Amid the meanderings of my early twenties, I attended a seminary discerning the Catholic religious life contemporaneous with college. The leftovers in philosophy, theology, hermeneutics, basic Latin, and Koine Greek gave me the classical approach to enhance the rest of my education built on western thought, little different from the curriculum of Charles W. Eliot. (Plus, it made me wicked sharp at Scrabble.)
One foresaid leftover in understanding Ancient Greek were in its fables. The poet Archilochus wrote much, but his famous riddle is my favorite: “Many things the fox knows, but the hedgehog one large (important) thing.” Brighter and more creative minds than my own have wrestled with this idea, from Erasmus and Tolstoy to Woody Allen, Jim Collins and Phillip Tetlock. Many interpret it as the virtues of a crafty fox, the vices of a lazy hedgehog, or in predation. For me, I see the fable in the world of work: the world is made up of either specialists or generalists.
For good or bad, disciplines continue to slip into further fractures of subdisciplines. Lawyers specialize, for fear of malpractice, in complex subject matter, physicians continue to focus as medical knowledge grows, and science is broken into wider sub-flavors. The generalist is often seen as a dinosaur, if not a fool in certain fields. Specifically, in the professorate, I am seeing this as the differences in mission and method among the larger R1, R2, and R3 flagships and heavily-endowed privates pitted against the larger body of regional colleges. The bigger and better-funded schools niche into their focuses while generalists fill the regional colleges. Yes, there is incredible value to society with esoteric, specialized research and this should be an end in itself. But there is a risk in holistic replication across academia. There seems to be an obvious dichotomy between professors who research and the professors who teach. I see Archilochus’s fable as the difference of research professors (the hedgehogs) and the teaching professors (the foxes).
These thoughts were spawned in reading a series of articles and editorials in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Brian Nosek’s Atlantic article, and some of the works of Phillip Tetlock. To keep out of the weeds, there are incredible issues with the research professor model of education related to teaching (distinct from research). In The Chronicle of Higher Education’s articles, the research professor model has teaching as an afterthought instead of its focus. The articles further sound alarm that this model is being emulated across the academy as if it’s a goal to hole-up and go nitty-gritty cranking out obscure work that may have marginal value. Tetlock and Nosek have issues with the whole research system given the positivity bias where bad outcomes are not reported, conflicted interests showing selection bias of topic study linked to corporate ties, scientific method shortcuts, short memory of poor predictions, lack of accountability of “experts,” and the broader public’s lack of interest in the majority of the work published.
So, looking forward, will the hedgehogs trump foxes? I’d go all in on the teaching professor. Just because one may excel at research does not necessarily mean one will excel at teaching; they’re nearly completely different events. A marathoner may have the wind that lends well to swimming or biking but technique is a wholly different matter. A teacher may not be the best administrator or researcher despite the contextual, institutional and subject overlaps. Arguably, a teaching professor will likely be more in demand in the future than the researcher. The very real and unique skill of distilling and presenting difficult subject matter will not soon be replaced. Besides, the business model of big research flagships will continue to stratify where the divide of researchers from teaching professors will likely continue. The virtues and strengths of competent teaching professors will likely become distinct and not necessarily binned with researchers. In the coming years, it’s completely likely that these flagships will either spinoff research operations or eliminate the teaching requirement of their research professors.
Parker Palmer is the sage for the teaching professor. He calls for us to honor the vocation of the teaching professor as the goal for the academy. Again, not that research is wrong, but it’s incomplete. Arguably, he urges abstention from the pernicious pressure to hedgehog up and specialize, grinding away on esoteric, niche sub-subjects. The gist of the fable may truly be in the differences between predator and prey, where the generalist benefits in the virtues of the fox, never missing the entirety of the situation. The hedgehog misses out on the finished product, the bigger picture. Or maybe it’s just as simple as taking in the beauty of the forest and not getting distracted by the details of the single tree. Be it existential or aesthetic, the best path to provide quality education for our learners and for the improvement of American higher education is to fox-out and embrace the full borders of our fields.
 Πόλλ᾽ οἶδ᾽ ἀλώπηξ, ἀλλ’ ἐχῖνος ἕν μέγα.
 Blanchard, K. (2015, March 2). “You Publish, We Perish” The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from
 Noske, B. (2015, August 27). “How Reliable Are Psychology Studies? A new study shows that the field suffers from a reproducability problem, but the extent of the issue is still hard to nail down.” Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2015/08/psychology-studies-reliability-reproducability-nosek/402466/.
 Berlinerblau, J. (2015, January 19). “Teach or Perish” The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from
 McCormick, T. (2017, January 8). “Publish and Perish” The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from https://www.chronicle.com/article/PublishPerish/238816.
 Tetlock, P. (2005, December 5). “Everybody’s an Expert: Putting Predictions to the Test” The New Yorker. Retrieved from https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2005/12/05/everybodys-an-expert.
 Kestenbaum, D., Goldstein, D. (2016, January 15). “Episode 677: The Experiment Experiment” NPR Planet Money. Retrieved from
 Palmer, P. (1998). The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.