Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Niceness and Tenure

FemaleScienceProfessor raised an interesting issue of how important it is to be liked in order to get tenure. Here is, partly, what she says:
You don't have to be liked to get tenure, but you do need to be able to function in your job. You need to be able to interact with people, especially students, in a positive way. If the reasons someone is widely disliked are related to how they treat students, postdocs, staff, or, in some cases, colleagues, then this characteristic may well be a valid tenure issue.
This is, in my opinion, a very idealistic approach. I can still remember the times when I was so beautifully idealistic about the academic world. I wish I could summon that wide-eyed belief in the goodness of academia but it's too late for me. The sad reality of the matter is that no one cares if you treat students, postdocs and staff as shit. They should care, of course, but they don't. Being liked by the administration and often by the colleagues has to do with how accommodating, self-sacrificing, and non-controversial you are. As long as you sit quietly in your corner, smiling brightly and acquiescing to everybody's suggestions that you give up even more of your research time for the benefit of everybody else, you are fine. Of course, you can still be denied tenure if somebody's illiterate relative needs your spot.

The sad thing is that very talented people are somehow not very smiley, cheery, and accommodating. If you want winking, giggling, cutesy individuals, you get Sarah Palin. If you want independent thinkers, you get somebody who might be abrasive, tough in defending their opinions, and often uninterested in wasting time on making nice with everybody.

P.S. Once again, apropos of Amy Bishop:
William Setzer, chairman of chemistry department at UAH, said Bishop was appealing the decision made last year.

"Politics and personalities" always play a role in the tenure process, he said. "In a close department it's more so. If you have any lone wolves or bizarre personalities, it's a problem and I'm thinking that certainly came into play here."
I guess the people at this school would never want to have the likes of Einstein or J.D. Salinger around them.


Anonymous said...

Most human pursuits devolve into status competitions and likability measures in the end. It's no different in the corporate world.

I have a bad habit of being the bearer of bad (but accurate and useful) news at work, and I am trying to curb that tendency for just those reasons above.


Clarissa said...

"I have a bad habit of being the bearer of bad (but accurate and useful) news at work"

-No kidding! I could have never guessed it from your blog. :-) :-)