Poisoning students


There is a troubling tendency in many academic departments in many universities these days.

The problem is the poisonous office politics that reign over these departments. When using the term “office politics,” I refer not only to quirky, idiosyncratic aspects of individual departments, but also to pervasive cultural norms and values that reign over entire academic disciplines.

For example, people are judged based upon how they dress within a wide range of academic disciplines. Obviously, whether a person wears a t-shirt, a suit, or semi-casual wear has absolutely nothing to do with what they are capable of. Nonetheless, mainstream corporate culture has managed to infect many sectors of society with the elitist notion that people should be judged based on what they are wearing. It is easy to imagine this venomous culture in disciplines like law or business, but it is quite striking that it has come into some of the social sciences, especially when we consider that not all professors bow down to the illogical and frivolous notion that people should “dress to impress.”

There is an idea or an image of academia as a place where free thought and non-conformity are championed.

Well not anymore. The quest for fame and funding, and thus the quest to impress, have infected the academic culture of many unsuspecting disciplines. The corporate world may have outlawed human decency a long time ago, but that doesn’t mean that all other sectors of society have to bow down to their irrational and brutal ideology.

How people talk also comes under rigorous attack from many academic personnel. In my view, it is fine for people to talk how they want as long as they don’t say hurtful or hateful things (e.g. racism and homophobia). In academia nowadays, things are taken a step further and people are looked down upon if they use language that is too casual or colloquial. It is not uncommon to hear academic personnel bashing people who use casual language in emails. If people write in a way that is difficult to understand, then that is one thing, but if people write in a way that is clear, albeit casual, who is anyone to judge and look down upon that? A person’s style of speaking is a frivolous matter and no one has any right to scrutinize people so needlessly.

Finally, I would like to address the fact that many academics are irked by the idea of people not calling them “doctor,” – God forbid. In fact, faculties recommend that honours students address professors as “doctor” when they are emailing potential thesis supervisors. This sort of elitism and snobbery is not seen everywhere or in everyone, but it is seen too often. Professors often give the most intriguing defence as to why they must be called “doctor.” That defence is that they spent so many years in school working so hard and they now deserve to be shown some “respect.”

Well, let’s consider people who don’t go to school. In fact, let’s consider people who work their tails off in factories or other dead end jobs earning minimum wage while some of their classmates from high school go on to obtain various graduate degrees. We are supposed to assume that an individual who spent nine years working in kitchens or in factories making minimum wage had it way easier than someone who spent nine years in school. We are supposed to assume that all the food they cooked for people or the products they helped make are meaningless compared to some esoteric area of research in some sub-discipline of a sub-discipline. Alas, that minimum wage worker is destined to be known as “Mr. or Ms. Joe Blow” and they will be given no fancy title. For what it’s worth, I think I have managed to expose that there is a type of justice in not having a fancy title.

The issues I’ve addressed are highly precise and specific, but these smaller issues are symptomatic of broader trends. Many students and academics do not adhere to this ugly form of “academic culture.” It is up to those individuals who will not tolerate such poison to try their best to be the antidote for it.

Will Edwards

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