What is Your Research Agenda: The Tenured Answer

I should read Charlie Nesson’s blog, Eon, more often, or with more care. If I did, I would have come across this fun post earlier. In it, Charlie responds to a query by Dean Kagan about his research goals with an wide-ranging agenda that begins:

My project is the Berkman Center. It’s my best shot at addressing the problems of the world. I think of it as a project for the world, for my country, for Harvard, for my community, my family and myself.

It’s worth a read, if only to realize the narrowness of the traditional, safe, answer to the research agenda question at the meat market. As Paul Horwitz argued in another context:

It seems to me, then, that there is some danger in overstressing the need for prudence among junior scholars, rather than the need for courage. Junior scholars ought to be willing to follow their muses, to cross swords, to offend or dismay more senior colleagues (not that they should do so, but they should be willing to do so), to try out new paths in scholarship. If they’re not willing to do so before tenure, because they’re thinking strategically about tenure, why assume they’ll be willing to do so afterwards?

It must be said that to the extent research agendas have grown smaller in recent years, blogs, which transmit custom, titillate audiences with horror stories, and extol the value of caution, are partially to blame. It is a small irony. Charlie’s manifesto tells us something about the difference that tenure makes, and trumpets the value of open sources of knowledge like the blawgosphere. But would he have gotten hired on today’s market offering such a grand vision?

[Full disclosure: I know and like Charlie very much personally, although I am not yet convinced that the open-source movement survives a personal CBA. The best line in the agenda: “Our biggest challenge is to recognize that we are in a downhill battle and not to overreach.”]

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1 Response

  1. Frank says:

    Garber has some consonant points in a piece in the Chron of Higher Ed., which urge young scholars to write ambitious, research-agenda-setting pieces early on.

    Trained by the dressage of the law rev process, I am compelled to cite:

    Garber, Marjorie B. “Why Can’t Young Scholars Write Their Second Books First?”Journal of Scholarly Publishing – Volume 36, Number 3, April 2005, pp. 129-132 University of Toronto Press