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Neither a Trap Nor a Lie

March 19, 2010

James Mulholland in The Chronicle of Higher Education:

In “The Big Lie About the ‘Life of the Mind,'” the columnist “Thomas H. Benton” argues thatgraduate school in the humanities is based on “structurally … limiting” the potential employment options of students. He is right, just as he is correct that there is a special place in hell for those professors who avoid their responsibilities in making graduate training honest and humane. Still, he is wrong when he concludes that graduate school in the humanities is a “trap” and a “lie.”

I am arguing here for the life of the mind, or at least a version of it. I was inspired to write this by the recent articles on the topic written by Benton (aka William Pannapacker, a professor of English at Hope College), and the intense and passionate response they provoked among this newspaper’s readers (The Chronicle, February 12). It would be difficult not to feel moved by the arguments and anecdotes that readers shared. Like Benton, I have been one of the lucky ones. I had undergraduate professors who took an interest in me, and graduate professors who helped refine my work and prepared me for the job market. I am a junior faculty member on the tenure track at a liberal-arts college where I am happy. But before that, I was a visiting assistant professor, so there was a time when I wasn’t sure what my future in academe would be. [More]

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