Academics in America: Instead of Caring About Teaching, they Are on a Quest for Glory

This essay is 100% on the mark.

Note this bit in the middle:

Academics are unlike the employees of most organisations in that they fight over symbolic rather than material objects of aspiration, but they are like other workers in that they too are motivated by fear and greed. Instead of competing over power and money, they compete over respect. So far I’ve been focusing on professors’ greedy pursuit of various kinds of honours. But, if anything, fear of dishonour is an even more powerful motive for professorial behaviour. I aspire to gain the esteem of my peers but I’m terrified of earning their scorn.

Lurking in the halls of every academic department are a few furtive figures of scholarly disrepute. They’re the professors who are no longer publishing in academic journals, who have stopped attending academic conferences, and who teach classes that draw on the literature of yesteryear. Colleagues quietly warn students to avoid these academic ghosts, and administrators try to assign them courses where they will do the least harm. As an academic, I might be eager to pursue tokens of merit, but I am also desperate to avoid being lumped together with the department’s walking dead. Better to be an academic mediocrity, publishing occasionally in second-rate journals, than to be your colleagues’ archetype of academic failure.

And later on

One result of this Darwinian struggle to regain one’s rightful place at the top of the hierarchy is that a large number of faculty fall by the wayside without attaining their goal. Dashed dreams are the norm for large numbers of actors. This can leave a lot of bitter people occupying the middle and lower tiers of the system, and it can saddle students with professors who would really rather be somewhere else. That’s a high cost for the process that supports the productivity of scholars at the system’s pinnacle.

And then, the whole process of academic back scratching is described:

Yet another way to increase the number of publications is to increase the number of journals. By one count, as of 2014 there were 28,100 scholarly peer-reviewed journals. Consider the mathematics. There are about 1 million faculty members at US colleges and universities at the BA level and higher, so that means there are about 36 prospective authors for each of these journals. A lot of these enterprises act as club journals. The members of a particular sub-area of a sub-field set up a journal where members of the club engage in a practice that political scientists call log-rolling. I review your paper and you review mine, so everyone gets published. Edited volumes work much the same way. I publish your paper in my book, and you publish mine in yours.

Read the whole.  For many academics it isn’t love of teaching that compels them, it’s acclaim.  And that’s sad.

2 thoughts on “Academics in America: Instead of Caring About Teaching, they Are on a Quest for Glory

  1. HAT 2 Feb 2020 at 3:42 pm

    idk – seems like the main point is that there really isn’t that much glory. So if that’s what you’re in it for, you’re more likely to be disapppointed than not.


    • Jim 2 Feb 2020 at 4:04 pm

      glory is a fickle master. but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a lot of servants who crave its attention and blessing.

      Liked by 1 person

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