Friday, September 24, 2010

Professional Schools & the Corporate University

The volumes investigating, critiquing, and wrestling with the emerging notion of the corporate university continue to appear on a daily basis. One that will generate a lot of discussion is Holden Thorp and Buck Goldstein, Engines of Innovation: The Entrepreneurial University in the Twentieth-First Century (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010). This is an optimistic, sweeping assessment arguing that the university must engage in the big, critical problems of our era, solve them, and function as agents of social change. It is another argument for moving the university away from the traditional, hierarchical manner in which it normally works and into new interdisciplinary programs that are facile and fueled with funds and partnerships with corporate American and other forms of global relationships. The authors fill their volume with lots of brief case studies, although many of these do not provide the level of detail or critical evaluation they probably deserve, resulting in a volume that is an interesting pep talk for a new form of university. From my perspective there are two major problems with the book. First, anyone who is critical of the new entrepreneurial model (and there are many, citing such problems as scientific fraud and intellectual property) are pushed to the side as problems. Consider this passage: “The impediment to the entrepreneurial residency is typically not a lack of funds, as many of the most qualified entrepreneurs are willing to work, at least on a part-time basis, for a relatively low salary so long as they are free to continue at least some of their activities outside of academia. Opposition comes from some who are slow to recognize the importance of entrepreneurial thinking and reluctant to include entrepreneurs as colleagues. Our experience is that once this opposition is overcome, the results are immediate and dramatic. An entrepreneurial voice amidst a group of talented scientists often leads to high impact, entrepreneurial science” (p. 37). Second, and far more serious, is the fact that this new university is all about science and technology. The arts and humanities are nearly nowhere to be found, and the idea of a university education is reduced to a kind of scientific-vocational training with a focus on money, money, and money.

This second problem has been the topic of many a book critical of the corporate model. The importance of having a historical grounding in higher education and academic life can be seen in Ellen Schrecker’s The Lost Soul of Higher Education: Corporatization, the Assault on Academic Freedom, and the End of the American University (New York: The New Press, 2010). Schrecker, a historian who has written a couple of other books on McCarthyism and the academy, started this book as an essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education comparing the fate of academic freedom in the McCarthy era with that after 9/11. Schrecker holds the university to a high ideal in regard to its importance in American life: “The academy protects the American mind. In a world of sound bites and bullet points, the nation’s campuses are among the last few places where it is still possible to deal with complicated ideas or entertain unorthodox opinions. Professors are the nation’s main public intellectuals; they raise the questions with which an informed citizenry must deal. They are, therefore, essential to the preservation of the reasoned debate and unfettered expression that our democratic system requires” (p. 4). Schrecker tackles a lot of critical issues, such as the changing nature of tenure, the rise of contingent faculty, due process for academics, faculty governance, curricular debates, campus radicals, canon and culture wars, and the changing academic structure from teaching to research, from students to revenue, and from education to vocational training. She concludes with an essay on the implications of the current Great Recession on the university and these issues affecting academic freedom (giving us a suitable warning for navigating into the future).

From my vantage these kinds of issues has become a particular problem in professional schools in higher education. Even before the emergence of the idea of the corporate university, commentators on the university sometimes struggled to fit into their model just what professional schools represented, with their own foot in the murky world of professions and their other foot in the world of research, scholarship, and theory. So, I have tried to tackle this in my The Demise of the Library School: Personal Reflections on Professional Education in the Modern Corporate University (Duluth, MN: Library Juice, 2010) placing the present and future of professional education for librarianship in the debate on the modern corporate university. The book is a series of meditations on critical themes relating to the education of librarians, archivists, and other information professionals, playing off of other commentators analyzing the nature of higher education and its problems and promises. Debates about the nature and value of professional education in general and library education in particular have continued over the past century. While many aspects of these debates have not changed in substance, the changing nature of the modern university has brought new dimensions (and, at times, more acrimony) to these discussions. Librarians and library educators have written extensively about professional education, but much of the literature has focused on internal professional community issues and avoided consideration of the evolution of the modern research university (where many of these schools are located) to a disturbing new corporate model bringing new pressures and conflicts to bear on the traditional library school. This book addresses my own sense of what has occurred with professional education and bringing to bear my perspective as an educator of archivists, my teaching of a doctoral seminar about the role of faculty in professional schools in the research university, and my extensive reading over the years about the nature and ongoing development of higher education. I am writing about what the corporate university represents, the role of faculty in professional schools in the university, interesting tensions between what traditional library faculty have done in the past and new demands on them to be relevant in the present digital era, the evolution of library schools into schools of information science and now information schools, the debates about individual credentialing and programmatic accreditation, and the influences of new aspects of such education such as the preparation of archivists and preservation administrators. This is not intended to be a research study, but it is a highly personal reflection intended to generate new discussion about the nature of professional education.

Librarians and Netflix

These are tough times in many public libraries, so it is small wonder that some librarians decided to take liberties with Netflix. According to this item in Techdirt, some librarians are loaning Netflix DVDs to patrons, despite the fact that it violates Netflix's terms of use. So are librarians a better "recommendation engine" than the Netflix algorithm?

Friday, September 10, 2010

You Can't Take it With You

Ray D. Madoff. Immortality and the Law: The Rising Power of the American Dead. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010.

The characteristically American view of private property, supported by the tradition of common law, is that an individual can control their property, but not their body or reputation, after death. Boston College Law School professor Ray Madoff provides a guide to the development of American law about the rights of the dead, building on her previous work on estate and trust law. While academics have considerable evidence of the power of dead hands, surrounded by – and working in - eponymous institutions which provide an ongoing advertisement of the generosity of the dead, they have also seen the wishes of the dead overturned, perhaps most recently in the relocation of the Barnes Foundation collection.

Plainly written, this work charts the development of American property law in regard to achieving immortality, complete with the unsettling prospect of the success of cryonics, which would add a third category of “not really dead” to the previously binary concepts of life and death. Her discussion of the economic values of copyright and right of publicity, which is particularly relevant to this community, cautions against the chilling effect the current legislation has on creative expression, as it increasingly locks up archetypes, effectively removing them from artistic circulation.

Her strongest statement on the abuse of the notion of private property is that rights of publicity and copyright have become corporate assets, artificially extending the life of the individual creator to the benefit of others. “It is significant that the areas in which American law has grown most dramatically – dynasty trusts, charitable trusts, copyright, and rights of publicity – not only appeal to individuals’ desire to exert posthumous control but also appreciably benefit corporate interests. By using interests of the dead as a decoy, these entities have succeeded in enriching their own property interests.” (pp. 155-156)

Overall, a troubling work, particularly as it illustrates that the law reflects societal values in which increasing rights are granted to the dead without regard to the cost to the living.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Looking Backward at Telecommunications

While commentators on the Web and its offspring often make comparisons with its historical predecessors such as the telephone, there have been a modest number of efforts to provide serious analysis of the history of telecommunications. Richard R. John, a journalism professor, draws on the vast array of existing archival materials and offers up Network Nation: Inventing American Telecommunications (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2010), a volume sure to be the standard history for quite a while. John commences his story back in the late eighteenth century and goes into the early twentieth century and provides a detailed account of the development of both the telegraph and telephone. He considers the nature of the technologies and their economics as well as government involvement in and civic ideals concerning the evolution, seeking to explain that there was noting inevitable about these network systems and trying to reveal that how these technologies took hold was the result of complex political, economic, technological, and social elements. He also tells a great story, one that is quite capitvating even if we know how it ends.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Digital preservation in Europe

Not surprisingly, digital preservation is a topic of global interest. CASPAR is an EU-funded project in case you were unaware of it.

No good deed goes unpunished: Using open data to exploit the poor in Bangalore

The open data movement has garnered widespread support among information professionals, with good reason. As with anything, there are cautionary tales that go along with some of the successes. This article talks about open data in general, and highlights the risk:
A very interesting and well-documented example of this empowering of the empowered can be found in the work of Solly Benjamin and his colleagues looking at the impact of the digitization of land records in Bangalore. Their findings were that newly available access to land ownership and title information in Bangalore was primarily being put to use by middle and upper income people and by corporations to gain ownership of land from the marginalized and the poor. The newly digitized and openly accessible data allowed the well to do to take the information provided and use that as the basis for instructions to land surveyors and lawyers and others to challenge titles, exploit gaps in title, take advantage of mistakes in documentation, identify opportunities and targets for bribery, among others. They were able to directly translate their enhanced access to the information along with their already available access to capital and professional skills into unequal contests around land titles, court actions, offers of purchase and so on for self-benefit and to further marginalize those already marginalized.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

The subway map of science

This item represents the relationship between the sciences (and scientists) as a subway map. It is an interesting way to think about it, but somehow I have a hard time wrapping my head around the idea of getting to Heisenberg via Fermi or Dirac ...

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Exploring the Information Age at LC

We have become so accustomed to the use of " information society" or " information age" that we tend to accept it an an uncritical way. Cultural anthropologist Samuel Gerald Collins, in his Library of Walls: The Library of Congress and the Contradictions of Information Society (Duluth, MN: Litwin Books, 2009), demonstrates why we should not accept such terminology without additional reflection. Offering an ethnography of the information society by an in-depth analysis of the Library of Congress, reconstructing its history and drawing on observations of practice and internal practice, Collins cuts through the usual hype and excessive focus on expanding and more powerful information technologies. Collins tracks the changing meanings of information and, consequently, changing meanings of the Library. As Collins states, "We must see 'information society' as part of a late-modernist penchant for sublimating the traces of power, social conflict and racial politics in order to attain a 'consensual' corporate culture" (p. 156). Collins examines in considerable detail the role of cataloguing and cataloguing standards and the emergence of the concept of the digital library. This is an interesting, useful study.