because he hath no continuance

The Guardian has recently written on how humanities become “gentrified” in the modern university, with “children of senior managers” accounting for 31% degrees in history and philosophy.  Justin Bengry at the History Compass blog posted on how the feeling of insecurity about the future career path forced him to switch programs, getting torn between German, business and history.

In my country, the perceived ‘ease’ of getting a degree in humanities pushes thousands into these programs, very few of whom actually work in any related field. Of all my students at English for International Relations over the last 10 years, about 5% are working in anything like international business, let alone diplomacy. Now I do not mean it is so bad in itself, even if you view this as a terrible waste of money. Humanities, if taught correctly, encourage critical thinking and open the eyes to many injustices and shadow dealings going on around. Even though most of my graduates work as managers, I reckon a close look at the international system and business world, interconnected, didn’t do them harm.

More of a problem is the stagnation of teaching humanities in Russia. Salaries at universities are miserable and working there is additionally burdened with more and more routine chores. Mobility is critically low, and vertical hierarchies are strong, so it can well be years before a young scholar gets promotion. In this situation, more and more independent and critical-minded people quit academia altogether. ‘Business world’ lures them with flexibility and freedom, but also has its own swift ways of silencing free thought.

The result is that teaching positions are mostly occupied by ‘rich kids’ whose primary concern is keeping the status quo in society (at first, very pro-Western, but in the last decade, bordering on right-wing authoritarian) or “hereditary academics”, with probably 3 generations of their family in higher education, at the same university. The latter from their very childhood are enmeshed in all the petty rivalries the stagnating university can breed. If Dr.X for 20 years had had a feud with Dr.Y, you can only imagine how Dr.Y Jr. will be viewing his own progress at the department headed, say, by Dr.X’s wife or his former student.

The ongoing clericalization of academia, together with enhanced governmental control, pushes greyface seriousness of Russian education sky high. Even underpaid and exploited, professors can take illusory relief in the idea they are serving a ‘higher cause’ by brainwashing students about Russia’s special way, great traditions and the ensuing need of obedience and ‘normality’.

Given that professors have to pay to get published in many peer-review journals, you can get a good feel of who’s going to be promoted. Penniless and unable to get funding even for visiting a conference, chances are you won’t do a doctorate (7 peer-review publications are required, and at least one monograph, which you may also have to pay for). Able administrators with little scholarly abilities, science freaks, devil-may-care educators who earn 90% of their income outside the academia, self-professed geniuses – looks like the whole Russian academia is begging in this or that way. The self-styled middle class kids can do little in this atmosphere, save learn to pander, cheat and feign Abraham-men. Starting by asserting the values of hard work and independence, they crack under terrible pressure of the teaching load, dreaming of the ivory tower of an ideal academia where nothing would stand between them and the capital T Truth.

He is sometime inducted by a simple Patron, to some more simple Vicarage ; But his Tythes and Credit concluding in Harvest, he takes his flight with the Swallow : He cannot therefore thrive among the promoted begging Schollers, because he hath no continuance. (John Stevens, Characters, Bk.1., XXII – A Begging Scholler)

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About beggingscholar

I am a scholar of Early Modern English literature and culture, teaching quite a number of English-related subjects at Kazan University, Russia. I am mainly interested in the formation of the Early Modern public sphere, scandals, subversion, non-literary discourses in literature and other forms of destructive creation.
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2 Responses to because he hath no continuance

  1. Justin Bengry says:

    An interesting post, I enjoyed reading it. It’s interesting how many similarities and yet also differences we can have in the humanities in two different countries.

    You’re right, though, that it doesn’t matter if students stay in the humanities for a career. What’s important is that they learn important writing, communication, and other skills. The trick is getting the workplace to acknowledge the value of these skills more fully.

    That being said, I am shocked how difficult life in the humanities is for an academic in Russia. The situations you describe as a professor are truly shocking. Good luck to you in all your endeavors!

    • beggingscholar says:

      Dear Justin,
      thanks for the comment (it’s the first one I’ve had at this blog, actually!) I strongly appreciate what you said about getting the workplace to acknowledge the skills students develop in our company. Getting humanities more ‘useful’, I think, should go hand in hand with getting them deeper into critical thinking, primarily critical analysis of reality. It’s quite common, even in Russia, to do a piece of revealing analysis at university, and then at the job market to accept a very servile position. I see it every year with my students.
      As for academic life in Russia, earning money is not so difficult (actually, I approved your comment when at a conference in Moscow, during a particularly boring presentation!) It’s the lack of connection between people in academia that really vexes me.
      thanks once again for dropping in!

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