Monday, November 17, 2014

Aging (and Ageism) in Academia

I saw this article on aging professors at the Chronicle of Higher Education. The core argument is that older professors are selfish--they harm students and they're "hogs"!!--if they do not retire. If you don't retire by 70, you are not "honorable."

Set aside the issue of using anecdotes while claiming universality (I have plenty of anecdotes about great and productive older professors). Or the unsubstantiated argument about harm. The real problem I have with this argument is that it assumes that either younger professors are unselfish or it is fine if they're selfish because they're less expensive and more energetic.

A dirty secret of mine is that while in my 20s I entered this profession selfishly. I discovered many years ago that I got tremendous personal enjoyment reading, writing, analyzing, etc. about Latin American politics. This blog shows that I still do. I think my passion for it comes out in class. But it's largely selfish. The decisions I make are often centered on me--how exciting is this opportunity? Will it help pay for my children to go to college? I work hard and I think I do a good job, but it's not out of selflessness.

When I hit 70 years of age I will have to decide about what's left of my future. I will make that decision with me and my family first and foremost in mind.

Professors approaching 70 who are still enamored with hanging out with students and colleagues, or even fretting about money, have an ethical obligation to step back and think seriously about quitting. If they do remain on the job, they should at least openly acknowledge they’re doing it mostly for themselves.

Curse those professors who love coming to work! I'm not even approaching 50 (well, OK, define "approach") and I openly acknowledge that I am doing this mostly for myself. I don't feel guilty about that.


Otto 10:01 AM  

Goddam 5th columnists, always trying to rot the system from within...

csccat 7:39 AM  

This issue AGAIN! It pops up every year or two. Here's what the younger folk don't recognize...

Senior people are not necessarily replaced when they retire. Research I institutions may replace retired faculty (and doesn't every grad student think s/he will get a Research I job?). The reality in the rest of the academy is that administrations are looking to cut costs and not replacing faculty (or using adjuncts instead) is the way they are doing it. Tenure track hires are not guaranteed following retirements (or deaths).

I've got a senior colleague in my department right now that I would love to have retire. He still teaches good courses but does nada, zip, towards the other work of the department. I've got a dilemma, though. If this guy retires, I know he will not be replaced. Our survey sections will get bigger and we will have fewer upper division offerings for our majors.

So, instead of griping about the selfishness of aging faculty, how about spending time preparing to teach a WIDE range of courses. In the off chance that the administration will devote salary lines to political science, we're going to need someone who can help out with a lot of needs. Ability to teach a survey and one or two courses in one's specialty won't cut it.

My 2 cents.

Greg Weeks 8:43 AM  

Yes, that is very true. Sometimes you have to be careful what you wish for.

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