Sunday, October 20, 2013

Vindictivness and Charity

It took me a long time to achieve tenure, only in part my own fault, in part whatever else goes on in the world. I do my work since it interests me, but I believe there is always the need to prove myself. So I have some sympathy for the following situation:

Smith comes up for tenure and there is enough disagreement in the department so that tenure is not awarded. The dissenters have juggled the letter writers and have been quite verbal in their dissent. Eventually, after a national campaign that reveals the dissenters' schemes, the provost gets involved, and reverses the departmental decision, in part because Smith is at least as good as Jones who was tenured at that time. The dissenters become distraught and vindictive, and for the rest of their careers and even after, they try to help Jones and hinder Smith. Their problem is that Smith proves to be very productive, has a wide reputation for excellence, even if not among the dissenters' sub-field. In time the department becomes more like Smith, in the scholarly work and eminence, the dissenters become more isolated, so (in desperation presumably) they keep up their anti-Smith campaign, what with honors etc. But, the dissenters prove not to provide the scholarly leadership for the next generation, and they become even further bitter. Still, they try to be sure that Jones receives all the goodies before Smith.

Of course, what the dissenters should have done was to realize the game was over once the tenure was awarded by the provost, and actively promote and help Smith. Smith is now their permanent colleague, and Smith's success or failure redounds to them.  Perhaps Smith would not have been so productive if Smith did not need to keep proving that the dissenters were wrong, and so the dissenters would even have gotten their secret wish?

Academics tend to melodramatics and extremes about rigor and quality, and so they cannot admit they have been defeated. More often than not those who do not prevail find that they are further in the minority, as their department actually become stronger.

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