Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Egotism in academia

It's often said that academics are rather arrogant. This article certainly gives some telling examples, but I still don't know to what extent I agree with a broad-brush negative characterization — I've probably known too many pleasant, rather humane academics.

But there is one supreme virtue possessed by academics, which I think should always be cited in their defence — they are, on the whole, comfortable with people who are as smart as, or smarter than, them.

Ok, yes, there's a huge amount of bitching and snidiness. But compared to other professions (including 'para-academic' ones such as lexicography), and to other parts of the educational profession, those in academia are much more likely to be unintimidated by talent and to embrace and nurture it. Academics may be petty, but they can also be big.

But now back to the beginning — is this acceptance and nurturing of talent only possible because academics are so egotistical that they think no challenge threatens them? Perhaps academic egotism is a positive thing, a necessary ingredient in university teaching because without it the most capable students would inevitably have their prospects sabotaged by insecure, threatened professors.

Or am I being naive, and insecure, threatened professors are the reality?

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