Monday, June 30, 2008

Playing Welll With Others

This Chronicle article points to a not often recognized yet readily acknowledged fact of academic life - the fact that a significant number of academics do not play well with others and, more importantly, don't necessarily want to do so. This one took me a long time to figure out. Here's the essay author's take:

The Function of Dysfunction

An associate professor ponders the cause and effect of academic infighting

By NATHAN REESON [a pseudonym]

"I know something about academic infighting. After all, I was at Duke University when the English department famously imploded in the 1990s. The collapse was headline news in The New York Times. According to The Times, the department's decline was seen, in part, as the inevitable result of its attempt to buy its way to the top. You just can't shark up academic celebrities, the article observed, and expect them to get along. With so many international egos in one place, a blowup is bound to happen.

Since leaving Duke, I've discovered that you don't need world-class critics to have first-rate fireworks. Nobody in my current department would qualify as an academic superstar, but it's not unheard of for meetings to end with somebody stomping out and slamming a door. Even when everybody sticks around, things aren't always civil: Some faculty members silently pout. Others snort derisively and roll their eyes. And still others hurl insults and curses."

He goes on to offer the excuse that maybe academics fight because they like intellectual exchange. I would argue that those outside the ivory tower also like intellectual exchange but don't have to slam doors or roll their eyes (at least not in front of everyone) to make their point at a meeting.

It has more to do with having to earn the "first spot" in the seminar class in graduate school in which you have the "best right" answer. The problem is that, in real life, there is rarely one best answer and one needs to move forward. But, when academics go at it from another angle, there is often too much emphasis on process - my guess is to make sure that we've thought absolutely everything through. We do not, however, acknowledge that even if we think of every possible contingency, we can control the outcome. Some of us even try to control our research by determining the outcome of our scholarship and only looking at sources that confirm that outcome. (Someone forgot to tell me that one, too, early on. I thought I was supposed to look at all the sources.)

You can read the rest of the article here:
(The line of formatting options is absent for some reason this morning.)

The glass half version of this story is that many of us do seek out those that play well with others, or at least those that play well with us . . .

Labels: , , , ,

Comments: Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Subscribe to Posts [Atom]