Undergraduates and the crisis of cognitive authority
I just read and enjoyed this paper by MaryBeth Meszaros, “Who’s In Charge Here? Authority, Authoritativeness, and the Undergraduate Researcher,” in Communications in Information Literacy, vol 4, no. 1 (2010). It paints a more pessimistic picture of GenY students than we usually see. I wonder how GenY optimists would respond to her argument. I tend to agree with her and think she has pointed out a real problem, although I don’t know the extent to which it is truly pervasive. I think a geniune GenY optimist should respond by pointing out that her observations can be looked at from the perspective of the “new epistemology,” where intellectual authority is just something we don’t need to worry about, part of the old paradigm. Fine. But how many who hold that view are ready to deal with all of its implications?
3 comments on “Undergraduates and the crisis of cognitive authority”
How many librarians have written a thesis or dissertation? I recognize that there are many scholars-turned-librarians, but experience as a practicing scholar is not required for an academic librarian position – just a two-year professional degree that does not require a thesis. I’m not sure that makes for a valid claim to cognitive authority.
I think librarians make a claim to cognitive authority within our own field, based on masters level work and often masters level work in a subject specialty. With undergrads, that can have to do with how to interpret search results for relevance and applicability to their assignments, narrowing a research topic, and sometimes authors and ideas within a discipline. The concept of cognitive authority isn’t limited to academia, or even to the professions, or even to the world of work, though it is perhaps more central to the lives of professors than anyone else. As a part of an academic community, I think academic librarians require some share of cognitive authority among students to be effective.
According to the article, students don’t recognize professors as having cognitive authority, either. So, I think that the writing of theses and dissertations is beside the point. What’s being talked about here is the disappearance of cognitive authority altogether — the emergence of an intellectual free-for-all where everyone’s “opinion” is equally valid. Scary.
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