When the revolution comes, the OII SDP will be a model for the new academic order

Randy LynnFurther transformations in higher education are coming — and Randy Lynn (SDP2013) hopes that the future looks a bit like the OII’s Summer Doctoral Programme: encouraging international and multidisciplinary participants, collaborative and supportive relationships, and comprehensive engagement of the scholarly issues that mutually excite us. Randy is a Presidential Scholar at George Mason, with research interests at the intersections of youth, education, digital media, and social networks. He writes:

A glib title? Sure. But perhaps not as hyperbolic as you think.

After all, it’s no secret that a revolution has already come to higher education, dating roughly from the time Ronnie Reagan and Maggie Thatcher came to power on either side of the pond. The legacy of that revolution has been students as consumers, contingent faculty as a new category of working poor, and administrators second only to optometrists in how often they talk about their “vision.”

But there are other adverse legacies with which aspiring scholars must contend, such as the balkanization of academic disciplines. If truth and grant money are the two driving forces of contemporary academia, the firm belief that the particular theories and methods of my little fiefdom can beat up the theories and methods of your little fiefdom isn’t far behind.

Those of us who have forayed into Internet studies are a new type of scholar. Not because what we study is new, but because we’re uniquely situated at the threshold of what hinders academia –both old and new.

Scholarship of the Internet, the ultimate product of a global post-industrial economy, is especially ill-suited to an educational model produced during an industrial era when we believed knowledge could be as easily assembled as a Model T. Our disciplines range from decent to awful in how seriously they’ve taken up digital technologies, forcing us to look beyond our departmental orthodoxies.

We’re more likely to participate in new forms of knowledge prosumption, like blogs. We’re more likely to network on Twitter, bolstering our social capital. (Sorry, offline snobs: we’ve got the studies to prove it.) And because we share the best Web content about the neoliberal academy with each other, we’re more likely to have a deep understanding of its structural causes and consequences, and to envision alternative solutions.

We carve out offline spaces for ourselves at conferences every now and then for a day or two, but the OII is a rare space for thick offline interactions, day in and day out. It’s a chance to spend two weeks with thirty like-minded young scholars from all over the world—who are on a first-name basis with the same researchers you are, bubbling over with ideas just like you are, and collectively represent a full array of nations and disciplinary perspectives. No matter how impressive your posse of fellow Internet scholars at your home institution, you will benefit enormously.

But beyond the mind-stretching exchanges, or the lineup of faculty presentations, or the camaraderie about which Ioana has already written, participating in the SDP has led me to think more directly about what it is we want academia to be as we all grow up to become brilliant, suave, and endearingly absentminded professors.

It’s clear that more transformations in higher education are coming. And it’s clear that our generation of scholars will be the one most affected by these transformations. But in spite of how powerless we may feel currently as lowly graduate students, our generation will also be in the best position to push back against the march of corruptive influences, and take the opportunity to steer the academy toward a better future.

What do we want that future to look like? With the SDP’s international and multidisciplinary participants, collaborative and supportive relationships, and comprehensive engagement of the scholarly issues that mutually excite us, I hope the future of academia will look a lot like that.