illustration by the cactus garden's in-house artist, nj. cause custom art is always fun.
academia, no lie, is a tough world.
it’s stressful, it can be cut-throat, and yet it can still be incredibly rewarding.
there’s a reason why it calls so many people across so many cultures; the pursuit of knowledge, the desire to add to our global understanding is a siren. for all its faults, we embrace this world because just as we give to it, it gives back to us.
when that balance is gone, that’s when we move on.
that’s not a sad thing, though. i think that truth applies to most of our loves and interests in life. life is lengthy and what might interest at one age or in one place, may not in another. the multi-faceted nature of our lives is something to be admired, not feared.
because of all of this, i find it incredibly sad when i read about academic elitism and boundaries within learning. and whenever someone mentions the “ivory tower of academia” i end up realizing i have a very different idea of what the potential of this metaphorical tower might be.
the idea of the ivory tower is not a new concept, and the perception of lofty scholars withholding knowledge or looking down (from the top of the tower, of course... it’s a metaphor day, so let’s play) on the rest of the populace is distressingly common.
the tower is a closed structure. entrance is difficult and selective. financial guards with soul stealing clauses block the way, and even once past those dark entities, the path to the top of the tower is daunting. applicants climb over each other’s backs, clinging to the outer marble façade with only the barest hopes of making it to the top to climb in through the window like rapunzel’s prince.
why is this?
when i think of towers, i think of lookout towers. of semaphore flags and great fire beacons lighting the night. towers are tools for the people, their height a boon to perspective. towers share information, not just to those in the towers, but also to those below. standing on the apex of a tower is like climbing to the crow’s nest — there is a responsibility to share the spyglass’ vision with the crowd below. progress is made through the sharing of knowledge and the collaboration of understanding with all peoples, not just with a select few.
so why doesn’t the ivory tower of academia have a door? what benefit does this blockade actually have? how is such a stratified society sustainable?
regular readers of the cactus garden will notice that for all our academic interests, we strive to maintain an accessible and friendly voice. our words are for all audiences, regardless of background, education, or whatever other division. perhaps it’s not the most academic-sounding voice, but it’s important to us. our forum and our self-sufficiency have allowed us to make this call. yes, in our other projects we are more formal, we conform to the expected voice of academia, but that is because it needs to be done. we make compromises for respect, for a place within the faulty world we love.
as an anthropologist, I find it sorrowful to think that the publication of a new ethnography used to be a big deal to the general public, not just among fellow scholars. i think of the ubiquity of zora neale hurston and how in my undergrad career i read her words in both anthropology and english classes.
when i first started to write this post, i did pounds of research. twenty academic articles still liter my desktop. i wanted to write this piece with all the citations* in the world, to share my addiction to research and the love i have for such investigation. but as i started to write, to really think my words through, it became apparent that all the references i could have used wouldn’t make the point i wanted.
i’m not the only person who feels that learning should be open access, that communication and the encouragement of both interdisciplinary fields would benefit us all, that segregation between professed academics and the rest of the world is detrimental to development. to continue to think otherwise will only hold us back.
so, let’s call in a carpenter
let’s put in that door.
and let that ivory tower be a source of hope, a lighthouse in the night for us all.
*Screw it. Here are some of my citations anyway.
Consider it a suggested reading list, or whatever.
And if you’re looking for more on this, this is just a pittance of what I’ve been going through.
Barata, Paula, Sandeep Hunjan, and Jilliam Leggatt
2005 Ivory Tower? Feminist women’s experiences of graduate school. Women Studies International Forum 28: 232-246.
Barry, Jim, John Chandler, and Heather Clark
2001 Between the Ivory Tower and the Academic Assembly Line. Journal of Management Studies 38(1): 87-101.
Bond, Ross and Lindsay Paterson
2005 Coming down from the Ivory Tower? Academics’ Civic and Economic Engagement with the Community. Oxford Review of Education 31(3): 331-351.
1999 Ethnicity and Diversity in Dutch Academia. Social Identities 5(2): 211-225.
Etzkowitz, Henry, Andrew Webster, Christine Gebhardt, and Branca Regina Cantisano Terra
2000 The future of the university and the university of the future: evolution of ivory tower to entrepreneurial paradigm. Research Policy 29: 313-330.
2004 Academia: in the ivory tower, surrounded by ivy-covered walls. Analytical & Bioanalytical Chemistry 379: 748-749.
Gallant, Mary J. and Jay E. Cross
1993 Wayward Puritans in the Ivory Tower: Collective Aspects of Gender Discrimination in Academia. The Sociological Quarterly 34(2): 237-256.
2011 Information-sharing in academia and the industry: A comparative study. Research Policy 40: 105-122.
Jamie, Angela H.
2003 A Room without a View from within the Ivory Tower. American Indian Quarterly 27(1-2): 252-263.
2012 Locked in the Ivory Tower: Why JSTOR Imprisons Academic Research. The Atlantic. http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/01/locked-in-the-ivory-tower-why-jstor-imprisons-academic-research/251649/, accessed September 12, 2013.
Miranda, Deborah A.
2003 What’s Wrong with a Little Fantasy? Storytelling from the (Still) Ivory Tower. American Indian Quarterly 27(1-2): 333-348.
Ritchie, Euan and Joern Fischer
2012 Cracks in the ivory tower: is academia’s culture sustainable? The Conversation. http://theconversation.com/cracks-in-the-ivory-tower-is-academias-culture-sustainable-8294, accessed September 12, 2013.
Shreeve, William C., William G.T. Goetter, Janet R. Norby, Arnold F. Stueckle, THomas K. Midgley, and Patricia S. Goetter
1988 Changing the Ivory Tower Mentality. College Teaching 36(1): 28-33.
Sending Signals from the Ivory Tower: Barriers to Connecting Academic Research to the Public. http://www.com.washington.edu/graduate/assets/publicservice/ps_sprain.pdf, accessed September 12, 2013.
Wang, Sheng and Raymond A. Noe
2010 Knowledge sharing: A review and directions for future research. Human Resource Management 20: 115-131.