Monday, February 03, 2020

Jerks of Academe: A Field Guide

Just out in the Chronicle of Higher Education, with hilarious art depicting the four main types I profile: the Big Shot, the Creepy Hugger, the Sadistic Bureaucrat, and the Embittered Downdragger.

Unfortunately, it's paywalled. I'm trying to get permission to repost it here, but in the meantime please feel free to comment here or email me and I can send you a PDF for personal use.


Jerks of Academe

This morning you probably didn’t look in the mirror and ask, “Am I a jerk?” And if you did, I wouldn’t believe your answer. Jerks usually don’t know that they are jerks.

Jerks mostly travel in disguise, even from themselves. But the rising tide (or is it just the increasing visibility?) of scandal, grisly politics, bureaucratic obstructionism, and toxic advising in academe reveals the urgent need of a good wildlife guide by which to identify the varieties of academic jerk.

So consider what follows a public service of sorts. I offer it in sad remembrance of the countless careers maimed or slain by the beasts profiled below. I hope you will forgive me if on this occasion I use “he” as a gender-neutral pronoun.

The Big Shot

The Big Shot is the most easily identified of all academic jerks. You can spot him a mile away. His plumage is so grand! (Or so he thinks.) His publications so widely cited! (At least by the right people.) His editorial-board memberships so dignified! (Not that anyone else noticed.) You will never fully appreciate the Big Shot’s genius, but if you cite him copiously and always defer to his judgment, he’ll think you have above-average intelligence.

The Creepy Hugger

To those unfamiliar with his ways, the Creepy Hugger appears the opposite of the Big Shot. He will seem kind, modest, and charming, despite his impressive accomplishments. This is his alluring disguise....



Howie said...

So would each social scene have its special brands of jerkitude?
There might be an ecology of jerks which shows how nature interacts with nature, or something like That

howie said...

I mean, some institutions must have jerkitude as a norm- while I take it you see some hypocrisy in academia, because of its civilized mission- this idea must couple with the finding that ethicists aren't ethical- maybe some are actually jerks

Arnold said...

...after a couple of days with jerkness in the back of my mind I found "Quality (philosophy)" at Wikipedia...

What right did Aristotle have to categorize, was he trying to clarify what we have to work with in ourselves, or was he just trying to say 'this is way things are and just live with it' ..for next 2500 years...

Winter Wallaby said...

There's a version not behind a paywall here:

It's at the Chronicle as well. Not sure why they would have one version behind a paywall and one not.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Howie -- Yes, each habitat will have different varieties of jerk adapted to the local environment!

Arnold, one almost feels sorry for Aristotle. ;-)

Thanks for that link, Winter -- that is odd!

howie said...

If you look at jerkitude as a trait, perhaps as an adaptation to an environment, somewhat like Allport long ago, that's okay, but when you do that you bypass subjectivities and unconscious motivations and value systems and stuff like that, which is a choice you made for a reason.
Maybe, some people are just jerks, we all know that and your theory is merely common sense made hard.
Have you thought about this already?

Bàn cầu một khối said...

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Callan said...

I get the feeling that the idea of jerks, as opposed to incompatible people, is itself the real jerk quality.

When looking in the mirror the question 'Am I compatible to some degree with X group of people' is a much more straight forward and answerable question. Even an incorrect assessment isn't all that more complex than bringing a beta tape to a VHS recorder.

The idea of a jerk may be some kind of unrecognized koan.

Anonymous said...

Winter Wallaby's link no longer is free (paywall has gone up).
Any possibility you could post a PDF, Eric?

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Soon! CHE's exclusivity period will be over in a week or so, and then I can post the whole thing here without any complications. :-)