Wednesday, March 05, 2003


Ok, ok, I feel obliged to have an opinion. See Caveat Lector, mamamusings, and Bariata for the main discussion so far.

When I was in graduate school I lived with a partner who was in med school, and I would say the forced acculturation in medical school was worse than anything in my graduate program. But then I was in a small department where graduate students supported each other--my symbol of that is that as we came out of job interviews we would tell each other the questions the interviewers asked.

I haven't seen anyone quote the line from Henry Kissinger that "University politics are vicious precisely because the stakes are so small." I'm happy in academics because it suits me and because I'm in a job where the level of expectations are reasonably comfortable for me. But most of all, I stay reasonably happy by not getting involved in the big university-wide fights--I'm too busy with my students and my family and my own personal journey to have time for that. Some of the most unhappy people I've known are the ones who put their whole life into the university--perhaps the tendency of the system to encourage that is part of why academia seems worse than other employment worlds (though Lord knows young lawyers who work 80 hour weeks go through a hazing in some ways more destructive than that in academia).

Academica hasn't fully gotten past the values laid down in the medieval university, where professors could not be married because one was supposed to devote one's life to learning exactly the same way a priest devoted his life to God. That system was one of the things my students couldn't understand when I assigned Abelard's The Story of my Misfortunes in the first half of western civ. There is some of that in some other professions as well, such as medicine, but it makes more intuitive sense to us there.

This is a hard discussion to be having right now when we are facing a 10 percent budget cut. One reason people get hurt is that there really aren't enough resources. My sister got out of college with a B.A. in sociology and took a job in financial public relations and within a few years was earning a salary double mine (I'm ten years older with a Ph.D.). Maybe it is just South Carolina, but I don't feel like a member of some elite, I feel undervalued. It is rewarding not in any outside sense but because I feel I'm giving my students something that will make a difference to the world.

Update: I also recommend Joseph Duemer

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