ON TENURE, THE BIRTH OF SCIENTIFIC PSYCHOLOGY, AND ITS IMPENDING DOOM: “DEATH BY INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY LITIGATION”
In the 18th-century, serendipitous findings in the field of Astronomy (the details of which shall be omitted for brevity, as they are not the focal point of this essay) led the director of the Royal Observatory at Königsberg, Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel to legitimise subjectivity into Astronomy, by way of reclassifying the Philosophical construct of Perception as an “empirically testable variable”.
In Bessel's time it was already obvious that the earth is a difficult place from which to try to map the nighttime sky.
In addition to being immersed in a (even then) thick, light refracting atmosphere which distorts star positions, the earth itself was known (by some scientists) to be a moving platform whose basic motion (an assumed annual revolution around the sun) was subject to erratic “corrections” introduced by frequent “wobblethingies”.
Thus the task of collecting precise astronomical information was fraught with “complications” (not the least of which being that the Copernican, heliocentric model of the solar system had not yet become an established...thingie) [sorry Susan Rooks for inserting a parenthetical at the end of a sentence, and pathological dependence on the idiomatic “thingie” term].
Employing state of the art instrumentation, and ensuring that all intrinsic errors had been minimized as much as possible, it was nonetheless the task of individual astronomers to convert the readings from the instrumentation into usable data.
Prior to Bessel, every astronomer just did this in their own idiosyncratic way. It was Bessel who not only performed a “primitive prototype of a meta analysis” on the possible range of all corrections involved but established a logical, systematic equation for applying them which has been virtually standard operating procedure ever since. Leaving nothing to chance, he empirically demonstrated that different observers at the same location inevitably perceive a given event occurring at different times and introduced the "personal equation" to correct for it (long before the discipline of Scientific Psychology arose) and took interest in the question of individual differences in perception in its own right...
...Fast Forward to the famous “Reform Movement” in German Education in the 19th-century. This is the era in which “strange new concepts” were introduced as best practices in University Education; “thingies” such as: “Academic Freedom in Research and Study for both faculty and students”.
Policies which meant that one could earn a living as a research scientist! Creativity and Discovery were officially encouraged (and then some); “publish or perish” entered (some might argue “became”) the canon.
Wilhelm von Humboldt, the primary spearhead of the reform of higher education in Germany, (metaphorically, “nailed to the door of Wittenberg”) presented his case in a memorandum during the 1809/1810 academic year, titled “On the Internal and External Organization of Institutions of Higher Education in Berlin.”
Humboldt’s philosophy for reform can be summarized to require that all University Courses should be subject to scrutiny under the principles of scientific examination and be free from religious/governmental/theocratic dogma of any kind. Scientific research was the fundamental construct to be employed for development of an overall education of the individual.
Importantly, science should NOT be regulated to vast memorization of existing knowledge; rather, empirical methodology should be utilized towards the goal of discovery of new scientific territory.
According to Humboldt, “In the organization of institutions of higher education everything depends upon retaining the principle that knowledge must be considered as something not yet wholly discovered and never entirely discoverable, and that it must incessantly be sought as such.”Humboldt was able to put into effect his vision of what a university should be during the short period in 1810 when he was in charge of the Prussian ministry which governed universities in what was to subsequently become the capital of a united Germany, Berlin.
Until his “tenure” (irony --this was a component of his proposal, and didn't exist as such previously), German universities had been dominated by reformers who saw the utility of a “more practical” trades oriented model of education...
...at any rate this construct, for a time, made Germany the perfect soil for the germination of the seed of Experimental Psychology.
The (still) separate strands of 1) Bessel's “claiming” of Philosophy's concept of subjectivity as an empirically measurable variable, and 2) The significant gains in Sensory Physiology, which not only adopted the experimental method, but was reaping a rich harvest in having done so. The pioneering work of Johann Müller leading to the “Doctrine of Specific Nerve Energies”, the work of the Italian Physicists Luigi Galvani and Alessandro Volta on the electrical nature of the “nerve impulse”, the German Sensory Physiologist Hermann Von Helmholtz’s empirical measurement of the speed of said Neural Impulse having effectively built the framework for what we now call:
NEUROSCIENCE...now “lived” in an “academic habitat” friendly to those inclined to create empirically sound methods to “weave” the strands together.
By the mid-19th-century, these strands were beginning to be woven together in novel ways by the German “proto neurophysiologists”, and the “hybrid” Sensory Physiologists/Physicists Ernst Weber, and Gustav Fechner. The combined contributions of Weber and Fechner resulted in the birth of an entirely new branch of science: “Psychophysics” ( which is a road I really want to go down, but mustn't, ‘cause I want people to actually read this thingie)!
Finally, Wilhelm Wündt, using Psychophysics as his “frame”, completed the final tapestry --the embryonic, initial form of Scientific Psychology 1.0.
The quasi adoption of major tenants of the German Educational Reform Movement by American Universities such as John Hopkins, Harvard, and particularly the University of Chicago, under the leadership of Educational Philosophers such as John Dewey, James Angell, William James, and others, led to a more complete, (and importantly) pragmatic tapestry --Scientific Psychology 2.0.
This, new, pragmatic, American Scientific Psychology came to be known as Functionalism and is still a fairly accurate roadmap for all of the things that (I'd venture) most Marketers, Advertisers, Brand “thingie” people, Leadership “thingie” people, Social Networking “thingie” people, Helping Professional “thingie” people, People in the “Win Friends and Influence People” “thingie” people would HAVE NO SUCH POSITIONS IN THE WORLD OF GAINFUL EMPLOYMENT if it weren't for a brief academic phase, in which the only rule was “there are no rules” --all that mattered was a great creative, collaborative student/ faculty empirical endeavor in a continuing quest for new ways to formulate testable questions which would yield answers requiring still newer ways of formulating testable questions, etc., ad infinitum…
...all dependent upon several interrelated and critical components of academic freedom such as the centrality of tenure in the portion of the student learning experience, as It allows unencumbered freedom of inquiry for both student and instructor in the classroom/laboratory/field.
An integral part of that freedom is the protection afforded by tenure and the associated due process rights of the instructor. The following points are fundamental in this complex relationship:
1) The freedom of all faculty to inquire, to teach controversial content, to model and
encourage critical thinking, and to present all viewpoints in the teaching and learning process can only be guaranteed by the historical practice of the earned tenure thingie.
2) Correspondingly, the freedom of all students to inquire, have access to the full range of information available, to explore difficult and controversial material, to develop and practice critical thinking skills, to operate in a classroom climate free of intimidation and censorship intrinsically guaranteed by the protections from constraint embodied in a tenured faculty.
3) Due process rights and peer review seen as crucial to the success of any responsible system that seeks to balance educational inquiry with professional accountability. Due process as a “shield thingie”; affording the freedom of the instructor to teach and to conduct research without the fear of retaliation, in conjunction with
4) Peer Review combined with the due process thingies (in 3 above) to provide a clear process for the improvement of unsatisfactory performance or termination for cause.
5) Implementation of faculty rights to give and student rights to receive grades free from political influence, business‐oriented productivity standards or threat of lawsuit would essentially be secured by the institutional process of earned tenure with its concomitant due process protections.
In short, an implicit understanding that a faculty member’s ability to participate effectively in the historical exercise of collegial governance free of intimidation, harassment, or retaliation is only possible in a tenured environment --’cause the diffuse nature of expertise and need for thorough deliberation of curricular and pedagogical questions make collegial governance essential for effective empirically based advancement of human understanding in institutions of higher learning.
IF: it's all just a business “thingie” now
THEN: We can all proceed to tuck our antennae under our abdomens, and kiss our stinger “thingies” goodbye.
“RES IPSA LOQUITUR!!”
© Gerald Hecht, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gerald Hecht with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.