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November 14, 2006



Rick- You make some awfully big assumptions about me for knowing nothing about me. I have spent ten years in the "real world"- I have to because I refused to take out loans for school and grad packages are not that lucrative at most universities- though I spent two years TAing as well. I am speaking from personal experience being in both the "real world" and the "artificial" academic world. So again, what makes the "real world" so different (because, honestly, I can't see it) and in what way is the university "artificial" (and more so than, say, working for the government?). I've never heard a satisfactory response to this before, so I'm curious if anyone can come up with something more concrete to prove that academics are so divorced from reality they cannot comprehend that there is a disconnect.


I don't know you, history mom, and I'm not discussing you personally. I'm discussing what you said in combination with what Mr. Bad said.

People who have spent their whole lives in academia have a different outlook on things. If that's not you, it's not you. I'm not discussing your personal situation.

All I can point to is a certain naive outlook on life - like sheltered people get - and an odd inclination towards not wanting to know what REALLY happens and what life really consists of, but instead to only think in terms of theories you read in books or that are passed around by other academic people, even if they don't match things you observe.

The last one is a bigee. I've seen some feminists in academia make pronouncements about "men do this" and "women do that", and I really wonder what planet they're on. And they just pass it all around among themselves, regardless of whether it's "real" or not. It's real to them, I guess.


Folks, cool it. You're drifting. Stay on the topic of the post.

The Chief

I think I would define "the Real World" as having a job where you could possibly be fired, where you have to be at least minimally productive in order to keep that paycheck coming regularly. Teenagers don't live in the Real World because they can't be fired from being their parent's children (except by abandonment by abusive parents, but I'm talking the rule here, not the exception). Certain unionized workers don't really live in the Real World. Tenured professors don't live in the Real World.

In partial defense of Hugo he presumably wasn't born on tenure, but I believe I remember reading a post awhile back where he said he entered the academic world in preschool at the age of 3 and never left. It undoubtedly had an influence, and it may have narrowed his views.

On the other hand mild, affection condescenscion is not the worst way to treat somebody you disagree with. Read Michelle Malkin's "Unhinged" to be appalled at the way some truly wacked out lefties have treated conservatives.


I realize this is drifting, and I'll knock it off, but I wanted to add this one concrete example of what I was saying above:

Some universities have a branch of psychology that specializes in parapsychology. There have been instances of university professors in that subject being easily, easily, fooled by people who want to pretend that they have extraordinary powers, like being able to guess a card that will be put down in advance.

On the other hand, there is a magician named James Randi ("real world" he worked in the trenches with fooling people) who has effortlessly exposed these people. HE has the real knowledge, and there is a huge mass of knowledge that you can only gain by being in a real environment, not an environment in which you are pondering things.

In that case, the university professors assumed that they know the most about a subject. They didn't. And don't. And they also seem to have no awareness of how much knowledge really exists in the world that is not being shared with them. And in the case described above, who is the more useful person?


"Everyone still has to deal with office politics, following certain 'rules of the game', working hard to try and earn promotions."

What if there were no “office” in which to conduct your office politics? What if you had to go out EVERY DAY and sell your product or service so you could pay your company's bills and your employees at the end of the month and survive to fight another day?

What if you were in a competitive industry where your competitors (domestic and across the world) were trying to drive your company into bankruptcy, and even if you mastered office politics and did a good job, your company might fail, sending you and dozens/hundreds/thousands of people with your skillset into a flooded job market?

What if the "rules of the game" were unclear? What if there were no promotions, since the organization was small, flat, and/or family-owned?

I don't mean to minimize the work of some academics, but even aside from tenure, many universities have a no-layoff policy, and universities are second only to federal government in terms of having guaranteed long-term survival. Your post indicates no awareness of these issues.

While I'm politically ambivalent, many big-government types have an assumption that private companies, like universities, operate in an environment of stability and guaranteed profitability. While universities simply pass on the costs of something like domestic partner benefits, to students who have no choice but to suck it up and take out ever larger loans, a small mandate like that could be the difference between survival and failure of a small dry cleaners, engineering firm, or T-shirt printer.


Please delete the comma between "benefits" and "to."

And to continue my point: many regulations in terms of HR recordkeeping, diversity quotas, etc., may be reasonable for a multi-billion dollar university with thousands of employees may be impossible for, say, a dentist's office to fulfill...it's hard to ensure a 6.3% Elbonian-American workforce when your staff consists of a dentist, 1 staff hygienist, 1 part-time contract hygienist, and a 3/4 time receptionist who was a high school friend of the dentist's wife's former hairstylist.


While we're excluding people fromt he "real world" let's not forget subsidised uncompetative American farmers, "pundits" (conservative or otherwise), the scions of the wealthy, guaranteed a position in the family firm and of course CEOs who get a bonus no matter how their company performs.

Looks like the real world is shrinking all the time...

The Chief

I disagree on pundits (they have to bring in readers/viewers/listeners or ultimately they'll be looking for a new job) and on most CEOs (other than the members of the Lucky Sperm Club who inherited their position most CEOs have to work damn hard to get where they are, even if they do get handed a nice golden parachute once they finally arrive), but on the whole, yeah, I agree. We may be making progress with you Anna...;)


CEOs also get fired. I agree, though, about the CEOs of small companies who are there because pappy did all the work.

A lot of CEOs in big companies work their butts off for 40 years for demanding bosses, day in and day out, taking on larger positions of responsibility with the accompanying stress. At the end of all that, they know how to do something (most of them anyway).

It's nothing I want, but I don't begrudge them the money. I wouldn't quite call them "out of the loop" or "not in the real world". Quite the opposite.


Yes pundits can be fired but they so frequently, misuse, misquote or just blatanly mistake science and statistics that I must either conclude that they have no contact with the real world or are inherently dishonest.

The odd thing is that most of the academics I know have either worked in a business prior to joining academia, have outside business interests or must deal frequently with the so-called real world in the course of their work.

My grandfather for example was a lecturer in geography and over time aquired nearly a million dollars worth of comercial real-estate, my aunt who lectures in education studies created a educational game that sells quite well and the history lecturers I know tend to specialise in some of the bloodier and less savoury aspects of history (both recent and classical).


I was in academia until I was nearly 40 (in a "hard" not a "soft" science, though). I'm starting to flip around quite heavily on my former "elitist" thoughts. There is a lot of information out there that seems to be ignored by academia.

Maybe my moment of realization came when I saw the letterhead of a colleague - it literally took up about a third of the page with his titles and degrees and major publications, kind of like a mini C.V. on every letter he wrote. And the guy was kind of a bonehead in a lot of ways. That was just too much pomposity from a person who didn't really deserve it.

The arrogance is sometimes out of proportion with the ability/skill/real knowledge.


Something else I noticed in academia was the huge skew with regard to hard/soft sciences.

When I saw a women's studies professor not even being able to add two fractions - or even get close to guessing - and then making what I thought to be sexist assumptions (her own field!) - I started wondering why on earth she was getting paid money, why she had a Dr. title and why (or even what) she was teaching students.

I mean, good, that was that particular woman. And I guess fractions (or for that matter logic and critical thinking) don't matter for women's studies. But still ... I used to think important perfessers were supposed to be smart.


"Maybe my moment of realization came when I saw the letterhead of a colleague - it literally took up about a third of the page with his titles and degrees and major publications, kind of like a mini C.V. on every letter he wrote. And the guy was kind of a bonehead in a lot of ways. That was just too much pomposity from a person who didn't really deserve it."

Umm have you ever met a corporate middle manager?


"Umm have you ever met a corporate middle manager?"


Also trouble, LOL, but they turn to Jello when a corporate bigger-than-them manager gets around them.

And yes, I really find that pathetic. Bullying people below you and bootlicking of people above you.

I can only recommend self-employment for any sane people left on this planet.


So I get some vague attack on feminism and women's studies (can we get some specific examples of what profs have said that don't jibe with reality), a complaint that someone in a field that does not require mathematical aptitude is, shockingly, not necessarily good at math (I've had quite a few "hard" science and math students that stink at history- are they also of diminished intelligence too?)and an example of parapsychology (which is controversial even within the university)in answer to my above question, and yet, curiously I am unsatisfied ;)

Of course someone had to bring out the tenure strawman. You know what, in every non-academic job I have ever worked not one employee was fired for not being productive. I always worked my butt off no matter how menial the job, but I had plenty of co-workers who showed up late, called in sick because they didn't feel like showing up, and did the minimum (and often less) expected in their job title. The ones who were charming loafers usually were friendly with management, wound up with the best raises and occasionally promotions. The rest were 1) left alone if they weren't personally repugnant, 2) coerced into quitting by essentially making their jobs impossible to perform (I saw this most often with minorities), or 3) given a wide berth because they had a documented disability (corporations are quite risk averse to potential lawsuits, not to say that the disabilities act is the problem). Most of these people eventually quit on their own. The ones who were fired, were fired for things like theft. Sounds like a de facto tenure system to me. Small businesses may be different (never worked for one), but corporations have just as much difficulty culling out the "deadwood" as academia and tolerate a fairly high level of inefficiency. I will not even go into upper level management and the power of "networking" over actual talent(Barbara Ehrenreich's blog had a wonderful post on this about a month ago).

And you know what else, the "rules of the game" in academia are no more spelled out than in most work settings. You learn as you go and hope you can stay ahead of the curve.

Those who think academics are disconnected from the "real world" act like all professors live in a hermetically sealed university where they make no contact with the outside world (though I admit there are some professors who seem woefully out of touch- but I'd argue they are a minority). Sorry, no vacuum in my university environment. Academics have families and friends outside of academia, they live in diverse communities, many have diverse work backgrounds. Their education may enable them to see the world from a different perspective, but then, how is that sufficient to conclude that they do not live in the "real world" because they interpret it differently? Rich people are going to see the world different than someone living in poverty; white people see the world different than those of other races, women often see the world different than men (especially when it comes to walking alone at night) etc. ad nauseum. So the question is, whose perception do we privilege as the one that reflects the "real world"?

Sorry Hugo for the threadjack. I promise this is my last post on the topic.


"Academics have families and friends outside of academia, they live in diverse communities, many have diverse work backgrounds."

I think that's kind of proof that hard science / soft science people just kind of come from different universes.

I don't really give a frig if someone lives in a "diverse" community. Maybe a bit more with diverse work backgrounds, but I can almost guess the "diversity" with regard to soft fields at a university. Information and knowledge seem to be less important in the soft fields, just talking and current paradigms and sensitivity to diverse cultures are important. Or something. But if you stare real hard at the "matrix" released in the University of Michigan affirmative-action lawsuit, you will see that Czech saxaphone players and Japanese whale-cutting experts and Polish chess grandmasters get absolutely NO points for diversity. Blacks get a lot. Period.

Why don't the "diversity" proponents just say straight out what they are doing?


Here is an interesting story:

A history type (probably not unlike history mom) wanted to put together a symposium that related humanities with science in the university. Her idea was that history people are weak in hard sciences and hard-science types are naturally weak in history. So she got some physics-type people and was looking around for someone really intelligent to represent the history and humanities side.

She finally dug up a guy who had written a great deal on Mayan culture. He seemed to be VERY knowledgeable about history in general, and Mayan culture specifically, from his writings.

So she invited him. His name was Richard Feynman, winner of the 1965 Nobel Prize in physics and also professor of physics. She honestly didn't know that until after she invited him. The details are either available in a recent biography on him or also via a Google search.

Sociopathic Revelation

"It's a blind spot, I suppose -- it's the closest to a genuinely evil philosophical position I know." - Hugo

Even in comparison to the philosophical stance in Thomas Hobbes' "Leviathan?"


I honestly have nothing against academic people retaining their plumage. You can rest easy, history mom.

Sometimes I'm a dick at social functions when a guy insists that other people call him "Doctor" when he couldn't do CPR to save his own life, or cure his dog of worms. Ummm, kind of. I don't bother to tell him that I'm also kind of a doctor.

What I propose is that the general public be made more aware of the plumage, or the Emperor's New Clothes, as the case may be. Certain brands of "Doctors" aren't very smart, not at all. So let's, please, cut the crap in the general public. And maybe also cut out the deadwood at universities.


Folks, I'm serious: back on topic (narrowly defined) or your posts will be deleted.

Sociopathic Revelation

I'm still wondering what you consider as conservatism in a nutshell. I'm assuming it's Necon Republicanism, if you will.

"Rather, what appeals to them about conservatism is the notion that people ought not to be insulated from the consequences of poor behavior. (Pace, my fellow liberals, we all know damn well organized Republicanism inoculates the wealthy from that very thing.)" -Hugo

Well, if you're saying that the filthy rich have the ability eschew self-responsibility---and they should not---then roughly speaking you and I are in basic agreement.


M Light: *Case in point - unionizing graduate students? That one dies a quick death every time it raises its head - even though the days of the traditional mentoring academy are long over.

Except for when it doesn't. When I went to grad school, (in a hard science, for Rick up there) I had health care, paid for by the University. (And thank G-d for that, because I quickly came down with more stress-related illnesses than I care to remember.) How did I get that health care? Because grad students before me had unionized and said, "We're sitting on one of the biggest and best medical universities in America, and we're working ourselves into sickness that is treatable if we have access to doctors and nurses?

It wasn't the best health care in the world, but it wasn't the worst, and it was gotten by unionized grad students.

Yeah, this is anecdotal, but I've got something to back up my assertions. You?

Mr. Bad

Folks, I'm specifically referring the case of Hugo and people like him, i.e., people who are career academics. Those of you (us) who have spent decades in the private sector and then work in academia are not the same. Hugo has boasted on a number of occasions re. his privileged upbringing and his unbroken tenure in academia, so that's what I'm calling 'out of touch with the real world of hash-slingers, shit-shovelers, et. al.' And I maintain that those types of academics tend to be 1) left-leaning, and 2) relatively immature for their age.

Also, it's just fine to cite chapter and verse of personal anecdote/experience, but it really means nothing re. generalizing to the public at large. As for history, IMO for the most part it's not even close to being on the same level as math, science and engineering. Math, science and engineering require the same skills as a historian, however, it also requires more; people like Newton are a great example. When Newton couldn't figure out how to describe the world he saw using contemporary mathematics he invented a new type: Caculus. You just don't find that level of genius in the humanities.

And yeah, Feynman rocks!


Mr Bad -
Or you just don't value the level of genius that exists in the humanities because it's not "concrete" enough for you. Being stuck in an adolescent intellectual resistance to all ambiguity, you only value things that you think are "provable." Unless you can touch it and measure it, there can be no objective value to it. Come on, that's about as accurate as your rampant generalizations about the personal/intellectual maturity of academia. If you don't value it, it obviously has no value? Sure, that's in line with your admiration of the "hard" sciences.

I think anyone who gets a job based solely on connections and an education that was provided for by their parents is "out of touch" with the experience of the majority of America, but I wouldn't say they are "out of touch" with the "real world" - like it or not, that is a part of the real world.

Also, Socio -
I think Hugo was saying conservatives claim to value personal responsibility but Republicans (who claim to be the conservative party) tend to favor wealthy individuals and turn a blind eye to the repercussions of their actions: they refuse to hold people they are beholden to responsible for their actions. I think that's what he was saying, anyway.

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