Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Boomers in the Academy

Sorry the posting has been so light, but I have been unusually busy this term. Posting will continue to be light for awhile.

The Chronicle of Higher Education has an article about job satisfaction among college professors. A primary finding is that professors from the baby-boom generation are less satisfied than both their younger colleagues and their elders:

In examining differences between the generations in their responses, the researchers found that Traditionalists and Xers were about equally satisfied with their jobs over all. But, for reasons the researchers could not explain, Baby Boomers stood out as discontented.

Moreover, the Baby Boomers seemed more preoccupied with money than younger faculty members were—the more satisfied Boomers were with their salaries, the more likely they were to express overall job satisfaction. Their being happy with their workload generally portended lower levels of overall job satisfaction.

The age of the faculty members that Baby Boomers worked alongside also appeared to have an influence on their job satisfaction. The happiest Boomers were those who worked in disciplines with the highest proportions of Generation X faculty members, and the unhappiest were those who worked in the disciplines with the highest proportions of Traditionalists. The researchers speculate that many Boomers who work around large numbers of Xers may feel energized by the company of junior faculty members, while many who work around large numbers of Traditionalist faculty members may feel they carry the load for people whose seniority gives them more control over their own work responsibilities.

Maybe. But it could be that baby-boom faculty members tended to come, first, from a generation that was unusually self-preoccupied. There was no history before them, and all that comes from now on is the fruit of their singularity. When they find that the University has other concerns beyond theirs, they become "discontented."

In addition, many baby-boom faculty members may have become professors precisely to wage revolution from within the academy walls, the ethical consequences be damned. (Ward Churchill is the iconic case.) Such faculty members would be made unhappy by their seniors precisely because they seem immune to the charms of the revolution, and because they are the enemy the boomers have long sought to disgorge. Younger faculty, in contrast, can still be wooed, and also provide baby boomers with the illusion that they themselves still have some relevance to the young.

I like this hypothesis, because I have now been in the academy long enough to see the crippling damage caused by the nihilism of the 1960s -- the infatuation with relativism, the distaste for the pursuit of excellence traditionally defined, the manifest ignorance of how these University came to be in the first place, and what it will take to keep them what they have been. But it seems not to have occurred to the authors of the study.


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