Friday, June 3, 2011

One more thought

Mark, Andrew Gelman and I have all weighed on on the article written by David Rubinstein. So I think the high points have been hit.

One thing that I think was interesting, though, was his decision to be defiant about his career. Comments like:

Why do I put “worked” in quotation marks? Because my main task as a university professor was self-cultivation: reading and writing about topics that interested me. Maybe this counts as work. But here I am today—like many of my retired colleagues—doing pretty much what I have done since the day I began graduate school, albeit with less intensity.

Seemed to me to be extremely revealing. I think that one possibility is one of culture. I grew up in a social democracy and I would feel shame if I thought I was "milking the system". My father used to explain the low Swedish unemployment rate to me as being a cultural phenomeon (in Sweden the shame of not working is high).

On the other hand, I occasionally see people bragging about how they bilked the system as if this is a point of pride and not deep humiliation. I wonder if there is a cultural divide here as I would find behavior to be shameful. Consider this statement:

Committee meetings were tedious but, except for the few good departmental citizens, most of us were able to avoid undue burdens.

Why would he not be ashmaed not to have been a good departmental citizen? I am always worried that I am not carrying enough administrative burden in my department and concerned when another faculty member is overloaded.

Or this comment:

To be sure, some of my colleagues were prodigious researchers, devoted teachers, and outstanding departmental, university, and professional citizens. But sociologists like to talk about what they call the “structural” constraints on behavior. While character and professional ethics can withstand the incentives to coast, the privileged position of a tenured professor guarantees that there will be slackers.

So why are character and professional ethics not valued? Why does an confession as to a lack of professional ethics sound like an attack on the profession and not an admission of a personal failing. Mark pointed out the comments on his teaching ability and I have to admit it sounds like he wasn't the most focused professor ever.

Or perhaps I misunderstand some parts of this situation??

1 comment:

  1. Jeez. There's really something wrong when you're unsure that "reading and writing about topics that interested me" can count as real work.

    I don't know whether he was doing real work or not -- I might guess not, given that he seems to be optimizing for laziness and not happiness (I think it was Andrew Gelman who noted that).

    But doing things they're interested in would, in a better world, be the only work anyone ever does! And a lot of us do come pretty close to that ideal.

    Do work you love: