The handful of people who read this blog don’t need to notice my silence here to know that I’m home, because they probably all know me personally. Still, I’ve been quiet here and busy elsewhere since returning from this most recent trip to Uganda. It’s only now, two months later, that I’ve got my head above water enough to do some online reading and writing.
I’ll have time this week to finish up a post on my recent trip to Chicago, but in the mean time, I’m reading some really fascinating stuff elsewhere. Here’s a piece that I think my students might enjoy, courtesy of my friend Mr. Shank. Then there’s this lively debate on the state of American higher ed. that’s far more interesting and important a debate than anything I’ve ever read in CHE. Meanwhile I’m jumping back into an old volume on The Professionalisation of African Medicine for my book write-up and reading several good articles and dissertations along the way. So, while I sympathize with some of JunctRebellion‘s perspectives, I’m fortunate to say that for those of us lucky enough to have full-time positions, it’s not all doom and gloom.
More soon on why…
NPR’s Morning Edition ran a story yesterday that has generated lively debates on their website, on Facebook, and on professional listservs. Much of this debate centers around comments made by Steve Inskeep’s guest on an ongoing NPR series concerning young people and financial literacy. The guest was Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of the websites FinAid and Fastweb. For musicologists, one of his more contentious statements was the assertion that ethnomusicologists’ only career options involve joining the professoriate or becoming music librarians. Plenty of people took issue with that part, and rightly so, but plenty more are beginning to delve into the deeper issues that this piece failed to examine.
The comments on the NPR site have centered primarily around economic issues and the financial viability of ethnomusicology and other fields in the humanities and social sciences. That’s a perfectly smart conversation to be having, particularly given that those of us who choose to pursue careers in these fields need to seriously consider how to be financially solvent. But where and when is that not the case? In what field do people not need to consider these issues? As long as lotto winners remain a small sector of the population, these are rather quotidian considerations for everyone.
One stream of argument in particular is important to highlight in this debate: the notion that arts, humanities, and social sciences place people in financially unstable positions or miserable careers of destitute poverty and starvation perpetuates the already rampant undervaluing of these fields. The idea that one cannot have a career or a fulfilling life unless pursuing a corporate life or a field of study in the so-called “hard sciences” remains not only completely untrue but also thoroughly detrimental to the continued development of a diverse and robust economy. As one Facebook commenter put it, “Innovative thinkers and a creative class will be an important part of American economic recovery and building a better future for all of us.” As many others expressed on the NPR site, the very journalists bringing us these stories often come directly out of the fields of study that Kantrowitz’s commentary degrades by encouraging “fall-back” double majors or minors. In fact, one savvy comment on their site quoted the first part of the NPR mission statement, which stands in direct contradiction to the thrust of this piece: “The mission of NPR is to work in partnership with member stations to create a more informed public – one challenged and invigorated by a deeper understanding and appreciation of events, ideas and cultures.” I find it extremely hard to believe that such and understanding would not be enriched by more enlightened reporting on this issue.
Want to defend Steve Inskeep? Think Mark Kantrowitz is right? Hit me in the comments. This lively discourse lies at the intersection of academics and culture in this American moment. AND, lest anyone buy into the bunk notion that careers in arts, humanities, and social sciences are dead ends, this just in from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Be sure to note Philip Bohlman, Sarah Fuller, and Thomas Forrest Kelly on this list–all are musicologists, and Dr. Bohlman is the former president of the Society for Ethnomusicology.
Frequent readers of this blog (all two of you) would have noticed the long hiatus I took while writing up my dissertation. Well, that’s done. Last weekend, my folks and my brother were in town, I had a bunch of people over for a beer, and we all celebrated the completion of my Ph.D. Now all I need is a job. In the mean time, I have these pretty pictures to look at. Bully for me!
My brother took some great pictures at the graduation ceremony. Here’s one from just after that in front of the building where my wife works.
We also took a few that morning before the festivities. It was good to see my folks again–it had been several years!
Jenn planned a fantastic party to which this cake was a popular addition.
Many friends joined us. Among them, here’s Dale Olsen. The Distinguished Professor Emeritus was one of the reasons I came to FSU, and I spent my first three years here working very closely with him. We shared many wonderful moments onstage and in conversation, and I’m glad to call Dale a friend.
We had so many friends there that day. Deep thanks to all for the warm congratulations. These are merely highlights from an unforgettable weekend.
Today I became Florida State University’s newest candidate for the Ph.D. in Ethnomusicology! This has been a long time coming, and the culminating meeting with my committee was nothing short of inspiring. These fine folks have clearly put a lot of thought and time into this project already, and their continued devotion came through in two hours of the most empowering, challenging, and fascinating conversation I think I’ve ever had. I’m off to celebrate now, but stay tuned for a new featured artist very soon . . .