independent scholarship

Lois Shawver (
Fri, 29 Mar 1996 19:38:14 -0800 (PST)

Bill's problem of wanting a job as a professor and not being able to get
one is not at all unique to him. I am posting the forwarded note below
with the permission of the author, Margaret DeLacy. I do not know
Margaret DeLacy. I simply noticed this post online. It was posted on a
list that is devoted to eighteenth century scholarship, and in a
completely different context than the present one. I have removed the
name of the author whom Dr. DeLacy is quoting, because I do not have
his/her permission for the quote and do not have the relevant email

But according to Dr. DeLacy, there has been an enormous response to her
note, and many people are rallying around the idea of working as an
independent scholar while living lives that have other points of focus and
other means of self-support. I understand that others have asked to post
her note to other lists. Many new Ph.D.'s do not get the jobs they hoped
for in Universities. For psychologists this is often much easier than it
is for eighteenth century scholars. There are many more people like Bill
than some of you might suspect. They went to school and did well and
imagined that they would become tenured professors only to be working at
jobs they do not like. Life forces (young children, sick or not) can
give them a sense that their dreams and ambitions are irrevocably lost.

Dr. Delacy provides a bit of answer. The answer, of course, is not to
blame professors, or to call them "good old boys" because professors can
be friends.

What professors who are aware of this problem can do to help is to support
independent scholars in their attempts to gain access to university
libraries and university library databases and by having blind reviews
that do not require university affiliation, by willing to use textbooks
written by qualified authors who are not affiliated with universities as
professors, by competitive hiring of lecturships, by encouraging online
publication (which can publish many more articles) and help estalish the
tradition of citing online journals. (Maybe you can think of some things
as well.) These are suitable gifts to give your new Ph.D. students, many
of whom will be shocked to learn that if graduate school was hard to get
into, it's nothing like the university marketplace.

And about Bill: I think the way disgruntled people should deal with Bill
is to delete his notes without reading them. The fact that he is
demonstrating his bitterness with angry and senseless diatribes does not
mean that he is a fool, or that he is unable to pull himself together
later and present his ideas meaningfully. It is easy enough to delete his
notes in the meantime. But I want to cast my vote for giving him more
chance to explain his ideas, if he is willing, in this context. Many
people have written me personally and said they appreciate my interviewing
him because they want to know what he has to say. In the meantime, if
you're fed up, start another thread and delete notes from Bill Chambers.
At some point, I may join you. But for now I am hoping that he can and
will explain his system meaningfully. If you think my questions are unfair,
or fair for that matter, however, please write me privately. I'll take
that into account.

..Lois Shawver

Here's the forwarded post I offered:

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Sun, 24 Mar 1996 23:46:32 -0800
From: Margaret DeLacy <margaret@TELEPORT.COM>
To: Multiple recipients of list C18-L <C18-L@PSUVM.PSU.EDU>
Subject: Re: Tenure and PUBLISHING

> I don't want to add too many words to this thread although I have found
> most of the posts interesting and many of them from younger scholars heart-
> wrenching. I just point out an obvious problem that persists to the point
> of immorality. Universities continue to encourage enrollment in PhD
> programs. Faculty continue to profit from these programs, teaching bright
> students for whom there will be no jobs. Administrators of doctoral programs
> refuse to admit that their sinecures are built on the often baseless hopes
> of a generation who will never enjoy the professional lives of their mentors.

As an independent scholar, I am a little dismayed by the
assmuption that there is no satisfactory way of pursuing intellectual
interests without tenure, or that the only real purpose of completing a
doctoral program is a "job." Twenty years ago, my advisor was honest
enough to warn his prospective graduate students that they would have
great difficulty finding employment when they graduated. (Most of them
in fact have done pretty well). I believed him, but went ahead anyway.
I have no "job" and no regrets.
There are in fact many independent scholars, most with PhD.
degrees, who are happily pursuing their interests despite the fact that
they do not have tenure. The only survey I know of found that most of
them said that they would not accept a full-time teaching job if they
were offered one, and most seemed to enjoy their situation.
For centuries, much of the most valuable research was
carried on by virtuosi. A lot still is, because independent scholars are
writing out of a genuine interest in their topic, and are less subject
to the pressures to publish prematurely or unnecessarily delineated in
previous posts.
There are certainly serious disadvantages to independent
scholarship as well, and there are many people who would never wish to
consider independent scholarship if they can't find academic
employment. It would be a very good idea if universities set
out to build bridges to their local indpendent scholars, so that at least
their own graduate students would have a chance to meet some of these
individuals and learn at first hand what choices will be open to them if
they do not receive tenure, or even a first job.
There is a national non-profit organization of independent scholars,
and they hold regular conferences (the next one is in early May). We are
also beginning to provide some on-line information. I would be happy to
provide more information to individuals or to post it to the list, if it
seems appropriate.

Margaret DeLacy