Tuesday, February 05, 2008

The Tenured Life, Part 4: Anti-intellectualism

As discussed so far, the the tenure life can mean rewards for poor teaching, less writing, and small ideas. It aslo leads to anti intellectualism. What do I mean by anti intellectual or intellectual? I have no idea if this is an official definition but for me it means that all ideas are explored, all questions asked, and the answers respected. I do not mean they become a guides to life but they are faced up to rather than discounted. All of this takes place even if it is morally and socially uncomfortable. And, principally an intellectual is not only interested in questions and answers that are self-referential.

Anti intellectualism may exist in all fields but in law it is particularly widespread. If ask what their specialities many law professors answer not with an topic but with the name of a, generally well-intented, political movement -- race, women's rights, environmental law, law and economics, ADR. How can these be areas of "scholarship" when nearly everyone is preaching to the choir, one must hold certain beliefs to be part of the research circle, and the goals lean more toward the promotion of ideas as opposed to their analysis? The literature in these "fields" reads more like position papers than the work of open minded researchers. In all of these areas some answers are unacceptable and any question that would lead to one of these answers is not asked. In the world of legal research a statement can be supported by citing the fact that someone else said it. It really does not matter as long as it was in print somewhere.

How is this a product of tenure? Tenure allows individual to persue self-referential research goals. A tenured professor has freedom and that generally means ignoring all interests other than self-interest.

I am indebted to one of the very few true intellectuals I know for showing me this from Noam Chomsky: "The professional guild structure in the social sciences, I think, has often served as a marvelous device for protecting them from insight and understanding, for filtering out people who raise unacceptable questions, for limiting reseach -- not by force, but by all sorts of more subtle means -- to questions that are not threatening."

Noam, take a look at legal research!

1 comment:

Greg N. said...

See the treatment of E.O. Wilson and sociobiology by American Marxists as evidence of anti-intellectualism in academia.