In Jakarta I keep hearing stories of professors being “disciplined” (or, in the worse cases, perhaps fired) for being too bookish – there seems to be an operative assumption that when a professor is deep in academic texts and writing essays he isn’t being properly professional. In one case a professor is encouraged to get out of his office in order to do “proper” research in the form of assisting with care work in a remote island or village. Professors engaged in the study of texts are considered less than ideal and “narrow” or not in touch with reality.
In some disciplines field research is indeed necessary. One who is pursuing a D.Min or a Doctor in Missiology (or in Economics, say), or a professor of fields like those, must certainly engage in field research, involving, say, extensive interviews, traveling, and being absent from the University library. But this isn’t even what people often have in mind – somehow the ideal professor is one who is a “jack of all trades” or a “practical (pragmatic)” man; so, often a close reading of texts is not considered a valuable use of time. There seems to be a major confusion in some regarding what research actually entails, and an implicit imposition of business values on academic researchers (especially those in the Humanities) often take place.
One who pursues a PhD in the field of theology or philosophy, or, say, English literature is pursuing something which indicates not merely one’s competence in his subject area, but also his competence as one who can investigate and codify information for the purpose of developing human knowledge. Put a professor specialized in the thought of Albert Camus in any library and tell him to present in a month the philosophical context of the Second Great Awakening in the United States and he will know exactly where to start. This is the sort of thing that Academics specialize in, and the sort of thing that are expected to do. What does that look like? Locating the best libraries and tracking down key texts, getting in touch with others who may know the field better than one does, and finding able translations if one needs to access a necessary text in another language. This involves an ability to read well, the capacity to navigate between various schools of thought, and knowing where to look and what to look for, and being acquainted with the appropriate academic peer-reviewed journals.
An “academic” expected to stay away from libraries is not actually doing what he was trained to do.
Hence the problem – funding is allocated not to the further development of libraries, nor is it directed at the work – the often painstaking work – of researchers who labor at finding out, investigating, and collating, and developing knowledge. Priority is placed on pushing researchers to teach more classes – research sabbaticals are downright humorous and sometimes offensive to even suggest.
If this is the case, then the University may be able to create good (but pragmatic) businessmen or practitioners, the seminary may produce productive pastors – but no scholar or scholarship will be forthcoming. That, indeed, would be a tragedy – the world will continue to engage in the discussion and one will be dependent on the expertise of others, having no say in the sway of the authoritative ideas being propounded. Depth of thinking will not be reached, and a capacity for criticism rendered shallow.