Monday, October 09, 2006

Revenge of the Nerds

Margaret Soltan, over at University Diaries, blogged live from the ACTA conference at Harvard. After noting the insufferable quality of many of the speakers, and of having a conference of this sort at Harvard (see Sherman Dorn's take on this here which includes links to Soltan's live posts...), she comes up with this zinger. Hats off!

Mark Bauerlein, a skinny stooped Ichabod Crane, also went after the tenurati, wondering why "one of the most pampered, protected, elite groups" in our country shows "so much conformity, timidity, and bullying." He thinks it has to do with the way we're "socialized," but regular readers know that UD has a different take. I think that by and large the people who are attracted to academia were born nerdy and frightened and then generally overparented to within an inch of their lives. The rare toughies you see among academics often represent post-nerd triumphs inside the nerd asylum. The bespectacled friendless slob who discovered in himself a genius for economic theory and now reigns as uber-nerd at MIT is never going to be a bold nonconformist. He will wield power in a very small setting, and his bullying will be revenge for his years being bullied because he was a nerd. People don't start being bold non-conformists once they get tenure if being a bold non-conformist was never in the most tenuous sense an option for them.... And think about it. What sort of person is going to be attracted to one of the few jobs in America that grants you lifetime job security in the form of academic tenure? As to the risk in going up for tenure itself -- the overwhelming number of people who go up for tenure in the United States get it. At some schools, the rate is around 95%. Of course there are exceptions to what UD is describing here. Most of them are in the hard sciences.

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