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Academia: No Place For Young Scholars?

A reader who is a senior academic at a major university writes in response to this Villanova post of mine earlier today. He does not teach at Villanova, but said that my analysis of the president and the provost’s letter is 100 percent true about academia in general. He writes:

The degree to which the diversity/inclusion goal has usurped the actual intellectual/scholarly core of academic disciplines is staggering.  One sees it everywhere.  The notion that “activism,” “advocacy,” and “social justice” are central to the mission of academic disciplines is seen in ever growing proportions, menacing the true mission of these enterprises.  Administrators trip over themselves to signal their virtue, to one-up even the most ridiculous suggestions of the naive radicals pushing ever more absurd notions of higher education.  “Student-centered education” has come to mean that faculty and administrators have jettisoned their own responsibilities to educate students in favor of surrendering to the whim of a vocal minority (?) of students and activists.

Now that I am nearing the end of my life in academia, most of my reflections on being an old man are lamentations.  All, that is, save for my thoughts about the final stages of my academic career.  If I were a mere lad of 40 and had 30 years left in academics, I think I would have to consider finding another line of work.  The idea of sitting in this stew for three more decades and witnessing first hand the slide into the bizarro world would be too much to stomach.  That I’ll only have to survive another decade or so might be comforting, but for the fact that the slope of the descent is getting steeper and steeper with each passing year.  Where does one turn for some sanity?

Where indeed? In particular, I’d like to ask you readers who are academics to comment on this man’s take. Would you advise promising young scholars to go into academia? Why or why not?

UPDATE: There are lots of really interesting comments below. I just received this from a reader who chose not to comment on the thread. This commenter is someone whose name many of you would know. In academia today, the reader writes:

You need to be really careful to violate SJW shibboleths. You even need to worry if you don’t nod and agree forcefully…because if you don’t show enthusiasm, you might be a “conservative” (which is anyone who is not all on board with the far-left program).

Basically, the political uniformity is getting really extreme in the young cohorts. There are older conservative academics, but they are sunsetting, and most don’t want to spend their last years in political arguments.

If you are an SJW I think academia is a great option. You’ll get validation constantly. Though you need to always be on the leftist frontier. Don’t fall behind!

UPDATE.2: A reader writes about leaving academia for the private sector:

My primary reason for going into industry was financial. Postdoctoral salaries are miserable and our family situation at the time was made untenable. Add onto that the prospect of fighting tooth and claw for ever more limited funding for the next 20+ years – and that’s if I succeeded in the hyper-competitive tenure-track market – and my decision became rather easy.

The cultural directions of academia were also in the back of my mind. While in my postdoc, I saw bathrooms changed to unisex, and I heard troubling stories of popular, award-winning professors needing to undergo “training” because they had accidentally mis-gendered a student. It seemed to me that the faculty in my department for the most part thought all this stuff was complete rubbish and a waste of time, but it was also clear that they were too frightened to say anything too loudly.

Ultimately, it was my postdoc advisor who convinced me that my move to industry was the right one. He said essentially the same thing as your reader, only that as a young professor he could also tell me how much he was personally suffering under the pressures of academia.

I have many “small-o” orthodox Christian friends who have taken tenure track positions at elite schools around the country, and I hope for their sakes that you and many of the readers of your blog (including myself) are wrong about the direction of academia. I miss academic life, the leisure to ask interesting questions that may not have immediate market value, and most of all, the opportunity to interact with students who, for the most part, are intelligent, energetic, and decent people. But I also don’t have much hope for that.

Industry is not immune to all of this, and indeed the virtue signaling is at least as strong in the industrial setting. A main difference is that there is a level of basic competence that is required if you are a scientist. But I’m also asking for anonymity because I’m not willing to test whether far-left progressive politics are also a minimum requirement. As you’ve noted many times, it seemed likely that orthodox Christians are going to find themselves more and more shut out of the public sphere and the workplace. Who knows how quickly that will happen, but it’s foolish to pretend it’s not possible.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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