Collegium scholarīorum oblīvīum

If I have erred in my Latin rendering, please correct me, but be gentle. I have chosen the easy route in using the feminine noun that works for ‘forgotten’ instead of the strange verb that would be converted, through some mystical alchemy, into a perfect passive participle. So instead, we have this little construction that I hope means “the college of forgotten scholars.”

This all stems from a brief moment of reflection on the unfortunate plight of embryonic scholars such as myself who, due to the vagaries of financial fortunes and the seasonal nature of application deadlines, find themselves trapped in a purgatorial gap-year without a formal academic affiliation. I know many students will find temporary work, wherever it appears, and get on with the new rounds of applications and personal appeals to the higher powers when appropriate. But others will try to fill their under-employed time with constructive writing and research they can add to the CV. This being the only avenue towards improvement and better chances of preferment. But this self-directed study is isolating and isolated. The home office does not conduct the academic energies very well.

What would help, and I doubt I’m alone in this, is a purely symbolic appointment and a dedicated space for my work, near other infant scholars in the same predicament. A little room at the local University with a couple of chairs, a table, perhaps some limited natural light, and a Wi-Fi connection to the local network would suffice. The effect is to simulate the continuing academic experience and enable the occasional encounter with other similarly burdened scholars. There would be no financial obligation on the part of the University and only the most gentle obligations on the part of the transitory scholars—maybe a short colloquium each spring where the students-errant inform the locals of their particular research project of fond memory, or hopeful investment.

Such things do exist. St. Thomas More College at the University of Saskatchewan, has a non-stipendiary fellowship through the Centre for Classical and Renaissance Studies. The Fellow, usually a newly pressed PhD waiting on a Post-Doc or other appointment, gets a nice affiliation, access to the University Library, an institutional e-mail account, and is allowed the use College letterhead in correspondence (which is more powerful in practice than it sounds).

Any decent sized educational institution could do this and it would cost them just about nothing except a little bit of space, and that’s if they are very generous. A paper appointment with rights to access the library databases would be better than nothing. I still have my access from the brief TA appointment back in the winter but that could run out any day now. That would leave me in the dark for the next 4 months with a book and chapter in the works.

People forget just how much of the nice, accessible, and convenient research is hidden behind pay-walls. I expect most academics forget this because they are always accessing these journals and databases from within the University system and don’t notice the silent toll-booth they zip past on the way to the full text articles. Every time I see someone mention the MLA periodicals database and all its loveliness I want to shout at the screen “that’s subscription-only content! They don’t even have institutional accounts! Only paid MLA members can see it, you monster! Stop taunting me!”

Students at the upper levels live on library accounts, coffee, and shared misery—’collaborative discussion’ if you want to remain positive in your verbiage. I know I would be far more productive than I am now if I had three other comrades in post-Masters purgatory to commiserate with.

This would also make life easier for the poor students submitting articles and presenting papers during this period of statelessness. For the K-zoo conference I was listed in the session catalogue under the name of the school where I did the MA, my name-tag had the school I was working at until April and the session organizer announced my forthcoming position as a doctoral student at Oxford. It was all very confusing for people. I’m not exaggerating, I was asked about this three times after the session.

Maybe this is something I need to do when I have a real academic home. I’ll keep it in mind. I’ve got the name figured already and a catchy motto: Otium est bonum, sed otium multorum est parvum.*

* I’m borrowing this from Wheelock’s Latin, but I think it’s adjusted from something classics. I’d look harder for it if I had the patience.

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