You may have noticed: the professoriate is changing. As I’ve moved through different institutions in the US, Germany, and now Hong Kong, I have been observing, reading, and thinking about what recommendations to make to younger colleagues about their preparations for the future. History is unpredictable, so who knows, but here are several trends I see working themselves slowly out across the globalizing university ecosphere.
First, graduate school must always include consistent training not only in research methodologies and professional networking, but also in how to engage with students, with a focus on interactive teaching methods and project collaboration. Intelligence is distributed and knowledge, as content, is now available at the click of a search engine. There remain, though, essential questions about how we all enhance, configure, and make use of such knowledge and these are the key skills of the professor as facilitator.
Secondly, expanded definitions of Professorships of Practice will become more prevalent than they are at the moment. Specialization, which is embedded in the fabric of technological modernity, and research, which still carries with it the most prestige and wealth, are not going to vanish. They shouldn’t. But they will become reconfigured.
Whereas almost all current hiring and tenure decisions focus on such outputs or promise of such outputs, in the future these positions will be only one of several employment tracks that will complement research tracks with teaching and dual-capacity tracks. There is simply too much work to do for one type of scholar to accomplish it all. Facilitation will always, however, have to do with the construction of pathways for collaboration and knowledge generation.
Finally, a word on the “transdisciplinary.” With globalization and the digital revolution, fields of knowledge production are shifting rapidly and university structures, sooner or later, will develop mechanisms for a faster shift of their own institutional ground. Deep expertise is still required for all of our jobs, but while we are developing this knowledge-base in our fields, we also need to develop skills across areas.
This does not imply equal capacity in all areas—life is limited and we are not that smart—but, rather, a willingness to develop points of contact and communities of improvisation. These, too, will need to be hardwired into university requirements, budgets, promotions, and org charts.
The university is changing rapidly, but this gives us an opportunity to invent new fields of theoretically sophisticated practice and to work with both our students and our peers as colleagues committed to the labors and to the pleasures of learning across this emerging terrain.