Saturday, April 9, 2016

Aiming High, When Others Do Not: We want a university of which the football team can be proud.

In 1922 George Lynn Cross, coach of the team, said this to the Oklahoma legislature.

We want a university of which the football team can be proud.  

I thought of this a propos of some conversations I have had of late.

Some of you may feel if you stand out in your work (where you publish, your visibility in the profession) you may well find there is some resentment among your colleagues

I believe that may be the case. Their argument will be that you do not do enough service, you are too devoted to your work and external scholarly meetings and invited presentations, and being out there, and not being stuck with the scut work of the department, or your work is really not serious, or it may just elicit lower annual ratings than are warranted--or other reasons too wondrous to imagine. There is a legacy of "the average" (or cutting down those who stand out) at many a university that goes way back. Deans and the provost want excellence, but as a consequence they will find that more than half their faculty does not look so good and are reluctant to challenge that half. Being smart and successful and ambitious might work at MIT or Berkeley or Columbia, but perhaps it is a mixed deal at your institution.

For the sake of your university, aim high. Do you very best work, feed your ambition with achievements that are extraordinary, be as prominent as you can be outside your home institutions. If they do not reward you appropriately, and recognize your excellence, other universities will.

I am not suggesting anything dramatic, or suggesting that your university is a weak institution. However, your remarks reminded me of what I sense at many an institution, and what I gather happens at promotion and tenure committees. Perhaps all this has disappeared, but I think not.

Also, it is crucial that you not get shanghai'ed into heading too many committees or institutes or centers--if such duties will slow down your scholarly work. In the prime of your career, as you are, you need to focus on family and work, making sure you do not kill yourself with overwork. [One example, recently: one school had a faculty member as its vice dean for administration or some such. The dean realized that what the school needed was more scholarship, in quantity and quality. Now a non-tenure-track faculty member is the vice-dean. And the pressure and freedom to produce scholarship falls to the former vice-dean--appropriately.]


I was talking with my sister, and she suggested that my following my own nose, rather than doing what was expected, did not mean that others appreciated what I was doing and hence I might well not have been as rewarded as I "ought" to have been.

Now, I really cannot complain. I have received my share of grants/fellowships, published lots of books and enough articles, and I have a job!--where I have been able to write many of those books and tend to my family, and teach more or less what I wanted to [the secret here was to invent courses that met specific needs, or undergraduate, or were manifestly interesting, or make courses into what I wanted to do, or say Yes! to whatever they needed to be taught], and live in a good place. I got paid! I knew what I was getting into when I started, since I had just been at a top university and before that a more average one, and before that at a top university. And I did need a job! I did not have alternatives or choices, to speak of, at least a university despite two books and the rest. I am grateful for my job.

My point here is that following your internal compass, one that has been guided and molded over the years by the strongest institutions and teachers, is what you should be doing. I know that you have choices, and I suspect that for the next 5-10 years you will get nibbles regularly. But, that freedom to point your work in the direction you wish is perhaps the biggest reward for our profession. To be able as well to attend to your family, both your spouse and children, and your parents, is the other reward.

No comments: