I came across an article in The Symptom (over at lacan.com) entitled “Towards a Theory of the Tenured Class,” and there were some passages that just made me giggle out loud (I’m not sure because it rings true or because it’s just plain silly-I’m going with a combination of both!). For one:
To professors with a taste not just for jargon incomprehensible to common people but also for otherwise unacceptable contradictions, tenure offers authoritarian leverage in mind-fucking.
And this one:
Predisposed to pontificate, if not to bluster and bluff, they develop a resistance to doing first-hand research as beneath them, something strictly for the lower academic classes, much as those who become bosses become incapable of doing menial work. Indeed, especially if trained in philosophy, literature, and sociology, rather than history or economics, tenured profs are in my observation prone to making stuff up, often outrageously. When George Orwell once quipped that only intellectuals with a taste for peculiar ideas could be so stupid it was obvious that he didn’t know tenured profs, some of whom can be yet stupider at no cost to themselves, who are, in effect, a licensed jerks. The inspiration for this critique was a sociologist who seems to take particular glee in demonstrating how sociologically dumb an academic sociologist can be. A Victim of Tenure I rank him to be. Outrageous Stupidity becomes for the tenured the analogue of Conspicuous Consumption-an inexpensive privilege that Thorstein Veblen attributed to the “leisure class.”
And for good measure:
Few classes of people are more gratuitously mischievous, creating unnecessary problems for those around them. Yet even more dangerous are retired tenured profs, mostly because nothing else is as self-enhancing to them as gratuitous mischief. Whenever I’ve asked tenured profs whether job security had any negative effects upon themselves, as I have, none of them could think of a single thing, though some complained, often vehemently, about negative effects it had on certain other professors.
However, this points to something rather interesting:
Not even academic Marxists could deal seriously with the question of how differences in material conditions might affect consciousness. Likewise rare is the rich person who understands the negative effects, sometimes visible to outsiders, of having too much money. Indeed, when a Marxist told me that without university tenure he could not have written his books, I thought him implicitly self-deflating, measuring himself as inferior to those who write books without his secure advantages. (Many do it, including myself.) A Libertarian told that he doubted if academic colleagues of his political persuasion would survive without tenure, while another editor told me that, “there are no antiwar conservatives employed outside of academia, as the think tanks are pretty much run by neocons.” Thus does a similar anxiety in defense of certain privileges make uncomfortable bedfellows.
Overblown? Or awkwardly suggesting? But then the concluding words of the article which links tenured faculty to monarchism, for one:
The more I think about the tenured class, the more dangerous I regard any process that institutionalizes elitism for life.
Hmmm….there is the whole academic freedom thing. Then there’s the service, teaching and cycle of publishing, but I think it’s less elitist than it is, er…let’s say, “incestuously courtesan.”