Does higher education have a heart? I have found that in too many instances, heart quality in academe is a rare commodity. This is not to say that all colleges and universities are mean, heartless places. Some are quite to the contrary. Nevertheless, academic culture can be competitive and coldly analytical, and the influx of let’s-run-this-like-a-business administrators and board members has sucked even more humanity out of the enterprise. In its worst manifestations, academe can be host to a lot of bullying and mobbing behaviors.
In terms of the faculty side of the equation, Dr. Brené Brown captures the essence beautifully in a short passage from the Introduction to her book Daring Greatly (2012):
To be honest, I think emotional accessibility is a shame trigger for researchers and academics. Very early in our training, we are taught that a cool distance and inaccessibility contribute to prestige, and that if you’re too relatable, your credentials come into question. While being called pedantic is an insult in most settings, in the ivory tower we’re taught to wear the pedantic label like a suit of armor.
I am grateful for an academic career. I enjoy and value teaching, scholarship, and service, the three major components of a professor’s work. I’m also appreciative that among law professors, those who teach in the labor & employment field tend to be much more down to earth than many of those in other specialties.
However, conventional academic culture is not a big draw for me, for reasons alluded to above. Rather, my favored networks, and friendships formed through them, are grounded in somewhat less traditional institutions, associations, and gatherings that include faculty, practitioners, and activists from many fields.
As I wrote last Sunday, I’ve enrolled in Dr. Brown’s online course, the “Living Brave Semester,” which draws upon her pioneering work on courage, vulnerability, and resilience. It’s a good sign that I’m in the right virtual place when the initial reading assignment led me to the passage quoted above.