Education: Potshooting in Academe

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Sociologists customarily stalk elephantine generalities in exotic latitudes—from the South Seas to the cold-water jungles of Manhattan. In Daedalus, Big Game Sociologist David (The Lonely Crowd) Riesman breaks form by potshooting in his own backyard: the academic world. Samples of his mixed bag: ¶ Although some students maintain "a posture of contempt for business and a belief that, in contrast, teaching offers integrity, the life of the businessman and the life of the professor have become less and less distinct. The professor is no longer to be regarded as a stuffy fellow. He has become a man of the world, perhaps traveling on an expense account, attending a conference in Washington one day and flying to a UNESCO meeting in Paris the next. In honor of his new status, novels now portray him as having sex appeal and even a lurid sex life." ¶ Academic salaries have not followed the professorial flight to worldliness—and the unworldliness of pay is not uniform. "The professors at the law school and at the medical school, and probably at the business school, may be getting as much as twice the salary of those in medieval history, while the professors of economics and sociology may be more than doubling their salaries with consulting fees—the academic form of moonlighting." Such moonlighting has its high price: "While in principle the professor still has more time than most professional men to spend at home, including the long summer vacation, much of this time in fact is spent either earning money to pay the plumber or working like a plumber." He mentions such mundanities, Riesman writes, "because I see a number of graduate students who doggedly insist on going into teaching because they feel that if they entered business they would condemn themselves to meanness and triviality."

¶ "Competition in academic life," says Riesman, a lawyer before he became a sociologist, "has an especially biting quality ... I would certainly warn anyone not to enter teaching if he plans to do so because he thinks the people in it are so nice.'' All Riesman's observations deal with professors in the humanities and the social sciences; quirkily, he remarks that "I retain what may be an erroneous view that the natural scientists are less contentious, more generous, and, except for physicists and geneticists, less intellectual." Being a social scientist has its drawbacks. "Everything is grist for the mill, or at least is thought to be; so that if I attend a party people think I am observing them even when I am not, and if they meet me on a plane they ask me whether or not I think they are upper-middlebrows."

¶Dwellers in the academic world must beware of "chauvinism of the academy." A good cure, Riesman suggests, is a sabbatical tour of duty in business or Government. For all that, there are rewards for men and women obstinately bent on becoming professors: "In my own observation academic people stay alive longer than most professional people—alive in terms of openness of mind and not merely of drive and energy."