making ideas more intelligible not just for students but for others. Michael Bérubé, What’s Liberal About the Liberal Arts? Classroom Politices and “Bias” in Higher Education (New York: W. W. Norton, 2006) explores what goes on in the classroom, addressing the many critiques about how faculty supposedly indoctrinate students in liberal political agendas. Some academics have called for a return to a focus on teaching, rather than research, as the most important aspect of higher education, such as Mark C. Taylor, Crisis on Campus: A Bold Plan for Reforming Our Colleges and Universities (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2010) and Charles Muscatine, Fixing College Education: A New Curriculum for the Twenty-First Centure (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2009), the latter castigating the traditional publish-or-perish mentality and calling for research that supports teaching.

Some aspects of teaching, such as forged student papers and plagiarism, have been the focus of considerable hand-wringing and discussion. The most important and well-balanced book on the topic is Susan D. Blum, My Word! Plagiarism and College Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2009), offering not only surprising revelations about the extent of cheating but insights into a student and university culture that fosters such actions. Jeffrey Alfred Ruth, Papers for Pay: Confessions of an Academic Forger (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland and Co., 2015) offers a unique, and disturbing, picture of fraudulent student writing. Others, such as James M. Lang, Cheating Lessons: Learning from Academic Dishonesty (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2013), try to show ways of turning student dishonesty into better learning opportunities.

Teaching has also been subsumed into the debates about distance education. It is fair to say that the intensity of the debates increased with David F. Noble’s polemic, Digital Diploma Mills: The Automation of Higher Education (New York: Monthly Review Press, n.d.). He made many good points in his critique. At the other extreme has come the very positive predictions about how online education will transform the university, such as Taylor Walsh, Unlocking the Gates: How and Why Leading Universities Are Opening Up Access to Their Courses (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011).

Academic Research

The literature on academic research is both deep and broad. There has been much written about the failure of academics to reach the broader public. A seminal writing that generated lots of responses, and continues to spur on debate, is Russell Jacoby’s The Last Intellectuals: American Culture in the Age of Academe (New York: Noonday Press, 1987), lamenting the disappearance of the “public intellectual” and diminution by highly specialized academics primarily writing for each other. While Jacoby gives us a polemic, Thomas Bender, Intellect and Public Life: Essays on the Social History of Academic Intellectuals in the United States (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993) provides a series of case studies demonstrating a rich history where academic scholars have engaged the public. Others have made cogent arguments about why and how academics need to engage in research that is relevant to society, such as David Damrosch, We Scholars: Changing the Culture of the University (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995) and Edward W. Said, Representations of the Intellectual: The 1993 Reith Lectures (New York: Vintage, 1994). Thomas Sowell’s Intellectuals and Society (New York: Basic Books, 2009) offers an assessment of the successes and failures of public scholars.

There is also a substantial literature on how to make academics more productive scholars. Some of these primers focus on the volume of writing, such as W. Brad Johnson and Carol A. Mullen, Write to the Top! How to Become a Prolific Academic (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007) and Paul J. Silvia, How to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing (Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association, 2007). There is also a strong literature on how academics can write better and for broader audiences, led by Helen Sword, Stylish Academic Writing (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2012), covering a number of different disciplines (and definitely becoming required reading for all academics). There are also some excellent discipline-specific guides, such as Eric Hayot, The Elements of Academic Style: Writing for the Humanities (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014) and Stephen J. Pyne, Voice and Vision: A Guide to Writing History and Other Serious Nonfiction (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009).

The Joy of Being An Academic

The nature of the literature about higher education is a complex one, ranging from stinging rebukes and critiques to celebrated defenses. There are, as well, occasional love letters to the academy. James Axtell’s The Pleasures of Academe: A Celebration and Defense of Higher Education (Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 1998) is one of the best examples of the latter. Axtell, a scholar on early American life, assembles all of the positive aspects of being a professor, chronicling it in an amusing and engaging fashion. For other examples, see Randy Pausch with Jeffrey Zaslow, The Last Lecture (New York: Hyperion, 2008), a summing up of his academic career and aspirations as he was terminally ill, and Marjorie Garber, Academic Instincts (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001). An interesting contribution to writings about the nature of the academic’s life is Maggie Berg and Barbara K. Seeber, The Slow Professor: Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2016), offering advice about how to recapture a more reflective academic career (many will be skeptical that it is possible to ever do this, but it is worth contemplating).

The Ethical University

As universities have become more corporate in culture and approach, the matter of ethics in these institutions has become an important issue. An early contribution to this topic, now in an updated version, is Steven M. Cahn, Saints and Scamps: Ethics in Academia; 25th Anniversary Edition (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2011). The MBA Oath movement, an effort to revitalize the discussion of ethics in business schools, is documented by Max Anderson and Peter Escher, The MBA Oath: Setting a Higher Standard for Business Leaders (New York: Portfolio, 2010). Nannerl O. Keohane, Higher Ground: Ethics and Leadership in the Modern University (Durham: Duke University Press, 2006) is an interesting collection of candid reports and addresses by this individual while she was president of Wellesley College and Duke University. Harry R. Lewis, Excellence Without Soul: How a Great University Forgot Education (New York: Public Affairs, 2006) charts how the notion of educating students to function as citizens in society has been lost (the great university he writes about is Harvard). Julie A. Reuben’s The Making of the Modern University: Intellectual Transformation and the Marginaliztion of Morality (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996) provides an interesting historical orientation to how the university has dealt with the topic of truth, knowledge, and objectivity. Elizabeth Kiss and J. Peter Euben, eds., Debating Moral Education: Rethinking the Role of the Modern University (Durham: Duke University Press, 2010) reveals how universities have become more interested in ethics and moral issues, establishing research centers, offering more courses, and encouraging a greater sensitivity to such issues. William Deresiewicz, Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way of a Meaningful Life (New York: Free Press, 2014) is a book that received a lot of attention, stimulating debate about the purpose of higher education. Andrew Delbanco, College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012), defends the role of higher education in helping individuals become better informed citizens and laments that such education is in grave danger. Another similar book, trying to get to the basic purpose of higher education, is Anthony T. Kronman, Education’s End: Why Our Colleges and Universities Have Given Up on the Meaning of Life (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007).

Guides to Being Successful

As with most fields, we have a number of guides to how to be successful in the academy such as Steven M. Cahn, From Student to Scholar: A Candid Guide to Becoming a Professor (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008). Frank F. Furstenberg, Behind the Academic Curtain: How to Find Success and Happiness with a PhD (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013) is a highly readable, commonsensical approach to academic life. There are a number of basic handbooks, such as A. Leigh Deneef and Craufurd D. Goodwin, eds., The Academic’s Handbook, 2nd ed (Durham: Duke University Press, 1995), with advice on every conceivable aspect of the academy. Karen Kelsky, The Professor Is In: The Essential Guide to Turning Your Ph.D. Into a Job (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2015) is a candid and at times irreverent advice book.

Academic Freedom

The academic freedom of faculty is a much discussed and debated topic. Stanley Fish, Versions of Academic Freedom: From Professionalism to Revolution (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014) provides a nice, and typical of Fish, opinionated overview of the topic. Matthew W. Finkin and Robert C. Post, For the Common Good: Principles of American Academic Freedom (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009) provides a useful introduction to the parameters of academic freedom, some that Fish challenges. The former president of the American Association of University Professors, Cary Nelson, presents his views about threats to such freedom in his No University is an Island: Saving Academic Freedom (New York: New York University Press, 2010). This is a good place to start, examining the variety of perspectives on this and critiquing each one. The intensifying use of digital systems for everything from teaching to publishing has also generated some additional academic freedom issues, as discussed by Robert O’Neil, Academic Freedom in the Wired World: Political Extremism, Corporate Power, and the University (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2008). Some particular cases are worth exploring. Classicist Mary Lefkowitz, the author of Not Out of Africa: How Afrocentrism Became An Excuse to Teach Myth as History (New York: Basic Books, 1996), became the target for her views, an experience she describes in her History Lesson: A Race Odyssey (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008). Another example of this can be seen in the acrimonious debates in the 1990s about the teaching of history, nicely captured in Gary B. Nash, Charlotte Crabtree, and Ross E. Dunn, History on Trial: Culture Wars and the Teaching of the Past (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997) and Peter N. Stearns, Meaning Over Memory: Recasting the Teaching of Culture and History (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1993).

The Changing Roles of Faculty

The role of faculty has undergone considerable change in the university, especially in the past few decades. The decline of tenured faculty and the growth of administrative staff has been the topic of considerable discussion, such as in Benjamin Ginsberg, The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why It Matters (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011). There have been many explorations into what some perceive to be the declining influence of faculty, such as Mary Burgan, What Ever Happened to the Faculty? Drift and Decision in Higher Education (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006), written from the perspective of a humanities professor. William G. Bowen and Eugene M. Tobin, Locus of Authority: The Evolution of Faculty Roles in the Governance of Higher Education (New York: Ithaka and Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015) is a carefully argued history of how the faculty roles have changed and how they need to continue to change in order to enable universities to resolve present challenges.

Fictionalizing the Academic Life

Many academics have tried their hand at writing fictional accounts of their lives and jobs, and we all have our favorite examples. Elaine Showalter, Faculty Towers: The Academic Novel and Its Discontents (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 2005) demonstrates that such writing is a way of coming to terms with the many frustrations that faculty have with the modern university. Every faculty member has his or her favorite academic novel or mystery, usually with writers such as David Lodge, Jane Smiley, and Alexander MacCall Smith included on the list.

A Concluding Personal Note

As I noted at the beginning of this post, what is here is part of the process of my wrapping up my academic career. I suspect I will continue to think and write about higher education when I am retired. At the least my present plans include maintaining this blog.

The Value of Books

In terms of books, we live in uncertain times. After decades of claims that the printed book is dead, some accept this as a fact (when, of course, the printed boo is alive and well). After a generation of additional claims that we, because of the Web, are the most informed people in history, some, myself included, remain dubious; many, such as Nicholas Carr, are concerned that our browsing on the Web has even affected in a negative way our cognitive abilities.

There is a regular stream of books about the value of books, printed and digital. A recent example is Will Schwalbe, Books for Living (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2017). Schwalbe’s tome, like others of this genre, is a highly personalized account of books that have meant something to him. Reading about his examples will make you think about books that you value, either by repeated rereading or just as continuing inspiration. It prompted me to think about books that remain an influence in my life, such as Richard Hofstader’s Antiintellualism in American Life, and authors, such as Henry Petroski, Witold Rybczynski, Rebecca Solnit, and Neil Postman, who I find myself revisiting on a regular basis.

Schwalbe makes assertions about why books are important, such as follows:

“I believe that everything you need to know you can find in a book” (p. 11).

“I also believe that there is no book so bad that you can’t find anything in it of interest” (p. 11).

Schwalbe declares himself to be a “Reader” and calls his book a “manifesto” for readers – “Because Think we need to read and to be readers now more than ever” (p. 13).

I concur with his assessment. In a sense, my blog is a similar manifesto, the reason why I devote so much attention to books being published, not just in my fields but ones that I think have implications for how I understand the role of archives and higher education in our society. If I offer nothing more to my students than that reading books is something that is important, I am confident that I have taught them something.

Archives and Time

I have long imagined that an interesting research topic would be to investigate how the development of archival repositories related to the growing awareness of time and its measurement. Pursuing this interest, I enjoy reading new publications on the topic of time.

I recently read James Gleick, Time Travel: A History (New York: Pantheon Books, 2016), a wonderfully typical Gleick monograph, drawing on fiction, cinema, television, science, philosophy, the humanities, and so forth to provide an engaging exploration of how we have seen time. It is interesting to me that Gleick does not discuss archives; the closest he gets to it is time capsules.

Yet, some of his discourse gets close to how we view archives: “Why do we need time travel, when we already travel through space so far and fast? For history. For mystery. For nostalgia. For hope. To examine our potential and explore our memories. To counter regret for the life we lived, the only life, one dimension, beginning to end” (p. 295). This sounds very much like the kind of activities we associate with archives. Certainly archivists who read this book will think of other ways that time travel connects to the use of archives and their purposes. After all, anyone coming into an archives to do research is engaged in a form of time travel.

By the way, I doubt I ever will get to writing about archives and time due, you guessed it, to a lack of time.

Flight 93 Memorial and Archives

On an extremely cold day in early February I visited the Flight 93 memorial near Shankstown in Western Pennsylvania. I can’t say that I learned anything new about the events surrounding the crash of that plane, but I did learn a lot about the nature of memorials and how they differ from archives. What I saw was homage to American patriotism and all the myths we seem to accept.

Alexander T. Riley, Angel Patriots: The Crash of United Flight 93 and the Myth of America (New York: New York University Press, 2015), a volume I picked up in the gift shop at the memorial, helped me sort through this. Riley, a sociologist, places the memorial within the notion of civil religion, the need for ritual, and the Christian hero-martyr. While archivists have adopted memory as an element of their mission, there is a big difference between monuments and archives. Riley states, “A memorial is, among other things, a mask. Its primary task is to hide the horror of the event it memorializes; more specifically, it cloaks the destructive effect the event had on the bodies of the dead, In this and other ways, a memorial calls us to forget as much as to remember” (p. 115). This is very different than what an archives is intended to do, in gathering the evidence, warts and all, relating to an event, an individual, or a place.

Here is another assessment of the memorial: “Ultimately, the intent of Flight 93 mythologization is not to help us remember the aspects of September 11, 2001, that cannot be reduced to the contours of the American hero myth, but rather to help us forget our vulnerability and our weakness and to thereby return us quickly as possible to our normal lives” (p. 286). The purpose of an archives is to help us remember and, more importantly, to understand. And, with this, there is a gap between the purposes of memorials and archives.

What’s Needed for Democracy

 

We are seeing more and more resistance to what is happening in Washington, D.C. Rebecca Solnit recently wrote, “Democracy thrives best in a society whose water is drinkable, whose schools impart a decent education, whose citizens have adequate incomes and hope for the future. People have less time, less energy, and fewer resources to participate in civic life when they lack reliable access to food and shelter, when they are overworked and scrambling to stay afloat, when they have been burdened with immense debt by the cost of an education or housing or health care, when they have been criminalized, marginalized, terrorized”; “Tyranny of the Minority,” Harper’s (March 2917), pp. 5-6.

We could add to this list that it is also essential to have access to government and corporate information in order to have transparency; read the Declaration of Independence and the original list of complaints against the King.