Three years ago today, I got the “cancel culture” treatment from my colleagues for saying a variety of things that have since been born out as completely true and even prophetic. At the time, I figured I was about to lose my job, and I’m still surprised that, given I was pre-tenure, nothing worse happened to me from a professional perspective. Reading the article “How Not To Lose Your Tenured Job” by Michael Kochin posted last week at American Greatness had me reflecting on the experience, and I have to agree with the author’s checklist. I’m pretty sure I satisfied all of his recommendations at the time — although perhaps worryingly I have violated at least one of them since then. Let’s have a look at the list of simple requirements one needs to keep in mind if one wants to be a political dissident in an academic position:
1) Never, in any publication, criticize a named colleague at the same institution.
I have studiously avoided coming hard at anybody at my university by name, although I have been sorely tempted to do so over the past couple of years when certain famous individuals repeatedly told flat-out lies about things microbiological to the news media over and over and over again. The audience of this blog is probably just large enough to make those white coat wearing toadies notice my existence if I were to name them and shame them in these august pages. So. Drs. WXYZ and ABCDEFG, you are safe from the wrath of my pen for the foreseeable future, even if I catch you lying about monkeypox vaccines or some shit on the radio.
2) Never publicly criticize your own institution.
Well… I hadn’t done this three years ago, and I carefully avoided doing it at all until they signed off on my tenure. Since then, one could argue that I have been all up in their grill about their egregious behavior regarding COVID — although perhaps I’ve successfully skirted the line between criticizing specific people at the university and the university itself. I think most of my broadsides have been directed at unnamed people affiliated with the university, not so much at the university itself. Well, anyway, I’ve still got a job, at least for the time being.
3) Show up to teach.
LOL. It’s wacky that one has to say this, but I can think of a few professors who probably ought to listen to this advice a bit more. Some of those aforementioned famous whitecoats always seem to find ways to get out of their teaching responsibilities… Not me though, I like teaching, and I’m pretty good at it, which probably helps keep me from getting the axe, not gonna lie.
4) Don’t proposition a student or junior colleague.
This is apparently how they managed to de-tenure and boot several prominent dissident professors in the Ivy League in recent years — by dredging up questionable trysts from the past. Fortunately, I was happily married before starting grad school so this has never been an issue for me, but I do remember hearing this advice at my first TA training session way back in the day — basically, “don’t fuck your students” was the number one commandment. The specific advice was “the semester is not that long, you can wait till they aren’t in your class anymore”. Take this one to heart, fellow dissidents — that co-ed ain’t worth it.
5) If you have a choice of institutions, remember that at public universities academic freedom protects the individual academic, while at private institutions academic freedom is the jealously guarded privilege of the institution.
This one is particularly interesting, and I hadn’t thought about it prior to reading Kochin’s article, but it’s probably the one thing that actually saved me. Looking around at my colleagues, it’s clear that the ones working out of state schools are far less woke and far less irritating than the ones at private schools. There are exceptions, of course — but if you’re a dissident who is considering an academic job, stay the hell away from the Ivy League.
In any case, I am tentatively glad that I have stuck it out as an academic. Sure, the American university system is literally the greatest source of evil in the history of the world, bleeding its filth all over the planet and is probably going to plunge our country into despotism and world war. Sure, we do a piss-poor job of educating people, and leave students with mountains of debt in return for a worthless degree and no deep understanding of anything. And sure, I’m an accomplice to all of that, which sometimes fills me with such profound disgust it’s hard to even express what it’s like. But every now and then, I find myself talking about some outlandish new discovery with some brilliant young scientist sitting across from me and I think it’s all worth it. I figure I’ll keep doing it as long as I can.
But what would I say to a young person entering “our world” — academic science — who shares my reactionary Weltanschauung? Obviously it would be safer, simpler, and quieter to live your life in a kind of progressive drag, concealing your real beliefs and just going with the flow. But fuck that, bubba, that will number one make you miserable, number two you won’t be able to do it forever, and number three why would you want to be an academic if you’re going to be a pussy about speaking your mind? If you have the brainpower to thrive in science, you have the brainpower to thrive in any number of other fields that are far more accepting of your attitudes — or if nothing else, will pay you a lot more for your drag routine than some stupid university will. If you’re gonna sell out, at least get paid for it! But really, if your motivation to be an academic researcher isn’t driven by a general belief that truth is better than falsehood — such that it’s your oath-sworn duty to call out the charlatans and cultists infesting the university system — then you really need to reconsider your life plan. If you believe in truth, speak up, even if it brings down the wrath of the mob on you. The worst that can happen is that you get pushed out of the system — which means you get to make more money in an easier job, and you don’t have to be around cowards and crazies every day for the rest of your career. The best that can happen is that you keep the torch of civilization lit in one small part of the world, when all the forces of darkness are trying to put it out. A small kind of heroism, perhaps, but heroism nonetheless.
So speak your mind — just follow the five rules above while you’re doing it.