On Being “Professional”

As we know, I was warned about the problems of being an academic; you would have to publish and live in snow, and it was not a community of scholars but an industrial complex. I was undaunted by this, saying communities of scholars were excellent things but that they had their own problems, and that I would almost prefer to think of myself not as a scholar but as a research professional. And my frustration with universities has often had to do, in fact, with atmospheres that are not only anti-intellectual but also downright unprofessional, and “professionalism” is defined as ignoring these things, or as having the means — not only the will, but the means to “rise above them.” These are interesting contradictions. Then there is Cary Nelson who points out that the current understanding of “professionalism” in fact runs counter to what professors are in fact charged with doing, which is to take informed positions, stand for these, make reasoned arguments for them, profess.

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