academic/disciplinary power struggles

| 1 TrackBack

Last year, RIT established a new "College of Computing and Information Sciences," taking three departments that had previously been part of a large and heterogeneous college ("Applied Science & Technology") and putting them together under one roof (courtesy of funding from Paychex founder and perpetual gubernatorial candidate Tom Golisano).

One of the things that is happening as a result of the new college formation is growing battles over the valule of various curricular aspects within the departments, and the value of the departments themselves.

Ever the historian (A.B. in History from Michigan, '84), and the librarian (M.L.I.S. from UM, '87), I decided tonight to poke around a bit on the subject of academic politics, disciplinary boundaries, and other related topics. Too often at RIT we seem to think that we are unique in the world, and fail to look outside our boundaries for examples of how others might have handled similar problems.

Didn't take long to find something relevant. Seb Pacquet pointed to the work of Brian Martin on higher education. Martin's book "Tied Knowledge: Power in Education," which is available in full-text on his site, had the following gem in chapter 4:

At the Australian National University, I witnessed long battles between pure and applied mathematicians for control of departmental prerogatives. This included denigration of the other side's talents and activities, appointment of supporters, encroachment on course content to steal the middle ground, and inability to agree on allocation of resources to proposed common courses. Claims about the definition of a 'mathematician' were used to exclude appointments or promotions to those too far from the conception of the key power-brokers. In this struggle, the ideological resource of the pure mathematicians is the autonomy of their knowledge from other departments and thus the prestige of pure mathematics as a 'higher knowledge' than other disciplines. Applied mathematics, to the extent that neighbouring disciplines overlap with it, is harder to establish as a separate knowledge base. Hence in a struggle with pure mathematics, applied mathematicians instead can form alliances with neighbouring disciplines such as theoretical physics and computer science. The outcome of battles between pure and applied mathematicians will depend on the balance between the advantages to pure mathematicians given by greater internal control over knowledge in the discipline and advantages to applied mathematicians given by the interests and demands of related disciplines. The intrinsic political advantages to pure mathematics are such that in many universities applied mathematics does not exist as a separate department, and the subject matter of applied mathematics is taught in the departments of physics, biology, psychology and other areas where mathematics is applied.

Amazing how well this fits the current conflicts occurring between my department of information technology (an "applied" area), and our sister departments of Computer Science and Software Engineering.

1 TrackBack

On academia from Caveat Lector on February 12, 2003 10:27 AM

I found Tied Knowledge via the daily blogsurf (Liz had it). Seems like good stuff. I bet the average academic hates it. Hits a mite too close to home. I tell you what, though, if I were to harbor any fugitive thoughts of a Ph.D and a career in academia, Read More

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry published on February 11, 2003 10:33 PM.

woohoo! it's done! was the previous entry in this blog.

reflexivity is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.


Category Archives