The Marginal Value of Truth

The beginnings of a saying keep running through my mind. It goes something like this: people who don’t do what I do determine the value of what I do and even whether I can do what I do.

Tenure is meant to guard against this. It does not. Since the marginal values of ladder faculty, adjuncts, and lecturers are differentially related, each class is valued in terms of variables extrinsic to what they do or how well they do it. People who don’t know what I do determine the value of what I do and even whether I can do what I do.

Scholars imagine — they are trained to imagine — that they are occupied in and must jealously guard the truth. Since the world outside the academy is not so trained, this makes our training inadequate for doing anything else. When abstract value intrudes into the academy, which it does when teaching is evaluated marginally, it creates a nearly unbearable tension between the need to work and the calling to teach.

I am trained to defend a principle whose non-observance within the academy is the condition of the academy’s survival. This haunts me.

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