In the academic world, or academia, one frequently hears dispiriting comments to the effect that since not many people read academic research papers, articles and books, most of them should not be embarked on and produced in the first place. It is a waste of time, energy and resources.
As a remedy, some suggest that standards be lowered somewhat, and others that teaching and, possibly, community service only be made universities’ raison d’etre. Research and publication should be optional.
However, this is a cliché. Needless to say that many academics use that as an excuse to paper over their serious academic shortcomings and underperformance.
Universities as educational and research institutions of the highest level are places where knowledge is as much used and consumed, as discovered and produced. It is principally there that the boundaries of knowledge and innovation are expanded, and that new horizons are opened up.
It is right there, additionally, that curiosity and abstract intellectualism should be cultivated, sometimes for their own sake, irrespective of how they may be perceived by others, including students and prospective employers.
While most educational systems and institutions turn towards real-world problems and practical vocations, ample avenues should also be provided for atypical inquisitiveness and philosophizing.
Indeed, intellectual eccentricity is an important path to new knowledge horizons. So much so that Bret Stephens, a columnist in the New York Times, believes that ostensibly useless and impractical knowledge begets new horizons. He based his arguments on an article titled “the Usefulness of Useless Knowledge” written in 1939 by an American educational reformer, Abraham Flexner.
When intellectual and educational ingenuity, farsightedness and curiosity, coupled with diligence and proficiency, become hindered or manipulated, that spells the beginning of the end for all academic sophistication and excellence. It further spells the beginning of the end for the integrity of entire educational systems and their academic cultures. Whole societies, as a consequence, will suffer immensely, in that education is the quintessence of their overall wellbeing.
It is owing to this that no sooner does creativity stop than civilizations start declining. If they and their people do not reinvent themselves quickly, they soon become a spent force and hence, doomed.
The Significance of Academics’ Duties
It is unconceivable that a university professor, in whose long academic journey an incredible amount of time and money has been invested, ends up using and consuming other people’s knowledge only, without generating some of it himself (today’s educational degrees, together with substantial research projects, are so expensive that most people are able to complete them only because of certain generous scholarship and funding opportunities).
A university professor’s status and career are something special – not in terms of self-aggrandizement, but in terms of serving others and so, giving back to society. Therefore, something commensurately special is to be expected from him as well, in terms of his intellectual concerns and output.
University professors must not behave as though they are somewhat advanced secondary school educators. In an ideal world, they stand at the forefront of countries’ human and social development and economic progress. By the same token, when things go bad and trying times arrive, they are in the firing line, too.
Being an unproductive university professor, or not doing what is expected from him, amounts to a crime against the nobility of knowledge and education.
Whereas being scarcely read is not as bad as some people would like to project it. When all is said and done, a university professor’s main task is knowledge discovery, creation and dissemination, notwithstanding the reaction of the outside world. He is supposed to try to convince and influence the outside world, not the other way round.
The notion of not being widely read might be offset by the profundity of limited impact academic works often generate. Many such works are original, innovative and even pioneering.
Therefore, they tend to deeply influence minds and sometimes even souls. Some works yet change a person’s life orientation and purpose. Reading them becomes a life-changing and career-defining experience.
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