Observations by Matthew Milliner on Louis Menand’s “The Ph.D. Problem: On the professionalization of faculty life, doctoral training, and the academy’s self-renewal”.
Milliner asks “For starters, why not return to the medieval roots of graduate education by considering it a form of the contemplative life?”
That’s an idea I feel very attracted to, and teaching at a liberal arts college has certain advantages in this regard. On one hand, however, medieval education was highly debate-driven, even polemical, and there were dangerous consequences for following one’s intellectual conscience in certain circumstances. It wasn’t an idyllic Athenian Academy. On the other hand, medieval education seems to me more akin to life in a confessional seminary today, where you are surrounded by those who generally agree with you, and while debate can be fierce, it all happens within the boundaries of a shared confession. And that, I would guess, highlights the main difficulty I see with Matthew’s suggestion: how can the contemplative life be our modus operandi when we’re all contemplating (in the ultimate sense) something different, or worse, ourselves? The research university today is a fundamentally different beast.