Graduate Studies Today

Graduate education in the United States is the context in which the university reproduces itself as an institution. Faculty have typically regarded this reproductive activity as essentially replicative, much in the way in which genes are programmed to reproduce themselves both accurately and exactly. But reproduction does not need to be understood in such a conservative (in the etymological sense of that word) fashion.  Reproduction can also be a moment of resignification and of production of a novel configuration that arises from the challenges facing the structure that seeks continuity in time.

We know that the contemporary university is being buffeted by the many demands placed on it, which are both internal and social in nature. Given that the university of the future is being devised and constructed, so to say, in our graduate programs, departments must find a way to incorporate this proleptic responsibility in their current curricula and in the careful consideration of the skills they choose to hone in their graduate students. It is not enough to train students to live and work in the university as we understand it now; a certain dimension of their preparation must make allowances, must incorporate, a degree of openness to what the university will become in the future.  This is an extremely difficult demand, since it requires that we denaturalize what we know and what we are as scholars, and that we also engage in the habit of cultivating “the otherwise.”

Much has been said about the growing chasm between two cultures within the university—the humanistic and the scientific.  In fact, the current sense of a profound crisis of the humanities could be seen as the perhaps inevitable denouement of the ascendance of the sciences at the expense of humanistic endeavors that C.P. Snow had already diagnosed in the late 1950s. Yet, what is lost in this zero-sum version of the relative positioning of the humanities and the sciences in the university is the realization that the crisis in the current model of the university itself is having deleterious consequences for both humanistic thought and scientific inquiry, as is underscored by the recent retrenchment in funding for basic science as against translational endeavors.

This is why graduate education today must assume explicitly its responsibility to reproduce the university, but in a creative and imaginative fashion: to provide the continuity inherent in reproduction without engaging in the comfort of replication. We scholars must turn the university itself into our subject—perhaps our most important and peremptory subject—so that we may discharge effectively the epochal undertaking of glimpsing the contours of our possible future. We will most likely not inhabit that brave new world, but we still have the duty to delineate it in its inchoate splendor from within the crisis-ridden, contradictory, and unstable ground of our present. Let us devote ourselves to the festive, melancholy project of shedding our supple institutional skin.

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Carlos J. Alonso, « Graduate Studies Today », Hispanic Institute Bulletin, Columbia University | LAIC, Department of Latin American and Iberian Cultures (online), published on April 11, 2015. Full URL for this article
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