About the Project
¶ 1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 “Our generosity may leave us empty, but our emptiness then pulls gently at the whole until the thing in motion returns to replenish us.” —Lewis Hyde, The Gift
¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 The text contained on this site is the draft manuscript of Generous Thinking: The University and the Public Good, the revised version of which was published by Johns Hopkins University Press in February 2019.
¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 As I had done with my previous book, Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy, I sought feedback through a process of community review. This time out, I handled a couple of things differently, however: I staged the review process by first seeking input from a range of specific readers before opening the draft to the world, and the comment period was limited to six weeks. The internet is a bit different than it was in 2009, and while I still believe in working in public (as this manuscript will bear out), I wanted to acknowledge and account for the challenges that openness presents in 2018.
¶ 4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 3 Planned Obsolescence explored a number of potential transformations in the ways that scholars work and communicate with one another that were being inspired by the networks through which we are connected; Generous Thinking turns its attention to the ways that scholars might connect and communicate with a range of off-campus communities about our shared interests and concerns, which I believe will be a necessary element of rebuilding the relationship between the university and the public that it is meant to serve.
¶ 5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 2 That this relationship needs rebuilding seemed all too evident as I originally posted this draft, in February 2018, as the news was — and remains — filled with evidence of spectacular failures: the university has been undermined by the withdrawal of public support for its functions, but that public support has been undermined by the university’s own betrayals of the public trust. My hope is that Generous Thinking might provide one pathway toward renewing that trust. It won’t be easy, but it’s crucial to the future of higher education in the U.S. that we try.
¶ 6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 4 The first seeds of the idea for this book were planted late in the Obama administration, a time when the call to generosity, to community, to care seemed only natural. Much of it was drafted during the 2016 presidential campaign and its 2017 aftermath, when the same call seemed to take on a kind of desperation. It has been difficult, in several ways, to keep this from becoming a fundamentally angry book, while nonetheless allowing its anger space in amongst its general emotional swirl. Acknowledging those emotions and their often very personal origins is one of the ways in which this book tries to find some common ground with the audience that it seeks to create, an audience that is not just composed of other scholars but also administrators, students, parents, and the many other people who affect and care about the futures of our institutions of higher education. The book also tries, to some extent, to minimize its scholarly apparatus; while I still rely on many voices who have contributed significantly to my thinking about the questions I raise, my goal was to make this text as broadly readable as possible.
¶ 7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 The conclusion of the print edition notes that it’s going to require more minds than just my own to come up with solutions to the crises the university is embroiled in. In the end, I invite readers to share their own thoughts here, as a means of thinking together about the path forward. As a result, comments on this draft are once again open, with the caveat that the spring 2018 discussion here produced some serious rethinking of several of my arguments. You can see the results in the JHUP version.
¶ 8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 Portions of chapter 4 were originally published as “Giving It Away: Sharing and the Future of Scholarly Communication,” in the Journal of Scholarly Publishing, vol. 43, no. 4 (2012).
¶ 9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 Huge thanks are due to Lucretia McCulley, Rob Nelson, Kevin Butterfield, and their many colleagues at the University of Richmond, for inviting me to visit. The talk I gave there in February 2016 turned out to be the first tentative steps toward this project, and their generous reception and engagement with the ideas I presented played an enormous role in its development.
¶ 10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 1 Thanks are also due to Greg Britton and Catherine Goldstead at Johns Hopkins University Press, and to Nicky Agate, Eric Knappe, Ryan Williams, and Anne Donlon at Humanities Commons, for making this process possible. And finally, thanks as well to Christian Wach for continuing to support and develop CommentPress, on which this project and so much other scholarly conversation relies.
¶ 11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 —Kathleen Fitzpatrick
It seems to me that the eroding of the connections between higher education and “students, parents and the many other people” may appear to have accelerated recently, but its roots are deep. I wonder if it would be possible to tamp down the noise of the last year and a half and look at the roots of the disconnect — I suspect, knowing you and your work, that that will be the case as I read further! I only worry that by paying close attention to the current braying, we are getting sucked into a maelstrom that may be purposefully intended to consume our attention.
Completely agreed, Elliott — and I wonder, now that you’ve finished reading, whether you think I got there. It’s become all too possible for us to burn ourselves out trying to hear and respond to all that noise, and I wonder about the degree to which the noise is keeping us from listening carefully enough to the things that are really important. Not in that “don’t get distracted by X, when Y is the important thing!” sense that keeps sweeping through Twitter responses to whatever most recent horror has emerged, but in the sense that our attention keeps getting fragmented down into smaller and smaller bits, leaving us decreasingly able to find the signal in amongst the noise…