Careerism and Silence in Higher Education

I’ve spent 45 years in higher education either as a student or a professor. I’ve blogged about it before, and I will have more to say about higher education in America in the future. No doubt this is true in every profession, but careerism is among the most serious problems plaguing colleges and universities today. There are certain paths that lead to tenure and promotion or to administrative posts in academia, and not all of them benefit students or advance knowledge. Some faculty appear to care only about making a career, and others compromise their ideals, their good sense, and even their consciences to play the game. And some, of course, selfishly use their classroom to recruit activists for their favorite cause.* But I am convinced that most teachers — even though they consent to jump through the hoops, play the game, and hold their noses and bite their tongues — care about students and the pursuit of knowledge.

But as I took my walk this morning, thinking about these things, two analogies came to mind. I think, given the context of contemporary culture, they speak for themselves.

The Sheep and the Wolf

Sheep outnumber wolves 100 to 1. But the wolf is fierce, loud, and fast. The wolf appears, and the sheep scatter or cower in a corner. Then, one by one, the wolf picks them off. But had the sheep understood the power of coordinated action they could have trampled the wolf under their cloven hooves.

The Bully

To be successful, the schoolyard bully must isolate the smallest kid and provide an example to the rest of what comes of resistance. The silent kids outnumber the bully and his toadies 10 to one. Should the 10 find the courage to rush him, the bully’s courage will fail and the specter of his power will vanish like the morning fog.

*Let me make this point clear: a good teacher cares about students’ individual welfare and invests the time it takes to promote it. Bad teachers treat their students as means to the professor’s own ends: vanity, career, or political ideology. Good teachers teach their students to think clearly while bad teachers train their students to talk like the professor. Good teachers love their students, but bad teachers love themselves through their students.

1 thought on “Careerism and Silence in Higher Education

  1. Matthew McCay

    I think these analogies are outstanding. “And some, of course, selfishly use their classroom to recruit activists for their favorite cause.” Perhaps favorite cause, or idol. It makes me think of Matthew 6:19-21 on laying up treasures in this world. Very often at Pepperdine, with some staff and faculty, I couldn’t help wondering what they worshipped. It seemed the God of the Bible was regarded favorably, as long as he didn’t come into conflict with their favorite god, which too often was some progressive cause aligned against Christian teaching.



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