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Academic Culture

Traditions and the Present Days

by Zbigniew Drozdowicz (Author)
Monographs 186 Pages

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • From the Author
  • Chapter One: The Corporate and Temple Types of Academic Culture
  • Corporate Culture
  • Temple culture
  • The Future of Academic Culture
  • A Postscript: The Masters and Leaders in Science
  • Chapter Two: The Faith of Scholars
  • The Marriage of Scientific Knowledge and Theism
  • Two Non-Overlapping Magisteria
  • The Marriage of Scientific Knowledge and Deism
  • The Marriage of Scientific Knowledge and Agnosticism
  • The Marriage of Scientific Knowledge and Atheism
  • A Postscript: Pseudosciences
  • Chapter Three: Evaluation of Scientific Achievement
  • The Impact Factor
  • Prestigious Publishers
  • A Postscript: International Stature and Provincialism in Science
  • Chapter Four: The Constitution for Science in Poland
  • Consultations in the Milieu
  • Public University System
  • Scientific and Teaching Staff at Universities
  • The Education of Students and Student Self-Governance
  • Scientific Degrees and the Scientific Title
  • The Perfection Initiative
  • A Postscript: Commentaries and Assessments
  • References
  • Index of Names
  • Series index

←6 | 7→From the Author

In these deliberations, I adopt the broad notion of culture advanced in 1871 by Edward B. Tylor, approaching it as a “complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.” The above is in fact drawn upon by numerous dictionary definitions of culture, such as the one provided in the Cambridge English Dictionary, which states that culture is “the way of life, especially the general customs and beliefs, of a particular group of people at a particular time” (Cambridge English Dictionary 2015). Naturally, it is not my intention to discuss each and every way of human life or all the customs and beliefs that may come into play but to focus solely on those which have been in evidence in the academic community, which in itself invariably demonstrates tremendous cultural diversity. It is only in certain respects that the diversity overlaps with the discrepancies between the Western and the Eastern cultures. The latter encompasses Polish culture, including Polish academic culture, to which I devote relatively much attention here. However, it is so singular with regard to many other traits that its equivalents in other social communities can hardly be found.

Persons who are not members of the academic community often find it difficult to comprehend and accept the way of life and beliefs that scholars embrace. What is more, some scholars find it equally problematic to accept what their fellow scholars believe and assert in their views. This is fairly easy in the case of beliefs and notions of scholars from different periods, or even those who live in the same period of time but function in distinct academic milieus. This is because academic culture has witnessed a great number of crucial changes over the course of many centuries. Some changes were evolutionary and required a fairly long time to come to pass. Others occurred in the manner of a revolution. Admittedly, they were not as prompt as political revolutions, for instance, but their aftermath was no less important than with political upheavals, to name only the Copernican revolution, which turned the concept of the solar system upside down, or the Darwinian revolution, which invalidated any previous ideas of the origin of species. The current situation in science is such that various evolutions ←7 | 8→and revolutions take place virtually before our eyes. However, the chief difficulty is—for one thing—that evolutions and revolutions within science are hardly distinguishable. Also, it is no easy task to determine which of those are actual and which only ostensible, and whether it is still science one is dealing with or pseudo-science already. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that scholars (incidentally considered members of the social elite), not infrequently combine convictions which are subject to the rules of scientific verification with the convictions which do not differ greatly from colloquial notions; yet they are adopted because they are comfortable and convenient, or else facilitate communication and understanding with those who for various reasons are not and cannot be an elite.

I draw attention to those difficulties not so much to justify the selectiveness of my view of academic culture (though it does apply indeed), but to explain why my deliberations set out with distinguishing two of its types, namely the corporate and the temple culture. Such a typology has its advantages and drawbacks. The former include a certain ease of navigating that extremely diverse territory of varied beliefs, notions, forms of academic activity and collaboration with the social environment, as well as the ability to identify those forces which provided some scholars with an impetus to engage in that activity, while others found them a safeguard against external and internal threat, or a challenge and a problem to be solved. The principal disadvantage lies in the considerable simplification of the picture of that cultural reality, which displays so many colours and hues that they cannot be inscribed into any typological framework.

In the second part of these deliberations, I address the issue I consider fundamental, namely the faith of scholars. There can be little doubt that it has been and continues to be the that driving force of their academic life and co-existence with the social environment. After all, everyone believes in something, and as long as they believe, they live with the hope for a better tomorrow or at least for retaining their status quo; this is also true in science, which not only lives its past but also its future. However, in the commonplace understanding, scholars are a social group which does not live the same beliefs as other groups. In particular, they have always been perceived as those who voice various “buts” or even “againsts” with respect to the religious beliefs shared by their social surroundings. This generalizing notion is not altogether unfounded, but in order to established how correct ←8 | 9→it is, one has to refer to the results of studies into the faith of scholars and to the views held by scholars themselves. In this part, I take advantage of both the former and the latter. If, at this juncture, I were to offer a possibly brief answer to the question “what about the faith of scholars?”, I would say that a proportion do not share the religious beliefs professed by their social environment. Nevertheless, their positions have not been uniform across various periods and places, nor have they been consistent across the scientific fields and disciplines. Both those who accept religious beliefs and those who express various reservations constitute markedly dissimilar groups. In order to show how they diverge, I adopt a fairly simple division into theists, deists, agnostics, and atheists, though again, significantly different versions can be determined within each of those factions. I attempt to show them by quoting the views on faith from a number of the more eminent scholars. For obvious reasons, their arguments are presented in a selective fashion.

To an uninvolved observer, the matter of evaluation of scientific achievement discussed in the third part may seem marginal or at least not that relevant for academic life as scientific research. Perhaps it is not as important as the inquiry, yet it is not a negligible part of that life, while it does happen to pose an issue which requires to be urgently resolved. I am convinced that the opinion would be endorsed by quite a few of the beginner scholars who still have the successive rungs of the academic career to scale, as well as by a number of the experienced scholars who have done the climb and do not have to struggle to reach the academic peaks (and the honours that go with it) with such reviewers who are either unfavourably disposed for some reason or lack the competence to assess and appreciate their scientific accomplishments objectively. I believe that the evaluation is a focal point of the various but mutually complementary components of academic culture such as the scholar’s capacity for: 1. criticism and self-criticism; 2. rising above individual and collective stereotypes; 3. treating the so-called good practice of a scholar or their ethical principles as something they do not have to be reminded of or explained as if they were freshmen in the “school” of academic good manners. Naturally, learning those and other academic skills comes easily to some, whereas others find it more difficult. However, much depends not only on their capacity and willingness to learn, but also on the customs observed in their academic milieu, particularly by ←9 | 10→those who are considered masters and teachers of the academic mores (the matter is discussed as a postscript to the first part of my deliberations). This is especially palpable when one compares the customs of the “old” universities with the much younger ones. In Poland, it is only the Jagiellonian University which qualifies in the former category, but even in its heyday (in the sixteenth century) it was not counted among the foremost European universities, while the profound crisis it experienced later reduced it from a university to the Academy of Krakow. Poles had to and have to learn from someone after all.

The question of that learning is explored in the part entitled The Constitution for Science which, let me add, concerns science practiced in Poland by scholars who carry out their professional duties at Polish universities. It is rather beyond dispute that much is to be improved there before their quality matches their Western counterparts. Numerous scholars have had no doubt on that score, including the co-authors of the regulations adopted in 2018, referred to as the Law 2.0 for the sake of conciseness. On the other hand, doubts have been expressed by those scholars who do not believe in the agency of such enactments, or at least consider some of the provisions to be at odds with the actual needs and capacities of Polish science. If I were to briefly outline my own reservations with respect to the Law 2.0, I would say that it is informed by the spirit of the same or very similar corporatism which had emerged at European universities in the Middle Ages and subsequently grew into maturity and consolidated its position through e.g. alliances with politicians and politics, as well as by aligning itself with those who held a substantial capital and multiplied it by investing in the economy and scientific innovations it could profitably exploit. A distinctive trait of the regulation is that rectors are granted such broad powers as to arouse fears that they may become university dictators. Regrettably, the short question “what is wrong with that?” cannot be answered with equal brevity. Nonetheless a part of the response may be found in my remarks concerning the Law 2.0.←10 | 11→

Summary

The author of this book formulates a general thesis that in the academic culture, since the emergence of the first universities until this very day, two types of that culture have competed with each other, i.e., a corporate and templar one. In his remarks, the author tries to highlight it through the presentation of:
1. The functioning of academia in different time periods, 2. The beliefs of scholars, 3. The ways scholarly achievements have been evaluated, 4. The legal acts for science and academia. A considerable part of this study is devoted to the analysis of the Polish academic culture, including the attempts of adjusting the existing standards of conducting research and educating students to the ones prevailing in the leading Western countries.

Biographical notes

Zbigniew Drozdowicz (Author)

Zbigniew Drozdowicz is a philosopher and researcher of religion. He graduated in history from the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań. Since 1973, he has worked as an academic teacher and researcher at that university. Currently, he is professor in humanities at the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznañ. He specialises in contemporary philosophy and philosophy of religion.

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Title: Academic Culture