Joseph F. Duggan
Over the course of the summer there were several blog and Facebook posts on the decline of the U.S. American university. The majority of these posts addressed the sharp increase in the number of adjuncts and the significant decrease in faculty receiving tenure. Based on commentary garnered from Facebook it seems that many PhD students cautiously wonder if they should continue with expensive doctoral programs when there will be fewer jobs. To be sure, there are jobs, but they are not the jobs that have been available in the past.
In my Founder’s Blog post this month I want to reframe these posts describing the decline of the U.S. American university. I will reflect on the way the identity of the scholar is changing in universities around the world. It is necessary to address larger questions on the shifting identity of the university to appreciate the full potential benefit of the changes ahead. Unfortunately, the positive potential of changes at universities was not immediately apparent in the summer posts by bloggers who mourned the loss of traditional university career tracks.
Social media, global telecommunications, and networks of scholarly exchange have been the key influencers that have shaped and will continue to shape the emergent scholar’s identity. The majority of what follows will compare and contrast the characteristics of the traditional scholar and the new generation of scholars. As you will quickly see the new generation of scholars is already pursuing different career trajectories than their doctoral supervisors and mentors.
I will conclude my post with a very hopeful commentary on the decolonizing impact of changes underway in universities. I will reframe the way these changes have been described as a sign of decline and loss in order to highlight their capacity to foster increased access that will further enable the decolonization of university education and academic publishing.
Current University Context
The corporatization of universities has been credited with the majority of major cultural and organizational changes taking place within universities. Likewise corporate influence has been blamed for a decline in genuine scholarship and loss of career tracks. I argue that such an assessment gives these corporate leaders far too much credit. Universities have been changing long before corporate leaders arrived. Those seeking to decolonize universities so that universities no longer exist as the exclusive and presumptive epistemic center of knowledge production have facilitated the most important changes. The most innovative universities and scholars are part of collaborative research networks beyond the university context, beyond anti-creative borders.
Major universities around the world historically flourished in tenure-based systems. At the same time these tenure processes marginalized other scholars. Some scholars never even got to the table because they did not have access to begin their journeys with the requisite privilege. Some scholarship like postcolonial studies has suffered from the absence of these scholars’ alternative memories, which have not yet been told, written, or performed in ways that could shape a different dominant narrative.
Changing Identity of Scholars
Postcolonial Networks is one of the organizations leading in many of the recently emerging scholar identity changes, as we seek to reorient the postcolonial studies discipline toward a more truly decolonial and accessible tenor. Along with many other scholars our Postcolonial Networks team members are living into the shifts noted below. The changes are sometimes unsettling! At the same time the changes will continue and there will be substantial gains for those once excluded from academia and the privileges of scholarly publishing.
Here is a summation of the major scholar identity changes that I have observed grouped under the categories of traditional university scholar/faculty and new generation scholar:
Traditional University Scholar/Faculty New Generation Scholar
Assistant professor to professor track Independent contactor
Full-time post Part-time, bi-vocational
Single-source salary with benefits Multiply sourced salaries
PhD authorizes voice Experience authorizes voice
Pen and paper as primary instruments Laptop, web, and apps are tools
Conceptual thinker Praxis informs theory in cycle
Solitary researcher and author Community member
Self-directed research Collaborative, networked
Single-discipline focus Interdisciplinary focus
Amends canon and tradition Changes the discipline
Researches single question Intersectional questions
Regional and national professional societies Global professional societies
Proprietary research Open access
Publisher markets author’s books Scholar responsible for brand
Books written for elite few Translates, impact for many
Complexify ideas for the few Complexify then simplify
Publish in prestigious journals (long wait time) Publish immediately online
Slow-paced writing Sense of urgency
Linear focus with one project at a time Multiple projects
Poorly organized Very organized
Consistently procrastinates submissions On-time submissions
Students are “colonial” subjects Mutual/collegial learning
Classroom is stage Online, global teaching
Parochial citations of elite Indigenous citations
Euro-Western lens Race, class, and gender
Funded by major foundations Self-funded
Few master scholars Scholars master together
Letters and emails Skype conferencing
Facebook is a distraction Facebook networking
Significant admin responsibilities Admin contracted
Minimal time to mentor Mentoring mutual
Limited time to write Writing is norm
The list of characteristics of traditional faculty versus the new generation of scholars could easily go on for another page or two. In the future there will be both traditional scholars and new generation scholars. Disciplines need some traditional scholars. The argument I am making is that there is an important paradigmatic shift underway with the reduction in tenure-based faculty roles and more adjuncts. The shift is unsettling for some but very hopeful too.
The Broader Impact of Scholar Identity Changes
When the university has been described to be in decline the story has tended to be one-sided. The villains of the story are the new corporate leaders running universities and the victims are the non-tenured faculty and the university’s students. During significant systemic change the focus is typically on the ones perceived to have initiated said change. The anger is directed at the most visible change agents. However, the corporate leaders of universities represent only one change catalyst amidst many other changes and change agents already noted above. Indeed, these corporate university leaders are unaware that they too are part of a change process more expansive than their vision. Some of the changes these corporate leaders have made will inadvertently pave the way for major shifts that will dramatically open up universities and their historical culture of exclusionary privilege.
I predict that the cultural changes underway at many universities coupled with other market and global changes will produce scholars that university corporate leaders never envisioned. I believe that it will take another decade before the changes taking place in universities will be seen as a major advance not a step backward.
I see the changes underway at universities very differently perhaps because I am not an actor in the conventional system of scholarship. The changes I see on the horizon will come to fruition very soon and will benefit the further decolonization of the university.
Changes to Universities and Academic Publishers Foster Open Access
With fewer tenured faculty there will be far less incentives for scholars to wait two or more years to be published in the few elite peer-review journals in their discipline. If more and more scholars withdraw from these “long wait” processes then the major academic publishers will need to address their market pricing. Right now a handful of academic publishers have a secured market on academic publishing of journals and books. Without tenure points from specific prestigious journals, I predict that the majority of scholars will publish their work as soon as their manuscripts and articles are of excellent quality, meeting all peer-review requirements.
Traditional scholars too often equate urgency to publish with mediocrity. The new generation of scholars will write about questions that have urgent praxis ramifications that are too pressing to be stalled unnecessarily. They will not wait three years to publish their thought in journals that only an elite few read. The disciplines for which the new generation of scholars write and the questions these scholars address are changing so quickly that sitting on unpublished scholarship would be a severe error in their scholarly judgment.
The Journal of Postcolonial Networks is well positioned to serve the cultural shift in scholarly publishing. Open-access journals and the availability of cost-reducing publishing efforts will also greatly reduce the cost of academic texts. However, note that many online, open-access journals still manage themselves as traditional journals with traditional slow processes. The Journal of Postcolonial Networks and the new collective genre of publishing that is Postcolonial Networks follow the scholarly processes of the new generation where quality and urgency are not at odds. The Postcolonial Networks team is constantly reviewing our processes and infrastructure to support the new generation of scholars.
Unless the major academic publishers similarly begin to adapt their organizational culture and processes to these changes underway in universities they too will be adversely impacted. I predict that we will begin to see the consolidation of university presses. Today most university presses struggle and survive due almost exclusively to major financial support and underwriting from their universities. Without substantive organizational changes the major academic publishers will begin to merge and consolidate or go out of business. Through multimedia and global technologies more quality scholarship will be produced in a multiplicity of places for less. These kinds of changes have already taken place in other parts of the communications industry. There were once a handful of major newspapers and television news channels but now there are too many to count supplemented by a proliferation of online media that deliver news.
When the central power of four major publishers and twenty elite university presses begins to shift then who has the privilege to be at the table will also change.
Rapid Change Underway
The changes I predict are already in process. Some of the changes are visible by looking at the characteristics of the new generation of scholars I outlined above. If you look at the second set of characteristics your best students in class perform in these ways. For the most part the university and its faculty did not train and form this new PhD scholar. The new generation PhD was shaped by the prevalence of social media that has connected these scholars to people, places, and ideas around the world.
The next generation of scholars will not be satisfied by the staid culture of traditional academia and its rewards separated as they are from all that inspires these emerging scholars. The new generation will not trade on privilege to serve the needs of the elite few. The new generation will not submit to onerous administrative burdens that delay and postpone their scholarly and ethical passions.
Globally connected scholars no longer have the “privilege” of securing themselves in their own elite benefits. The new generation of scholars will be more proximate to hear the cry of the poor, to meet subalterns, and to share space with scholars around the world. The diversity of the scholars at the table will further decolonize knowledge that once exclusively served the masters of empire and the narratives they produced.
Abundant Hope for the Future
The new world of scholarship is demanding and comes with unprecedented challenges. In the long-term I see students and faculty changing the university from a colonial privilege for the select few to a multi-portal social influencer.
Many new generation scholars will create their success outside the halls of the traditional university. I see the next generation of scholars flourishing in many other roles other than the traditional tenure tracks. Postcolonial Networks is one career alternative where we are actively leading change in the postcolonial studies discipline. I do Postcolonial Networks through a bi-vocational career path so that for now I am able to self-fund my voluntary participation. My voluntary participation in Postcolonial Networks along with that of my other colleagues is rooted in our shared entrepreneurial investment in future prospects of alternative and alternatively compensated career tracks. I know of other scholars who have made similar choices to use their PhDs in numerously creative ways.
I acknowledge and celebrate the major paradigm shift underway! Don’t be distracted by those summer posts on the decline of the university. The opportunities for scholars—and really for all engaged learners—have never been more exciting. Want to learn more about the way you might adapt to these changes? Contact me!
Joseph F. Duggan, PhD, is founder of Postcolonial Networks.