Some years ago, when I was interviewing at a small state school (SSS) in a college-rich area, I asked how much contact these faculty (on a 4/4, naturally, and often looking to "publish up") had with more established scholars at bigger, more prestigious schools in some cases less than 15 miles away. The answer? None. This was disheartening, and one of the many reasons I turned down that tenure track job in a year when no other TT job presented itself.
After the ASTR conference last November, I started talking to one of the other seminar participants, who is located within reasonable driving distance from BRU, about us somehow taking advantage of that proximity of both intellectual interests and physical campuses. After two+years here, I've made few of those connections I had hoped to find at SSS, despite being in an area where such connections are at least a possibility.
I had noticed that at both my grad institution, and a BRU, some of those things were happening, but always at the senior faculty level, and often only with endowed chairs who had a pool of money to bring in.
Well, with the new courses I'm teaching in the fall, my new ASTR friend would be a phenomenal supplement to my pedagogy, and could bring in a richer sense of particular discourses on particular texts than I could. So I'm looking for ways to bring him to campus, a process that is just beginning, and I'd be really interested to hear other people's ideas on.
But more generally, I think this is an idea that we need to be considering more persistently. I am always concerned when I hear "ivory tower" epithets, and their implications that universities are not connected to the real world. These epithets feel truer when I realize that universities and departments aren't often very good at making connections with each other, let alone with the real world.
And yet the guest lecture format seems to be a low-risk, low-cost win-win for everyone involved. When speakers are comparatively local, costs can be kept very low, especially if faculty are willing to swap talks or think more creatively about logistics. Both parties benefit: the speaker, especially younger scholars, benefit with lines for annual reports, with chances to work out new scholarship with somewhat lower stakes, with networking connections forged and reinforced. And of course the hosts benefit, too, with an influx of new ideas, the opportunities for publicity that an incoming speaker brings, and of course the same networking possibilities.
But often these kinds of connections are reserved for established scholars whose work is well-known, even famous. But what if we work toward establishing these exchanges, these networks for recently-tenured, untenured, and off-the-tenure-track faculty, and even advanced graduate students? Establishing these connections with each other can only enrich the profession, the campus, and the individuals involved.
So how do we do it?
Well, it starts with talking about it at all. Although I know that Flavia, Dr. Crazy, Dr. Virago, Nels, Chuck Tryon, or JBJ are very strong contributors in their fields, and that grad students like Sisyphus or Acephalous are becoming, I haven't, until now, thought about trying to bring them to my campus. But why not? Dr. V completely changed the way I taught medieval drama, and I'm using an essay by Nels in my grad class this semester. We can meet-up at conferences. Let's meet-up at each other's campuses. Let's talk in each other's classes. Let's make turn some of the potential offered by the connections of the academic blogosophere into on-site connections on our campuses and in our classrooms.
Who are you going to tag first?