I left PLANET, which is the planning educator’s listserv, after an incident that involved what I thought was a really interesting debate about Harvard students walking out on Greg Mankiw with Randy Crane from UCLA, who is also my former advisor. We’re both opinionated; we shoot from the hip sometimes (me more than him). I can be spicy, but I also think it was pretty clear throughout the course of the discussion that I think Randy is the shizzle with awesomesauce. I thought it was all in good fun until my inbox started flooding with “How DARE YOU?” and “You’re ruining your career, you stupid girl” emails. “Apologize immediately, or you’ll never be promoted or get another job, EVER!” from various and sundry full proffies. Randy, btw, never said boo. He tells me I’m wrong on a rather routine basis. I suspect he says this to others, as well. But the idea that I might intellectually disagree with him has never bothered him as far as I know, not even when I was a student. He has a first-rate mind and likes other people with stuff going on upstairs.
But I did as I was told. I groveled, publicly, as I was told, and also left. Because that? That’s just screwed up. I’m sure that these folks thought they were doing me a favor, but telling a full professor he’s wrong on the internet is not the same as taking pictures of you and your partner using your sex toy collection and posting it on LinkedIn.
By promulgating the belief that public disagreement is death in the academy, they perpetuate the practice that only full professors are allowed to speak with frankness, which the world doesn’t need. For the most part, the world already knows what full professors think. That’s how they got to be full professors; by making sure everybody knows what they think.
I recently had more full proffies on my ass on Fboo because honestly, the you-mustn’t-mustn’t-say-that police in the academy are everywhere.
It’s Facebook. It’s supposed to be fun, you fools. Yeah, I’m irreverent. So? Is that really such a crime? Will every grumpy quip result in the end of my career? Really? In general, I live my life well within the bounds of propriety. Lighten up. Yeah, future potential employers are going to know that I’m crazy and vulnerable and oversensitive and I rescue dogs and–gasp!–I’m not always right or that favorite word of already-dead people everywhere: “appropriate.”
So how should full proffies behave on the internet/seminars/job talks/etc?
Stop basically threatening people for having ideas, being real, and having emotions. Stop losing your shit if somebody junior is a little messy. You’re probably no picnic, either, sunshine; the rest of us just have to pretend that you are. Stop puffing about hierarchies. Trust us, all of us who aren’t you know full well you outrank us and can hurt us if you choose to do that. We don’t need reminding every 10 minutes. Stop trying to take the risk and fun out of life. Recognize that some of us are in this for the adventure, and if you can’t unbend enough to join us, then at least don’t stamp out our little campfires, tell us it’s past our bedtime, and then take all the s’mores for yourselves. Show us that wonder of discovery never stops being so gratifying by being more interested in the endeavor than you are in defending your field advantage. There’s plenty of time to discipline ideas, approaches, etc for lack of rigor. You can still protect people if they have voice. Save your cautions and admonitions over stuff that really matters.