Monday, June 11, 2012

84. The politics are vicious.

 “Academic politics are so vicious because the stakes are so low.” Endlessly repeated, the ironic expression has become a dictum on college campuses, though whether the stakes are actually low depends on your perspective. Virtually every work environment plays host to office politics, but academe takes politics to a new level. In most offices, the human scenery changes somewhat from year to year; people start jobs, leave jobs, lose jobs, and get promotions. In academe, unless you’re willing to give up your whole career—or you’re a superstar (see Reason 67)—once you’re ensconced in an academic office, you can’t leave. The senior faculty members are trapped by their tenure, and the junior faculty members are trapped by the tenure track (see Reason 71). Jean-Paul Sartre may as well have had a typical university department in mind when he wrote No Exit. Professors can rub elbows with the same colleagues for thirty years or more, which is plenty of time for minor grievances to grow into intense hatreds, for factions to form, and for battle lines to be drawn.

Because their fate is subject to the whims of the faculty, graduate students are often pawns in the petty wars that develop within departments. When professors scheme to undermine each other, they sometimes target each other’s graduate students, because the success or failure of a graduate student reflects on his or her adviser. If you are a graduate student, various faculty committees decide everything from whether you should receive funding (see Reason 17) to whether you have successfully defended your dissertation. Your progress, therefore, can be hindered not only by your own adviser (see Reasons 44 and 45), but also by your adviser’s rivals. Incoming graduate students are usually unaware of the hostile rivalries, and in many cases become aware of them too late for the knowledge to protect them. If you manage to survive the political minefield of graduate school, survive the academic job market, and survive the tenure track, then you had best hope that you get along with your fellow tenured professors, because they aren’t going anywhere, and neither are you.



124 comments:

  1. *When professors scheme to undermine each other, they sometimes target each other’s graduate students,*

    I think you mean "always" instead of "sometimes".

    It's like young princes: you can't punish them, so you pick one of their friends to be the whipping boy. The tenured faculty can't fire each other or even get each other fired, so they visit their revenge on their enemies' students instead.

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  2. I have yet to encounter anything of this sort, and I think it's a bit overblown. If you're a nice person who is willing to be friendly to everyone in the department, most professors won't go out of their way to screw you.

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    1. You are completely wrong. If you have not encountered anything like this yet, you must be very new to academia. In fact, the "nice and friendly" person is the one most likely to be trampled upon. Just wait.

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    2. I almost agree with you. You are right, if you are a nice person who is friendly you are OK. But being successful using that tactic usually means not asserting yourself as a scholar and staying "neutral" and out of any academic debate. Once you've outed your position academically that won't work anymore.

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    3. You must be new to academia. When you pick your committee, make sure they all get along. I had a terrible dissertation defense experience with a prof with whom I'd had an excellent relationship. I did not realize the prof hated my chairperson until it was too late.

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    4. It varies greatly among departments. Some are reasonably supportive but some are snake pits. Luck of the draw.

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    5. Tenured liberal arts professors have the cushiest jobs in the world. They only come into the office 2 days a week, they take sabbaticals on someone else's dime to go fart around in Europe. They won't mentor undergrads. They refuse to do any fundraising. And they sit around bitching about the university's benefits. Most of them need a good kick in the ass. So you think you can study under them without conflict?

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    6. What I want to know is, how in the world are we ever supposed to know about these rivalries and dramatic sagas if we're always supposed to "be professional" and can never really ask these questions openly? The politics of academia are shrouded in mystery (I'm a new graduate student), and as someone coming out of a long prior career in which my tendency toward call-it-like-I-see-it bluntness was valuable, I find this IMMENSELY frustrating, incredibly stupid, and a total waste of time and energy. My refusal to play politics, it seems, is a compelling reason to question my new career choice (well, that, and a few other important concerns).

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    7. "...and as someone coming out of a long prior career in which my tendency toward call-it-like-I-see-it bluntness was valuable, I find this IMMENSELY frustrating, incredibly stupid, and a total waste of time and energy." EXACTLY.

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    8. I'm so glad I'm not alone.

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  3. This is something that is typically not very apparent to the incoming graduate student until it is too late. When you are accepted into a graduate program, everyone acts very nice and welcoming. They want you in their program to keep their numbers up, to serve as a TA, etc. It's not until you have been there for at least a year, perhaps a few years, that you start to hear rumors and begin to comprehend the vicious politics going on behind the scenes. I have been the victim of departmental politics a couple of times, first when I was a graduate student, and later on as a new faculty member. I was not offered a tenure-track position where I had been working because I was on the wrong side of the faction. I have heard of departments on the verge of self-destruction because the politics were so vicious. I have heard a countless number of other horror stories. I only hope that the next place I end up working will be one of the few places with a healthy relationship among its faculty, but it’s probably only a matter of time before I will discover the fissures, and by then it may be too late to get out.

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  4. Let the horror stories begin. Here's one of mine:

    At my defence, one of my examiners - someone I thought was a "nice guy" - decided to play sabateur by way of taking a pot shot at my advisor. It was completely out of the blue. Ironically, he honed in on a phrase that my advisor insisted that I include in my dissertation, which I naievely did to avoid conflict. At the defence, the examiner decided to take a run at me in front of the committee. Never mind the fact that he could have raised the issue during countless previous meetings and reviews of my draft. It was so petty - and obvious to all what was happening. I had to sit there and defend an idea that was a source of disagreement between my advisor and the examiner. I was lucky that the committee was stacked with enough of my advisor's buddies to pass.

    So yes, dept politics are vicious and can be unbelievably petty.

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  5. 7:30--How long have you been in graduate school?

    The academic world, I've found, has more in common with "juvie" than any other kind of institution. In a juvenile detention center--and most jails, for that matter--if you're nice, you're stupid and if you're civil or sensitive, you're weak. And being weak and stupid are pretty much the same thing in such an environment.

    Pettiness and the kind of viciousness the post and some of the comments describe are what happens when people feel trapped. As the post says, most faculty members aren't going anywhere, so all of the resentments and hatreds fester. It's what I think of as the Peyton Place Phenomenon.

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    1. They aren't going anywhere? Who among them needs to? They're paid 6 figures, they get excellent benefits, they work 2 days a week, and they can never be fired. Who doesn't want that? The point is, they're too spoiled to see how good their lives are compared to the real world.

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  6. That's the main reason I decided against joining academia. It's too petty and too catty and too politicky.

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  7. Dona Furiosa:

    7:30 here.

    I never went to graduate school, although I do have a law degree and I audited a few graduate courses in college. A professor let me take a first year PhD. readings course, and I found that the other students were nothing if not kind. They were very supportive and impressed with my ability to take such a selective course and hold my own as an undergraduate. A few of the graduate students even told me that I should "join them."

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  8. 7:30--You weren't there long enough to become anyone's competitition or pawn. Spend about three years in graduate school or teaching in a post-secondary institution and you inevitably become one or the other.

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    1. Yep. Not to mention, anyone who's sitting in on a class (no matter how valuable it can be to do so) isn't really considered to be enmeshed in the grad school culture enough to be included in all of the political wrangling and infighting.

      That's not to say that the profs and students didn't respect and like you, 7:30. It just means that you really didn't see the whole picture of grad school/academic culture by sitting in on some classes as an undergrad.

      There are certainly kind and decent people in academia ... most definitely. But this post is spot-on. With everyone working on (practically) lifetime appointments and nothing other than grad students and relatively meaningless awards and publications to hold over one another, the politics and infighting can get very ugly, very fast.

      And as everyone's been saying, it takes a few years to catch onto some of it. Once you're done with coursework and the faculty are starting to work with and try to promote their respective favorite grad students ... that's when the politics start to come to the forefront.

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    2. It also helps to explain the vitriole that faculty have for administrators. The hatred that faculty have for the people who actually run the university and provide for their livelihoods (mostly ex-faculty themselves) never ceases to amaze me.

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    3. It's envy because of the pay-scale. Professors want to believe their work is more important than administrators and, therefore, worth more.

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    4. Administration gets cushier pay, steadier work, greater respect, more opportunities and more mobility - all for far less upfront effort and investment (no PhD needed - in fact, university presidents don't even have to have work histories involving education!).

      The administration says "Jump" and most faculty have to ask "How high."

      Administrative demands on faculty are becoming increasingly frequent and numerous, as paradoxically it is the faculty members that have to defend their existences, not the administrators.

      Administration has ballooned whereas many departments face cutbacks in money, resources, and faculty.
      The growth in administration is at least partly responsible for the rapid escalation of tuition and fees.

      All this despite the fact that administration is not the principal contributor to the essential products of the academy - except where politics and their positions have made them so.

      What's not to hate?

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  9. This post makes me think you were one of my classmates in the UVA history department during the late 80s and early 90s. Quite simply the most dysfunctional department I have ever been a member.

    Best

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    1. ???--I genuinely don't understand this comment, I was in UVA's history department in the early 90s and found it very friendly; which people were you thinking of? Maybe I was just oblivious...

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  10. The level of pettiness and downright disrespect that I've seen in academia is absolutely shocking, especially at the Ivies. You will find politics in any office or organization, certainly, but the concept of "professionalism" is almost totally absent in academe. Some of the shit that went down on a daily basis in my old department would never, EVER fly in the real world. And there is really nothing more pointless than being caught in the middle of some egghead pissing contest.

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    1. Can you provide us with an example? This is all very abstract to someone from the outside such as myself.

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    2. >The venerable emeritus professors still at Yale when I entered graduate school [in the 1960s] may have been reserved, puritanical WASPs, but they were men of honor who had given their lives to scholarship. Today in the elite schools, honor and ethics are gone.

      Camille Paglia, in "Vamps and Tramps" (1994)

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    3. I'm writing a book featuring academic pettiness and would appreciate any specific examples you can give me (e.g., professor who doesn't get tenure sabotages another prof's research).

      Thanks - S

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  11. My wife unwittingly put two department malcontents on her committee who were both senior to her advisor. That was a big mistake, because the strong support of her advisor was not enough to keep her in the Ph.D. program. Happily, she applied and was admitted to a better Ph.D. program and ultimately got several job offers, but the experience of that first program was devastating to her at the time.

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  12. The politics have been the hardest thing to deal with in grad school. The worst thing about them is not that they result in resentment, hurt feelings, or general unhappiness, but that they can make a person paranoid. It's oftentimes unclear if and to what extent politics are holding you back, and for me that's the most bitter part about being, say, rejected for a grant or passed up for an opportunity. After all, your professors are there to help you, on one hand, but they are also constantly judging you, and that is bad enough without the political considerations. It certainly doesn't help me improve as a scholar. It took me a year to figure out just that we were not one big happy family after all, another year to understand how things worked, and even longer to figure out how to deal with it. Grad school is as much about socialization as anything, but by the time I had been properly socialized, I was long since trapped under the conclusions that my advisors and my peers had reached about me.

    This post focuses a lot on faculty, but the graduate students create their own wretched politics. My colleagues tent mostly to fracture along research interests, with a small cult devoted to one sub-field that, alas, sets much of the tone around here. Otherwise the criteria for winning the popularity contest are to be ruder, more childish, and more obnoxious than your average fifteen year old.

    Every year when recruitment season comes around, then, I put on my grin for the prospectives. After they leave, of course, we spend two weeks rehearsing every perceived negative quality we detected in the ones who visited us. Certainly there are a couple of faux pas I made when I was a visiting prospective that I would dearly love to take back.

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    1. Get out of graduate school, you dundleheaded knickerbocker!

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    2. Thank you. I should add, though, that as depressing and frustrating as the politics can be, they (like much else in grad school) are not impossible to deal with if you do it right. Making friends outside of the department is the biggest favor one can do oneself. It also depends on the size of the department. Some are small and really constrictive, others are large enough that cliquishness isn't too hard to deal with. It is worth changing a committee if you have people on board who don't get along (I did, but you don't always have the benefit of knowing that). I ended up with an advisor and a committee with whom I have a great working relationship. Finally, a new hire or a new class of grad students can and does change the dynamics of a place considerably.

      The best advice I could give someone: Look for a social circle elsewhere, don't piss off your committee, and don't let the politics distract you from the dissertation. You are the only one you should be worrying about.

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    3. When the prospective students came to my department, I think that I was the only grad student who tried to explain the drawbacks of our program to them. I wanted to say, "You would be an idiot to come here," but I was never that blunt. It wouldn't have mattered. They always seemed to come no matter what I told them.

      I *never* understood why everyone else painted such a rosy picture for the prospectives, even though everyone knew what a hard time our PhDs were having getting jobs, how bad the funding in our department was, and how legendarily cold it was. Looking back, the only explanation I can come up with is that the other grad students were afraid of looking uncooperative, and I was the only one dumb enough to put my neck on the line by being honest.

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    4. This was well put. Satisfying even. I made some terrible "political" mistakes as a naive grad student. Once I "sided" with an "unpopular" (among other faculty) Assistant Prof, support and indeed friendliness towards me seriously waned among both faculty and most grad students. From that point on I was more or less on the wrong side of the ideological fence. I ended up leaving the department and can't imagine wanting to return to academia.

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    5. Anonymous 2:20 -

      I know exactly what you mean. I've tried in many instances to describe the drawbacks of graduate school to undergrads who have the notion that it is a rosy, carefree, fun experience where everything is collegiate, collaborative, and meaningful. They're too naive to know any better, and so they don't listen. I've quit trying to explain it to them.

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    6. I'm writing a book featuring academic pettiness and would appreciate any specific examples you can give me (e.g., professor who doesn't get tenure sabotages another prof's research).

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  13. You know how mean the politics of academia are when you see how many commenters on this or other blogs use pseudonyms or hide behind "Anonymous."

    For that matter, it seems that most of the blogs about higher education are written by under noms de plume or "anonymous." My own blog falls into that category.

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    1. The Chronicle of Higher Ed publishes a ton of "anonymous" articles. Can you think of any other major publication that does the same? Incredible. The academy is a sick animal.

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  14. I was a grad student in a department that was divided into two camps of almost equal strength. They were engaged in an ongoing war that involved every issue that came up in the department. On the surface, it looked as if there were ideological reasons for the split, but it was 99% personal.

    During my time there, the tension really boiled up during the search for a new hire. In the end, two people were brought to campus for an interview, one preferred by Camp One and the other preferred by Camp Two. The faculty in the first camp must have had a one-vote advantage, because their candidate got the job offer.

    Then she turned it down! So the Camp Two favorite got the job, and there was much gloating on the other side for weeks. There's a twist in the story, though, because the Camp Two favorite ended up in Camp One after joining the faculty. The person had no idea how strongly his chosen allies opposed his hiring in the first place.

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    1. That's a good one. In my old dept, there was a unwritten rule that hiring committees were appointed solely from only one faction within the dept. They would then rotate which faction would comprise the committee for the next hiring decision.

      When it came down to voting to hire an applicant, only the 5 hiring committee members would ever vote, even though the rules said that the entire dept was to vote. Not even the chair was involved. Also, interviews, dinner meetings, and meet and greets - while open to any member of the faculty to attend - would only ever be attended by the committee members.

      I always assumed that this silent protocol was struck as a compromise, the result of previously bloody wars among the factions.

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  15. "Politics is war without bloodshed while war is politics with bloodshed."

    -Mao Tse-tung

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  16. As long as we're quoting now, it seems appropriate to quote Sartre's famous line from No Exit...

    "L'enfer, c'est les autres." Hell. It's other people.

    For academics, experts at making each other miserable, it's the perfect motto.

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  17. I know this is a pretty morose blog but... the higher ed job market is not completely hopeless.

    I got hired as an asst. prof at a community college in Oregon. Tenure-track, good starting pay, really good benefits. Nice, medium-sized, liveable city.

    Here are my stats: I applied to 35 schools over a period of about 15 weeks. 4 apps were thrown out due to technical issues (ie: hr saying they never received my transcript or I did not complete their app correctly) or funding - 2 schools informed me they were canceling the search due to lack of funding. Of the 31 that were accepted, I got 4 calls, 3 of those ended up calling me in for an interview. I was a finalist for two schools so returned for in-depth 2nd interviews which were full day campus visits. Got offered one job, the better one of the two.

    I consider getting called back for about 1 out of every 8 or 9 apps pretty good given this market.

    I did that with an MA and a few PhD classes on my resume. My relevant educational experience was one year teaching 4th grade at private school and two years teaching community colleges as an adjunct. (believe it or not, teaching the max adjunct load at two colleges paid more than teaching ft at the Catholic school I was at).

    I won't say that there wasn't a lot of "luck" involved - I really feel I got hired where they "liked" me the best, not necessarily because I was the most qualified. At both 2nd interviews the questions were mostly cultural & philosophical and almost personal, with relatively few professional discussions. Weird. I guess that's the "fit" factor.

    I guess the takeaway is you can get an academic job without finishing your PhD, and that if you're persistent you'll probably find one.

    One thing I did learn is that community colleges do not give a flying flip about your research, so if you do have a newly minted doctorate degree, talking about your research even moderately will probably reduce your attractiveness. I had one paragraph about my research on my cover letter and that might have been too much.

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    1. Congratulations, Aaron. That sounds like a great job. There are scads of people who take an eternity to get their PhD and end up in much worse shape.

      PhDs who don't want to work at community colleges often end up working at them anyway, and it looks like you're living proof that their last degree was pretty pointless if that's their fate.

      Your experience also illustrates another reality of this business, and that is that you have to go where the job is. It sounds like you applied all over the country and you're willing and able to make a big move. You've got to be able to do that.

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    2. Indeed. I did apply everywhere in the USA I saw an opening I was qualified for, although I did miss a good amount of them.

      And yes, there are a lot of adjuncts I know who have PhDs from prestigious schools, (Ie: Penn, Brown). At a CC, it does nothing for you, except maybe make you a little more competitive for an administrative job - most high level administrators have their PhD. But as for your primary job - teaching, I don't see the benefit. It's why I decided to go ahead and test the CC job market with what I had. Figured why pile on the extra debt and spend several more years researching something I'll never use?

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    3. "I guess the takeaway is you can get an academic job without finishing your PhD, and that if you're persistent you'll probably find one. "

      No. Just no.

      First of all: the mere existence of academic jobs was never in dispute.

      Secondly, the fact that you got a job does not in any way prove that someone else will probably also find one (if they're persistent). That's magical thinking. To make such a guarantee (with reasonable confidence) you'd need to dig up statistics on, say, the number of PhD holders (or ABDs) who want academic jobs and compare it to the actual number of academic jobs in existence. Bonus points if you do it on a field-by-field basis. Of course, once you have these statistics you'll no longer think that everyone can have an academic job if they want one.

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    4. By persistent I meant willing to search for at least 2 years, possibly 3-5, and apply to every available opening nationwide.

      And don't get me wrong, I consider my own experience to be very lucky. Incredibly so. I'm not one of those people who thinks I'm better than everyone else. I got really lucky.

      I was prepared to search for 2 more years before I gave up and changed careers. I have looked at those stats for my discipline (as best as anyone can find them - not easy, not always updated, and questionable accuracy, but best available) and the numbers aren't good but not abysmal. I vaguely calculated that by extending the search nationally and not discriminating at all against any ft openings, you have about 60% chance of being offered something within 3 years. In one year the chances are more like 15-20% so again I consider myself lucky.

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    5. But then I come from a discipline that is relatively flat in terms of its PhD production. There are more PhD's produced than jobs created most years, but the rate has not been increasing. Some disciplines have seen the overproduction increase.

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    6. Aaron, it's nice that you are courteous to admit that you are lucky, particularly when there were other candidates who probably had more qualifications to do the job than yourself (e.g. people who had adjuncted for years). This is another aspects of the nastiness of academia that rarely comes up in these forums. Full-time academics treat the adjuncts as though they had the plague, even though they are the ones, by refusing to offer adjuncts better working conditions, who keep them that way. It is honestly one of the most vicious systems I have ever encountered which traps the inmates through debt and division, and ultimately abandons most of the Frankensteins its produces.

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    7. Happy for you. But for most people it is not true that if they are persistent they'll probably find an academic job. The supply of job seekers so exceeds the number of jobs it's just not mathematically possible

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  18. Good post. We all have our stories. I'll just say I work in a small field in which 1 person is seen as the sole expert, but he actually does not know too much. This expert is the gatekeeper for my publications - he is *the* "anonymous" reviewer my book and articles will be sent to. And he would like to prevent me from publishing, as one review of my work makes clear - it was over-the-top criticism, some of it about things I never said. My favorite was when the review accused me of not speaking/reading the relevant language. This "expert" doesn't speak this language and has never cited a footnote in the language in his life!

    Anyway, I have to publish in journals/presses where I can be sure he won't have any say on my work. Its annoying and slightly career threatening.

    The lesson: peer reviewers who don't like you will try to prevent you from publishing. Also, they may want to protect their image as "the expert" by keeping the competition (ie, you) from publishing.

    -postdoc abroad

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  19. The comment above from the guy who thinks he's an expert on grad school based on sitting in on a handful of classes is almost comically naive, but it is true that the degree to which hostility and viciousness permeate a particular program varies greatly. There was not that much of it in my own program - there were people who didn't like each other, but nothing like any of the horror stories above.

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  20. Just curious: Has anyone experienced this kind of politics in an anthropology department? Might be because I'm not a graduate student, but everyone in my school's department seems so sincere and down-to-earth...

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    1. Your question made me smile. One of the most infamous meltdowns in academic history occurred in the Stanford anthropology department in the late 90s. The department literally split into two departments that were later forced back together by administrators about ten years later.

      It was so public that even Stanford Magazine couldn't ignore it:

      http://www.stanfordalumni.org/news/magazine/2000/janfeb/articles/anthro.html

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    2. Oh, wow! Thanks Anon 8:33. Really makes me wonder what goes on "behind-the-scenes" in my school's department.

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    3. Yes, I have experienced these kinds of politics in an anthropology department. If you haven't yet, Anon 7:10, I'm happy for you. It means you have at least a few open-minded people in your department.

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    4. Oh, anthropology can be among the nastiest. Especially when you have some faculty who work for cultural groups as an advisor or expert during court proceedings. Add any faculty to the dept who hold contrarian views and you can get some epics battles. I've seen students get enmeshed in these conflicts, one even had this PhD degree withheld post-defense because one committee member was on the other side of the court case and refused to sign off on it. It was very ugly.

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    5. Suuuper nasty. Have insights at several top tier Anthro depts that are riddled and crippled by internal politics.

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  21. How about a Reason on the other kind of politics in academia? I mean how the political affiliation of most professors tilts in a certain direction about 90% to 10%.

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    1. This is a point worth mentioning. In a country with two parties that more or less split the electorate 50/50, it's remarkable that the "professorate" is so overwhelmingly lopsided in one direction. It's stranger when you consider how divided departments can be even when their members are all on the same page politically.

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    2. That's when people stop arguing for principle (or fun) and start fighting for power and money.

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    3. Education in general skews left. If you count all "professors" - by that I mean adjuncts & part-timers at all types of institutions, I'd say the breakdown is more like 65-35, maybe 70-30, not much worse than the education field more broadly. The 90-10 you refer to comes from voluntary surveys of elite institutions like UC-Berkeley, etc...

      Also, to be a professor means you have to have completed more than a bachelor's degree at a minimum - people that possess that level of education are one of the stronger Democratic constituencies - so you're pulling from a pro-dem group.

      The question I would ask is why don't more conservatives get into education and/or pursue higher degrees? They complain about it so much, but don't try to fix it.

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    4. An answer to your question is going to lead to conjecture depending on whom you ask. But, because of its self-selecting nature, I'd argue that the academy becomes self-serving to the ones inside; they use it to get their fix of judgement and to reassure their insecurities: political and otherwise.

      So, professors are conformists, authoritarians, masochists, and debtors. They start to believe if a man visited from a government mint and handed them a suitcase of bills, it would make a difference in the acceptance of their NEH proposal as if limitations, consequences, and diminishing returns to spending don't exist. When you live the divine right of an academic, however, it's easier to lord over a peasant underclass without worry--only bleating for distant plight. It's also easier to beat out diversity of thought when you have a seminar of sycophants, laughing at Jon Stewart's latest joke with the political sophistication of mockingbirds.

      Of course, they'd give you smug reasons for their enlightenment.

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    5. Oh, there are conservatives in academia. They're called "the microeconomics professors."

      Seriously, though, my guess is that conservatives feel like an unwanted minority. Graduate school, as this blog points out, is hard enough even if you fit in. Given the many, many posts that indicate that one's success in academia is dependent on how much the right people like one, and given how polarizing political differences can be, it wouldn't surprise me if conservatives felt the need to pretend not to be conservatives while in graduate school/untenured. Even if the faculty in actuality welcomes diverse political opinions, I'm sure there are many people who wouldn't want to take the chance. And what kind of person wants to spend fourteen years pretending to be someone s/he isn't?

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    6. "Also, to be a professor means you have to have completed more than a bachelor's degree at a minimum - people that possess that level of education are one of the stronger Democratic constituencies"

      According to Pew polls, the more education you have the more likely you are to be Republican affiliated, until you get to people with post-grad degrees. The "more education, more dem" myth is right up there with the "more money, more dem" myth. The simple fact is, however you feel about it, the more money people have, and the more education, the more republican they lean.

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    7. "the more education you have the more likely you are to be Republican affiliated, until you get to people with post-grad degrees."

      That's what I meant - those with post-graduate study are a pro-dem group - 17% of the electorate in 2008, voted 58-40 Obama; 16% of the electorate in 2004, voted 55-45 Kerry; 2000, 15% 52-46 Gore. I'm not sure but I'd wager the trend continues further back in time that the post-grad group votes more democratic than the nation as a whole, by about 5-8 points

      You're right - not as strong a correlation as income - obviously the less money you make the more likely you are to vote democratic and vice versa - the strongest relationship by far. Still, you've got a democratic-leaning group which has become more dem-leaning in the last 10 years. So while "more education" is not a linear "more dem," they do lean the dems way.

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    8. "Of course, they'd give you smug reasons for their enlightenment."

      "Seriously, though, my guess is that conservatives feel like an unwanted minority."

      I'd give the following reasons.

      1) the biggest - self-selection. Conservatives by their nature are not going to be attracted to the line of work, especially arts & humanities. They perceive such stuff as more of a hobby at best, a waste of time and money at worst. The personality types involved just make it more attractive to someone of liberal persuasion than conservative persuasion, so liberals are going to make up more of the applicant pool. Personality is a bigger driver here than politics, but the two are related anyway. Obviously that is a generalization and there are exceptions.

      2) Conservative hostility to education - generally what they do when they get power in any state is complain about the education outcomes, blame educators for it (while strangely ignoring the other half of the equation - the students), and proceed to cut their funding, increase their class sizes, etc... When such reductions exacerbate existing problems, they repeat the process, resulting in a death spiral. It's not surprising educators would be more friendly to the other side in that context. Also somewhat of a generalization but I've seen this firsthand.

      3) The socialized nature of education is going to attract more left-leaning people, see #1. We approach education societally - conservatives think more individualistically.

      In general I'd argue it's the different value systems in play.

      Delete
    9. Also wrapped up in identity - because of the stereotypes - liberals want to be professors, conservatives don't.

      http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/18/arts/18liberal.html

      Delete
    10. "That's what I meant - those with post-graduate study are a pro-dem group" I guess I missed your point. But: those with post-grad education skew less dem than those with a high school education or less. See [1]. To put it bluntly: going to college makes you *more likely* to be a republican (to assert causation). This is totally against the conventional wisdom, but it is generally true, which is why I harp on it.

      1. http://www.people-press.org/2011/07/22/gop-makes-big-gains-among-white-voters/

      Delete
    11. To respond to some points in this sub-thread.

      1) Yes, personality is a big factor as most conservatives (and a number of liberals) want to make money. A friend in biology recently quit his postdoc for an industry job over this.

      2) Also, yes, you have to hide your affiliation. For me, its not that hard, I just act apolitical and if people directly ask me how I think about XYZ issue, I say there's arguments on both sides. However, even this has been seen through by many liberals who get suspicious when you are not joining in on their condemnation of the conservative villian/position du jour. When discovered this usually represents the end of friendly relations. (I think liberals care more deeply about politics than conservatives, though there's obviously many exceptions to this).

      3) Another point about hiding views - I chose a non-political research area where there's no real conservative/liberal divide (legal sociology). Well, yes there's liberals but their political views often don't bear on their research too much. Thankfully, I can almost totally avoid politics.

      4) If I did air my views, I'm pretty sure I'd become unpopular very quickly. I suspect, but can't prove, I would've failed my PhD or have had severe post-PhD difficulties (as if there weren't enough already!). Again, I'm fortunate to have nonpolitical research topics.

      -postdoc abroad

      Delete
    12. I should add that the nonpolitical area is a subfield in legal sociology. Obviously much of the rest of legal sociology is highly politically charged.

      Delete
    13. "Conservatives by their nature are not going to be attracted to the line of work, especially arts & humanities."

      BullSHIT.

      "They perceive such stuff as more of a hobby at best, a waste of time and money at worst."

      Your bias is showing.

      "Conservative hostility to education..."

      Don't know many conservatives, do we?

      "...when they get power in any state is complain about the education outcomes, blame educators for it ... and proceed to cut their funding..."

      If public education didn't make itself such an easy target, this might not happen. The US spends more per pupil than all but three other OECD countries and has a high school graduation rate that is in the bottom ten out of 34. Obviously the level of spending is not the issue with regard to the results, and now models competing with unionized public education are demonstrating this to be true.

      Some take-away thoughts:
      Pro-education does not mean pro-education lobby.
      Pro-education does not mean approval of high levels of education spending.
      Perhaps conservatives tend to avoid working in higher education because of the prevalence of bullshit liberal propaganda like 06/25/12 is dishing out. Perhaps they are even actively discriminated against in hiring.

      Delete
    14. "Perhaps they are even actively discriminated against in hiring."

      I've been on many hiring committees and politics has NEVER been an issue. It's impossible to divine someone's politics from their CV or research. Maybe there are exceptions in some politically-charged fields, but I'm in a humanities discipline and don't notice it.

      Delete
    15. There are not many conservatives in Academia because listening to public servants rant about how Bush is the devil incarnate gets boring pretty quickly. Also those who advocate small government don't often have a strong desire to work for the government

      Delete
  22. All joking aside, surveys suggest even economics professors tend to be center-left/Democrat in their votes, donations and professional opinions.

    ReplyDelete
  23. In academia, even marriage can be political.

    I am familiar with two cases in which universities gave tenure-track jobs to the spouse of someone that they really wanted to hire. In one case, it was the husband who was the "spousal hire," and in the other case it was the wife. (Remember when there was such a thing as spousal hires?) In both cases, as soon as the "spousal hire" got tenure, he/she left the marriage.

    Is there anything slimier than that?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I saw a woman marry an established professor, use his influence to get a PhD at his elite department at an elite university, then divorce him shortly after completion. The marriage overlapped with her PhD course almost perfectly.

      -postdoc abroad

      Delete
    2. Wonder what kind of luck she had if she went out looking for academic jobs after that?

      Delete
    3. This happens fairly often. I knew a couple "spousal hires" at a Big 10 university. It was kind of funny, since one of them, the wife was the desired candidate but they got divorced, she moved away. Yet the husband, the spousal hire, remained. They were looking for ways to get rid of him but he had tenure. He had a really morose look on life.

      The thing is, with the market so competitive and funding pressure getting worse, I'm not sure how many spousal hires happen anymore.

      This kind of thing is one of the legitimate reasons to stay out of grad school/academic career track. I don't agree with a lot of these reasons but this is a big one - if you meet someone at grad school and fall in love, when you both are done it is very unlikely you will find jobs in the same city. The experience is likely to be very emotionally wrenching as you realize you will either your career track or your partner. Went through it myself.

      Delete
    4. That second to last sentence meant to say *you will have to give up either your career track or your partner.*

      Delete
    5. I think the spousal hiring thing is very rare these days. I can't recall any since the 1980s from my personal experience.

      If it was to happen nowadays, the initial hire would have to be a huge superstar in the field.

      Delete
    6. "Is there anything slimier than that?"

      How about divorcing your wife who works in the same department at the same small college in a small town and then publishing a book about the end of your marriage and your post-marital online dating experiences?

      I'd provide a link to the book, but it's too slimy to deserve one.

      Delete
  24. In my days as an academic (I've since left the profession) I definitely had to hide my political beliefs. I'm not even that conservative. I'm a moderate Republican. When conversing with liberals, I tried to focus on the stuff I agreed with them about (social issues, basically) and kept quiet about everything else. The problem is that it isn't enough to keep quiet. You have to go along with their ridiculous whining. My campus was a pathetic spectacle in 2004 when Bush was re-elected. People were literally saying things like, "I can't stop crying!"

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What is funny is that I was a Green in graduate school.

      Since Clinton (and maybe before), I've always thought that with the exception of a few issues, the democrats and Republicans aren't that different any longer. Both sides are pretty corporate. When one of my professors found out that I was a registered Green, she got angry at me for not supporting the Democratic Party.

      Delete
    2. Politics is about who gets what, when, and how. Democrats usually funnel more funds into education and the universities. Republicans don't as much, and are more than willing to cut education so that taxes can be cut. It's really that simple if you ask me.

      Delete
    3. Re: Anon 06/29/12

      "Democrats usually funnel more funds into education and the universities..." and everything else on which money can be spent, including subsidizing foreign industries, failed companies, cronies, and failed financiers. Republicans are willing to cut education and other areas so tax RATES can be cut and tax REVENUE increased from the expansion of economic activity resulting from the cutting of the RATES.

      With the Democrats it's about hiking rates and quoting some misleading propaganda about 'fairness.' Then they spend all the money in the room, and print it or steal it if they don't have it. Then there's nothing left for anyone. Seriously, did the left-leaning academics REALLY THINK that the present government could go into deficit over $1 trillion every year for 4 1/2 years, yielding the largest nominal debt in history, and that it wouldn't adversely affect them? Excessive spending has also occurred in numerous states and municipalities, mostly under Democrat governance, and crippled state governments' capacities to fund much of anything... including education.

      Delete
  25. Academia rewards self-promotion more than service. You don't get ahead by working really hard on your teaching and focusing on your students. You get ahead by focusing on your own scholarly output.

    The system is tailor-made for narcissists, which is why it attracts so many of them. The personalities in academia are not so different from the personalities of people who go into professional politics.

    Whenever people with very high opinions of themselves have to work together, the sparks are going to fly.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The business is full of crushed ambition. Big egos all trying to feed at a trough that's too small.

      Ever seen "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" It will give you a taste of academic frustration, a glimpse of the anger boiling under the surface. It's been like this for ages.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nInE5TITzE8

      Delete
    2. You make a good point. Hard self-promotion and strategic ass-kissing. I'd seen a handful of folks move up by employing these tactics.

      Delete
  26. I've always found that mean-spirited disagreement is the driving force behind 90% of academic writing. I've heard so many academics respond to speaker (at conferences, for instance) where it was clear that no effort was made to evalute the claims of the speaker. Instead, they nit-picked (or even intentionally 'misunderstood') the argument in order to give themselves a platform to justify their own research or make themselves feel good about themselves.

    I find the whole thing disgusting. Even at a university (like mine) where department politics are relatively benign, I still find that too many profs and academics are more interested in manufacturing disagreements than in making earnest contributions to knowledge. The needs of the job have long ago trumped the integrity of the calling...

    I'm deeply saddened at the state of things but not regretting my decision to leave academia in the least.

    Thanks for this blog.

    ReplyDelete
  27. The vicious politics don't go away after grad school. I once had a temporary instructor position at College X, where I knew there was a tenure-track position opening up the following year. I thought that the experience of working there would put me ahead of the other candidates for the TT job. However, one person in the department did not seem to like me from the start, even though I worked my tail off and did everything I was supposed to do. That person was the department chair, and clearly made the hiring decisions. I was one of the final candidates for the TT position, but in the end they offered it to someone who was less qualified. After going through other interviews later on, I realized that my interview experience at College X was likely a sham. The questions they had asked were unreasonable and were meant to catch me off guard. They clearly did not want me to have the position in the first place. The whole reason I took the temporary position in the first place was because of the potential of getting a tenure track position. But I never had a chance of getting it in the first place. I wish I had known that before picking up my life and moving across the country to take it.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Nonetheless, parents and students are happy to burden themselves serious five-figure non dischargeable debt to acquire what this nest of vipers is pleased to call "education".

    ReplyDelete
  29. It seems that the more of a fart joke a discipline (such as English) is the more vicious the politics are.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Perhaps. There is a highly regarded STEM department at my university where the egos are legendary. The faculty members compete with each other in trying to humiliate guest speakers who come to campus by publicly challenging them on the finer points of their research. They are mercilessly competitive with each other and with people from rival departments representing closely related disciplines.

      Delete
    2. I wouldnt say so. English depts are pretty heterogeneous but you might get in-fighting within the sub-fields like period lit studies.

      More generally, I find that the really vicious politics come into play in humanities and social science fields where there is a moral undercurrent to the work, e.g. gender studies, poli sci, anthropology, sociology, etc. If faculty approach their work as advocates for a particular cause or belief -- not just as educators -- then there is no room for accommodation of contrarian views. Take the example above where anthropologists can be involved in litagation for different sides in a court case. Very few academics would be able to separate the personal from the professional and be able to work in a dept alongside someone they diseagreed with on moral issue X.

      Delete
    3. "It seems that the more of a fart joke a discipline (such as English) is the more vicious the politics are."

      STEM, ENGINEERING and BUSINESS fart jokes:
      1) "Environmental" "science"
      2) Sustainability studies
      3) Anything with "Management" in the title
      4) Anything with "Strategic" in the title
      5) Business Communications
      ... and last but not least...
      6) Climate change science/global warming

      Delete
  30. Then there's the infamous Sears employment discrimination case in which two feminist scholars testified on opposite sides. Yup, in anything that is supposed to be about identity, vicious politics are quick to make their appearance.

    ReplyDelete
  31. Speaking of politics and academia and such, I feel I should post this link:http://www.boortz.com/news/news/local-education/commencement-speech/nCG7H/

    Forgive me if it's already been posted, but I think it ties in perfectly with academia's politics and academia in general.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It ties in perfectly if you took every right-wing trope of the last few decades and threw them into a commencement speech.

      Delete
    2. Academia is so messed up that you can attack it from the left or the right and still hit the mark. Where to begin?

      On the surface (and maybe in its heart), it's a manifestation of the left, but in practice it's a shamelessly elitist Old Boy's Network (that's not just for boys anymore).

      How do compassionate profs go to work every day knowing that their students have been talked into taking out the equivalent of a mortgage to sit through their classes? They know (more than anybody!) how hard it is to get a job with an English or Art History or Psychology degree. Yet you don't see profs making much noise --yeah, sure, a little but not much-- about tuition, because they know where their salaries come from.

      Colleges (private and public) are starting to look like country clubs, and just like country clubs they keep a lot of the people who want in OUT.

      Students take on a lifetime of debt to take half their college classes from "contingent" employees and TAs who get paid peanuts. What are students paying for that students in the 50s and 60s weren't getting? Back then, the profs did the teaching. Back then, you could work all summer and have enough to pay your tuition. What happened?

      Why are there volleyball, lacrosse, swimming, cross-country, tennis, skiing, baseball, football and basketball scholarships? What does that have to do with anything? (It's nothing new, but it's always been stupid.) Why are there multimillion-dollar coach contracts?

      Academia is a huge unaccountable industry that keeps on perpetuating one injustice after another and keeps on getting away with it.

      Delete
    3. Shouldn't compassionate, socially conscious professors be in favor of lower tuition? I mean, don't they criticize those who put profits over people?

      If I were a tenured academic, I would feel very guilty about ratcheting up tuition on undergrads past 45-50k / yr. I mean that is crushing on families and on the "customer" (whose basically a kid and doesn't know better).

      Lets go back to the days of 25k / yr undergrad tuition. And lets encourage kids to finish in 3 years, so they get on with life faster and incur less debt.

      -postdoc abroad

      Delete
    4. 45-50k a year is not the norm. That's what it costs at private universities. I went to state university that cost about 12-14k a year, although it's about $18k now. So it's gotten a lot more expensive since I graduated 8 years ago - professor salaries have not risen that much since then

      I wish I knew where the money went. It's not the profs, at least not all of them. If they're at a public university, the salaries are public record. The English profs at my alma mater start about $45k and go to about $100-110k unless they move into administration. So the average making $60k per year more or less.

      At that university, today's tuition rate is $217 per credit hour for in-state residents. The average English professor's annual salary should be covered by 90-100 students. When I took literature, and you had to take 6 hours of literature to graduate, there were 250+ people in those classes. So if the profs are teaching, they're paying for themselves several times over.

      Delete
    5. is tuition really that much in the American system? My tuition last year (first year of my graduate program) was just over 5k. The cost of my undergrad per year was about the same.

      Is 12-18k the in-state rate? And what is the cost of in-state relative to out-of-state? This idea was new to me; when I moved provinces to a new school, my tuition actually went down, just because my new province has a lower cost of living overall.

      Delete
    6. Yes, tuition really can be that much in the American system, and yes, it is substantially higher for out-of-state students. The amounts, and the difference between in-state and out-of-state, vary a great deal from state to state.

      If you begin your studies at a state university as an in-state student, and then move to a different state, you might still be considered a resident of your original state for tuition purposes. Conversely, you might have to "establish residency" in your new state before being eligible for in-state tuition; this usually means living there for a year before registering as a student. This is to discourage people from moving solely in order to benefit from lower tuition. Yes, it can get complicated. The idea, of course, is to make the lower tuition rates available to the state residents who are paying the taxes that support the universities.

      Private universities and colleges don't have these residency rules. Their tuition is uniformly astronomical compared even to out-of-state tuition at public universities.

      Delete
    7. However, this generalization disappears with public university empire-building, administrative bloat, administrative salary inflation, plus across-the-board tuition hikes as both federal and state funding dry up. Why is it drying up? It's all been spent, all of it, ten times over, and there is no income available - absolutely none - to replace what's already been spent. Also the public universities tend to have much lower (and decreasing) four-year graduation rates, *much of which tendency reflects institutional issues.* In some cases the comparison is a (private) four-year rate of 95% versus a (public) six-year rate under 60%. The additional *years* of tuition + room + board, possibility of non-completion and potentially lost income have to be considered in any comparative evaluation of total cost.
      These (and other) phenomena have resulted in some interesting discrepancies. In some instances it is now cheaper to pay out-of-state at some public colleges than in-state at others.

      Delete
  32. You are right about the politics here. It is true even in the sciences. But according to my experience in working at companies, the politics are still there. It may be even worse. The whole world is filled with politics. This is unfortunate but true.

    ReplyDelete
  33. Shredder,

    I was a believer in academia (I actually thought it was about the noble pursuit of knowledge - but I was a naive little "hick" too) and actually wanted to join it. But when I got to be a senior and started to grow the hell up I began to see it for what it is. I've been a successful contractor in the private sector since then as well as having worked at a couple of firms and let me tell you - I have encountered NOTHING like the weirdos I was around as a humanities student. I actually couldn't believe how much nicer it was than school. I actually believed that academics were normal, and that was just the way the world was, even though I couldn't help but notice they were nothing like everyone I grew up with in middle America. But I just figured they were a better class of people, hyuk. I was wrong. Academia is a freak show. It is a haven for a certain personality type that I have yet to encounter once outside of academia, thank god. It is a magnet for a type of unpleasant eccentric who would be immediately fired if they acted like that in any other field, but lucky for them they are a perfect fit for a world in which it is damn near impossible to be fired.

    I make $50-200 an hour in my work now. If I had gone to grad school, I would STILL be there seven years later, I would be broke, even deeper than debt than I was as an undergrad, and faking an interest in fluff like "gender" to curry favor with a crowd that would regard me as worthless white trash no matter what I did.

    And do you people seriously think that academics are "liberals"? It is a pose. It's part of the job. They didn't seem as if they were all reading from the same script? In spite of all the posturing on trendy social issues, the "liberalism" you encounter in academia is mostly superficial. It is the boutique, gentry pseudo-liberalism of the formally educated upper middle class. Those people are not leftists. Just listen to many of them say what they think of working class rural whites and you'll see how wonderfully liberal and tolerant they really are. Their idea of "diversity" is having around members of ethnic minorities who act, talk, and think exactly like them.

    Grrr.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You've stereotyped all people in academia in much the same way that you say they did to you.

      For myself, I didn't notice a whole lot of that attitude, although in per capita terms there was more of it depending on the school. The liberals seemed genuinely liberal, and the people who weren't liberal didn't say much.

      I think we need to classify exactly what *tier* of academia we're talking about. There are a lot of colleges and universities; on here we lump them together as if everyone at them is all the same. I went to 3 different colleges and have worked at 3 others. Where I noticed the highest concentration of that kind of attitude you're talking about is the school I took classes at that was a US News top 50. And then not everyone. The others, not in that tier, didn't have that in anywhere near that degree.

      Delete
    2. Yeah, white men have it really hard in this world. I'm glad to hear that you were able to overcome the systemic prejudice and adversity that has clearly plagued you all of your life.

      Delete
    3. It's funny that you go with the knee-jerk 'lol poor white men' response when the target of his rant is the largely white and male (and extraordinarily privileged) elite professorial class.

      Did it ever occur to you that you're defending the entrenched power structure while bashing the poor and middle class? Did you even think at all?

      Delete
    4. Although I am a feminist, there is some truth to what is being said about the classism in university. As I have said earlier, if you are not sure about the classism in academia, just think about the fact that so many academics, if not openly disdaining their working class adjunct counterparts, passively accept their conditions by not including them in their collective agreements. This IS the kind of hypocrisy associated with the upper middle class gentry. The fact that the majority of professors DO come from upper middle class backgrounds which helps familiarize them with the politics and codes of these institutions do not seem to enter into their idea of merit. So yes, I can definitely see why someone in the working class would be turned off by the hypocrisy when they see the means by which these professors use to push their so-called noble ends.

      Delete
    5. Yes Yes Yes. Stalinist all the way.

      Delete
  34. This is why, when you choose a graduate program, you should talk to the current graduate students. They won't be straight with you, because they're afraid to say anything bad about their department to interviewees -- they want to be able to finish their PhD and have a chance at a job. Nevertheless, most people are bad liars and you can tell if a student is in a conflict-torn department by watching their eyes dart back and forth and their voice get tense as they try to come up with a convincing-sounding lie.

    And not all departments are like this. My grad-school department was a remarkably collegial place, for example, and so is my current department. I picked them largely for that reason.

    ReplyDelete
  35. I must say that this is true unfortunately. I'm a STEM phd student and I'm running like all hell as soon as I get my degree or run out of funding. I'm starting a business and one of the rules is that I won't take INTJs as associates. We can make due with a combination of other types. It's just not worth the pretty vindictive behavior in organization that has been displayed over past years.

    ReplyDelete
  36. Why won't you take INTJs as associated? I'll take them over ISTJs anytime....

    ReplyDelete
  37. I first attended graduate school in history at a very large, mediocre state university that is the largest campus in one of the nation's largest cities. It was a terminal M.A. program, and the department, whose members mostly ranged from mediocre to middling, exhibited every single symptom of dysfunctionality discussed here. One professor, whom I initially liked until I finally realised how Stalinist-PC he was, could project a hefty dollop of Southern charm when he had the inclination. He was a dynamic lecturer but in point of fact a terrible mediocrity--he had labored over thirty years to publish one obscure medium-sized volume. Anyhow, he was mortal enemies with another professor, an old-fashioned gentlemanly type, European-born. (The two of them were about the same age and had been tenured for more than thirty years.) The latter was utterly old-school, to the point of absurdity--obsessed with facts and details, he gave pure regurgitation exams. The Southern Stalinist, on the other hand, regarded himself as cutting-edge, having completely drunk the race-class-gender-postmodernist Kool-Aid. In point of fact, he was quite easy to deal with, provided that you could look yourself in the mirror afterwards: You simply had to agree with him about everything in the universe. The hatred between the two men was so massive that the department chair had long since ensured that their office-cubicles were at opposite ends of the building. The commentator above who stated that the shit that went down wouldn't fly in the real world has it dead to rights. I wasn't a kid myself--I was around thirty-five--but to experience such sheer petulant childishness from an admittedly intelligent, well-read and erudite man in his late sixties was astonishing.

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  38. I am in wk 8 of my PhD program and I am already getting this. It's real and it's ugly. Five plus years to go! Yayyy!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Probably more like seven or eight plus

      Delete
  39. Week 8? Quit. Quit now.

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  40. Reading this is oddly comforting. Thanks for posting.

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  41. Four year ago I entered academia as a professor after amassing 27 years of professional engineering experience. The politics in my particular group are ridiculous. There is one professor in particular who delights in backstabbing, petty vindictiveness, spreading false rumors, etc. To make it worse, her husband is also a professor and engages in the same pathetic behavior.
    I have more than twice as many students and publications as the two of them combined, yet they have time and energy to undercut me at every opportunity.
    I have never seen such pettiness in my life!

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  42. The politics are especially apparent when there are awards involved. You can be the best researcher/teacher/administer, but the student of someone influential always win the awards.

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  43. administrator*
    My phone's auto-correct is horrible.

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  44. Great and inspiring post.

    ReplyDelete