Nothing is all bad. As difficult and upsetting as it was, and it was plenty of both, the recent dispute at the U of M served to focus our collective attention and kick-start a genuinely inclusive and on-going discussion about the nature, character, and core missions of this public university. And that, I think, is a good thing. More than this, though, the strike seems to have energized many in our community and produced a renewed sense of connection among faculty and between faculty and students. Just about every faculty friend I have has commented on the many stimulating conversations they had with their colleagues while on the picket line. Old friendships were reinvigorated, it is noted, while many new ones were formed. Meanwhile, something similar happened between faculty members and the many students who turned up to walk the line. This is not a small, warm-and-fuzzy, or anecdotal development. Of the many fundamental issues raised by the recent dispute that demand further reflection and discussion, this matter of intellectual community is, it seems to me, one of the most elemental. A university can be many things, but it is always a collection of minds. We would do well to try and build on the energy and sense of togetherness generated on the picket line.
Unfortunately, I have no specific recommendations for how best to do this. But much depends on how we see conversation. I think we can all agree that conversation is a desirable and enjoyable practice, but sadly this tends to result in us thinking it is also, therefore, somehow frivolous, or an unaffordable luxury. While certainly not the first to do so, I would like to suggest that nothing could be further from the truth. Conversation is essential to the life and work of a university. What is more, it takes many forms: conversation with the scholarly work of others; conversation with the available evidence/data/sources; conversation with students; and conversation with the public at large. We should also not overlook the real value of informal conversations; those exchanges that do not immediately or even necessarily result in some formal academic product, or work their way into the classroom. Sometimes conversation is just about connecting, or sustaining community, or reminding ourselves that life, even academic life, can be fun, god damn it. Then again, one never knows when inspiration might strike or an idea might be born.
It was largely with this latter informal view of conversation in mind that UMIH set up this blog. We hope it might serve as a forum for all levels of conversation and exchange. We also hope that from time to time you, dear readers, will consider contributing entries. Finally and in the spirit of conversation, I would like to take this opportunity to invite suggestions for ways you imagine we all might help foster our intellectual community.
We at the Institute for the Humanities look forward to hearing from you.