In The New Republic, Russell Jacoby names Stanley Fish as the academic who “raised careerism to a worldview.” “His writings incarnate the cheerful, expedient self-involvement that is part and parcel of contemporary life: everyone is out for himself. Fish has burnished this credo for the professoriate.”
I do not know if that is fair to Fish, but I do observe plenty of academic careerism. Here are ten signs of it:
- You want famous academics to know what you’ve done, but you don’t know or care what laypeople think about the topics you study.
- You can recite the professional achievements and setbacks of colleagues but don’t quite remember their arguments and findings.
- If you could continue to accumulate praise and rewards without learning anything new, you would stop learning.
- If you had a choice between a job where you could do better work and a job that had higher prestige, you would pick the latter.
- You are primarily interested in who holds each theory, not whether it is right. And you mainly select topics to study because prominent scholars are currently interested in them.
- You are most impressed by scholarly work that requires especially difficult techniques. You do not consider impact when you assess scholarship.
- You can explain what you know and how you know it, but not why it’s worth knowing.
- For you, a “good” university is one that attracts students and faculty who are already accomplished before they arrive.
- You think that fully successful students are those who become professors in your field.
- Like Fish, you don’t think taxpayers, students, and other laypeople have any right to judge your work.
It is a privilege to be paid to read, talk, and write. Many talented young people strive for a chance to join the academy but can’t find jobs. If you hold an academic position and have turned into a careerist, I believe you should quit and get out of the way.