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Hugh Hewitt Book Club

The Academic Funhouse

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I’ve often heard academics disparage non-academic writing in terms that suggest it could be a negative in the tenure process, irrespective of the quality of academic work under review. This is one of the reasons I’ve blogged under a pseudonym — and will at least until my own tenure vote — as I want my file, and the work therein, judged on the merits. In my view, that I spend some of my free time blogging is no more relevant to the process than a colleagues’ decision to spend his or her time attending theater, performing in dance recitals, or raising children, but there is no guarantee that one’s colleagues will agree. Given the stakes involved — and I suspect they are greater for those lower down the food chain than the University of Chicago — I decided it was not worth the risk.

This is a quote from a Juan non-Volokh post on the denial of tenure for blogger Daniel Drezner.

No one should ever be surprised by tenure decisions, even when they appear absurd to outsiders as does the denial of tenure to as obviously a talented thinker as Drezner. Henry Kissinger has had attributed to him the famous saying that sums up academia, “Academic politics are vicious precisely because the stakes so small.” Often small political considerations or petty jealousy can impact tenure, just as they do law firm partnership decisions.

The deep prejudice against “non-academic” writing that Juan non-Volokh mentions is a remarkable aspect of academia, and one I think traceable to the possibility that the vast majority of academics are incapable of writing for a wide audience in any sort of a persuasive or elegant fashion. This prejudice has a cousin in the contempt academics feel for their counterparts in the professions or the business world, a contempt that is surfacing among legal academics in their condemnation of the Miers nomination.


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