Letter FromnAcademianby Murray N. RothbaidnLife LessonsnAcademics have no more human frailties,nI suppose, than are rampant in anynother occupation. But those frailties arenfar more repellent, and far funnier, in anprofession ostensibly dedicated to thendisinterested search for truth.n1. The pettiness of the stage.nBackstabbing and politicking in thenExecutive Suite to obtain a milliondollarnpost as head of a corporation hasna certain grandeur, or at least it sets thenstakes high enough to make the poltroonerynuriderstandable. But hownabout similar knifing and backstabbingnto- get a five-hundred dollar “merit”nincrease in salary? Or a thousanddollarnresearch grant?n2. The meeting.nThere is nothing on this earth asnboring, as stupefying, as a typical departmentalnor faculty meeting. Thenintensity of discussion and debate isninversely proportional to the importancenof the topic, and since academicnmeetings almost always dwell on trivialnissues, the boredom is intense. Oftennprofessors use these trivial occasions toninflict “self-expression” upon theirncolleagues — with extensive soundingsnofl^ on their philosophy of teaching,ntheir views on the meaning of life, andnon and on. Once, at the importuningnof colleagues, I was elected to thenseemingly august and all-powerful ExecutivenCommittee of the Faculty Senate.nAt last: a peek into the corridors ofnpower! I found that the committee metndiligently for several hours each week,nat which the chairman would lovinglynread a chapter from the by-laws (treatednwith the reverence due the Bible,nbut scarcely as poetic or instructive).nWe were engaged in a multi-year processnof suggested revision of this set ofnmeaningless gabble, after which thenadministration would solemnly taken48/CHRONICLESnCORRESPONDENCEnthis nonsense under advisement.nNeedless to say, I quit after one meeting.n3. Busywork.nI once taught at an institution wherenthe only, and I mean only, concern ofnthe administration was do-re-mi. Insteadnof professors being monetarilynrewarded according to merit, theirn”merit” consisted enhrely of bringingnresearch funds into the university, preferablyngrants that used the labs so thatnthe university could get a rake-off fornso-called “overhead.” Social scientistsnor historians, who didn’t use labs, werentherefore necessarily at the low end ofnthe totem pole. One year, our socialnscience department was cursed with andeterminedly gung-ho chairman whonhad a bizarre view of faculty grants.nSince it was implicitly recognized thatnthere was precious little chance ofngetting any, he focused on writingngrant proposals — “Hooray! Jim hasnwritten four grant proposals this term!”nApplause. This was a demented versionnof the Marxian labor theory ofnvalue.nThe president of this installation, bynthe way, was a native of Europe, andnon his summer trips abroad, he wouldnfind that I had a considerable reputationnin his native country. (A prophetnhonored everywhere but at home?)nDid this make him think better of me,nand give me more “merit points” in hisneyes? Quite the contrary. He becamenincreasingly mad: if I was such a bignshot, why wasn’t I bringing money intonthe school? Sort of if you’re so smart,nwhy aren’t you making me rich?n4. The unacknowledged class struggle:nthe nonpublishing Old Guard vs.nthe young hotshots.nThis class conflict has been going onnfor the over forty years that I have beennin academia. My first job was at anprestigious business-oriented college atnwhich the tenured Old Guard all hadnPh.D.’s all right, but none of them inneconomics. One professor had a Ph.D.nin industrial engineering, another innGerman literature, another in philosophy,nand so on. How did they wind upnnnin economics? Who knows? But theyndid, and their ignorance of the fieldnwas cosmic. Naturally, they had publishednnothing on economics, as well asnnothing, so far as I could make out, onnany other subject. The only professorsnwho knew anything about economicsnwere the few younger ones, who predictablynwent on to publish and make anmark in the profession. The tensionnbetween the two groups was profound.nUniversity administrators (except fornthe benighted case I’ve mentioned)ngenerally like to build up the prestige ofnthe university and therefore the scholarlynreputation of the professors. Thenprofessors themselves, however, arenambivalent; while enjoying the “externalities”nof the prestige of colleagues,nhow do they (the Old Guard) look, andnwhat happens to their own “merit”n(invariably gauged in relative terms,nsince only a limited amount of meritnfunds are available)?nOne favorite memory is of the edifyingnsight of the Old Guardsmen sittingnaround with their canned multiplechoicenquestions, to the elementaryncourses they were teaching, trying tonpuzzle out the answers a bit beforentheir students were to be subjected tonthe tests. The chairman said, “We’llnhave to teach them something aboutnthis guy Ky-ness” (Keynes).n5. The New Left Episode.nSince many conservative academicsnseem to have been permanenfly traumatizednby the New Left revolution onncampus, I should say that I found thenexperience far more amusing thanntraumatizing. During that period, I wasnhired by a largely Marxist (and at thensame time highly productive) socialnscience department, which functionednas a left-wing island in a fairly conservativensea of engineers. Why was Inhired? Three reasons: (1)1, like them,nwas strongly opposed to the war innVietnam, and we had mutual friendsnsuch as the historian William ApplemannWilliams and his disciples; (2) Incould be used as an ultra right-wingnoffset to the charge of the departmentnbeing commie (Absurd! We’ve gotn