The Boston Globe has a a story about a new institute, founded by Jon F. Wilkins, that aims to solve some of the administrative problems facing independent scholars: "The Ronin Institute for wayward academics".
But the issue isn’t just a lack of jobs for would-be academics. To do research, young scholars usually need to find full-time academic jobs. By training more people than it can employ, the current system leaves untapped brainpower languishing.
In a white paper published this month by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, Wilkins and coauthor Samuel Arbesman, a senior scholar at the foundation, are suggesting an alternative. Academics, they argue, need not be professors with experiences “steeped within the ivory tower.” They can be “fractional scholars”—a term they coined—pursuing their interests on their own, outside of academia. “Many, many PhDs have the ability to do it,” said Arbesman, who has also written for Ideas. There’s just one issue. “Within the current culture,” he said, “you need some sort of institutional affiliation.”
As the article explains, the affiliation is necessary for grant-seeking from some funding sources. Obviously its other function -- as a source of credibility -- depends on the scholars who affiliate with the Institute and their work. I think such an institute needs to establish a positive agenda so that others won't perceive it as a mere reaction to the job market.
One way that other institutes gain credibility is by becoming involved with training students, or facilitating students to do work with established scholars. (The Santa Fe Institute, which the article mentions, is one that provides opportunities for advanced students to interact with resident scholars, for example). Could there be "Ronin workshops"?