A while back, the Chronicle of Higher Education ran a piece by Mark Bauerlein, a professor of English at Emory. The article describes a recent research project of his, one that deals only tangentially with his area of expertise. Bauerlein makes the argument–a not uncommon one in this day and age–that a good deal of research goes essentially unread, being accomplished in the main for the sake of career rather than in the confirmed belief that the world will be a better place with the research published.
Actually, to his credit Bauerlein does more than speculate. He actually makes a serious attempt to understand the extent to which humanities research at several notable universities went beyond life in the printing press, and made it out into the real world it intends to benefit. His “unfortunate” conclusion: “the overall impact of literary research doesn’t come close to justifying the money and effort that goes into it.”
He acknowledges his research is not complete and not without various methodological problems. Still and all, the study, however limited, has the virtue Dr. Johnson attributed to a dog’s ability to walk on its hinder legs: that even if it not done well, you are surprised to find it is done at all. That’s because higher education is assiduous at not measuring what it does not want to know. Like Richard Vedder’s faculty productivity study at the University of Texas, Bauerlein’s piece is a start, and all the more meaningful because it is, at this late date, just a start.