Part of the Academic Mindset

To take the time that is necessary to investigate a big problem; to think about questions of great importance deeply and clearly and try to answer them thoroughly; to write up your findings in plain, simple and direct prose; above all else, to take teaching seriously and devote time to developing your own methods and style – all this is difficult, if not impossible, for new and untenured professors in the current academic climate. Colleagues and administrators want tangible and practical results – i.e., publications – because, as one former colleague said to me, they want to make sure they haven’t hired a lemon. ‘To say, when you are at work, “Let’s have done with it now,” is a physical need for human beings,’ says Wittgenstein; but it is absolutely necessary ‘to go on thinking in the face of this need that makes it such strenuous work.’ The administrator or colleague with the taxpayer mentality doesn’t understand this. He is used to finitude and expects everything to be done with quickly and to see the results. He is derisive of the thinker who takes his time. It’s bad enough when the general public, ignorant of what we do, sneer at us for not ‘working for a living’ or producing ‘practical’ results, but it’s worse when the same vulgar perception becomes part of the academic mindset.

—J. M. Anderson, “An Open Letter to New Professors”


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