The unbearable lightness of public sociology….and the heavy burden of dead wood…

You like to do it in Public?!

There has been a lot of nutty talk about tenure lately, and it is worrisome when this gets up in the public and when professors begin to lament the tenured idiots without reflecting on the population of tenured individuals.

The latest asshat lamenting tenure and decent wages for college professor is a recent retiree from our wonderful University of Illinois system, David Rubinstein. I’d never heard of the guy. He’s one of those typical early baby boomer types. He was likely given a tenured position upon completing his PhD, and made full professor based on the publication of his dissertation–a didactic yawner about philosophical minutia having little or nothing of relevance for late 20th century sociology. Among those I have know, 66% of the deadwood in sociology identify themselves as “theorists”, and they do love them some dead white men. He thinks its impressive that after working 35 years in a job which required him to “earn” a PhD—on average that requires 11 years of difficult and costly post-secondary education—that he’s retiring with a $100k salary. Big fucking deal, ugly fucker. That’s within pissing distance of what a brand new baby PhD in sociology is gonna make at the private schools down the road from you, and she’s gonna teach one class a semester. So, you’re retiring on about the salary that private schools are hiring trainees. Teabagger moron reminds me of the dumbfuck rednecks bragging about their new double-wide. And, his true pursuit of “self stimulation” or mental masturbation or whatever, is resonant with the non-scholarly pursuits of many activist scholars on the left and right.

But, let’s put this supposed boondoggle in perspective. In my career at three universities over the last 25 years I have known 9 deadwood scholars in my sociology departments—that’s out of about 60 people who were at some point tenured colleagues at three institutions. Only three of those people managed to make tenure under the contemporary order—people of Rubinstein’s generation made tenure for having a PhD, now people have to actually do something to earn tenure. Most of the deadwood I have known are actually quite accomplished teachers, particularly at the undergraduate level. And, most have performed yeoman’s work administrating undergraduate and even graduate programs.  If Rubinstein was teaching his 2 courses per semester, he was paying for himself and his retirement. Last semester, I taught one course while being department chair, and that 35-student Senior seminar generated $56k in tuition revenue (and SIU has the lowest tuition of any school in the Illinois system). Next year I won’t be chair, and I’ll probably have around 150 students in my four courses–generating $240k in tuition revenue–more than double my salary. So, I fail to see how professors are somehow screwing the public.

There are two types of deadwood scholars—activists and hobbyists. The latter are much more benign. You can count on them to teach their courses, help out with some administration, and not cause a problem. They just want to get back to their stamp collections or birdwatching or porn collection. No problem. They earned tenure. They’re paying for themselves by teaching. AND, hopefully, they will not be promoted to full professor, and they will not receive regular raises. If you’re not an engaged scholar, you don’t deserve it. You should wind up like Rubinstein, making close to an assistant professor salary after 35 years.

But, Rubinstein is an activist, this isn’t his first right wing screed. I’m sure he caused all manner of problems. Everything must be a political act, and you have to fight about everything. Wanna put your gender or race course in the core curriculum? The undergrad committee works up all the forms, gets the syllabi together, and then some yahoo wants to bitch about it at the faculty meeting, rather than have the thing passed by acclimation. I’m sure he spent all his time with all the other right wing activist old men on campus, sitting in the cafeteria bitching about feminism and liberalism and multiculturalism and all these brown people coming to the university. The left wing dead wood are at the coffee shop down the street bitching about sexism and racism and inequality. And, both groups regularly write letters to newspapers and magazines and shit. And, they act like that is scholarship. Public Sociology. Yep. I’m going there.

Right wingers used to bitch about public sociology because they believed (wrongly) that it would privilege left-wing scholars. And, many on the left believed that as well. But, the true purpose of the public sociology movement was to redefine success and progress. Activism IS scholarship. You know, praxis and all that shit. So, now we have the right emulating the left, and we get lightweights like Bradley Wilcox and a host of others writing activist texts, getting them published on real presses (because they sell their books to churches and right wing activist groups–University presses care more about sales than scholarship these days). Even though this tripe has no scholarly value, the “public sociology” movement wants to count this toward promotion and tenure. There must be a separation—or lightweight ideologues  are going to become heavyweight problems in our departments and in the discipline.

One Response to “The unbearable lightness of public sociology….and the heavy burden of dead wood…”

  1. How We Lost the War on Tenure | Iranianredneck's Weblog Says:

    […] and complications from aging and did not deserve to be fired (the person took early retirement). I have rarely had colleagues who were “dead wood” in research after tenure, and all of t….  Even colleagues who did not make tenure because of research deficiencies  deserved employment […]

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