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Academic employment - a question
April 10, 2011 - 9:15pm

Why do you work for a university or college? Why do I?

These questions (admittedly, in reverse order) popped into my mind recently, as a result of three unconnected events.

First was a comment I heard a professor direct to a grad student, to the effect that if you want to make money in academe the best choice is to become an administrator. (I was quick to point out that he meant a senior academic administrator -- not someone on the business side of the organization, and not a lower- or mid-level employee.)

Second was the open records request in Wisconsin for Bill Cronon's emails. Not that, as a public employee, these aren't "public records", but that the whole thing was done in such an aggressive, punitive, antagonistic manner. If you're going to work for the government, even as an academic, you'd better make sure you're purer than Caesar's wife. And that no one who takes the time to peruse your every written word can infer otherwise. (Which is, of course, humanly impossible).

And third was doing my 2010 taxes. I bring home less money now, working for Greenback University, than I did twenty years ago when I worked in the for-profit sector. And that's without adjusting for inflation.

So, back to the question at hand -- why do you work for a university or college? For some (and I'm thinking faculty here), the issue may be moot. Perhaps institutions of higher education are the only places where you can get paid for what you believe you're called upon to do for the rest of your life. But for many others, the question is real. It may be a bit too broad -- some folks wouldn't work for just any school, they choose to work for a particular institution because they "bleed green and gold" (or whatever color/combination is appropriate). If that's true for you, sharpen the question to why you work for your university or college.

The discussion will probably break down along some predictable boundaries, such as faculty vs. student affairs folk vs. technical administrators vs. business administrators vs. trades-folk. But the boundaries might not be what you or I anticipate. And maybe no pattern at all will emerge. But, still . . .

Rather than attaching your answer as a comment, please email me. g[dot]rendell[at]insidehighered[dot]com.

Think about it. Why are you inside higher ed?


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