An article in Chronicle of Higher Ed suggests that in order to aspire to tenure-track positions, graduate students need to become entrepreneurs.
I find the idea very disturbing. As much as I respect people who possess entrepreneurial spirit and are talented in this area, I thought the whole point of choosing a career in academia was to be in an environment where you don’t have to be an entrepreneur. If I wanted to be in sales or marketing, I would have done just that and probably ended up making a lot more money than I do at this point. However, I chose the life of intellectual contemplation, research, and teaching. I don’t want to sell anything to anybody, not because I think there is anything wrong with selling but simply because I think that there should be some form of balance in each society. For every group of people that sells stuff, there should be a group that doesn’t.
I have no interest in approaching Google with business ideas, taking courses in statistical methods, or learn computer programming, as the author of the article suggests. I especially don’t want to do any of these things if they will take time away from my engagement with my own field. I also feel no shame when I confess that, in all probability, I will suck something fierce at these endeavors. Just like talented programmers, business people and statisticians will probably bomb at creating literary criticism and teaching Spanish.
When I worked as a Visiting Professor at a university of great renown, I had an opportunity to observe a tenure-track colleague in a contingent field who dedicated her every free moment to aggressive networking. I don’t think I ever saw her alone or with other tenure-track people. She was always in the company of higher-ups. I’d often see her interrupt conversations with students and colleagues to dash across the street towards a senior faculty member and administrator. She had an actual database of useful people she already met and had yet to meet. In terms of networking, this academic was a pro. When the tenure review came by, though, she did not have a single publication to offer. And there was nothing that any connections she had been able to develop could do to offset that.
What annoys me especially in this article is the suggestion that if graduate students embrace entrepreneurial values, this will somehow serve public good. It isn’t like we see many exhortations for business people to improve themselves intellectually and pick up a book on philosophy or literary criticism every once in a while, even though that would bring more visible benefits to society than academics who start trying to sell, market, and network.
Academia has already suffered a lot of damage because of the efforts to apply business mentality to running universities. It is a sad testament to how pervasive this push to transform colleges into businesses has been if a graduate student in English Literature writes an article for Chronicle of Higher Ed trying to sell entrepreneurship to academics.