Should Graduate Students Become Entrepreneurs?

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.

Should Morbidly Obese Children Be Removed From Their Parents?

Whenever the impotent social services wake up in this country and do something to save children who are getting abused by their horrible parents, there is always a bunch of idiots who start screeching that the parents’ rights to abuse their kids should be protected at all costs. Here is a recent case in point:

An 8-year-old Cleveland Heights boy was taken from his family and placed in foster care last month after county case workers said his mother wasn’t doing enough to control his weight.

At more than 200 pounds, the third-grader is considered severely obese and at risk for developing such diseases as diabetes and hypertension.

What I find mind-boggling is that this case immediately provoked a very weird discussion whether this child was in imminent danger. The main argument for leaving him with his parents was that he hasn’t developed hypertension and diabetes yet. As if these were the worst things this poor kid could suffer from. We are not talking about an extra few pounds. The weight of 200+ on an 8-year-old doesn’t just happen because of a few pizza slices here and there. There must be some severe psychological trauma going on for the kid to get to this point. And that needs to be investigated and stopped.

Husbands and Video Games

I know that dumping on people who enjoy playing video games and branding them as immature, useless slobs is fashionable, but this is really going too far:

A Utah woman became so annoyed by her husband’s addiction to video games that she put him up for sale on Craigslist. Kyle Baddley, 22, spent so much time playing the recently released “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3″ that wife, Alyse, warned her mother-in-law: “I’m going to sell your son on Craigslist.” The 21-year-old soon made good on the threat, according to ABC News, by posting a classified ad on her local version of the website. “I am selling my 22-year-old husband. He enjoys eating and playing video games all day. Easy to maintain, just feed and water every 3-5 hours,” her post on the Logan, Utah, Craigslist site read. Kyle Baddley’s future home “must have Internet and space for gaming,” the ad continues. “If acceptable replacement is offered will trade.” . . .

Kyle Baddley’s father Scott said his son has since cut down on his “Modern Warfare” time and was planning a Thanksgiving trip to Florida with his wife.

Contrary to popular wisdom, people who play video games are the opposite of immature. Video games are a powerful compensatory technique for people in stressful situations. Those who play video games engage in psychological hygiene that allows them to release their anxieties and frustrations onto a game instead of onto their family members.

The wife in this situation is the immature person because she hasn’t learnede to cope with her frustrations in a productive way and decided to ridicule and shame her husband publicly instead. This kind of tells me exactly what it is he is escaping from through his gaming.

Tolerating Barbarity

I just read a post that really traumatized me:

She came to my office yesterday and I ended up talking to her for more than an hour, missing the class I was supposed to be teaching, because she started using expressions likemaybe I should just end it all when talking about her anger and frustration and rage at feeling so utterly helpless in her situation. When I asked her what she meant, she said she was thinking of just surrendering to her parents and doing what they want her to do, that maybe marriage–any marriage, to any man–was really the only way she would ever get out from under her parents’, but mostly her father’s, rule. . .

She is the youngest child in her family and so finding a suitable husband is an important goal for her parents. Once they do so, they will have fulfilled one of their primary obligations as parents to their daughters and, in fact, my student is not entirely opposed to the idea of marrying a man her parents find for her. She just wants him to be someone she feels compatible with, someone in whom she can find something that attracts her; but the men they bring for her to meet, while they are well established and could take good care of her, in the way that “good care” is defined in her culture, they have all been, she says, not only boring, but really, really (to her taste) ugly. What she wants is the freedom to choose her own husband.

I wouldn’t engage in such a conversation with any of my students because I don’t think it’s appropriate. I’d direct them to a counselor or a therapist and remind them that I’m neither.

However, here, on my blog, I can express what I think about this. My advice to anybody who finds themselves in this kind of situation is to tell your parents to stuff it and to bugger out of your life immediately. They are horrible people who hate you and who want to cannibalize your life. All the blathering about culture and religion is a sham aimed at concealing how much they abhor and detest their own child. And anybody who “tolerantly” dances around such a terrifying story is nothing but a coward.

Slavoj Žižek reminds us where this condescending acceptance of barbarity is likely to lead us:

What lurks at the horizon. . . is the nightmarish prospect of a society regulated by a perverse pact between religious fundamentalists and the politically correct preachers of tolerance and respect for the other’s beliefs: a society immobilised by the concern for not hurting the other, no matter how cruel and superstitious this other is.

The author of the post, of course, chickened out and instead of speaking to the woman in question honestly, dished out to her a set of quasi-tolerant platitudes whose uselessness he recognizes perfectly well:

I respect her desire to find a solution that somehow harmonizes with her parents’ (and community’s) religious and cultural expectations, while allowing her the freedom she wants. (Whether or not that is possible, of course, is a whole other question.)

It’s easy to dismiss people in pain by telling them that they should “somehow harmonize” the patriarchal needs of their families to dispose of their lives as if they were cattle with their own desire to reclaim the right to their existence. It must be very comforting to believe, as the post’s author does, that taking a Women’s Studies course will help the woman in question to do that. The condescension implicit in such a suggestion is truly shocking, though.

This situation has absolutely nothing to do with cultures and religions. Every culture has parents who consume their children’s lives. (There are many more posts on this blog that describe the same kind of devouring parents in the US and Canada. I can also offer a list of examples from here to the Moon of similar situations arising in my Eastern European culture.) The only reason why the post’s author fails to see that there is nothing culture-specific about this situation is his pseudo-Liberal need to condescend to people who come from other countries.

The only good thing about the post I quoted is a response from a reader called Josef:

Parents who think they should be able to choose their children’s spouses/careers/education are evil beings who do not deserve children, and that’s what I would have told her.

Hear, hear, Josef! I only wish there were more people who could respond to such situations without resorting to the verbiage of “privilege,” “multi-culturalism,” “ethnocentrism,” etc. Sadly, this is what most of the participants on that thread did. They were obviously driven by fear of hurting some vile jerk by having an honest and strong reaction to barbarity that conceals itself under the mantle of cultural difference.