Monday, March 13, 2006

Inside Higher Ed: "The Un-Retiring"

"The Un-Retiring," an article by the pseudonymous "M. Douglas," is online at Inside Higher Ed.

For those who don't have time to read it, here's the short version: "To older professors: hurry up and die, already. Or retire. We don't care. Just go away."

Now, some of the behaviors Douglas describes (borderline harassment and trying to block tenure on the grounds that the person is a "feminazi") are unnerving, no question. But Douglas's concerns seem to be more that (1) Professor X is old; (2) he's really old; (3) old enough to be the grandparent of other faculty members; (4) and did he mention that Professor X is really old?

I don't think that age necessarily has much to do with being obstructionist, driving people out, and generally making life miserable in a department; to judge from Ms. Mentor, various academic blogs, and my observations, those are pretty much equal opportunity behaviors.

A few questions:

1. Don't most departments have some mechanism for turning over the position of chair so that this kind of thing can be avoided, or at least a chair review and evaluation every so many years?

2. Are there really that many "deadwood professors" out there? The, ahem, very senior faculty I see at conferences don't strike me that way. Of course, they're at conferences, which may be the difference.

3. What about deadwood female professors? It's rare to see a post about them.


Bardiac said...


I think deadwood profs are fairly rare, but bet they're more common in R1 type schools, where sticking around to teach 2 classes a semester in one's field is fairly easy. I think they're less common at schools where people teach more, and are challenged more to teach broadly (such as at comprehensives).

But I have to say, one of the retiring profs in my department is also one of the best teachers and colleagues I can imagine.

And yes, there are probably female deadwood profs, but given the rarity of women making it to the top ranks of the profession in high numbers even now, I'm betting there are very, very few of them.

undine said...

I expect you're right on both counts. Since there are to be more women in the profession now, it's hard to recall sometimes that this is a recent phenomenon and that there are fewer at the top levels of seniority.