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From the Editor: Reclaiming the Narrative

By Aaron Barlow

Thomas Paine claims, “What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives everything its value.” Perhaps, over the past generation, we of the American faculty have come to esteem too lightly the ideals for which the spiritual grandfathers of our profession fought, and for which the AAUP was founded. We have allowed ourselves to drift, becoming simply players in dramas directed by others. We sometimes now seem to forget that we are part of a group of value and judgment, the faculty, with all the responsibilities group membership entails—including responsibility for defining our group and helping direct its actions. We’ve been letting outsiders do both for us. It is time we regain control.

If, as John Dewey writes, “public opinion is judgment which is formed and entertained by those who constitute the public and is about public affairs,” it is also true, as Walter Lippmann claims, that the “amount of attention available is far too small.” Each of us relies on the opinions of those we trust rather than looking into every matter ourselves. By allowing public perception of our trustworthiness to erode, we on the faculty have let other voices (especially digital voices) replace us as authorities for people without the time to look into every issue for themselves. Too few turn to us for reliable information today, and we have not learned to influence those places to which they do turn. Others are creating the narratives of our national discourse and are even crafting the image of the faculty in society. We are reactive today, defensive.

We have let our institutions be defined as business models, and this must stop, as Joel Thomas Tierno, Miguel Martinez-Saenz, and Steven Schoonover Jr. demonstrate in this issue of Academe. We need to be more proactive in whom we invite into our profession, as Alan Shoho reminds us, and play a more important role, as Michael Theune and Hans-Joerg Tiede say, in choosing institutional leadership. Eric Muller demonstrates that we work best when we work together, and we should recognize, as Thomas Cottle argues, that we impart much more than content when we teach; we teach the ability to judge, too. Jonathan Alan King, Frederick Salvucci, and Ruth Perry show why it is important that we in college communities define just what campus space be used for. Susan Gardner, Amy Blackstone, Shannon McCoy, and Daniela Véliz explore the impact of loss of budget input on departments and offers ways to improve departmental climates. Kelly Price, in an online-only article, shows that we should pay attention to even such mundane questions as the rhythm of the academic calendar, and Joshua Pearce, also online, argues for changes in the way research expenditures are considered. In a final article in our online offering this issue, Rebecca Jordan urges us to reclaim our position vis-à-vis our students.

A reinvigorated faculty, which must include those who are tenured, tenure-track, and contingent, full time and part time, working together, recognizing we are all colleagues with responsibilities to each other, to our institutions, to our profession, and to our society is one of the most effective antidotes to the abuse of information in our society. Paine writes that “wisdom is not the purchase of a day.” As a faculty, collectively, we bring many days and much wisdom. Under the influence of Dewey, we know we don’t want to be telling our fellow citizens what to do (as Lippmann might have us do). We used to be good at showing how to learn and act effectively instead. It is time we do so again.

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