[-empyre-] Laura Borràs

davin heckman davinheckman at gmail.com
Mon Mar 9 05:25:06 EST 2009

With no personal relationship to Laura or her University, it's hard
for me to say anything substantial about the situation beyond my gut

1) She's a scholar who is obviously a leader in her field.  Without
ever having any personal interaction with her, I am still very
familiar with who she is and what she does.  There are people who are
well-known because they excel at something in particular.  There are
people who are famous because they associate with people who excel at
things.  But in Dr. Borras' case, I think she is something else
altogether.  Her intelligence comes across in her writing.  And she is
very well-networked.  But beyond that, she seems to be authentically
open-minded in who she engages with and what she promotes through her
work. As someone who can negotiate an emerging field in several
languages, you'd have to be.  And, still, she gives time and attention
to people who aren't necessarily well-known, but who are doing great
things.  I always get happy whenever I find an academic who is really
open-minded, who is working on doing something for the world, rather
than working on their careers.

2) The abrupt sort of termination, without any formal appeal process
or review is really scary.  I understand that sometimes people don't
fit at an institution for whatever reason, and I don't even know that
I am too terribly hung up on tenure (at a time when working people
everywhere, from adjunct faculty to widget makers, are getting the
shaft, it seems inappropriate to get too loud about tenure without
making a general complaint about what all working folks deal with.).
But, regardless of formal rules protecting workers, the underlying
issue is justice.  If you are getting canned, you have a right to know
why.  You have a right to make your case to people higher up the
ladder.  (And, of course, there do need to be formal rules that make
sure this happens).  From where I am standing, it seems like Dr.
Borras has not been treated justly.

The letter I wrote to her school basically said this:  "Please make
sure that you review this decision is reviewed by an outside party.
It looks to me like she is being treated unjustly, and that your
school runs a substantial risk in being perceived as unfair.  More
importantly, you are losing an amazing scholar who is widely
recognized as a great colleague and a leader in her field."

But to answer other people's concerns, I don't know that this is
particularly something that targets "new media" scholars.  Many
schools see us as commodities that everyone needs to have.  Where we
tend to suffer is where humanities suffers in general.  The humanities
always needs to be defended from marginalization and elimination when
competing ideological impulses are ascendant (whether they be
technocratic or barbaric).  Technology and new media are considered to
be great capitalist endeavors, and so hiring a new media faculty
member can be seen as a means to shift the focus of the humanities in
a technocratic direction.  Which might explain why some of us don't
seem to fit in our humanities departments. It also explains why
administrators get disappointed when we teach humanities.  My approach
to this problem has been to fight for the humanities and liberal arts,
and to avoid teaching "professionalism."  This means you tangle with
people who don't value the humanities, but that you make allies among
those who do.

As far as long term strategies are concerned, I think lists like this,
which help us spell out what it is that we do, can help us protect our
vocations from elimination.  Definitions of e-poetry, while they might
be ephemeral, help us commit to a certain approach.  Similarly,
answering the question, "What are the humanities?" and "Why should we
teach them?" also might help us see our way out of the woods.  For
philosophical reasons, many of us are reluctant to articulate in
positive terms, what it is that we do as teachers.  But we need to do
that from time to time.  We can revise our answers when we need to.
But we do need to defend some of the traditional functions of the
University, even if it means getting our hands dirty with metaphysical
dirt from time to time, if we want to argue that our subjects should
be taught (and, that, as workers, we should be treated humanely).
It's better than having to justify your job strictly in economic terms
(which is metaphysical in its own way).

Does anyone know if they are going to look at the decision again?



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