More and more I think about the changing contour of the North American university and how my generation—which earned its doctorates in the early 1980s—has enjoyed privileges, work rhythms, institutional frameworks (e.g. bookstores, newspaper book review sections featuring academic titles, the promise of tenure) now either in flux, or in some instances already relics. What does it mean for those of us who train PhD students to do what it is that we do and properly prepare them for the future when what this future looks like is—more than ever—a moving target?
Of course, there was a considerable chasm between the world our academic mentors lived in for the bulk of their careers and the one that we entered, at just the moment when Jewish Studies as a field came of age, situating itself in nearly every major university, establishing beachheads at so many of the university presses, etc. (I recall my Jewish History mentor Amos Funkenstein telling me that when interviewed for his position at UCLA in the 1970s he was never brought for a campus interview and asked only about his views on Freud and Jung; for years, before a job interview I found myself reaching for a volume of Freud the night before.) Still, today's uncertainties regarding matters so basic as the viability of the academic monograph and its role in tenure and promotion, the challenge of distance learning, the future of the classroom lecture, the shrinkage of tenure prospects cut to the bone; they make one uneasy about what it means to mentor today for tomorrow.
Perspectives would be well to highlight these looming dilemmas, to air them not because what we're likely to face in the future is imminent decline but rather change at a pace more rapid than most of us have ever encountered.