I have spent thirty years in academia as a teacher and as a scholar. If you count the embarrassingly long periods I was a student, it adds up to much more time. After retiring, I am full of thoughts and ideas about academia. I feel almost no remorse at all but there is a lot of regret in my heart. It’s regret about what I did not do, mostly. Much of it is regret about the times I kept my mouth shut. I also feel retrospective curiosity. Strangely, the curiosity is growing with the years from my last day in academia. Much of the curiosity is about the following issue:
Why do very intelligent, cultured, well-informed people do and say strikingly stupid things?
Before I spout off anymore about academia, I must make clear my position about Sasquatch, the elusive, giant northern American forest ape. It’s sometimes quite unscientifically referred to as “Bigfoot,” or “Big Foot.” Worry not, the two lines of pondering in this essay will soon merge, I can assure you. At any rate, I think there is no Sasquatch. I am sorry that is what I think. I hope I am wrong. I would be glad to turn on a dime on that one, as soon as the evidence warrants.
I have a former colleague, a man younger than I who is a full professor in the best school of one of the best universities in the world. The man is pretty much an academic star. By the way, I am well-placed to know that his stardom is well deserved. It’s not always true of academic stardom. Some academic stars have skillfully manipulated themselves into their reknown on the basis of absurdly inflated modest intellectual achievements. Often, it’s absurdly inflated, thin achievements associated with a super-normal capacity for being seen at academic conferences. (I could name names but this time around, I won’t.) I can’t resist a digression here: It used to be said that Stalin became dictator of the Soviet Union because he would stay after the meetings to sweep the room when the Bolsheviks were illegal. The very fact that it’s possible to fake scholarly star quality at all is a potent sociological commentary on academia in itself. Continue reading