Stanley Fish follows up his last blog/column (about which I blogged) with this gem. In today’s, he argues that professors should basically sit down, shut up and do their damn job just like everyone else. I’ve never actually heard someone tell an entire class of professionals that they should start being more alienated from their labor, but Fish is a trailblazer. He writes,
It would be hard to imagine another field of endeavor in which employees believe that being attentive to their employer’s goals and wishes is tantamount to a moral crime But this is what many (not all) academics believe, and if pressed they will support their belief by invoking a form of academic exceptionalism, the idea that while colleges and universities may bear some of the marks of places of employment — work-days, promotions, salaries, vacations, meetings, etc. — they are really places in which something much more rarefied than a mere job goes on.
It’s not hard to believe that if you’re a Marxist, which many, if not most, of the professors he’s referencing probably are. The root of the problem seems to be that Fish doesn’t find their non-cooperative reasoning convincing. He doesn’t believe the University system is beholden to a social structure that is destructive to critical thought. It would be hard to imagine him saying, “Yes, I recognize that the University seeks to restrain you in order to prop up a capitalist system that results in the suffering of billions around the World, but you should just shut up and do your job anyway.” He doesn’t take this kind of reasoning seriously, while the professors with whom he disagrees do.
Another point is his refusal to acknowledge that form and content are in any way connected. He seems to be okay with academics pursuing whatever subject they wish, but not with them showing up to class late. Does it occur to Fish that the rationalization of education is one of the structural problems these professors seek to rectify? I don’t think academics seek a rarefied ground where only they are allowed to show up late, but instead a society that doesn’t seek to put everyone on a rigid schedule engineered for “efficiency.” As the people who shape the minds of the future leaders of the World, don’t they have a duty to show this to their students? Isn’t the fact that it’s okay to show up a few minutes late worth teaching students? Or is it okay to teach, just not to do? The lack of praxis among our professors isn’t something that needs to be completed, we’re fighting an uphill battle as it is.