• September 5, 2015

Why Do They Hate Us?

An Academic in American Illustration Careers

Brian Taylor

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Brian Taylor

I am only a decade out of graduate school—and I suppose it's possible that I am a disagreeable person—but I have had more than a few unpleasant conversations with complete strangers, and even some friends, in which they have expressed their anger about professors while knowing that I am one.

• "What you teach is worthless—I mean, who needs more measurements of Walt Whitman's beard when the economy and the environment are collapsing?"

• "Being a professor is good money for, like, six hours of work per week. What do you do with all that free time?"

• "Oh, I can't talk to you, since I'm not politically correct or anything."

• "I wish I had tenure and didn't have to worry about being fired for not doing my job." 

• "Why don't you English profs just teach people how to write?"

• "I still owe more than $50,000 for my undergraduate degree, and it's never done me any good."

• "My job [pharmaceutical sales] saves lives; your so-called work is a waste of other people's time and money."

I seldom admit or discuss my primary occupation with nonacademics nowadays, if I can avoid it. It's safer to say that I'm a program administrator.

By now, most academics are inoculated against attacks from the right, the conversational relics of the culture war of a generation ago: Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind (1987), Charles Sykes's ProfScam: Professors and the Demise of Higher Education (1988), and Martin Anderson's Impostors in the Temple (1992), to name just a few. I almost feel nostalgia for that time, since the conversation was about what professors should teach. There was no doubt, as yet, whether higher education would continue in some recognizable form.

Over the last 20 years, the positions on both sides have hardened. But now the criticisms of academe are also coming from the left, and not just from the think tanks and journalists, but increasingly from within academe. Some of those works include Marc Bousquet's How the University Works: Higher Education and the Low-Wage Nation (2008); Cary Nelson's No University Is an Island: Saving Academic Freedom (2010); and, most recently, Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our KidsAnd What We Can Do About It (2010), by Andrew Hacker and Claudia C. Dreifus; and Mark Taylor's Crisis on Campus: A Bold Plan for Reforming Our Colleges and Universities (2010).

For the past several months, The Chronicle's forums and the comment section of its articles—and the larger blogosphere—have been abuzz with discussions of a string of seemingly anti-faculty articles with titles like "Goodbye to Those Overpaid Professors and Their Cushy Jobs" (July 25) and "Do All Faculty Members Really Need Private Offices?" (July 30). The majority feeling seems to be that the present model of higher education is no longer sustainable, and that the necessary changes will focus—for good or ill—on the working lives of professors.

I can't remember a time when professors, particularly in the humanities and social sciences—already the survivors of a 40-year depression in the academic job market—had a stronger feeling of being under siege. At some institutions, there is something aggressive and visceral about the recent rounds of cutbacks and accountability measures. They go beyond mere economic justifications.

So "hate" is not too strong a word, I think, for how nonacademics feel about us. Some of the reasons should flatter us, some are the result of economic and institutional forces beyond our control, and a few should cause us to wonder whether we deserve to be the last generation of traditional academics.

Anti-intellectualism and populism. Those tendencies in American life are not new, but they have become more virulent (see parts one and two of my column "On Stupidity"). Traditionally, professors have countered the tendency toward simplistic, slogan-based thinking—and manipulation—by teaching students to evaluate sources and reach their own conclusions on the basis of evidence derived from painstaking research.

The notion that knowledge is always political, and that perspectives are always relative, has eroded the belief in expertise and earned authority. If everyone's biased, including professors, why not just "go with your gut"? It's much easier, and it empowers you against the academics whose admonitions—as we have lost influence—have become increasingly condescending, sanctimonious, and shrill.

Market-based values. Academics, as a group, are among the last people who question the market as the sole determiner of value. We continue to hold out against the idea that our students are customers who must be pleased even at the cost of their own development. I think most professors still believe, privately, that our role is to liberate students and prepare them for lives of leadership in a relatively democratic society.

A generation ago, we could still defend the belief that our courses in literature, art, history, philosophy—the liberal arts, broadly defined, and always self-critical—were enriching in ways that could not be deposited in a bank or measured by outcomes assessment. In the intervening years, that consensus has fragmented, and we are no longer able to articulate a coherent vision of why others should value what we teach. And with that, I think, we have lost any remaining justification for our autonomy.

The rising cost of higher education. The price of a college degree has risen faster than the cost of health care. Anxiety about those costs crowds out the mental space that might be given to contemplating subjects without direct, practical applications.

The cost increase is driven not by faculty salaries, primarily, but by the rapid growth of administration, massive athletics programs, and the amenities arms race—not who has the most full-time faculty members so much as who has the most successful football team and the fanciest dorm rooms. Some institutions have astronomical endowments and tax-exempt status, asking a mostly excluded population to support what looks like country-club indulgences for elites.

But it is the faculty members who are held accountable for the cost of education, even while a growing majority of them are adjuncts and graduate students who receive no benefits and earn less than the minimum wage.

The changing job market. For a long time, college has been marketed as a requirement for entry into middle-class occupations. A lot of students—surely the majority—now attend college for reasons that have little to do with education for its own sake. Even so, when higher education was a reasonably secure pathway to employment, professors were worthy of some respect: We were gatekeepers, and we could help you. But in today's economic climate, a college degree is expensive, time-consuming, coercive, and does not necessarily lead to employment.

If institutions can't respond to that situation, why shouldn't students, who are not wealthy or devoted to the life of the mind, invest their money and time in something else, like starting a business?

Ignorance about what professors do. Highly paid academic stars make it politically possible to paint faculty members as pampered elites. A few weeks ago, I heard Andrew Hacker say, in an NPR interview, that a major problem with higher education is that "you have professors drawing six-figure salaries for two hours in the classroom each week."

That's a common claim, most often made by politicians looking to slash education budgets. But academic superstars are rare. They are limited to elite research universities, where professors are not paid, primarily, for their teaching.

For all of us, time in the classroom is just the tip of the iceberg. In addition to published research (now required of faculty members at most levels of higher education), courses must be prepared, papers graded, students advised and supported, and administrative work conducted. Many tenure-track faculty members spend more time on administrative work than they do on teaching or research, because there are relatively few of us left to conduct the business of our institutions.

Professors are not a leisure class. Most of us work more than 50 hours a week, and whatever free time we have is generally spent thinking about work or answering e-mail and texts from colleagues and students. We are never off the clock.

Overproduction of scholarly research. Specialized research is inherently difficult to understand, yet we often hear demands that work outside of the sciences should be immediately accessible to the general public. There is no question that more work can be done to publicize the value of scholarship in many fields, but there is also no doubt that a lot of scholarly productivity is a result of the increasing competitiveness of the academic job system.

The pressure to publish, at every level, arguably at the expense of our students, is not something that most academics have chosen, and it has led to a collapse of the university-press system, skyrocketing publishing costs, unsustainable pressures on library budgets, and, ironically, declining engagement with our larger disciplines—a loss of a common scholarly culture—since it's a challenge simply to keep up with a few subfields.

Another result is that many courses reflect specialized research interests rather than broader topics that might be more useful to our students.

Tenure. In a period of extreme anxiety about economic security, when millions of people are losing their jobs, and their lives are unraveling, the appearance of a professor with a job for life and no accountability seems as offensive as a portly aristocrat being carried in a sedan chair through the streets of Paris during the hungry summer of 1789.

Even before the great recession, misunderstandings about tenure were the main reason for disliking professors. But, as Marc Bousquet (a Chronicle blogger) has often observed, academic tenure offers fewer protections than those enjoyed by most civil-service workers. Tenure provides no protection from penalties for not doing your job or for making public statements about issues that are outside your field of professional expertise. Moreover, it takes, on average, about 20 years for professors to attain tenure, and, in the past 40 years, the number of tenure-track positions has shrunk relative to the number of available job candidates. That hyper-competitiveness has resulted in a stultifying culture of conformity, but that is less a function of tenure than it is of the unjustified expansion of graduate programs and the shift of money away from faculty to other campus expenses.

Lack of professional solidarity. Academe has always been fragmented by internecine squabbles about scholarly minutiae. There have always been rivalries among leading scholars and among disciplines. Those divisions are an inherent part of academic culture.

But now academe is divided even more by the conditions of employment. Tenured professorships have become such a privilege, held by a small minority, for such seemingly arbitrary reasons, that anyone who holds such a position is quite naturally resented by someone who does not and probably never will. That is exacerbated by the tendency in our profession to think in terms of hierarchies—to look down on people—based on pedigree, academic rank, and institutional affiliation. We are unable to command respect for ourselves as a profession by working together across those divisions.

There are, of course, many other, less prominent reasons for the current anti-faculty climate. But perhaps it is enough to say that the reason we feel more "hated" than ever is that we deserve it. Instead of collaborating, we competed with each other. We focused on our research instead of on the needs of undergraduates. We even exploited our graduate students, using their labor to underwrite our privileges, and then we relegated most of them to marginal positions as adjuncts. We waited too long to institute reforms to our profession, and now—after 40 years of inaction—the reforms are going to be forced upon us.

Some of that may be positive: Perhapsa more equitable labor system will emerge. Maybe there will be a greater focus on undergraduate education and less emphasis on specialized research. In any case, some big changes are coming, and what will change will not be decided, for the most part, by faculty members.

Thomas H. Benton is the pen name of William Pannapacker, an associate professor of English at Hope College.


1. osholes - September 27, 2010 at 06:19 am

In public schools, some of the former students who hated their teachers end up on the school boards or school committee so they can lord over their former nemeses.
In colleges and universities, there are some members of Boards of Regents, Boards of Trustees and administrations who hated their professors. I see no other reason for the existence of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni than to attack their common enemy: the faculty. The Trustees in ACTA are pissed off about the unruly faculty, and the alumni who join this group are pissed off about the low grades they got. Time to show them who's boss.
So let's not rule out something more basic than politics in anti-intellectualism : many people hated their teachers and professors, they still hate them, and they are trying to get even.

2. dr_pdg - September 27, 2010 at 07:01 am

Professor Benton,
I am an Adjunct Professor at several universities and in addition, offer my courses in project and program management publicly, and I have to say that I can fully understand why students hate some of us.

Coming from a background in business and becoming an academic late in life, much of what academics teach is hardly relevant at all to what is actually needed for skills to get a job and keep it.

And given much of what I teach now has little or nothing to do with the technical skills, but mostly to do with the soft skills- leading, team building, conflict resolution, teaching people how to motivate and manage teams of people over whom they have little if any formal authority, I believe that the humanities professors are the ones who are most out of touch with what it means to have no job security and are competing against people half a world away willing to work for a fraction of what you are expecting to make.

Bottom line here- people will stop hating us when we get off the pedestal and start to teach things that make them more competitive and efficient. Keep in mind that respect cannot be demanded or mandated- it must be EARNED.

Dr. PDG, Jakarta, Indonesia

3. quidditas - September 27, 2010 at 08:45 am

Let's look at these two statements:

"The notion that knowledge is always political, and that perspectives are always relative, has eroded the belief in expertise and earned authority. If everyone's biased, including professors, why not just "go with your gut"?"


"Market-based values. Academics, as a group, are among the last people who question the market as the sole determiner of value. We continue to hold out against the idea that our students are customers who must be pleased even at the cost of their own development."

Do you not see how the second statement arises out of, or at least is entirely compatible with the first? As the campus population diversified, "liberal" faculty accomodated this student population, effectively serving this changing market--and, one might add, its heightened sensitivities.

Add in the already extant upper middle class (and better) tendency to regard teachers as the help, and you get a pretty vigorous consumer based academic economy.

Academics are fully complicit in this--which has not necessarily been good for the country.

If all knowledge is perspectival--and you can see from the blogosphere that young college educated people take this as an article of faith-- then those with the most power will always determine what the truth is.

This idea is NOT inherently empowering of the "voiceless," which is what the post-60s generation of academics assumed, it just renders more people voiceless--especially in a highly centralized political economy like ours.

That's why you can't get any traction against the administration, which serves primarily as the managerial hit squad for the board, composed of wealthy interests from finance, real estate, and multinational corporations.

US Congress, should it actually care, has the same problem.

4. proflee - September 27, 2010 at 08:57 am

Dr. PDG,
I teach the exact same courses as you -- but with all due respect, I completely disagree with your perspective. Moreover, your perspective is exactly what I fear most about hiring adjuncts as educators. That is, the narrow view of what constitutes "relevant" education. For example, research out of the Univ. of Toronto shows that one of the best tools for building "emotional intelligence" is reading fiction. Fiction requires the reader to place him or herself into the world of the characters and thus, builds the ability to empathize with others. This does not happen when reading non-fiction or when watching movies.

Indeed, it is this deeper kind of learning that truly makes a difference to students' overall development. In fact, in my course I feel that my key responsibility is to build students' ability to think critically about the skills I help them build. The skill itself is not as important as the ability to think deeply and critically about it. Students never seem to understand this point. But thank goodness their professor does. Those professors who teach students in courses later in the curriculum can easily differentiate students who have taken earlier courses from full-time professors rather than adjuncts. Full-time professors, in general, teach a deeper and broader level of thinking. In the same vein, I can easily differentiate students who have taken humanities courses from those who haven't -- they have a better ability to think deeply and broadly.

Also, in the 20 years that I have been teaching "soft-skills" like team-building and leadership skills to business majors, I have also found that those students who are grounded in a broader eductation, that includes humanities courses, understand what I teach at a much deeper level. In particular, my MBAs with less "practical" educational backgrounds (i.e., those from the humanities, social sciences, etc). are those who I'd most trust to go out into the business world and become the kind of well-rounded and effectve leaders who build humane, ethcial organizations.

5. gplm2000 - September 27, 2010 at 09:33 am

Going to college for me and cohorts was a four year trip of maturation, socialization, insight into life, as well as learning topical skills and info. Now, the "guaranteed outcomes" crowd has cheapened a college education by making it shorter, easier and the rise of online classes. The professor is thought of as one who administers tests, monitors class activity and grades papers. In particular, the for-profits do not allow the instructor to create curriculum or input to it. The students like or hate the instructor based on grades.

Two trends since the 60s have cheapened a college education: 1. Job-related skills must be taught. Unqualified students take remedial classes to learn how to read, write and do math. Some community colleges teach vocational skills. Major emphasis on business courses "to get a job". 2. Focus on diversity has skewed the mission of a college to educated students. Social engineering has become the major mission of colleges. Curriculums are changed to reflect politically correct views. Open-debate is limited given the socioeconomic view of professors.

6. xtrcrnchy4 - September 27, 2010 at 09:52 am

This article is an attempt to unify faculty as an "Us" club against the bigoted, ignorant, biased, and ungrateful "Them" in the masses. In reality, lots and lots of folks who went to college still revere some of their professors. There are still many professors who deserve that reverance and respect, even some of the newer ones to join the ranks. The professors who inspire the animosity are those who believe they have de facto earned respect by attaining the Ph.D. They are the ones who expect and demand that the glory flow their direction because they of who they are, not what they do or what they produce. "Can everyone hear me? Can everyone see me? I'm being smart!" Even people without lots of book learnin' can spot a pompous, self-important posterior when they see one. I think that's the root of it--people who are in it for the "intellectual glory" of the academic kingdom and who are bitter when they don't automatically get it. Fortunately, there are many who aren't in this category and they should let Mr. Benton/Pannepacker and others in the "Us" group know they aren't members of that "everyone hates us because we're so smart" club. Also, who else spends this much time writing about and rationalizing why they aren't liked?

7. rlburns - September 27, 2010 at 09:57 am

I'm interested to see the theme of this piece and that the comments on it accept that theme: Why They Hate Us. Is it the case that the public, even our students HATE us? My worst fear is that they, too many of them, don't find us important enough to generate an emotion like hate. Those in the profession seen as poor teachers of topics or processes that are unimportant or useless in the rest of life are more likely to be set aside simply as unimportant or worse, a waste of time (and money)? In my own observations I have not found hate to be an issue. Hate, in fact,would be easier to deal with than what so often is the response--no response at all.

8. ambouche - September 27, 2010 at 10:05 am

Why isn't anyone writing a book (or better yet, making a documentary) on the actual lives of professors, showing their real teaching workload, including the time they spend on their classes outside of their classroom? Why aren't their interactions with students, the amount of time spent laborously managing curriculum and programs, the time spent working individually with at-risk, ill-prepared learners, the effects of their efforts over the long term on the lives of their students, being documented? Who points out that even the most "useless" humanities subjects teach students how to think critically, do research effectively, communicate clearly, understand the world more deeply, spot the flaws in the disinformation of demagogues and snake oil sellers more easily?

Now it seems Prof. Hacker is on the radio, perpetuating the lie that there are a lot of lazy professors out there who get 6-figure salaries. Possibly he thinks everyone is paid as well as he is, and teaches as few classes as he does. Admittedly, he works at a much more elevated institution than most of us do.

He should know better though--he sat with me in my office and interviewed me extensively for his book--for which he is now going to reap the considerable profits of the popular author, on top of his nice salary.

The propotion of top professors getting fat 6-figure salaries in the humanities is probably smaller than the proportion of CEOs getting multi-million dollar salaries in the business world. Our university president gets a 6-figure salary, the provost does, the business school faculty probably gets that, some of them any way, but the expert math instructor who has 30 years experience is only getting $30,000--and she moved to this institution from a high school where she was getting more than twice that. Most of my colleagues in the humanities at the associate professor rank get between $50,000-$60,000--barely enough to raise a family in this area.

Fact is, the competitive business model, give the customers what they want, is exactly why so much of the money spent on education is being wasted on trophy faculty and trophy athletic programs and trophy amenities. You have to keep up your status to compete, if the goal is to be competitive. But cheap shots are easy and there is nobody on the other side making the case for education, still less for the people who are in the trenches trying to educate this nation.

I would have quit long ago, were it not for the fact that every day I am rewarded by my students. I just got a letter from one ex-student who is entering a professional school and wanted me to know that my class - in art history, what could be more useless than that? - changed his life. But of course, nobody asks him, or the thousands of former students like him, what they think. In my view somebody should.

9. tuxthepenguin - September 27, 2010 at 10:13 am

I agree with all of the points raised in this article. Yet I do not agree that most of the public hates professors. Most of my interactions with others are positive. Most of the public respects professors, and most spend no time thinking about how professors have easy jobs.

We do have to be careful to practice good "bedside manner". If there's one thing I regret most about my first couple years on the tenure track, it is that I viewed myself as doing a job, and not reflecting on the impact of my actions on the lives of the students. They may not be our customers, in the same way that the guy who walks through the door at JC Penney's is a customer, but they are our students. In many ways we have a greater responsibility to students than to customers.

Those who dislike professors fit into two groups. The first is those who were disrespected by professors, in the form of poor lecture preparation, rudeness, or unwillingness to make themselves reasonably available outside of the lecture. The second is those who gain from going after professors. This group includes the authors of the books cited above, who are genuinely dishonest, and school administrators.

As for reforms being imposed on us, it might happen, but I will ask who will do the imposing. Get rid of tenure? Require mandatory office hours? Get rid of research and bump up teaching loads to five classes a semester? That will lead to higher salaries and/or lower quality faculty. Why have private colleges not implemented those reforms already? Why haven't for-profits come in, done things differently, and taken over the industry? These are questions that I need answered before I can accept the argument that major reforms are on their way.

10. quidditas - September 27, 2010 at 10:17 am

"Also, who else spends this much time writing about and rationalizing why they aren't liked?"


11. quidditas - September 27, 2010 at 10:26 am

"Why have private colleges not implemented those reforms already? Why haven't for-profits come in, done things differently, and taken over the industry? These are questions that I need answered before I can accept the argument that major reforms are on their way."

They don't need to actively reform the tenured faculty. Demographics will take care of it for them. When the babyglut retires, American higher education--especially in the "useless" humanities and social sciences--will be effectively decimated.

Then, they can do whatever they want. And "they" are the Board, composed of wealthy interests in finance, real estate, and multinational corporations.

So, yeah, it's coming.

12. arvidsonc - September 27, 2010 at 10:32 am

I can this: students expect me to be their caterer, catering to them due dates, test answers, etc. It is truly sad, but I am not deterred because whether you think critical thinking is a soft skill or not, I believe it is what makes the college graduate better than the person who is not.

Much of what I read in this article makes sense and helps me understand why as a dissertation coach, I see the dissertation process as broken--professors don't even have time, even if they wanted to add hours to the day, to advice their own doctoral candidates when they need 10 candidates enrolled for one class of release time just to advise dissertations!

Much is broken, and people outside of higher education are unaware of the nature of this broken machine, so they have no way to constructively offer solutions. However, people within academe have the ability, the experience, the training for so-called soft skills (which are are more like hard to do skills than anything else as humans are the ultimate variable), and the insider tracks to get to their peers and reconnect while under siege to develop a life line leading to change.

Pride doth goeth before the fall; let's not fall.

Adjunct professor at two schools, academic coach, dissertation coach, consultant, and red headed step child of the academy.

13. mileydog - September 27, 2010 at 10:38 am

I really have no idea what this author is talking about - or why the Chronicle would want to publish such rubbish and stain a nobel profession like university education.

I cannot relate at all to anything the author suggests. Perhaps because I teach graduate and doctoral classes at a prestigious university I am treated differently. Maybe also -- because I am a little older than my teaching peers - and came to university life after 20-plus years in corporate America - I am treated differently that the author's experience. But I don't think so.

I serve on several boards and committees within my community, and the people I serve with are honored and happy to have a member of my university volunteer time. I am treated with respect by my former students - and many still look to me as a mentor and role model.

I am actually quite disgusted with the amount of apathy that exists in the teaching profession. My advice to Dr Benton is to leave the teaching profession and find work elsewhere that meets his personal and professional needs. For those of you who agree with the author's statements, you may likewise be happy in another profession - so seek one out.

14. yandoodan - September 27, 2010 at 10:41 am

Just a fast point --

Everyone you cite as ignorantly hating professors has had, in fact, extensive contact with them, as undergraduates. The hatred comes from experience, not misconception. The experience may be slanted, but it has a core of reality.

15. arvidsonc - September 27, 2010 at 10:43 am

PS: I am sorry for the grammatical errors in my above diatribe on this matter of professors being under siege. It is early in the AM, and my coffee hasn't taken hold in my brain just yet. As an editor, I cringe when I cannot fix bad writing--I convulse when it is my own work. I hate to think I contributed to the problem I discussed!

16. softshellcrab - September 27, 2010 at 10:51 am

" By now, most academics are inoculated against attacks from the right..."

Oh, well that's good to know. So who cares what those ditto-head right wingers say, we're the intellectually superior left. But if the left wing criticizes us, that's to be taken seriously. What pompous arrogance.

The author questions Prof. Hacker's comment that 'you have professors drawing six-figure salaries for two hours in the classroom each week.' The author says that almost no professors get that deal. Probably true, but many,many get a deal pretty close to that. In my own college at my university, the great majority of tenure track faculty are making six-figures base pay. They get extra for teaching in Summer if they want to, and their average in-class hours are about 6-7 hours per week. Obviously they do other things besides teach, but these are not even remotely superstars, just run of the mill faculty with average or below average publication records. Prof. Hacker's comments do in fact hit close to home to my experience.

17. goeswithoutsaying - September 27, 2010 at 11:13 am

Hatred is a two-way street, my friend.

I appreciate the analysis of the causes of purported undergrad hatred for profs-- but do you really think undergrads are avid consumers and historians of _The Closing of the American Mind_ or the Anti-intellectualism of the Bush reign? You might have identified the right haters in this case.

In my experience, undergrads-- perhaps especially those who signed loan papers themselves-- are hungry for knowledge. They bought access to it and now they want it. But how do you know the value of what you paid for? It's a tough but legitimate question. Do eyes glaze over when I present some arcane idea? If so, that's my problem, not theirs.

If profs have a PR problem, then it's also ours to fix while we teach or just hang out with other people. It helps when we aren't profs first and last. Case in point:

I have read _On the Origin of Species_ more times than any normal person should. I also had a lovely conversation with some Young Earth Creationists one morning at a horse show. Yes, they eventually learned what I do for a living. But what they had met first was a person who hauled water to horses and shit from them at 5 am in good cheer just like they did.

18. fizmath - September 27, 2010 at 12:06 pm

Cast not your pearls before swine. Some people will never be able to appreciate the benefits of theoretical knowledge which does not have a direct application in every day life.

19. procrustes - September 27, 2010 at 12:19 pm

Interesting that Benton's take is largely that they just don't understand us. Maybe they understand us too well. The academy is currently very out of step with the values and beliefs of mainstream America. Whether that is good or bad, it has consequences. And our response again is that they don't get it. We have all the answers and we rarely show the willingness to question our own orthodoxy.

On some of the other items:

Read Hofstadter's Anti-Intellectualism in American Life; nothing new here.

There is a lot of marginal research produced in the great job and p&t sweepstakes. Why should the public be happy about their tax and tuition dollars supporting this? I'm not happy about the amount of worthless garbage that I have to wade through in order to keep up with my fields and do my research either.

Minimal teaching schedules and high salaries may be most common in the most prestigious research universities, but they have also spread, albeit unevenly, to many mid-tier wannabes seeking to emulate the more successful (in terms of money and prestige) institutions.

The most common refrain from higher education is give us more money but remember you aren't fit to judge what we do. Why indeed are we so disliked?

20. hasselhoff - September 27, 2010 at 12:37 pm

This article really loses its punch at the end but brings up some good points. I see a lot of right-wing meaty politics with the whole "I hate professors" schtik. To dismiss it as already settled by Bloom or others about what we teach (in Humanities I guess) completely ignores the 24 hour propaganda on fox and other r-w outlets that basically tells Americans that professors are lazy socialist liars who make stuff up, get paid a fortune, and hate America, Christianity, puppies, etc. etc.

We know the majority of professors make no where near a 100 k per year and teach way more than 2 hours a week. Those big R1 schools, where that happens, want their professors to get grant money (which they take 50+% of) and write books and prominent articles and be leaders in the field, which takes a lot of time. Smaller schools want higher quality teaching and some research results. AND we get paid significantly less and take on more of the failings of K-12 education.

None of this means that there aren't dead-beats on every campus teaching totally non-rigorous classes and playing golf every afternoon. I'm fine with some changes to tenure as long as it promotes rigor in teaching and excellence in reseach.

21. tuxthepenguin - September 27, 2010 at 12:48 pm

"None of this means that there aren't dead-beats on every campus teaching totally non-rigorous classes and playing golf every afternoon."

But in that case, shouldn't they be getting after the adminstrators, rather than the faculty who are doing their jobs?

22. lost_angeleno - September 27, 2010 at 12:52 pm

I just don't get the meme that business (leave aside the immature 17-year-old) sees the Humanities as useless. In my consulting days, top businesspersons were asking for new talent that was adept at creative and critical thinking, able to change thinking paradigms (yes, I've been doing it that long) as market conditions changed, etc., etc. That's exactly what we teach in the Humanities. It's not all we teach, but it is a, perhaps the, critical, central component at the deepest cognitive level. Business leaders embrase that sort of teaching (the ones that want to survive and prosper), and so we should be tooting our horns in triumph. Business curricula have failed utterly at the job of preparing students for this aspect of their careers. We have been doing it for millenia. We humanistic types need to shame the trade-school, cookie-cutter, applications programs, and demand that they incorporate our intellectually supple, growth-demanding teaching programs. For the sake of our students's future success.

23. coachtmbsc - September 27, 2010 at 12:54 pm

The lowest paid reference here ($30,000) is nearly double the minimum wage that the article supposes some adjuncts earn teaching undergrads. That's what pisses these people off.

"Oh me, I only make 3-5 times more than you, I'm so impoverished" does not endear your public. The $50-60K referenced in the article is well over national median income. Sure, we have more educational investment than does the median or the labor class; but, we're not poor like them by any stretch and they'll let us know that quickly.

A real eye-opener for some faculty would be to actually go out and see how some of these kids and their parents live. They don't want to hear how underpaid we are as they get ready for their waitress job down at Denny's or a shift as a cashier at WalMart - where they actually do earn minimum wage of $7.50 for their time.

They expect us to get them (or their kids) out of that world and we tell them "if you don't like that level of work then you should have gone to college"... So, we have them in our classrooms following our advice. Can we help them or not?

24. gomiller - September 27, 2010 at 01:50 pm

@ xtrcrnchy4, #6 - most folks I know who were in PhD programs "for the glory" quit long before actually earning the degree.

25. more_cowbell - September 27, 2010 at 02:32 pm

I'm inclined to agree with rlburns's comment. Having worked outside academe for several years now, I concur that the vast majority of the public has little to no opinion about the professoriate. They might feel "hate" if they knew more about dept politics, the insularity of most academic reasearch, etc. but that's not the case. The position of "professor" seems to carry little prestige, at least from what it used to decades ago.

26. dank48 - September 27, 2010 at 02:49 pm

More_cowbell has it right, imo.

How many Ph.D.s are there in the US per capita now? Compared to ten, twenty, thirty, . . . years ago?

Does that mean we're doing a more efficient job of educating people, thus turning more people into Ph.D.s than ever before?

Does it mean that the Ph.D. degree doesn't mean what it used to?

Are there other explanations?

But, no, frankly, I don't think most people think more about professors than they do about plumbers, pediatricians, plasterers, podiatrists, or party planners.

27. jaysanderson - September 27, 2010 at 02:58 pm

In reading the article, I am struck that even a pharmaceutical sales rep looks down on us. Wow, that's a new low.

28. 12094478 - September 27, 2010 at 03:06 pm

dr_pdg-- "Bottom line here- people will stop hating us when we get off the pedestal and start to teach things that make them more competitive and efficient. Keep in mind that respect cannot be demanded or mandated- it must be EARNED."

So what do we need to teach them that will make them more competitive and efficient. If humanities professors are the most out of touch, then maybe someone who is "in touch" can tell us what we need to teach. If you want to look at management positions in "the real world" you'll see that there is a trend that those who majored in Humanities and Fine Arts tend to advance more rapidly and higher in management (mid- and high-level) than those who obtain only a "useful degree." Perhaps some of the monetary value of a humanities degree is that it is not directly channeled into a useful position. Perhaps the ability for abstract thought is most useful in a changing job market where half of the jobs our graduates have 20 years from now have not even been conceived!

29. 12094478 - September 27, 2010 at 03:24 pm

Our response to such criticisms that Pannapaker launches about irrelevance and infighting should be "What do you want us to teach in the Humanities?" "What, exactly, should we teach in academia?" I've never met anyone that has anything specific to say in answer to these questions--only more of the same ethereal, idealized answers that are the very focus of their criticism of the humanities. Now that's thinking that lacks application and real usefulness!

30. formerprof05 - September 27, 2010 at 04:09 pm

This article and several comments identify what I take to be a fairly serious problem.

I think that it is time for humanities faculty to identify and implement some reforms and then to engage the public, including career-minded students, more effectively. I've tried to explain some of what's needed in two recent blog posts:

"Why Market the Humanities" at http://bit.ly/amu5Je.
"Preparing to Market the Humanities" at http://bit.ly/b5R1oK.

31. labjack - September 27, 2010 at 04:20 pm

I was an adjunct teaching at the local community college several years ago, and never experienced any problems with my students. In fact, when I run into former students around town, we always have pleasant conversations. I taught primarily microbiology, which was a requirement for nursing schools, so perhaps the students saw value in the class. A major part of our jobs in teaching at college is to prepare students to be successful in their lives. What is wrong with having expert tradesmen teach their craft. That's what happens in medical schools. There is nothing wrong with teaching students skills to be successful. In fact, without the skills to implement the higher order thinking we all hope to engender in our students, they will be unable to
accomplish anything.

I do agree with the idea that most people believe that professors have it pretty easy. I'd argue that there are several reasons for this.
1. Summers off.
2. Flexible schedules.
3. Visible work hours are scheduled class times. Although Lawyers also have a limited time in court, yet not thought of as lazy.
4. No direct boss.
5. Tenure.
6. Summers off.
7. Are only as good as our students. Good professors teach their students to enjoy the work, but our performance is really based upon the work our students do.
8. Generally professors love being professors. Compared to other professions, not as much bellyaching.
9. Hard to measure quality of professors. It is very different than almost any other job.

One other note a university should not be a static institution, but should grow and change with the times. New departments are added, and other departments are lost or merged. Where would we be without the computer science or african american studies departments?

32. 11144703 - September 27, 2010 at 04:22 pm

"For example, research out of the Univ. of Toronto shows that one of the best tools for building "emotional intelligence" is reading fiction." If that's the case, English teachers (many of whom read and teach fiction, though not all) would have the highest emotional intelligence, i.e. ability to empathize. Such a conclusion is laughable.

33. navydad - September 27, 2010 at 04:25 pm

Here's an interesting (and not unique) take on the whole "what's the value of a history degree" thing: http://www.businessweek.com/bschools/content/may2010/bs20100517_631186.htm

Regarding public perceptions of academics, let's not discount the effect of decades of relentless right wing propaganda against "liberal academics."

34. bstevens - September 27, 2010 at 04:39 pm

I've been re-reading John Henry Newman's (Now Blessed) "The Idea of a University" and it makes me feel better, at least about being right.

35. purple_platypus - September 27, 2010 at 06:01 pm

@coachtmbsc: I would have hoped this was so obvious as not to require stating, but the figures being cited are not for adjuncts. Adjuncts, a significant and increasing percentage of the professoriate, can be paid as little as $1000 or maybe slightly more per course, which does indeed come out to less than minimum wage. Many adjuncts are of course not *that* badly off, but good luck getting to even 30k strictly on adjuncting.

Not being from as priveleged a background as many profs (and students), particularly at elite schools, 50k does indeed seem like respectable money to me. But considering it takes a decade or so of postsecondary schooling to get to that level, it still seems pretty modest and not at all to be good justification for the barbs I've encountered about "lazy, rich professors". (This is a more serious issue in the humanities than in the sciences, as scientists both make more and tend to spend less time in grad school.)

36. tcli5026 - September 27, 2010 at 06:05 pm

The "American public" hates lawyers and politicians, too. On the other hand, they often "love" their local politicians--or, pardon the circular reasoning--they love the politicians they love. As for lawyers, they hate the "idea" of an ambulance-chasing, defend-the-guilty-type-of-lawyer, unless of course they need an ambulance chaser or need a lawyer to defend them for the crimes they committed. Then they love lawyers.

My point is that the whole "they hate us" issue is just too abstract. People hate the lazy, high-paid, ivory tower, look-down-my-nose-at-the-hoi polloi professor (who may or may not exist). But, I've never met anyone who has sneered at my profession (at least openly), so I just don't feel the hate personally--except, of course, for the occasional student who hates my guts and loves to write about it on "rate-my-professor" on on a student opinion form. But that's always balanced out by those who "love" me.

My advice? Just do your job the best you can. Don't be lazy. Try to help students and anyone else who needs help. Don't complain too much, except to other professors.

37. tcli5026 - September 27, 2010 at 06:11 pm

(Finishing my thought from above) ... and ignore the critics who say that a college education is a waste of time. People don't have to go to college, after all. If it really were a "waste" of time, the university system would disappear. This may happen one day, but for now, the problem is just the opposite: millions of people from the US and around the world clamor to get into American colleges and universities. The market knows best, right? And, the market is telling us that college must be "worth" something otherwise there simply would be no one willing to pay for what it is we offer. (And, yes, I know, things are a bit more complicated.)

38. deverylej - September 27, 2010 at 07:52 pm

Maybe professors hate other professors as well! I know that this hatin

39. duchess_of_malfi - September 27, 2010 at 08:37 pm

Hold on to your idea that people hate us if you like, but you might want to take empirical reality into consideration--only if that's your thing, of course. "Professor" has been in the top 10 of occupations for occupational prestige for decades, a position that is very stable over time and across societies.

I am not arguing this occupational prestige position relative to other occupations is merited, far from it. I am arguing that if you want to float solutions to a problem, you need to show convincingly that there is a problem.

If you focus on complainers and targets for complaint (e.g., some of the New York Times "Room for Debate" series), you will inevitably get a distorted view of reality. But maybe I am more restrictive than you about my personal life. I tend not to get into extended conversations with people who don't respect what I do for a living. Good luck with that--you deserve better.

40. chron7 - September 27, 2010 at 09:40 pm

I don't agree. Maybe I don't understand the current state of events in humanities - I'm STEM faculty. But I don't see how any of the reasons for 'hate' are any different than any other profession - from politics to banking to blue-chip business to your local book or grocery chain. You'll find someone who hates each or all of those. And my work includes research, education, and regular efforts to meet with folks in my field outside academia. The idea that academic politics are worse than any other career path is ludicrous. There is no perfect work environment if it includes personalities. Do the humanities need their own version of Extension for outreach?

41. bigtwin - September 27, 2010 at 09:51 pm

The apathy that people have for academics is real and this article does a nice job explaining why. it is true that most professors have done a masterful job of denying and insulating themselves from this reality. Some of the pompous comments above speak volumes (BTW thanks for the laugh #39).

Like Benton, I too rarely admit to others my academic credentials. But it's not because it garners hate - I just got tired of hearing others devalue a degree I worked long and hard to get.

42. rear_view_mirror - September 27, 2010 at 10:08 pm

For every tenured professor who complains that the public hates him I know one who couldn't possibly care if the public truly did hate him.

43. duchess_of_malfi - September 27, 2010 at 10:10 pm

Your work matters. Why would your credentials matter to anyone but you and people like you? It's not as if they make you a better person. And we have a pretty easy job compared to most people.

Aside from the time I spend with students and my family, most of the people I spend time with did not attend college or did not graduate from college. They are like most Americans in that respect. I have encountered lack of knowledge about what faculty do (and what my discipline is, etc.)--but never disrespect. Maybe the amount of animosity we encounter varies by who we spend time with.

44. supertatie - September 27, 2010 at 10:20 pm

I've been in higher ed for 20 years. And while I have had the odd disrespectful student, 99.9% of them were wonderful, a lot were inclined to be lazy, and the vast majority of them were actually eager to learn and secretly delighted when much was asked of them, as long as standards were clear, stated in advance, and evenly applied. I have LOVED teaching, and I have done it at public and private schools, large and small ones, poor and well-endowed ones. I have not been mistreated by students, alumni, parents, or other external constituencies. (Other faculty and administration are a different story, I hate to say....)

Additionally, I remember my own professors - and some graduate assistants - with great fondness.

So I think that this author is mistaking that which is capturing the national attention with individual people's feelings about individual professors.

But let's face it - what big news stories involving professors have splattered the headlines?:

- The infamous ass Ward Churchill, with his inscrutable "little Eichmanns" accusations about the people slaughtered in the World Trade Center on 9/11 and his exposed lies about his "native American" ethnicity.

- Upper-crust professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr's temper tantrum and specious accusations of "racism" against a diverse and multicultural group of middle-class cops.

- And let's not forget the most recent brouhaha about a creative writing professor from the University of New Mexico moonlighting as a phone sex dominatrix who involved her graduate students in her off-campus shenanigans, accused them of insanity, and sued the university for discrimination based on her Latina background and alleged bisexuality when FACULTY from her school raised questions about her professionalism.

What do they all have in common? Tenure, and a bad attitude.

Add to that the frequent vituperative anti-American rants like that of David Green from the University of Illinois last week, and you should be able to understand why the average American thinks that professors hate the country that employs them, look down upon the tax- and tuition-payers who pay their salaries, sleep with students, and generally moan and groan interminably while getting to read and talk for a living.

"They" don't hate "us," "they" deeply resent academics like the ones I have described. Are those in the majority? I'll leave that question to the statisticians. But my dad used to say to me when I expressed my fear of flying, "They're not gonna get on the news and say, '300,000 planes landed safely today.'" By extension, the vast numbers of professors who work hard, are loved by their students, respected by their peers, and admired by their friends and neighbors don't make the news, either.

45. tee_bee - September 27, 2010 at 10:27 pm

I work hard, doing what I love as a professor, so I could not care a whit whether some people "hate" my profession, any more than some people hate lawyers, accountants, mechanics, electricians, plumbers, K-12 teachers, politicians, systems analysts, linguists, etc. None of us understand all of us. I just want to be able to come home at the end of the day and say "did I do some good work today, in research, or the classroom, or in my profession"? If so, I'm happy. I don't really need a lot of validation. Besides, as a former state bureaucrat (middle management), I've heard a lot worse.

46. lotsoquestions - September 28, 2010 at 07:34 am

You might also want to consider the increasingly competitive admissions policies at many of America's top universities as the population expands and more international students compete for these same slots. Some of the bitterness towards academia is coming from families who can't understand why their perfectly qualified child with a 2400 SAT and a 4.0 GPA, 11 AP's, etc was rejected when they were willing to pay exorbitant fees for the product on offer. That's also where the notion that "universities are politically correct and care only about that" comes from for most families. Families feel that the university values diversity over everything else and that the admissions contract has been violated. Last year, there was a widely circulated document on the parent's website College Confidential by the dean of a New England college who, in his September address to parents, listed how proud he was to have such diverse candidates attending his university. There was the requisite unicyclist, the child of two lesbian parents(!), the transgendered individual, someone who grew up in a yurt, etc. etc. etc. Most of the parents wanted to know why any of those things were considered a greater accomplishment than having a 4.0, 2400 SAT -- or why identity was being prized over accomplishment in the first place.

Also, I can say from my field that the liberal politics of the American Political Science ASsociation frighten me -- I'm angry that the venue for the meeting has to be chosen according to an ideological litmus test -- and the fact that in recent years, the liberal academics have decided that NO PLACE in America is ideologically acceptable and that therefore the APSA meeting must take place in CANADA (thereby wasting more education funding on international travel) is completely bizarre.

47. maggie2b - September 28, 2010 at 08:33 am

It has always been clear to me that they hate us because we are beautiful.

48. tuxthepenguin - September 28, 2010 at 08:42 am


Actually, none of those events involved tenure. The Ward Churchill case was not based on tenure. He was a public employee fired for political reasons. He would have won the case even if he had been a janitor.

I don't see any connection to tenure in the Gates case.

I'm not seeing the connection to tenure in the third case either.

49. farm_boy - September 28, 2010 at 09:18 am

In many disciplines the market mentality has won. Maybe some professors have just given up the fight. Not only is the university a business, it is often a very dishonest one. Another book to add to the list is the one by William Jiraffales.

50. longscout - September 28, 2010 at 09:55 am

Friends, It would seem to me that what is missing in the discussion is honest compassion for those presumed to hate "us," which I agree sets up the inevitable "they" or "them" opposition. While it is not true for some among our ranks, the fact is that most of us (especially those 60 and above, and then those above 52 years) have come to where we may individually find ourselves out of conditions that even most of us no longer think about or want to remember. If our parents worked then, today most of who they were would be referred to as having been blue-collar, but what I call brown-collar ~ and indeed, brown they were. We should remember this whenever we contemplate the problems laid out in the above article, and we ought to share it within ourselves instead of wiping it aside: most of the above article and the comments that follow are stories, both declared or by implication of who one has been and who one thinks one is today. Most folks LIVE their stories every day, but they need some handle to grasp before they can believe that those who do have the advantages of experience, education, and present position have anything in common with them. e.g., As early as a yet frosted spring morning in1971, I recall walking an intransigent classroom of unfocused students out of the classroom and into a position to look upon a group of construction workers laboring to set heavy wire netting and rebar into fresh concrete in order to impress upon them their own story by asking them a series of questions about what they were looking at and what the meaning of that scene might be for themselves ~ that those men, figuratively speaking, were but their own parents, laboring to bring in the wherewithal to keep them in my classroom: that they deserved the respect of those students who ought to honor their parents by not only recognizing but also acknowledging the sacrifices they made, and to honor themselves by making an effort, a commitment to their own integrity. Later, I would occasionally enhance an ongoing lesson by stopping to read them a story or essay (e.g. William Golding's "How I Learned to Think") and yet remember, in some instances by name, the animated responses that, to my mind, began on that cold spring morning of weeks before. In summary, no college instructor or professor -- probably no college administrator -- ought to expect respect, regard, much less awed reverence, from folks in their community with whom they have made not the slightest effort to gain and build upon a relationship for an unselfish purpose, instead of thinking "I am going to 'get friendly' with Plumber Joe down the road because the kitchen sink spigot leaks and I don't want to pay full union wage to get it done." HINT: Learn to do it yourself and then you can later show Joe how much you respect what he does by expressing how much trouble you had but how satisfying you found it to learn how to fix that spigot.

51. redweather - September 28, 2010 at 10:19 am

I'm not nearly as worried about what the general public thinks of professors as I am about what the college administrators think of us. If we have enemies, and arguably we do, that's where most of them live.

52. bigtwin - September 28, 2010 at 10:37 am

For those who don't care about what others think - you should. Like it or not, a university education is a product that has to be marketed and sold for the system to sustain itself. I think that when the real stakeholders in the univertsity system - students, government, and university admin - cease to see merit in the work of professors don't expect the system to survive in its current form to survive.

53. ledzep - September 28, 2010 at 12:01 pm

"I think most professors still believe, privately, that our role is to liberate students and prepare them for lives of leadership in a relatively democratic society."

The "privately" is a nice touch. If we really believe that, why have we let our institutions balloon into 'all things to all people' grab-bags that extract as much of the added salary value of a college degree as possible, telling the middle class to leverage themselves to the nth degree to get the all-important credential? It's a nice delusion - increased access must be good, because education is about liberation, right? Not if it's really just signaling and job training for most of those students.

54. 42zing - September 28, 2010 at 12:36 pm

Subprime education. Get ready for the collapse and roll-back as
dumbed-down courses and watered-down degrees are sold at inflated
prices to under-educated, not-ready-for-college consumers who will
never earn enough to pay off their educational debt.

55. archman - September 28, 2010 at 01:08 pm

Some of the comments here written by (presumably) professors reflect the author's last point, that of "Lack of professional solidarity".

It is painfully obvious that many of us really aren't current on the state of higher education throughout the U.S.. Most of the author's points have been documented and discussed on the CHE for many years now. If you are one of the people who aren't seeing these trends, and arguing against their existence, please do us all a favour and *get out a little more*.

My take on the author's article is that he's been scribbling down notes on everything posted on the CHE news and discussion boards the last few years, and created a pretty accurate synthesis piece from that.

56. impossible_exchange - September 28, 2010 at 01:10 pm

I truly appreciate Professor Benton's gadfly work.
However, no one hates academics. Instead they just don't care about us, which is far worse.
But, did they ever?

57. tdestino - September 28, 2010 at 04:42 pm

I am heading up a team to develop new master of education program and a couple of the last comments have resonated, particularly number 54... master of ed. programs have become credentials for teachers to get a pay raise, which they sorely need in my state, yet these programs add revenue streams to small colleges like mine, they also raise the profile of the institution, which is something my college needs right now.... our challenge is to create a true master's-level program and not one of these master's-as-workshop-type programs that are a dime a dozen nowadays...... but will anyone show up to our rigorous program....

58. 22221103 - September 28, 2010 at 06:20 pm

I'm reminded of the poem about not coming to the rescue of the Jews:

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out--
because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out--
because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out--
because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out--
because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me--
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

I've worked closely with a higher education system office for close to ten years, and I never saw faculty or faculty representatives speak out against fee increases or the lavish sports complexes, rec centers, or student unions that drive up student fees. Faculty never supported the students, and now they're crying because they're now coming for them.

59. voralex - September 28, 2010 at 06:22 pm

Having read Benton's "On Stupidity" essays for the first time, I am dismayed that these, as well as this text, come from the same author as the "Confessions of a Middlebrow Professor".

In "Confessions", signed Pannapacker rather than his nom de plume, the author begins with the litany of nasty things that Famous People have been saying about the middlebrows, and follows it up with the only "confession" of the article -- that he learned the classics through that staple of middlebrow cultural development, the "Great Books of the Western World" series, which he displayed on his shelves.

From there, we get an anecdote: "'Your clay feet are showing,' said one of my guests, another graduate student, as she removed Volume 1 of the Great Books from my shelves. I caught the biblical allusion, but it took me a couple of years to realize the implication of the remark: My background was lacking. If graduate school was a quiz show, then I was Herbert Stempel trying to make it in the world of Charles Van Doren."

How do we reconcile this background with the dismissive views on populism, anti-intellectualism and the careerist approach to university education on display here? The only explanation I can find is that while middlebrow culture has gone the way of the steam locomotive, and while the Stempels' standard of living has been slipping since at least Pannapacker's formative 1970's, he "made it" in the world of Charles Van Doren.

And that's saying nothing of Pannapacker using an analogy with Stempel and Van Doren; regardless of their class standing, both cheated on that game show. It's worse if you consider that whatever a Van Doren did, he was far more likely, based on background and appearance, to get away with it than a Stempel. A remark overheard by Stempel on the backstage of "Twenty-One" could hardly have put it better: "Now we have a clean-cut intellectual as champion instead of a freak with a sponge memory". Yet the clean-cut intellectual was a cheat all the same; hardly a point you want to stress when dwelling on the perils of anti-intellectualism.

If we continue with the Stempel-Van Doren metaphor, though without the unfortunate implications of the previous paragraph, we find Pannapacker/Benton having made it as a Van Doren despite his Stempel background. But it is of no use to be a Van Doren if one promptly becomes the black sheep of the family, in this case, by attempting to remedy the stuffy atmosphere of academia by committing the heresy of suggesting opening a window. In other words, Pannapacker/Benton made it into the club, and became proud of it; which means it's unlikely we will come across an attempt at reform from his quarters -- or if we do, it's likely to tackle some ancillary concern that is someone else's fault. Just look at that telling "us" in the title.

So it's all about tenure, working conditions, tuition cost increases (while careful to blame them on football teams and rockstar academics), and that good old anti-intellectualism. But Pannapacker/Benton unwittingly provides a strong suggestion of another factor when he declares "most academics" "inoculated against attacks from the right" while being open to attacks from the left. But is there, in the end, any difference between the right-wing traditional elitism of Allan Bloom and the elitism of people on the left by people who quote Hofstadter approvingly? At least those on the right aren't bothering with hypocritical discussions of inequality, represented by that holy academic trinity of Race, Class, and Gender that, in itself, managed to politicize the humanities well past the palatable point.

And shouldn't Pannapacker/Benton, of all people, realize that one of the favourite targets of leftist elitists is the middlebrow environment from which he came? He concluded his "Confessions" with "long live middlebrow culture", even though he admits, following Susan Jacoby, that it has been dead since the seventies at least. But even in its decayed state, "middlebrow" has become something of a bogeyman in some circles; one cultural studies website (which, by the way, reviewed Pannapacker/Benton's "Confessions" and predictably dismissed it) even adopted "Middlebrow is not the solution" as its slogan -- which, in this age, is just as meaningful as saying Communism, or bloodletting, isn't the solution. But what does the newly minted Van Doren think of his former Stempel milieu, especially as it slipped further away from his position? How many Stempels, faced with a precarious financial situation, would gamble their future on studying in the humanities, even if they wanted to? No, they'd get a business degree, and read Shakespeare in bed. It would appear that Pannapacker/Benton was just one of the lucky few who made the humanities gamble and won.

One of the previous comments linked to a Business Week article on the humanities background of some business leaders; but I suspect that, just as Dwight Macdonald sniffed at the commodification involved in the marketing of the Great Books of the Western World, humanities scholars, while eager to turn their field into a profession in itself, heap scorn on such applicability of their field to business imperatives. And what good is it to then try to demonstrate that humanities serve a purpose, when you get no less a luminary as Stanley Fish writing: "To the question “of what use are the humanities?”, the only honest answer is none whatsoever. And it is an answer that brings honor to its subject"? That's bound to keep away the corrupting influence of careerist middlebrows; what you have achieved is no less than victory by irrelevance, a fancy way of saying "beneath contempt".

But congratulations to you, Dr. Pannapacker/Benton, you have had the good fortune to make the club; now, if you would have the fortitude to ponder what the club made you....

60. more_cowbell - September 28, 2010 at 06:40 pm

voralex please tell me you aren't faculty. Otherwise, I'm inclined to believe that, with the time to write that, you indeed work only 6 hours a week.

61. pannapacker - September 28, 2010 at 06:45 pm

Voralex: I'm flattered that anyone would take the time to analyze a few of my columns for consistency. But I must say that anyone who thinks my position places me on the level of a Van Doren--even a disgraced one--is clueless about the academic status system. Maybe you should talk to "mileydog." Now, back to the public relations problems faced by professors in general....

62. alan_kors - September 28, 2010 at 07:40 pm

Well, as Gilles Deleuze once put it so succinctly: "In the first place, singularities-events correspond to heterogeneous series which are organized into a system which is neither stable nor unstable, but rather 'metastable,' endowed with a potential energy wherein the differences between series are distributed . . . In the second place, singularities possess a process of auto-unification, always mobile and displaced to the extent that a paradoxical element traverses the series and makes them resonate, enveloping the corresponding singular points in a single aleatory point and all the emissions, all dice throws, in a single cast." That about explains it, don't you think?

63. aggravatedadjunct - September 28, 2010 at 08:53 pm

I am curious about the evidence behind your claim that "Those professors who teach students in courses later in the curriculum can easily differentiate students who have taken earlier courses from full-time professors rather than adjuncts. Full-time professors, in general, teach a deeper and broader level of thinking." I work as an adjunct at two schools - one, a large public state university, and the other a small, private, religiously-affiliated liberal arts college. I don't choose to teach as an adjunct out of choice, but because it is an unfortunate side-effect of trying to make a dual-academic marriage work. He's got the cushy tenure-track job. If I want to teach, which is something I dedicated years of graduate training to do, I unfortunately have to settle. The full-time jobs simply aren't there in this economy. Does that make me a bad teacher though? Does that mean that I can't teach my students critical thinking skills? Does that mean that I'm sending my students forth ill-prepared for their encounters with the full-time faculty? I can't fathom how my training, my commitment, my research, or my dedication to my students is qualitatively different from yours, or from ANY average full-time professor.

So why do they hate us? Let's think about arrogance. Let's consider the academy's willingness to turn a blind eye to how it exploits qualified workers and then pretends that the workers are incapable of making meaningful contributions to students' learning and personal growth. I can't think of a single other profession that will hire people to do the same job, but only some of them get paid ten times more than the others (and don't feed me the service or scholarship lines either - I do both, only with little or no recognition).

I'm sorry that you have trouble with some shallow-thinking students. But don't blame it on me or my part-time colleagues. What I, and other career adjuncts like me, do is a great sacrifice. Try pouring all of your teaching passion, heart, and soul into a course for $2300 a semester and no benefits and see how long you can sustain your motivation. The only rewards I have are the light bulbs going off over students' heads and the evidence I see that they are intellectually progressing. The only promotion I can hope for is when the few students return years later asking for letters of recommendation or send a note of thanks for helping put them on a path that feels right for them. It's at moments like that when I pause, smile, and pat myself on the back. And I'm okay with the fact that I'm being totally self-aggrandizing. After all, who else is going to do it, if not me?

64. rear_view_mirror - September 28, 2010 at 09:36 pm

Funny that college administrators don't have this complex.

65. jweinheimer - September 29, 2010 at 06:27 am

I think the reason there is so much anger out there is because many people feel they are being taken. Let's face it: the real purpose of a university today, in spite of John Newman's missive, is to provide certification. While I am sure there are some spiritual seekers out there who really are in school for "education", "enlightenment", and so on, who will later be happy with their Master's or Ph.D in philosophy while they mop floors or sell socks, while they pay off their student loans over many years, I suspect there are many, many more who want to end up with a good job.

While the press is replete with stories about how people with a college degree are faring--not so well, but less badly--than those with only a high school degree, I wonder how skewed such statistics are in favor of higher education.

But beyond that, just imagine that after you have read about those statistics, you glance over to see your unemployed son asleep on the couch, whose education cost you enough money for a few brand-new cars--or even much more, and I hope people will question those statistics that show how "well" people do with a higher education.

To quote Chico Marx: "Who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?"

66. rear_view_mirror - September 29, 2010 at 07:11 am

Aggravatedadjunct: I was amused by proflee's "Those professors who teach students in courses later in the curriculum can easily differentiate students who have taken earlier courses from full-time professors rather than adjuncts. Full-time professors, in general, teach a deeper and broader level of thinking. In the same vein, I can easily differentiate students who have taken humanities courses from those who haven't -- they have a better ability to think deeply and broadly."
Was there a test to gather data on this? I think the experiment that proflee conducted was a simple questionaire: "do you, Mr/Ms full time professor believe that our work is better than that done by adjuncts?" This is not compiling data about teaching quality. It is compiling data about bias. Proflee's third sentence also gives it away, since some of the students took their humanities courses from adjuncts.
Softshellcrab: The author says most full time professors work over 50 hours per week. My college must be extremely unusual.

67. spirosdarlotts - September 29, 2010 at 08:40 am

Bravo Voralex. All the things I know to be true about Pannapacker, but never could voice.

68. shirley77 - September 29, 2010 at 11:50 am

Why do they hate us? I would attribute much of it to the self-caricature of humanities faculty; the hyper-exaggerated and self-centered focus on matters of race, gender, and transgendered studies that became a thin disguise for radical political agendas. This did much to alienate the public and make faculty look like a group of out of touch, self-reverential, and self-absorbed professors, shoveling up nonsense that had no relevance to real world issues.

69. rambo - September 29, 2010 at 03:24 pm

actually i like the adjunct profs, those who work during the day and then teach at night, they have the practice experiences, not the theoretical ones likes the ones at the universities....

70. trendisnotdestiny - September 29, 2010 at 03:58 pm

Why Do they Hate US?

Top Ten Reasons to Hate Educators
1) we are the last major profession to become privatized
2) we are more aware and resistant as a group to being co-opted
3) we are susceptible to divide-conquer tactics (tenured/adjunct)
4) our work patterns, typically do not resemble that of industry
5) we have fought longterm battles to save job security/stability
6) we govern ourselves (for some)
7) we are the first line of defense (against an unhappy consumer)
8) our students are struggling to find jobs (scapegoatting)
9) public education system is being eroded to remake it anew
10) tuition escalation - IS IT WORTH IT QUESTION

Using individual examples of professors abusing their tenured role or hearing about over-worked adjuncts who are just happy to find employment (and do not complain, but deal with it) are not the answer. The system is being purposely reconfigured to emulate that of industry. The last vestiges of shared governance and the academic pursuit are falling under the weight of managerial brio; imagining education as a race to the top instead of a system under duress.

The reason they hate us is because adovcates of a new industry model aimed at privatizing higher ed is telling people to. Out with the old unprofitable way (after sabotaging it for decades) and in with the new...

Oh btw, your education (Duncan revolution) will be televised. But it will be through online classes!


71. df1995 - September 29, 2010 at 04:32 pm

I don't care if they hate us, so long as I don't have to work more than 9 hours a week.

72. prasada - September 29, 2010 at 05:14 pm

Universities should invest more resources in STEM disciplines. There are some departments that are making a living by teaching useless GE course. Such departments should be closed.

73. stinkcat - September 29, 2010 at 05:18 pm

Professors can be an odd bunch. Most of us like our jobs, either that or we really hate our jobs and we need to get paid a premium to take the job. We get to do interesting things of our own choosing, have little accountability and yet some nutjobs in our profession whine about the public not liking us. Who cares what the public thinks.

74. truthfirst - September 29, 2010 at 05:35 pm

Oh good grief. It seems there are so many professors suddenly coming on this forum making
these kinds of statements. The saying "if you are not part of the solution then you are part of the problem" applies here.

The world economy and the way its citizen survive and cope with these changes is different now.
All types of institutions in the private sector have to step up to the plate and be more accountable. Why should higher education be any different? We should be concerned that some colleges and universities are more about profit than education. We should be concerned that there are some professors out there who are hiding behind tenure and doing nothing. We should be concerned that some professors don't care if students survive or fail when they graduate.

Why should we care? Because these institutions are taking hundreds of thousands of dollars from
students. So yes universities, colleges, community colleges, for profit and not for profit, and PROFESSORS tenured or not need to be held accountable. If you feel you have some entitlement
which guarantees you some right against accountability it is simple stop taking the money and move on.

Some professors teach that critical thinking and constructive criticism is a good thing. However it seems that when the public ask these educators to reevaluate what they are doing and improve it this is what we get. Students and the professors who work hard at real education do not want to be associated with educators who are abusive and care more about self than education. Hiding behind
tenure and taking advantage of the public's trust and students who want an education is unethical
and it needs to stop. If there is away to improve higher education then everyone in colleges and
universities need to be a part of that process. Why don't all you tenured people who keep
complaining about students and how the public treats you get together and come up with ways
to improve higher education and please stop this me me me ranting. You are suppose to be
respectable educators shaping lives with education not this.

75. truthfirst - September 29, 2010 at 05:46 pm

Let me add this also applies to adjuncts

76. truthfirst - September 29, 2010 at 06:03 pm

That hyper-competitiveness has resulted in a stultifying culture of conformity, but that is less a function of tenure than it is of the unjustified expansion of graduate programs and the shift of money away from faculty to other campus expenses.

What campus expenses? Explain how you think money is being taken away from faculty.

77. more_cowbell - September 29, 2010 at 06:30 pm

Well said #74 and I agree completely. There is a big problem with the system when graduates are among the ranks of those calling loudest for the destruction of the system. How any educated person can ignore or dismiss such a thing is beyond comprehension to me.

78. diabolical_machine - September 29, 2010 at 08:01 pm

Proflee's outright dismissal of PDG's comment is a perfect example of how out of touch some people really are. PDG hit it right on the head. Proflee's response comes across as someone who's blinded by their own arrogance and inability to see the true picture.

I have more respect for the part time adjunct who's still working in their chosen field vs. a tenured professor who only teaches "theory" and is clueless how to apply it to the real world outside of basic applications from the textbook.

So to summarize, they hate you because you're arrogant and out of touch with what the business world needs graduates to know. You're ability to include 20 citations in a blog post does not impress anyone outside of the academic world.

79. azprof - September 29, 2010 at 08:24 pm

Well now I know why they hate us. When you reinforce all the cliches about professors and weave your brand of politics into it I'm surprized they don't hate us more. If you are this set in your ways as a young professor I dread to thing what useless stuff you must regurgitate in class. My sympathies to your students and the tenure blanket you now wrap yourself in.

80. voralex - September 30, 2010 at 06:01 am

In response to the author's reply (#61):

When I was using the Stempel/Van Doren comparison, I was merely trying to extrapolate on it based on what you originally wanted it to mean. When you write, for instance, that "anyone who thinks my position places me on the level of a Van Doren--even a disgraced one--is clueless about the academic status system", you are correct on one count: based on what you have written in the "Confessions", you lack the pedigree, the proverbial blue blood (although, from reading your Hope College biography, even that is debatable), to ever be considered a Van Doren, as you likely did not come from a world that, as you wrote, "took the intellectual life for granted". No matter how high you may rise in your profession, you will always be considered the parvenu, the nouveau riche, the Jed Clampett in a world full of Vanderbilts and Rockefellers.

The question worth asking, though, is, just as one might wonder whether scions of Old Money still dominate the world of high finance, whether tweed and family tradition still play a role in academic ascendancy.

Being from Canada, where tuition rates are far more reasonable, the exclusive Harvard circle described in, for example, Ross Douthat's "Privilege" is for the most part alien to me; at best (worst?), I saw a watered-down version of it, with families going to the same school out of tradition, but without the open practice of legacy applications. Perhaps that is what you mean when you say you cannot be a Van Doren.

However, I think it is fair to say that you succeeded in your attempt "to make it in the world of Charles Van Doren". You obtained a master's degree and your Ph.D not from some second-tier state university, but from Harvard; but maybe the ivy is always greener on the other side. When I don't know how many humanities graduates have been unable to find work, to the extent that you have been advising numerous times against graduate studies in the humanities ("So You Want to Go to Grad School?", June 2003; "Is Graduate School a Cult?", June 2004; "Graduate School in the Humanities: Just Don't Go", January 2009; "Just Don't Go, Part 2", March 2009; "The Big Lie About the 'Life of the Mind'", February 2010), you were talented enough to spend seven years at the most reputable university in the United States, to assemble a solid writing portfolio, and to obtain what I assume is a tenure-track position. Wear your laurels, sir, you've earned them.

I can't speak for others, but I have never been opposed to increasing working conditions for academics, least of all to facilitating tenure, especially when society thinks it's fine to pay someone a few million dollars every year for his skill at swinging a bat. And since I am not an academic, and don't have the credentials to become one, I have nothing at stake here. But "hate"? That's a tad too hyperbolic to my liking.

What bothers me most about this article is, instead, the conclusion that it seems to reach when I compare it to your previous articles, such as the "Confessions of a Middlebrow Professor" and your series on graduate studies in the humanities.

From "Is Graduate School a Cult?":

"Maybe thinking of graduate school as a "cult" is silly. What's the difference between indoctrination and professionalization, anyway?

"Still the semantic game seems worth playing when I talk with idealistic, vulnerable humanities majors who are about to complete their B.A.'s and have no idea what they are going to do with their lives. They have been flattered and encouraged by faculty members whom they respect, and who believe (as cult members do) that they are doing a good thing by recruiting young people for graduate school: "You're too smart to go into business, my child."

"These students are reassured by the possibility of continuing life as they know it. They think it's easy to leave graduate school if they don't like it or the job market improves; they do not yet understand how their minds will be changed by the experience, how leaving grad school after two or more years can be at least as hard as leaving a cult. Undergraduate humanities majors need to know that they have other options. There are jobs out there for smart, creative people that don't expect you to sell your soul."

It is not inconsistent with what you have written in your current article; however, in January 2009 (in your article "Graduate School in the Humanities: Just Don't Go"), you narrowed down the list of people who should consider graduate studies in the humanities to the independently wealthy, "that small class of well-connected people in academe who will be able to find a place for you somewhere" (perhaps the source of your Van Doren archetype), and those sponsored by their employer for a position they already hold. From your follow-up article, I gather that this has earned you a charge of elitism, which you countered by saying you were just being realistic.

Fair enough; however, there is a streak running throughout those articles, such as in the excerpt above, that suggests that you believe there are just too many unworthies in the current batch of current and prospective graduate students, who are nonetheless being flattered by faculty through, for example, grade inflation, into thinking they are academic material, presumably for said faculty to justify their purpose and self-importance -- as you put it, a cult. This streak makes me suspect that the underlying message of those articles is not so much "don't apply, you'll starve" as "don't apply, the majority of you don't cut the mustard intellectually and just clutter up the process for us few worthies". The natural conclusion? We can find it in "On Stupidity" -- students are whiny, ignorant brats, high on entitlement, low on intelligence, and need to be browbeaten or weeded out. If you have displayed any elitism, it is in this, not in suggesting that graduate studies in the humanities are beneficial only to the well-to-do.

Where do I fit in all this? Why did I bother with posting a few hundred words even though I have admitted to not being an academic? I'm not sure. It's defintely not for the sport of it. It might have to do with reading your earlier articles (not "On Stupidity", though; I missed those), and agreeing with them, and only now realizing their implications. But, more likely, it has to do with my ambivalent approach to graduate studies, when I aborted a potential M.A. in history, the main reasons for it being my seeing no application of the degree to employment in the private or government sector, the lack of prospects inside academia (which did not interest me anyway; I had no intention of going as far as the Ph.D, and harboured no ambition of becoming a scholar), and being interested in pursuing dry, traditional political history while the curriculum revolved around such works as "'Race,' Rights and the Law in the Supreme Court of Canada" and "Skyscrapers Hide the Heavens: A History of Indian-White Relations in Canada". But I have been having nagging doubts since then; what if I had stuck with it?

The matter should have been settled when my closest friends confided a few months after this that they couldn't see me in that type of program; but even that didn't assuage all my doubts. When I came across your articles arguing against graduate school, years after those events, with their apparent message of "no shame in not going", I wished I could have read them at the time, so that I could have avoided this entire dilemma-in-retrospect in the first place. What I now realize is that the message was not so much "no shame in not going" as "if you have doubts, you don't belong here anyway" -- the academic version of saying "if you have to ask for the price, you can't afford it". To then accuse people of anti-intellectualism for not going along with this makes it even harder to swallow.

Why then do I bother with this? Perhaps because I think, to take a page from Clemenceau, that the humanities are too important to be left to academics. That was the impulse -- egalitarian, not elitist -- behind that Great Books series that enlivened your youth, however deplorable its commercialization might have been at the time. Should universities' humanities departments be sheltered from commercial imperatives? By all means, and not just the humanities. But that should provide no encouragement for engaging in agenda-driven, jargon-heavy, increasingly arcane pursuits, where interest in the humanities is meant to be fostered only in the initiated, at the expense of all those who never intended to regard the humanities as a profession in the first place. And don't threaten to throw the label of "anti-intellectual" at anyone who dares to question the academic obsession du jour -- especially when the term "intellectual" seems to have been narrowed to exclude the sciences, at least part of the social sciences, and perhaps even people in the humanities not coming from Departments of English.

Nothing seems to have changed in the decade since Andrew Delbanco wrote "The Decline and Fall of Literature" in the New York Review of Books; his indictment of English programs is as relevant now as it was when it was first published.

As for "mileydog", I assume he/she comes from outside the humanities; it's what I infer from his/her "twenty-plus years in corporate America". But unless "mileydog" wants to offer more background information, I don't think it's fair to drag him/her into this debate.

81. quidditas - September 30, 2010 at 10:47 am

"None of this means that there aren't dead-beats on every campus teaching totally non-rigorous classes and playing golf every afternoon."

But in that case, shouldn't they be getting after the adminstrators, rather than the faculty who are doing their jobs?"

Faculty largely hire other faculty, no? In that case, performing faculty need to ensure that teaching and academic administrative work is shouldered evenly within the Department, and that it is being handled effectively. This is what the principle of faculty self governance is all about.

If performing faculty cannot accomplish that on their own, they most certainly should avail themselves of the services of upper administration in dealing with the sociopaths. That's what it's there for.

That's not uncollegial. The sociopaths are uncollegial.

82. howeecarr - September 30, 2010 at 10:54 am

The condescending, elitist, dismissive, Left-leaning (in a center-right nation) attitude of the author speaks exactly to why many loathe academics.

Sure, the "lumpen" don't understand... keep telling yourself that.

83. quidditas - September 30, 2010 at 11:07 am

"If you focus on complainers and targets for complaint (e.g., some of the New York Times "Room for Debate" series), you will inevitably get a distorted view of reality."

One thing I've noticed about NY Times comments, is that readers are generally very supportive of the liberal arts, as such.

However, when the topic turns to what they perceive as the post-60s "politicization" of the liberal arts, attributed to the babyboom cohort, they are largely very negative. A response that could summed be up as "good riddance and don't let the door hit you on your way out."

This, despite the fact that a very high percentage of NY Times commentary sounds just like it comes from that exact politicized mindset. (Then there was the 2008 Democratic Primary).

So, go figure. But definitely some cognitive dissonance there.

84. ace09 - September 30, 2010 at 11:19 am

That Dr. Benton is even complaining about this is evidence of his particularly democratic disposition. A French intellectual would never wonder (or care) why the proles don't understand where he's coming from, but Americans must always question their relevance. Which is, in itself, a worrisome thing. We all know what the problems are with the University: there are too many students. There is too much grade inflation. There are too many professors teaching worthless subjects. All are linked. In the past to be at a university was in itself a rigorous, self-selecting process. Now it is a place to bide time -- for both students and professors. It also helps if the professor has a yearning to seek out truth, and seeks to inculcate in his students with the same yearning, without merely indoctrinating the student in whatever he views to be politically relevant.

85. thgrant - September 30, 2010 at 11:20 am

Lets take a look at a famous adjunct that every one knows: Barak Obama.

Scholarly works: none.

So much for your publish or perish tripe.

86. sara714 - September 30, 2010 at 11:34 am

It is merely an accident that so many despise academics for the wrong reasons. The fact is that academics richly deserve to be despised, and for a whole host of very good reasons.

Note that the author doesn't once mention the fact that academia is overwhelmingly populated by political leftists. This is the case because the academic mind, for the greatest part, closed decades ago to any alternative points of view.

87. conrad_alexander - September 30, 2010 at 12:16 pm

I work in univeristy admnistration. Here are some things I've learned:

1. There is A LOT of bloat on the administrative side. My guess is that you could cut 25% from the administrative staff and not notice a difference.
2. The benefits are out of this world. Everything from free flu shots, to free yoga, to great health care, to free boot camps. You can't beat the perks.
3. There is absolutely no way that university professors work 40 hours per week. Taking into account summers and holidays, my guess is that most work 25 hours per week. This is unquestionable. There are a few exceptions to this, but this is true for the vast majority.
4. The faculty absolutely hate the administration. Every chance they get, they complain about the administration. Everything that goes wrong is the fault of the administration. They see an evil conspiracy behind every action of the administration. They impute the worst motives to the administration and refuse to give them the benefit of the doubt.
5. The vast majority of professors are liberal and they look down their noses at conservatives, mocking their views and opinions.

88. warlocke - September 30, 2010 at 12:18 pm

Sorry, guys, but the next time you decide to write this sort of thing and put it before the public, take a little advice from an inhabitant of the "lowbrow anti-intellectual community" and do a little analysis first. (You do, after all, have the critical analysys skills necessary, by your own admission.) If, as here, the screed can be reduced to "...because we ah smaht and they resent theah inferioritah", you should discard the screed unpublished.

sara714 has it correctly: the operative word is not "hate", it is "despise". There is an unsubtle difference between the two.

To understand why "we" despise "professors", you need look no farther than the emblematic recent case: Duke University vs. the lacrosse players. Here we have a case of Academia presenting a vocal united front against every ideal Americans have held and attempted, however badly, to implement: eliminate the tired old concept of "equal protection", toss out "presumption of innocence" with sneering contempt, dump every concept the Founders might have held dear in the dustbin of history, and focus like a laser on "social justice" -- those *holes are jocks, their parents are rich, and they're white to boot; it follows as the day the night that they are racist oppressors and rapists regardless of what they actually did, and must be punished severely on that basis. It is contemptible, and earns the contempt it deserves.

Add to that the toplofty declarations of "teaching critical thinking". What we actually observe in your graduates is the product of an overly-complex madrassah, able to look at any situation and find an applicable passage in the Holy Writ, starting with Marx and expanding to a mile wide and an inch deep. The value of broad and inclusive reading is unquestionable, but when it is restricted entirely to a narrow range of themes concentrating on finding nothing but unmitigated evil in the social structure that yields your living it is of considerably less utility.

On the other hand, you could persist in congratulating yourselves on your dedication to the advancement of Pure Knowledge. The contempt you clearly feel for those you consider inferior will continue to be reflected back at you, and the result is likely to be destruction of the system that keeps you fed, clothed, and housed. That would be a disaster; the value of a real, humanities-based education is extremely high, which is why the system got established in the first place.


89. robinith - September 30, 2010 at 12:21 pm

Have to agree with Sara714. The other problem academics have, aside from being out of the political mainstream, is that they are so condescending about their politics. I have witnessed a university professor accost her neighbor and scream at her for supporting President Bush with a yard sign in front of the poor woman's child. I have listened to a college professor preach to a u-pick blueberry farm crowd about the stupidity of Bush voters, and how they owe an apology to the nation. This does not endear the university people to the common working folk.

I live in a college town obviously, but am not affiliated with the local Ivy League university, nor the smaller college on the other hill. What I've noticed over the last twenty years is that while the infrastructure of the city has declined greatly - old bridges, roads full of potholes, sidewalks impassable at some points, the city council is busy promoting social programs, "safe city" for illegal immigrants, changing a main thoroughfare's name from State Street to MLK Boulevard, all over the objections of the local business community and long-time residents. The city council and the mayor are affiliated with the university, needless to say.

The university has brought a great many wonderful people and ideas to our community, but many of us wish that these people would bring a little humility as well and recognize that great educational institutions rely on the communities and hallowed ground their foundations are built upon.

And yes, when you see professors at pricey restaurants and know the property taxes they are paying to live in huge homes in posh neighborhoods, well, it's pretty clear the kind of income they are earning.

90. robinith - September 30, 2010 at 12:25 pm

conrad_alexander, I had to laugh as I just had this conversation with a friend in academia and those were his complaints to a "T." Blame it all on the Administration, those evil-doers.

91. scotteudaley - September 30, 2010 at 01:07 pm

I haven't read through the comments exhaustively, but I think a few have actually identified the real reason you are "hated" by the broader public. And some of the comments illustrate the very attitudes for which you are despised.

The broader public is simply responding in kind. For decades, you have treated them with contempt, as ignorant, "right-wing", "middle-class" rubes. Is it really any surprise that they finally got fed up and turned against you? And when you combine that with the incredible inflation in education costs (largely driven, not by faculty, but by growth in administration and overhead costs), is it really a surprise that they are now questioning the value of such an education?

The public continues to support the value of a technical eduction (hard sciences, medicine, engineering and the like), but they are utterly disgusted with the state of the humanities. A set of simple questions should illustrate the problem: How many conservatives or libertarians do you have on the faculty in the humanities? How are they treated? What chance do they have of being hired? How are conservative and libertarian outsiders treated when they try to speak on campus?

Academia is perceived (and rightly so, I believe) as overwhelmingly left-wing. Conservatives and libertarians are simply not welcome, and have largely been driven out of academia and into private think-tanks and business. Despite the frequent claim that universities support the "free exchange of ideas", the public sees quite clearly that is not the case. Only left-of-center ideas are acceptable in academia, especially in the humanities. When the faculty itself leads the charge to shut down a speaker, as often happens when a conservative or libertarian speaker is invited, the claim that the faculty believes in academic freedom rings pretty damn hollow.

I have worked in a wide variety of high-tech businesses. I have never worked in an organization as narrow-minded, intolerant and rife with "office politics" as modern academia. I went to college in the 70's. I had the opportunity to join academia (indeed, that was my original plan). I ran in horror at how intolerant it was then. It has grown dramatically worse since then.

Some of the commenters have claimed this is the result of a "right-wing attack on education". Nonsense. I've read many of these critiques. It is extremely rare that they actually attack education per se (and many of the authors could hardly be called "right-wing"). What they are attacking is the radical left-wing skew of the modern faculty, the replacement of traditonal curricula with grievance studies and the resulting devaluation of the humanities.

92. kidneystones - September 30, 2010 at 01:08 pm

A lot of the academics I know simply aren't that smart, if by smart we mean the ability to apply and use knowledge we possess. Consider the examples in this list, the college professor berating a neighbor in front of her child. Someobody has to explain to this individual that the only message that's being communicated is one of ignorance, intolerance, and insensitivity. We can divide these people into two camps, those who are capable of recognizing the effect they are having and those who can't. I personally don't have much time for either.

I'm currently taking a tiny break from a major editing project and just wanted to chime in. The academic community I know is intolerant of dissent, especially political dissent, close-minded, defensive, and frequently lazy. My personal friends are all wonderful, however, and work in wide variety of disciplines. They are marked by modesty, intellectual curiousity, intellectual rigor, and a sense of humor. And they avoid big words when they can.

I'll give this piece a re-read at a later date, but I don't recall any of the above qualities jumping out at me the first time through.

Best of luck, though. Really, sounds like you'll need it.

93. scotteudaley - September 30, 2010 at 01:09 pm

Oops, my comment got truncated. To continue:

I've lived in and around Berkeley for almost 30 years. I've met English professors who've read little Shakespeare (dead white guy). I've met philosophy professors who have read little Aristotle (another dead white guy). I've met Economics professors who've never (never!) read Bastiat, Schumpeter, Bohm-Bawerk, von Mises or Hayek (a host of dead white guys). I've met American History professors who've never read Montesqieu or Locke (among the worst of the dead white guys). I'm continually amazed at how ignorant some professors are about their own fields. The American people have noticed.

You have brought this state of affairs on yourselves.

94. polargrid - September 30, 2010 at 03:00 pm

"3. There is absolutely no way that university professors work 40 hours per week. Taking into account summers and holidays, my guess is that most work 25 hours per week. This is unquestionable. There are a few exceptions to this, but this is true for the vast majority. "

Please don't overgeneralize. I am tenure-track faculty in chemistry at a large, research-intensive institution. There is no way you can earn tenure in a STEM field at a research university working 25 hours per week and taking summers off, especially a field that involves laboratory work. I and my colleagues work far more than 40 hours per week and we *are* the "vast majority" of STEM faculty. In addition to teaching, our research schedules often require 60-hour work weeks. We have 12-month appointments and do not have "summers off;" moreover, the terms of our federal grants and University policy do not permit us to "take off" for extended periods of time. Far from being "unquestionable," your comments are flat-out inaccurate.

95. alanhuth - September 30, 2010 at 03:22 pm

I think you missed the boat to a large extent. I am inclined to dislike "you" (being most liberal arts professors I know or know of) because your beliefs and values are a threat to my family and my country. Here is why I am pre-disposed to dislike you:

1. I deeply resent that I have to make huge financial sacrifices to send my kids to a good college (widely regarded as a necessary step in modern life) to be taught, almost monolithically, by professors with whom I fundamentally disagree on core values and issues. And whose values I believe are detrimental to my kids' long-term happiness and success.

2. Less important, but equally infuriating, is my belief that a lot of what you teach is a waste of time and money. And if the kids don't go into engineering etc., it's hard to escape post-modern nonsense. There is not much new under the sun. The good stuff survives the test of time, the bad stuff doesn't. So teach the good stuff. Start with Plato and Bellow and Darwin. Throw in Beethoven and Prince. But leave out the latest fad/concept in post-modern intellectual masturbation.

3. As a group, you are unbelievable hypocrites. You talk about freedom of expression yet you practice the opposite with PC speech codes, etc. You talk about intellectual diversity yet you populate your departments with like-minded group-thinkers" (90% left of center). You talk about student's rights yet you condemn pre-emptively (e.g. 88 Duke liberal arts faculty lacrosse ad. Not one apology). You talk about an ever-expanding set of rights, including the right not to be offended, with little regard for the fundamental rights you seem willing to throw away, like the right to private property.

4. There are some large gaps in your understanding of life, and you pass them to my kids. Most importantly, you don't really understand the underlying theory of our economic system. You see mostly flaws and greed. Do you know what value is and how it is created? What is too much value? Why do you teach concepts that contradict "the road to serfdom" without teaching the concept itself? Has it been refuted? This is not formal economics; this is "human action" that applies equally to gender studies, political science, or Russian literature.

5. Your values are skewed. You seem largely confused by justice and fairness. You want both, of course, despite the inherent conflicts. I guess that's why you came up with "social justice", which seems to mean whatever suits you at the time. You want diversity and freedom of expression, but you don't want to offend anybody (except white males). Unfortunately, you can't have a free society without offense. So which is it? You promote the rights for women, gays, and the poor, yet you embrace Castro, Chavez, and every islamic fundamentalist nutjob who comes to town. You wear t-shirts honoring mass-murders like Che and Mao. Multiculturalism has prevented you from learning that some cultures are better than others. And our western culture, while certainly flawed, is the best, or at least close to it. If you dispute that you're an idiot or worse. Sorry. If you can't see the difference between a fundamentalist Christian and a fundamentalist Muslim, you don't value life itself.

6. Don't get me started.

96. prof1111 - September 30, 2010 at 03:34 pm

Take a look at Texas if you think that academia isn't under attack. Our governor has done a good job dismantling the system. And the brunt of the damage isn't falling on administration or faculty, the groups that are targeted as problematic by the larger public. It's falling on students who can't get classes, who sit in classes of 250, not 20, and who can't find an advisor to work out their path to graduation.

97. more_cowbell - September 30, 2010 at 04:21 pm

This talk of the Group of 88 reminds me of an incident at a university here in Canada where a group of faculty signed a letter protesting the creation of a scholarship fund for students whose parents were killed in the Afghanistan war. They said the scholarship represented a dangerous cultural turn that promoted military intervention. The group was criticized severely by nearly everyone but never apologized.

98. voralex - September 30, 2010 at 04:59 pm

@ more_cowbell (#98)

If I may just quote a paragraph of the letter you refer to:

"In our view, support for “Project Hero” represents a dangerous cultural turn. It associates “heroism” with the act of military intervention. It erases the space for critical discussion of military policy and practices. In signing on to “Project Hero”, the university is implicated in the disturbing construction of the war in Afghanistan by Western military- and state-elites as the “good war” of our epoch. We insist that our university not be connected with the increasing militarization of Canadian society and politics."

They not only asked for the withdrawal of the program, but also for "a public forum on the war in Afghanistan, and Canadian imperialism more generally, at which the issues we raise can be debated" and -- naturally -- more post-secondary funding from every level of government (can't let that opportunity pass, eh?).

What bothered me about this whole affair was not the exhortation to turn down involvement in the program, but that some academics in this country can talk of "Canadian imperialism" with a straight face -- especially in Afghanistan; it's as though they have completely forgotten about the Taliban and that the campaign was in no way different from the Soviet occupation, or the British wars of the nineteenth century.

What also bothers me is the name, "Project Hero", because it equates heroism not "with the act of military intervention" but with the act of dying, regardless of circumstances. If that is so, military graveyards are full of heroic cases of dysentery above and beyond the call of duty.

99. elrojo - September 30, 2010 at 07:35 pm

"I have had more than a few unpleasant conversations with complete strangers, and even some friends, in which they have expressed their anger about professors while knowing that I am one"

How does a stranger know you're a professor? And I'm curious about the context of the remarks you posted. For example:

"My job [pharmaceutical sales] saves lives; your so-called work is a waste of other people's time and money."

I don't see anybody making a remark like that except in response to some sort of disparaging remark about their line of work.

100. carboniferous - September 30, 2010 at 07:42 pm

Ah, those anti-intellectual Americans. I pull a volume from my shelves and I find, in a letter of Henry Adams to Sir Robert Cunliffe, 31 August 1875:

"They cram themselves with second-hand facts and theories till they burst, and then they lecture at Harvard College and think they are the aristocracy of intellect and are doing true heroic work by exploding themselves all over a younger generation, and forcing up a new set of simple-minded, honest, harmless intellectual prigs as like to themselves as two dried peas in a bladder.... And if at last it doesn't end in a grand howl on my part at the whole University system as practised in England and America, it will be because I know that at heart all America feels just as I do about it and instead of reforming would want to abolish."

101. mrtall - September 30, 2010 at 09:23 pm

Alanhuth, that manifesto that should be nailed to the office door of just about every college and university president in the USA.

My undergraduate alma mater just appointed a new president. His credentials look just swell, with all the fancy trappings the modern academy has to offer its favorites.

One of his first actions as president was to send around a letter to alumni. Was his subject the life of the mind, the college's reborn commitment to fostering the long, rich tradition of higher learning in the west?

Of course not. It was a banal screed advertising his personal vendetta to make the college campus more environmentally sustainable. That's the stuff that earns him status perks amongst his faculty and his peers. Who cares what the students learn, beside the fact that they're a bunch of foul Gaia-raping meat puppets?

At least there has been one recent sign that a tiny measure of sanity may have been recovered in academe: the denial of William Ayers's emeritus status at UI-Chicago is encouraging. His success as an academic to this point is another irksome reminder of what many academics really think of the ignorant rubes whose taxes have paid his salary.

102. gradstudent4point0 - September 30, 2010 at 09:44 pm

You somehow think that advancing your careers counts against hours worked. Research, publishing, serving on committees; that's not part of your job. That's career development. Every other profession considers that something done on one's own time. Professionals in the real world all do those things and don't expect to be paid for them - it's part of community service and/or self-fulfillment.

Look in the mirror. You don't work a full week (for us students). You don't work a full year! You may spend many hours on research or writing weighty tomes almost no one will ever give a rat's ass about, but it's not what you're paid for. You are paid to TEACH US!

If you can't do that, than get off the public teat. You want to be coddled and treated as an elevated class of people. What have you done to earn it? Have you produced educated students?

No. We pay for a professor to share her/his knowledge with us. What we get is Ahmad or Zhou or some other non English-speaking grad student in your stead, 'cause your too fixated on you career advancement to actually do your job.

Those of us with degrees in business or the hard sciences deal with your academic prodigy every day - educated morons. They couldn't pour piss out of a boot with instructions printed on the sole, and haven't the sense God gave a goat.

There's a revolution coming. November's the first battle. Twenty-five percent of y'all are first-class slackers and goldbricks, and better find a more suitable career. We (the working class whom you've encouraged to better ourselves through "edumacation")have no use for your condescension. We want teachers, and we'll find 'em.

103. waldemar - September 30, 2010 at 10:15 pm

There does seem to be a new disrespect developing toward professors.
Others besides Professor Pannepacker are making this observation. Note this item on a blog devoted to reasons not to go to grad school:


104. deanzalib - September 30, 2010 at 11:28 pm

You need to separate tenured track elite from adjuncts.
We see other government full-time employees, are fairly sharing the outcomes of this national problem. Full time employees at the city halls, Caltrans (in Clifornia), firefighters, and policemen, among others, not only don't get overloads but also loosing part of their 100% load or become totally unemployed. Here at our educational institutions our full-timers tenured track elite seem living in different planet, just like good old days, and like nothing happened in the past three years: even their overloads are untouchable.
I perfectly understand that there are realities beyond our control: budget cuts imposed upon us at Federal and/or State levels, but still, at local, institutional, and division, and department levels different decisions lead to different consequences. We, part timers, are suffering from all levels, and tenured track elite are affected litter or none from any of them. That is one of the reason why America so angry.
This situation is neither justifiable nor fair.


105. fruupp - October 01, 2010 at 12:01 am

#90 wrote: "I have listened to a college professor preach to a u-pick blueberry farm crowd about the stupidity of Bush voters, and how they owe an apology to the nation. This does not endear the university people to the common working folk."

Ah, yes, the exalted "common working folk," those salt of the earth, "real" Americans who uphold the time-honored heartland values of family, community, and Christian charity (unlike us snooty city sophisticates, don'cha know).

So, tell us again, what's with those placards of Obama with a Hitler mustache or a bone through his nose?

You're correct about one thing: they do owe the nation an apology. Stupid is as stupid does.

106. babettebabich - October 01, 2010 at 01:02 am

To Waldemar: there is, regretably, a patent reason for the lack of respect for professors and this has to do not with changing times: professors in the US earn relatively little money by comparison with other professionals (doctors, lawyers, managers).

To Voralex, thanks for your comments. I suspect you touched a nerve and thus Benton (whose earlier posts I too have appreciated) found himself moved to "get defensive." Yet and on second thought the difference between his posts may simply be onme of focus (outward vs. inner directed).

Overall it is not only silly to insist on being respected (which is what it means to wonder about "being hated") but bootless -- I cannot resist -- to boot.

And to deanzalib: wait and see.

107. optimysticynic - October 01, 2010 at 09:58 am

Mileydog: "nobel" profession? Dream on.

108. profdave - October 01, 2010 at 10:39 am

My eyes started to glaze over after the first couple of dozen comments. So, if someone has already made this point, I apologize for the duplication.

One of the failings of academe that I perceive - as a social science adjunt in a CC - is the equating of critical thinking with political correctness. They are opposites.

My students comment positively on my teaching style. It includes balanced treatment of controversial, emotion-laden issues, such as the relationship between religion and science among other things. I don't pull any punches with truth, and the facts I give are verifiable, even if they don't agree with the current orthodoxy. But I tell my students constantly, "I am here to help you to learn HOW to think, not to teach you WHAT to think."

I also firmly believe that "if you don't stand for something, then you will fall for anything." I show them what it looks like to take a stand. I give normative viewpoints when appropriate, while being painstaking about distinguishing opinion from fact, including my own. How else can one be a role model without profession a specific role?

I'm one of the few conservatives I've ever met in higher education. It probably has a lot to do with the fact that I never finished my PhD because I couldn't attract funding. I lack the credential, but not the skills. (I suppose I've matured enough since then to try again and probably fit in better, but I'm in my 50s and a doctorate will do nothing to improve my life now.)

I've even been told by a "colleage" to never speak to them after a brief discussion on some issue. "Hate" might be too strong of a term, but the antipathy toward faculty sometimes comes from inside the ivory tower as well as outside.

109. profdave - October 01, 2010 at 10:41 am

Ick, typos.

adjunt = adjunct
profession = professing
"colleage" = "colleague"


110. sumikoh - October 01, 2010 at 11:17 am

fruup 12:10am

Benton/Pannapacker spent 2000 words and 63 tedious paragraphs agonizing over "Why Do They Hate Us?" while fruup gave it all in a crystaline 70 words. Magnificent effort mate!

111. truthfirst - October 01, 2010 at 07:11 pm

You want to know why students hate some faculty members type this article name in the search section. "Taking sides in the classroom" Check out how a couple of professors bad mouth students calling them "stupid" and infantile. You want to know why students hate professors. Number one reason some are not setting a good example.

112. lenrose - October 03, 2010 at 12:41 pm

Early in these comments, Dr. PDG comments that respect must be earned. I agree, but please remember that good manners should be present whether or not respect has been earned. I cite Edmund Burke (Sir Edmund, to you):

"Manners are of more importance than laws. Manners are what vex or soothe, corrupt or purify, exalt or debase, barbarize or refine us, by a constant, steady, uniform, insensible operation, like that of the air we breathe in." Edmund Burke (1729-1797)

I've earned soft social science degrees and an Ivy League MBA. I wouldn't give up any them. They enable me to bring unique perspectives into the classroom when I teach business and computer classes.

I'm an adjunct. When you figure in prep and grading, I make less than a McDonald's counter person. If any students hate me, it's because I demand learning - and it's a hoot when students ask why they have to learn MS Word or MS Excel (they should already know it!) just because they are education or business majors. Yes, business majors want to know why they would ever need to understand spreadsheets!

The same students wonder why they should have to learn marketing just because they want jobs in a marketing department. They also insist that in the business world they do not have to communicate with proper language, grammar or spelling.

By the way, Dr. PDG, PhD: If you believe in teaching technical skills, go back to the workplace and lead an apprenticeship program. On-the-job training is where technical skills should be gained. Soft skills, such as math, accounting, management, human relations, social sciences and becoming a human being may be taught outside of the workplace - at a university - and that is fine. They are no less necessary than the skills you believe to be more important.

113. qzxcvbnm - October 03, 2010 at 01:39 pm

I am not at all impressed with this article. It is quite poor compared to Benton/Pannapacker's previous articles (which are the only reason I even bother to read The Chronicle.) But then again, Pannapacker is now part of the academic establishment, securely tenured, and therefore he is beginning to lose his common sense and his perspective on ethics, work, human nature, and reality. Exactly what one would expect.

The comments are far more interesting than the article (although, as usual, it is painfully obvious which comments were written by tenured professors).

There are a few real gems. I especially enjoyed reading alanhuth's comment (#96), which is exactly, precisely, clearly, eloquently dead-on. Too bad that alanhuth didn't "get started" and give us more. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that alanhuth's comment might be something that Pannapacker himself might have written 8 or 9 years ago, back when he was still in touch with his common-sense, non-academic, blue collar roots.

114. paravox3 - October 05, 2010 at 05:06 pm

I'm not in academia, but I was linked to this article and thought I might have something to add to the discussion.

For reference, I've completed the following degrees: High school diploma, Bachelors of Science, Masters of International Business, and Diploma of Project Management. Professionally, I am a project manager at a private, for profit organization. I'm also very proud of these achievements, despite having gotten the 'grades' or whatever it is that explicitly told me that the academic world did not feel I was "good enough" to continue on and do graduate work. In honesty... I thank God that didn't turn out to be my lot in life, and I would probably not go back to grad school. Instead, I look for professional certifications and always seek to finagle my company into paying for them.

I don't hate professors. I loved several of them when I was in uni because they made me think. There were a few that I did not respect, and amazingly I cannot remember them at all - the ones I felt gave me something, even if it was just to shift my reality and empower me - those I remember.

It's odd, though, because if there's one thing I "hate" about higher education, it's the price we pay for intellectual capability (not intelligence, mind). As you can imagine, as a project manager, I make an exceptional wage - more than professors quoted here, for certain. However, my family and I spent the last year living in a 2 room hovel (we have two kids), without a car, and in massive debt. We have no credit cards, no personal loans - but we have my student loans (which ate my $100k in Trust Fund from my grandparents before hitting me personally) that I've paid off like a dog over the last 10 years... and a single home loan. My husband, being from Australia, never had the grades to qualify for higher academics, so he's uneducated in the official sense... but also knows more about politics, culture, and the world than I could ever pretend to as a full out, credential bearing Masters graduate.

I wouldn't be who I am without my education, and my hat's off to those professors that I remember. To those that don't... well, there's truth in both the positives and negatives of the responses I've read.

However, acknowledging the paragraph above, I often wonder if I did my family a disservice by going so far into debt for an education. Was I so different before higher learning that I wouldn't have been able to land my current role? I was promoted internally to it, as opposed to hired as a project manager. And I did get the "clear" message that I wasn't academic material in grad school - happy to take my money and give me a degree so long as I didn't pretend to have any actual intellectual value to add... you're only worthy after you've gotten a PhD, and there's plenty of "you can't" out there to try and stop people who might think they'd can.

My external perception is that universities are more political than profit-seeking businesses. We must work together to turn a profit, and are highly regulated against discrimination and so on.

Overall, due to my exposure and experience, I would say that I don't hate professors, but I do have a sound distaste for several educational practices at the higher level, both perpetuated by *some* professors and the administration.

I also feel that education is important, but that education is far more than processing what we are told in a classroom. As a species, we're always learning - access to knowledge and promotion of interest are what schools need to provide to students more than anything else. It's not about teaching skills at that level, but about showing people what skills are important and encouraging them to learn how to get them.

On the point of education - someone mentioned that politics are everywhere. Another person complained about values of their kids being "perverted" - well, my education helped me fit in with the elite. My mother was not college educated and my father was a soldier. I grew up just above the poverty line. Until I was sixteen, I had no idea how to set a table let alone which fork was the salad fork. Yes, education changes you - and yes educated people tend to be elitist. But everyone wants to be them, and you can't get ahead into that group unless you fit in. More than anything, that's probably what my education did for me.

115. wb2ldj - October 08, 2010 at 12:39 am

Faculty and some staff salaries have sky rocketed since the 1980's and so has tuition, fees, R&B to the point of some (irresponsible) students taking out mortgages, while profs become millionaires at a young age. GS

116. havito - October 10, 2010 at 01:20 pm

Maybe some professors have just given up the fight. Not only is the university a business, it is often a very dishonest one. Another book to add to the list is the one by William Jiraffales.

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