No Tenure, Incorrect Citations, And Queer Studies

– The chancellor of the Washington D.C. public school system is considering a dual-track system of employment – one with lower pay and traditional job protections, and one with higher pay, fewer protections, and greater chances for raises. Richard Vedder suggests the same for universities:

..You can either go for job security or for higher income. The reasoning is that tenure imposes costs, most of them implicit and hidden, that are very real. Universities have a terrible time shifting resources to meet changing needs. It is hard to fire teachers of medieval history and hire experts in nanotechnology – even if it makes great sense to do so. Tenure breads arrogance and an unwillingness to obey university policies or even laws. It allows mediocre teachers to continue to do little, seemingly forever. So why not consider tenure a fringe benefit, but put a limit on the amount of fringe benefits available to each faculty member – forcing a choice between, say, a Lexus style insurance policy and no tenure or a low cost insurance policy and the possibility of gaining tenure (and, ultimately, the awarding of it).

– Andy Guess writes at Inside Higher Ed, about a recent study of citation errors in academic papers,”The Ombudsman: Verification of Citations: Fawlty Towers of Knowledge?” published in Interfaces. A sample of their findings:
As it turns out, scholars have already done some work quantifying problem citations, divided into two categories, “incorrect references” and “quotation errors.” The authors of the paper, J. Scott Armstrong of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and Malcolm Wright of the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute at the University of South Australia, Adelaide, write of the former type, “This problem has been extensively studied in the health literature… 31 percent of the references in public health journals contained errors, and three percent of these were so severe that the referenced material could not be located.”
– A revealing piece at the History News Network: “Is Queer History History With An Agenda? Sure.”By Vicki L. Eaklor. Eaklor’s just authored Queer America: A GLBT History of the 20th Century. She has some frank comments about objectivity and her efforts.

The idea that scholars on the left are the only ones to have agendas is as disingenuous as it is ironic. In the 19th century, U. S. history, the nation’s self-image, and public schooling developed simultaneously and as part and parcel of each other. Stories of the 19th century, as we know, were about nations, not people, and what postmodernists call the Grand Narrative arose, developed by historians like George Bancroft. Its outlines are familiar: the United States had a mission, ordained by a Protestant God, to serve as an example that a republic devoted to liberty and equality could survive. The primary purpose of American history, in and out of the schools, was to ensure America’s survival by creating good citizens; the acknowledged role of historians was to detail not only America’s past (of which there wasn’t much, once Natives were excluded) but especially just exactly what “America” was, and was to be, in the future. The nationalistic purposes of history defined history itself, and material was selected (or not) on the basis of its contribution to the Grand Narrative. By the end of the century the myth of objective history was gaining ground, perhaps due to the mania over all things scientific; if one could produce facts, one had a claim to truth—or Truth. With few dissenting voices (among them Henry Adams’), history became more the science of data than the art of interpretation, an art always practiced but now rarely acknowledged. In the 20th century U. S. history continued to evolve inseparably from a sense of mission on the world stage, leaving increasingly less rather than more room for criticism of our failures to live up to the rhetoric we broadcast abroad. If this isn’t history with an (obviously political) agenda, what is?

Ok, sure, a fair point. She extols the historical processes of the 1960s. Undoubtedly the period brought some useful shaking up of historical presumptions, and a valuable broadening of perspectives considered. Given that account of prior history’s demerits, you’d think that a keener attention to objectivity and excising subterranean prejudices would be the answer. No – her solution is more openly ideological work.

“Is Queer America history with an agenda? Yes it is. No less–and no more–than any history.”

It’s a cheap and recurrent trick to buttress intensely ideological scholarship by slurring countless more disinterested scholarly works. Let’s improve history by introducing more nakedly biased scholarship? Then we can believe in even less? The all-agendas-are-equivalent argument only makes sense if you think that your assembling a lynch mob was no better or worse an example of community involvement, than, say, organizing a town picnic.


3 thoughts on “No Tenure, Incorrect Citations, And Queer Studies

  1. Jack Benny was, without a doubt, the bravest comedian I have ever seen work. He wasn’t afraid of silence. He would take as long as it took to tell the story.

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