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Disconnected from Reality

Reader comment on item: Bad News from Slippery Rock

Submitted by van der Ley (Canada), Apr 13, 2006 at 01:40

I would like to share my own experience as I, maybe led by the last residue of youthful "idealism", tried in vain to make the increasingly difficult transition from a career in the private sector into the academic world. Although the reasons behind this move are beyond the point of this post, it is suffice to say that, besides bringing in a history of a solid performance and achievements in my field – nothing stellar, but consistent nevertheless – I threw in the package what I call "life-experience", which is just a fancy way to say that I've been around and that I have a good feel for what graduates in my field should know, and what they are lacking.

Well, after a round of unsuccessful interviews, which as most of you know, means I was short-listed a few times, that unpleasant sense of self-doubt finally sunk in: "I may be not cut up for the job"; "my research proposal is certainly weak"; "my credentials and references are probably not good enough"; "I'm too old"; and so on. Luckily, I was able to eventually convince a couple of members of search committees of two different institutions to, off-the-record, give me some pointers about what was throwing them off. I was surprised by the similar answers. In essence, I was told that my approach to teaching and my view of the curriculum -- including some proposed new courses that I discussed during the interview process at their request – were too "corporate-like".

Of course, after struggling with the initial knee-jerk reaction of sticking to that point, I inquired about my proposed line of research: is it sufficiently "academic"? Do you believe it would be funded? I invariably got a "yes" as an answer. So, it was clear, whatever the meaning of "corporate-like", there lies the problem. Inquiring a bit further, I was surprised (but not anymore…) to hear that some – not only one – members of these two separate search committees, in two different Universities, had found that some of my views were too "capitalist" (that one made me laugh) or would not promote some form of social justice or something along those lines – I wish I had written that one down. Now, in my field of work, graduated professionals "make stuff". I mean, it is expected that anyone in my field with either an undergraduate or graduate degree, will be able to somehow, at almost any stage in their careers, participate on a project in which the main deliverable is a tangible, commercially viable product, possibly of questionable "social value" (in the following context: "what is the social value of an iPod? Or of the latest citrus-flavoured, whitening toothpaste?").

It was therefore unimaginable that such a criticism could even be formulated! I reminded my off-the-record peers that my intention was – actually, still is – none but to provide the students with the tools needed to succeed in the increasingly competitive, globalized job market. After all, universities are supposed to form professionals, isn't that right? And that these professionals are supposed to be able to get meaningful jobs, and receive a fair pay, and pay the taxes that will fund their research. Although sympathetic, both fellows gave me similar advice: drop the "corporate" image. So is the life of a white, heterosexual Christian male, who apparently has a "corporate mentality". Definitely, a bad example for our future generations… Meanwhile, I will stick to my private consulting practice.
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