Higher Education

creative professions in higher education

Forgive the forthcoming circuitous route. Walking the dog perambulates my mind as well, I guess. Anyway, I keep thinking about this idea of education as a "creative profession." I suppose it could be a semantic issue, that it all depends on how you define "creative." Saying we are all creative is nice; there’s a rhetoricity to that claim. It’s a little like students who claim their individuality by wearing the same kinds of clothes, drinking the same beer, listening to the same music, etc. Maybe we are "individual" in the more abstract sense of always being other than ourselves, but that’s not so comforting. Likewise, perhaps we are "creative" in that we are always remaking the world in our fictive conscious out of the electrically animated lumps of meat that are our bodies. And most of us manage to do a fairly good job of getting through the day.

But obviously the creative in creative profession means something more conventional. I doesn’t have to mean creative in the sense of being an artist, but it is about developing new ideas, practices, things, etc. that have value (and of course value is another relative, situated term).

So here’s the thing about tenure. I think traditionally tenure is supposed to protect faculty from institutional reprisals when those faculty teach or research in ways that may not be ideologically popular or in the direct interest of the institution. We hear often in the popular media about "radical" professors with their lefty notions. Tenure is intended to protect such folks or so way say. And maybe it does, at least to some degree. But in my experience, though profs may vote more democratic than some othe professions, most aren’t that politically radical in their classrooms or research. In fact, most research isn’t radical at all. If it were, then you could look through journals and see all kinds of different radical ideas. But you won’t see that. I’m not suggesting that you should. Disciplines can’t really function as disciplines if everyone is perpetually overtuning the apple cart, so to speak. Nor does that mean that research isn’t creative. It’s just that the range of creativity is fairly narrow compared to what it could be, given the protections of tenure (or at least so one might think).

In teaching there is even less creativity. Walk past classrooms and
you’ll see a fairly narrow range of behaviors repeated. Visit online
classrooms in CMS’s and I think the range is even more narrow.

Again, I’m not sure whether this is good or bad. And I’m certainly
not going to say "do what I’m doing instead"! I’m in the same context.
Instead, I am trying to understand how creativity functions here, and
honestly what we might do to enhance it. I do think that schools and
disciplines dampen creativity and discourage the risk-taking that is
essential to being creative. The road to tenure is often so tenuous
that I think taking unnecessary risks is pretty much beaten out of
faculty. Institutional bureaucracies serve as firewalls against change.

Like most colleges in these economic times, we are playing our
budget close to the vest. The word is that the college is not going to
be approving any new programs that will "cost money." I’m really not
sure what that means. Not changing costs money too. It’s the price of
homeostasis. Ask any plastic surgeon what it costs to stay the same.
However it is obviously an institutional moratorium on risk-taking. But
I would suggest that not taking risks is also a risk in itself.

I suppose, in a way, the argument I was making in Two Virtuals is
that we can develop compositional-creative methods by tapping into the
networked, yet embodied, creative processes of cognition, which I was
referencing at the start of this rambling post. As Foucault and Deleuze
thoroughly investigated, modern institutions are all about the
managment of these processes. Yet even to think of this is a very
Machievellian way, to make room for the creative economy, management

strategies need to change: we can already see it in other industries.

I think we need to approach this in a social-constructivist way. We
need to alter the contexts in which faculty are trained (i.e. grad
school) and in which they work, to condition more risk-taking and
creativity. We need to take advantage of all those tools Shirky
discusses that lower the costs of failure, and we need to adapt our
institutions to function in concert with those tools.

Now that will require some creative thinking!