October 19th, 2004


Oh,To Freely Pursue the Scholarly Life!

Publication:The New York Sun; Date:Oct 15, 2004; Section:Knickerbocker; Page:16

Oh,To Freely Pursue the Scholarly Life!

GARY SHAPIRO gshapiro@nysun.com

New Yorkers are by nature independent-minded. So it’s right that the biennial conference of the National Coalition of Independent Scholars is being held this weekend in Midtown.

Participants range from a historian of debt peonage to a Jungian psychologist studying medieval fiction. What they share is the pursuit of academic research without salaried university positions.

William Manchester, Robert Massie, and Barbara Tuchman are among those who have forged scholarly careers outside the academy. They found the freedom to pursue topics that do not neatly fit accepted boundaries.

“You have freedom to follow your own bliss without regard to fashions and trends,”said Ronald Gross,an independent scholar. “You can pick up any subject,and nobody is going to say ‘no,’” said Odeda Rosenthal, who has written a reference book on colorblindness.

Working from home offers advantages such as the freedom from papers to grade or departmental meetings to attend.The drawbacks tend to be financial. “To me, there’s nothing like a regular income,” said sociologist Nathan Glazer, who has taught at Berkeley and Harvard.

Many independent scholars have day jobs or hold down several small jobs to sustain themselves. Julia Ballerini, who researches 19th-century travel photography, speaks of “supporting my habit.”

A chief obstacle independent scholars face is access to libraries.The coalition’s president, Georgia Wright, says she cannot use interlibrary loan without relying on her husband’s university affiliation. Another scholar from Canada lives in a recreational vehicle and emails another NCIS member who faxes library materials to him.

Collapse )