The academy is in crisis. Adjunctification, outcome assessment, online learning, for-profit universities — all of these things have been decried as challenging the very foundations of the academic enterprise. Yet no one stops to ask what that foundation is. We have forgotten about the question of the being of academia. We must put ourselves in a position to ask it afresh, so that we can begin to sketch out the ontological structure of academia. (Here I limit myself to institutions of higher education — lower levels present different, though not unrelated, problems.)
Let us start from the assumption that the academic enterprise is a type of professional practice. Academics never achieved the clearly “professional” status of doctors and lawyers — and our ontological investigation may disclose the inner necessity of that failure — but that status remains an indispensable point of reference. Part of being a professional in the modern world is obviously being certified by the state to undertake some kind of activity in an authoritative way. Anyone can give medical or legal advice, but that does not make them a doctor or lawyer. Further, there are some aspects of being a doctor or lawyer that only “work” if the state certification is present. Not just anyone can write a prescription or rightly demand attorney-client privilege.
Broadly speaking, the aspects of professionality that require state certification to be effective are performative speech acts that the state has empowered the professional to undertake. This puts us into a position to ask: What are academics empowered to do? Read the rest of this entry »