Many of us have pondered H-Net’s place on the internet these days. Finding, or creating, that space, still needs some work, but for the moment I’d like us to think about a slightly different question.
What is H-Net's place in the world of academia today?
H-Net Council is drafting H-Net’s Strategic Plan for the next five years. We do so at a time when academia is undergoing some serious changes I know we all see. Some of it has certainly been well covered in media. There have been conversations over at H-Adjunct and H-Scholar but we all see, at least in the United States, that the academic profession, and how people proceed in it beyond grad school, ain’t what it used to be. Tenure track positions are drying up, courses are taught more and more by adjuncts, PhD’s are leaving academia, teaching, and research, for brighter job prospects elsewhere. Many departments mull over on, and some make plans and act, on how to train grad students for careers outside the academy. AHA and MLA ponder and push some of these efforts. Support seems to be moving more and more toward STEM fields, to the detriment of the humanities and social sciences.
Many of us have likely been involved in discussions of these changes that pertain to various communities we are a part of: where will we and fellow grad students find employment? Who will teach our department’s intro course next semester? If full time faulty shrink, does our university’s investment in our research resources shrink correspondingly? (Why pay for so many journal databases when fewer and fewer people are around to use them?) How does any of this affect our workload? Does the quantity or quality of research in our field shrink?
Editors of H-Net networks are also part of the H-Net community and I’m wondering what, if anything, these changes may mean for us. As some departments think of training for careers outside academia, do we need to be looking for anything beyond academia as well? Or do we do enough already? I talk to quite a few editors and potential editors. I see more of them coming from outside academia, but I’d like to get some actual numbers; until I have them, I suggest we are very largely academics. I also hear some potential editors ask, “Is it OK that I am not affiliated with a university?” Is it possible we look “too academic-y” when academia is losing people, by choice or otherwise?
Should H-Net perhaps take a stand and somehow be actively involved in…what? Defending tenure tracks? Adjuncts’ rights? Our non-profit status limits our involvement in politics, but are there maybe issues here that H-Net should find a way to take a stand on? Or should we be “above the fray”? If we continue to do what we do and maintain a focus on academic writing, discussion, and networking, are we Nero playing the fiddle while Rome burns around us?
Of course, Nero never did that, so maybe the situation isn’t so dire. Is there any way in which this is an opportunity for H-Net to locate and fill new niches that you see being created by current changes?
Back to finding our place on the internet, let me conclude by saying, “Subscribe and let me know what you think in the comments below!” What do you think H-Net can or should do in response to the shifting landscape of academia?