I was never meant to be an academic. I was an artist. The closest I got to being in the art world and sustaining myself was by becoming an art consultant at a commercial art gallery in San Francisco. This was one among 26 stores of a national gallery chain. I sold Keith Haring, Chagall, Picasso and Andy Warhol. It seemed like an ideal job. I got paid to read, think and talk about art to an eclectic clientele. Painting and sculpture surrounded me at all times. My passion for art found its home. That was clearly my naiveté talking.
I changed over the years. When I saw a painting, I saw the commission it brought me. I obsessed over whether I would make it to the monthly list of top consultants. You were as good as your last sale. It was a roller-coaster ride as the company reassessed your value on a monthly basis, depending on the deals you brought in. In this line of business, track-records mattered little.
Public education must be different. Shaping minds is no small feat. Pushing knowledge forward is herculean but noble an endeavor. A novel idea demands risk and welcomes failure. Few are born great teachers. Our excellence builds on experience.
Recent global events and rising trends beg to defer. Last week, university lecturers went on the largest-ever strike in British higher education due to proposed budget cuts to their pension system. In the United States, part-time professors, adjuncts, constitute about 75 percent of the national faculty with the majority of them living below the poverty line. In the name of efficiency, the privatization culture has seeped into the academic bloodstream, including in the Netherlands.
Who values the educator? Rate my professor has stepped up to algorithmize a professor and commercialize this need. The TED era is breeding a new line of celebrity professors that impact the lay public with their hopeful and easily digestible message.
I wonder now…is an academic as good as his/her last grant? Is knowledge legitimized based on its marketization potential? Are students more consumers than learners? Is it an honor and the duty of professors to volunteer their expertise to keep the publication system alive? If you cannot pay for your presence through a stream of funding, is your impact absent?
Who gets to decide?
Payal Arora is an Associate Professor at Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication