Don’t miss Anthony Grafton’s The Nutty Professors: the history of academic charisma, a review of William Clark’s Academic Charisma and the Origins of the Research University, in this week’s New Yorker, especially if the opening paragraph draws a rueful chuckle or a wince:
Anyone who has ever taught at a college or university must have had this experience. You’re in the middle of something that you do every day: standing at a lectern in a dusty room, for example, lecturing to a roomful of teen-agers above whom hang almost visible clouds of hormones; or running a seminar, hoping to find the question that will make people talk even though it’s spring and no one has done the reading; or sitting in a department meeting as your colleagues act out their various professional identities, the Russian historians spreading gloom, the Germanists accidentally taking Poland, the Asianists grumbling about Western ignorance and lack of civility, and the Americanists expressing surprise at the idea that the world has other continents. Suddenly, you find yourself wondering, like Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim, how you can possibly be doing this. Why, in the age of the World Wide Web, do professors still stand at podiums and blather for fifty minutes at unruly mobs of students, their lowered baseball caps imperfectly concealing the sleep buds that rim their eyes? Why do professors and students put on polyester gowns and funny hats and march, once a year, in the uncertain glory of the late spring? Why, when most of our graduate students are going to work as teachers, do we make them spend years grinding out massive, specialized dissertations, which, when revised and published, may reach a readership that numbers in the high two figures? These activities seem both bizarre and disconnected, from one another and from modern life, and it’s no wonder that they often provoke irritation, not only in professional pundits but also in parents, potential donors, and academic administrators.
(thanks to Kerim at Savage Minds)