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Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Why Do Faculty Who Espouse Progressive Politics Behave So Regressively In Private?

Chronicle of Higher Education op-ed:  How to Be a Generous Professor in Precarious Times, by Douglas Dowland (Ohio Northern) & Annemarie Pérez (California State-Dominguez Hills):

Precarity has become so commonplace in academe that even some of the tenured have adopted its cruel tactics. There is no other way to explain how those who espouse the most progressive of politics in their scholarship simultaneously behave so regressively in private. And sometimes, in public.

The Ronell-Reitman controversy is but the latest, and most public, example. We have heard of dissertation chairs abandoning their former students — refusing to write letters of recommendation with the excuse that, after a few years on the job market, "you’re on your own." And we have witnessed well-established scholars publicly punching down on graduate students and new Ph.D.s for the crime of contributing to the rich discourse of "quit lit."

Ph.D.s write quit lit to convey their frustrations with an academic hiring system that cannot sustain them. The genre has proven popular in recent years because: (a) It discusses something we all see every day in academe and mostly ignore, (b) its audience is perpetually expanding, and (c) it’s a shared, public display of a trait academics have been trained to hide: vulnerability. Too often, academics see an expression of vulnerability as a sign of weakness and as "pointless whining."

What quit lit has exposed are the abuses that we take as normal in a profession that is more and more cutthroat. Academe has always been a competitive business, but something has changed: Precarity has turned scholarly rigor into a competition for citation and faculty hiring into an exercise in nihilism. ...

But displays of vulnerability always have a point: to expose an injustice, to reveal an insecurity, to show how a personal problem may also be a political one. Witnessing the vulnerability of others in our profession should inspire generosity — particularly from those who possess the authority and stability of tenure. Instead, their responses to quit lit tend to be, at best, unsympathetic ("back in my day" or "the system has always been this way") and at worst, illusory and dishonest ("keep quiet and the system might reward you … eventually").

In such dire times, what once may have been simple gestures of support and collegiality have become radical unto themselves. Indeed for us, it is the promise of such gestures and the generosity they bestow that reminds us of the good academics can do for each other. If the ideals of higher education as a profession are to survive, it will be through such acts of generosity. Tenured professors — and also tenure-track ones — can lead the way. ...

Never underestimate an individual’s ability to change the academic scene through an act of generosity. And — to those who think that cruelty is the norm — we would say: Never underestimate how an individual’s generosity can spur a larger response that benefits us all. ...

Generosity may start with a person, but like any radical movement, it slowly builds. It unifies people, and those unified people stand together in a group that grows as the proposal goes up the ladder. At every rung there is the possibility of failure.

And in moments of potential failure, our generosity must be more profound, and our solidarity must become even stronger. ...

Things in academe have gotten bad. And given the current political climate, it is likely they will get worse. We need to work every day to overcome the embarrassed discomfort that makes us less likely to engage intellectually and personally with each other. As times worsen, we must reject the idea that having tenure, or being in the tenure stream, carries with it the right to be cruel. We must resist precarity’s tendency toward malevolence. ...

When precarity wants us to feel isolated, alone, and in perpetual competition with each other, there is a radicalism in being generous with each other, through coalition building, collaboration, and solidarity. Generosity is not impossible in today’s precarious times. It can be embedded in the small acts we perform every day and in the behaviors we model across the profession.

A generous academe benefits us all — even those who argue that true altruism doesn’t exist and that we are professionally compelled to act in our own self-interest. Generous acts are often performed silently and may go unrewarded, but the benefits are there for everyone when we make our classrooms, departments, and campuses better places to be. This is what we need of academe’s radicals — to be open and generous in ways, public and private, that will show the future of higher education in these precarious times.

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Sharks debating whether or not to be nice to other sharks, particularly the baby sharks. At the expense of the "schools" of students, who are diminishing in gullibility, and a society ill-served by some of the academic theories.

Posted by: ruralcounsel | Oct 9, 2018 10:52:33 AM


Posted by: Jim | Oct 9, 2018 12:22:18 PM

Uh, for the same reason progressives overall donate less to charity? Pay the absolute minimum they owe in taxes, and not a penny more? Never turn down government benefits even though they don't need them?

Posted by: MM | Oct 9, 2018 7:30:57 PM

Maybe it's backward, and they become progressives to compensate for their selfishness.

Posted by: Mike Livingston | Oct 10, 2018 4:39:32 AM

"Precarity" is not a word

Posted by: Paul A'Barge | Oct 10, 2018 8:18:46 AM

Because faculty don't get to make decisions about pay and working conditions for adjuncts, or how many of them to hire. Administrators make those decisions.

A lot of people with PhDs, even in humanities fields, find they can earn more money in the private sector than working in academe as adjuncts and lecturers.

Of course, those with JDs and MDs and MBAs have it best because of the large market for their services, but even PhDs can find private sector careers.

Posted by: Bc | Oct 10, 2018 8:36:51 AM

"Why Do Faculty Who Espouse Progressive Politics Behave So Regressively In Private?"
Possibly because they are the most blatant hypocrites to have ever walked the planet?

Posted by: David Longfellow | Oct 10, 2018 9:25:10 AM

Progressives/leftists are not behaving regressively in private. They are behaving like progressives/leftists in public and private.
It’s all about power. Progressives/leftist just mouth words to gain power. Duh!
Just take a look at history.

Posted by: JWJ | Oct 10, 2018 10:35:27 AM