One of the many observations we can make about the Amy Bishop case: It’s hard to understand the culture of a profession from the outside.
Tenure is critical to academics. Originally the idea was to protect free speech. Nowadays I think many professors acknowledge they would not undertake a long and arduous education just to get an ordinary job. Just as many mlitary members accept low pay in anticipation of retirement benefits and lifetime health care, professors tolerate low pay in return for lifetime eontracts. It should be noted that “low pay” no longer holds in some departments; business professors can start in $100-$150,000 salaries and I believe law professors do as well or better.
Tenure is also important because professors have trouble finding jobs. The system is structured so that you have your greatest opportunities at entry level. Some professors who are denied tenure at one university go on to stellar careers, often at universities equally distinguished. One professor who was denied tenure later become editor of a prestigious journal, where he had the honor of reviewing the work of his former colleagues who denied him tenure.
Tenure can be two-edged sword. I’ve met several people who left academia after holding tenured positions (and I’ve done the same) because they really didn’t want to remain at the institutions where they received tenure. Changes in administration or their own desire for new careers led them to move on. It is very difficult to change jobs after a professor earns tenure.
It is very, very difficult to move from academia to other fields. The author of Cliff Walk, Ron Snyder, wrote about his struggles after being denied tenure at a small but prestigious university. He was in a competitive field and he hadn’t produced research papers so his academic prospects were dim. Reviewers of his book frequently criticized him for not seeking a job in publishing or public relations.
In fact, academic backgrounds do not translate elsewhere. Even on the Internet, when I say I am a “former college professor,” readers’ eyes glaze over. They’d rather hear about someone who is a former actor, corporate executive, Wall Street trader, lawyer, truck driver…even kindergarten teacher. Professors get a bad rap. At one Internet marketing conference, a speaker said unabashedly, “You remember how much you hated college? All those boring professors?” I went up to him afterwards to say that I may have been many things, but boring wasn’t one of them.
Professors themselves often say that academic battles are bitter because the stakes are small. In my experience, they are not small. Having a windowless office that’s a converted broom closet versus a spacious office with windows will influence whether you come in every day or find reasons to stay home and be less productive. Getting an office on the “wrong” floor means you are isolated and out of the loop (a ploy often used to marginalize minorities and mavericks). Having a bad class schedule means your research time evaporates and you get lower course evaluations because you’re getting students at their grumpiest.
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Whether the kids contributed or not isn’t the point. In academic papers, it’s not uncommon to add additional names to the author list as a courtesy. Thesis directors often are added to articles published by their students, even though the articles were substantially changed since the dissertation. It’s not uncommon for grad students to ghost articles for professors. Junior profs often are pressured to add names or senior profs in their department. And senior profs and thesis directors sometimes add names of junior colleagues or research assistants just to help tthem out. It’s a *very* common practice. So I could see where a professor might add kids’ names without thinking it was a big deal.