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Slow Professor: Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy

Slow Professor: Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy

Maggie Berg


The changing face and style of academia is a constant fascination to academics (like me). Many authors have commented on the increased managerialism they encounter, the excess of rules and the limitation of free inquiry and free teaching. Part of this might be regarded as the professionalisation of academia in the face of increasing demands from numbers of students, and their (very reasonable) expectations in the face of the financial costs they now (often personally) face. And it's undoubtedly true that, while we'd like to think that all academics are able to manage their time and efforts so as to balance equitably the needs of research and teaching, some don't do this and (typically, although it happens the other way round too) neglect teaching in favour of more career-enhancing research and esteem activities.

The core question is really quite simple: what is the right balance between independence and supervision for people who are experts both in their own fields and in passing on the passion, drama, and techniques of those fields to the next generations? It's one the resists simple solution, but that doesn't stop administrators and governments trying to shift the balance towards control. There are huge dangers in this from stifling free expression to impeding the exploration of new ways of educating – but it'd be foolish to ignore the benefits in terms of raising standards and ensuring learning outcomes.

The debate is weakened, in my opinion (as a science academic), by the focus that such works always have on the humanities: indeed, they're often phrased so as to exclude people like me, as though we were mere technicians and not "proper" academics. This book doesn't make that mistake, but still deals almost exclusively with the challenges of the humanities, which often feel devalued and sidelined by the resources thrown at "STEM" subjects.

I have to say that my own institution doesn't – yet, at any rate – exhibit any of the pathologies described by the authors, so part of the book for me is a warning tale of what to avoid in the years to come. It can also be read as a manifesto of what needs to be preserved, or re-acquired, if we're to keep academic healthy and questioning.

4/5. Finished 24 February 2018.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

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