I’ve got to say, Irina Dumitrescu has the most cynical view of the university system I’ve read. I don’t entirely agree, but I can see where she’s coming from.
Universities sing the song of meritocracy but dance to a different tune. In reality, they will do everything to reward and protect their most destructive, abusive and uncooperative faculty. The more thoroughly such scholars poison departments, programmes and individual lives, the more universities double down to please them.
Universities are even willing to ruin their own reputations and alienate their alumni to protect bullies and abusers. They might think that reputation management demands that such behaviour be swept under the carpet, but they ought to know that the scandals will break eventually, and that the cover-up will make them look worse. Some universities even hire people in the full knowledge of abuse allegations against them, thereby becoming invested in keeping secret their decision to put their students in harm’s way.
On the whole, I’ve found universities to be broadly egalitarian and altruistic, but that the management tends to be more out of touch with our ideals. There’s a body of people at the top who see the educational system as a political tool to get power and influence, and we’re at their mercy.
That said, though, it’s also the case that a population dedicated to teaching and science is acutely vulnerable to individuals who can cut through our ranks like a hot needle through butter. I’ve known people who fit her formula for success…even though they are the minority, I imagine her formula for penetrating academia would work too well.
- Cultivate powerful friends. Gain power over as many publication organs and scholarly bodies as possible and use them to promote your clique.
- Do nothing for anyone unimportant.
- Find a less successful scholar who will fear and admire you. Flatter them into becoming your sidekick and count on them to denigrate your colleagues and defend your reputation.
- Crush the confidence of students with the potential to surpass you. Or sleep with them. Or both.
- Manipulate students and employees into feeling they owe you, long after you no longer have power over them. Make outrageous, unethical promises they will feel bad about accepting or refusing.
- Promote a zero-sum model of success. Anyone else’s gain is your loss. Claim your students’ work as your own and reassign their best ideas to your favourites. Collaboration is for losers.
- Systematically badmouth your colleagues so you can improve your own standing. Shut out the students of rival scholars. Mock those rivals for having less successful students.
- Gaslight and spread misinformation about anyone who stands up to you. Complain about the “rumour mill” and “witch-hunts”. Accuse your critics of jealousy.
- Ask loudly why no one is willing to come forward officially to substantiate the rumours of abuse against you. If someone overcomes their terror, call them crazy.
- Lie brazenly. Accuse others of lying.
Dang. I’ve been doing it all wrong. I think my academic mentors have been setting a bad example for this kind of behavior.
It’s strange, too, that we would attract these kinds of individuals at all. It’s not like we’re competing for huge rewards — this is actually not at all how academia works, sadly.
Maybe not “sadly”…while it would have been nice to buy my mama a house with my first academic appointment, I think it would be terrible to have such an over-inflated sense of worth, and it would have also led to attracting even more toxic personalities.