Ambivalence for academia

After working in a wide variety of academic and for profit environments over the years, I’m happy to once again work in an academic setting. This is the environment that suits me best, where I can work toward and believe in shared goals and objectives on things that really matter. Things like helping/serving others to become better educated and better equipped for whatever their careers might be; sharing knowledge and information as freely and as widely as possible; helping shape the character and lives of others; and more.

But I’ve known for a long time that academia has its downsides (this is true wherever I’ve worked in academia):

  • inherent conservatism, not in a political, social, or even economic sense, but in terms of outlook, perspective, and approach to things;
  • self-absorption (yes people, the academic bubble, a.k.a. ivory tower mentality, is real);
  • tendency to fight and argue over just about anything and everything;
  • relatively few resources;
  • low pay;
  • protectionism and importance of self-prestige are rampant;
  • strong sense of entitlement;
  • very change resistant;
  • personal insecurity is common.
I am ambivalent about so many foundational aspects of academia, including the (largely unchallenged) assumption that of course, tenure is a good thing, it’s a right. Or that I am better than you and everyone else because of my level of education. Or that “the administration” is out to get us, somehow. Or that the nitty gritty details of my specific research and study interests are the most important thing in the world. Or glorying in the fact that professor A got her PhD from a prestigious university, giving her higher status and making her worthy of awe. Or that too often, we are easily caught up in the flights and fancies of our own academic discourse. We like to hear ourselves talk.
Sometimes, all this stuff gets me down, especially when I see it manifested in myself.
Of course, these are generalities to which there are many exceptions.
There are in fact, real people with real servant hearts in academia. There are many who refuse to take themselves too seriously, and instead, freely pour their lives into the lives of others. There are people who aren’t so locked up in their own insecurities that they can’t admit their shortcomings, their mistakes, their struggles.
These are the people in academia to whom I am drawn. What also keeps me going is that the academic mission and objectives, however ill addressed at times, are worthy of my support. As ambivalent as I often feel about it, I still think academia is where I belong.

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