Tuesday, April 04, 2017

imperatives and impediments

by J J Cohen

This afternoon I led a GW faculty and librarian discussion called "Arts and Humanities #Resist: A Salon," a contribution to an ongoing (and underfunded) series of tea time workshops focused upon cross disciplinary collaboration. I gave an overview of possible strategies, arranged mostly around the imperatives that I carry in my head to keep me focused on things larger than despair. A complete list is in the image at right. You'll see that even though these imperatives strive for collective endeavor they are rooted in individual action. That solitariness reveals much, I think, about the limits of my home institution.

I left the event heartened that so many attended and conversed, but also saddened that the two greatest impediments we have at GW to collaborative efforts remain lastingly in place, without a clear way forward or around them: no reward system exists for nontraditional or group endeavor (all institutional rewards [acknowledgement, merit raises, attention] are for individual research (books) or lab based grants); and no easy way exists to work outside your own department or college (the sheer number of forms it takes makes it impossible). In the room were gathered, for example, a professor about to introduce two new environmental literature courses (me); a director of an institute dedicated to public outreach; a faculty member from the Corcoran School of Art; and someone from the Sustainability Office. The possible convergence of these expertises is obvious, and students would gain so much ... but the sheer amount of work it would require and the GW's inability or unwillingness to support such collaborative labor means huge amounts of invisible, "free" work would be required with no recognition, support, or even encouragement (excellence in undergraduate education doesn't count). It is so much easier, we decided, to create a protest poster and march down the street to the White House than to attempt from within community formation, innovation in pedagogy, and the making of longer term futures.

It should not be so.

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