End of Universities April 28, 2009Posted by Andre Vellino in Citation.
There are two elements in this article that concerned me. One is the dismissive criticism of one of his colleague’s student thesis topic as trivial:
Each academic becomes the trustee not of a branch of the sciences, but of limited knowledge that all too often is irrelevant for genuinely important problems. A colleague recently boasted to me that his best student was doing his dissertation on how the medieval theologian Duns Scotus used citations.
Presumably professor Taylor is not bothered that a Ph.D. student in a religion department is studying Duns Scotus – one of the most important philosophers of the middle ages. It must be, then, that he thinks it is not important to be studying how Scotus is using citations.
I know enough about citation analysis to be confident that professor Taylor is being dismissive too hastily. I wish this graduate student well in his or her use of a 21st century tool to discover new things about Scotus that were heretofore unknown about his thinking.
The other remark which I thought was ill conceived is the argument that Universities should:
Abolish permanent departments, even for undergraduate education, and create problem-focused programs. These constantly evolving programs would have sunset clauses, and every seven years each one should be evaluated and either abolished, continued or significantly changed. It is possible to imagine a broad range of topics around which such zones of inquiry could be organized: Mind, Body, Law, Information, Networks, Language, Space, Time, Media, Money, Life and Water.
Professor Taylor appears not to have headed the advice about categories in David Weinberger’s book Everything is Miscellaneous. It is indeed possible to imagine not just a “broad range” of topics, but a virtually infinite range of “zones of inquiry”, each equally worthy of consideration.
Furthermore, getting academics to agree on even on one set of such topics within which to fit their work would be an interminable excercise. Take the citation analysis of Duns Scotus’ work, for instance. It arguably belongs equally to “Information” or “Networks” or “Language” or, in categories not yet mentioned, such as the more traditional “Mathematics” or “Philosophy” or “Library Science”.
Besides, who would decide which categories are the relavent ones? The government of the day? In that case would professor Taylor have wanted to apply for grant funding under the topic “Anti-Terrorism” in the past 8 years?