Friday, October 17, 2008

More About Professors

Again, I have brought you today's news yesterday. (Three days ago to be exact.)

University Diaries links to a meandering article written by a UVa professor, which laments how professors are misunderstood and yet describes professors as fantastically diverse. UD explains it better than I can. However, she overlooks one paragraph that's important.

Americans assume, with little justification, that academics are merely academic; that is, we don't have many real-world skills or perspectives. But that simply is not true. Most academic research focuses on real-world challenges like curing cancer, limiting climate change, running an efficient economy, saving old languages, understanding racism, improving crop yields, and predicting the weather.

Even if I grant that most professors research real-world problems, too often they approach the problems from theoretical, abstract perspectives. These lead to impractical recommendations that have little to no relevance to the real-world. Let's think about one of the author's examples of real-world research -- saving old languages. This is not a practical endeavor. It is a romantic undertaking. If the language was useful to enough people, then it wouldn't be saving. Now, I agree that all languages, and indeed all human knowledge, has value, but I wonder if saving some ancient, obscure language is truly a real-world project. Yes, the language exists in the real-world, but so do all things. Therefore, this is not much of a distinction. In the real-world, people are practical and use their limit resources as best they can. The real-world has little time for romantic notions of saving languages with little practical value.

So, from my perspective, this article is a rambling attempt to disprove the idea that the adjective professorial should not be an insult, which 1) never needed to be written because professorial, if an insult is a astonishingly mild one, and 2) exemplifies the very disconnect with society that the author claims professor do not have.

I've been knocking professors a lot lately, but don't get me wrong. I like most of them a great deal. They are simply odd ducks.

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