attack of the deadwood!

Sure, you think you are doing that colleague in “disguised retirement” a favor by letting him not pull his weight around the department for years. But one day disguised retirement will become actual retirement, and then what? Then, perhaps: he goes and writes a piece for the Weekly Standard in which he indicts the whole of public academia for all you’ve let him get away with. [HT: Orgtheory; Andrew Gelman]

Before retiring, I carried a teaching load of two courses per semester: six hours of lecture a week. I usually scheduled classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays: The rest of the week was mine… Sometimes my teaching began at 9:30 a.m., but this was hardship duty. A night owl, I preferred to start my courses at 11 or 12. With an hour or so in my office to see an occasional student, I was at the (free) gym by 4 p.m… This schedule held for 30 weeks of the year, leaving free three months in summer, a month in December, and a week in spring, plus all the usual holidays… I had abundant material which could be reused indefinitely and took maybe 20 minutes of review before class. Adding new material required hardly more effort than the time to read what I would have read anyway… The only really arduous part of teaching was grading exams and papers. But for most of my classes I had teaching assistants to do this, graduate students who usually knew little more about the topic than the undergraduates.

All this from a sociologist from here in the Chicago area. Three of his former chairs respond:

As three department heads who successively supervised Rubinstein during the last two decades of his career, we feel just as embarrassed and betrayed as a spouse would be if a partner admitted to abusing her trust, and then attacked her for letting him get away with it… As supervisors we don’t usually need to check to see if faculty are working hard enough… Unfortunately, once in a while – more often in the past when competition for faculty jobs was not as stiff – someone slips through who takes public funds and does not help create new knowledge, mentor undergraduates, or train future scholars and experts in his or her field… According to Rubinstein, he was one of slackers, and we agree with his own assessment that in a perfect world he would have been long gone before he was able to retire and collect a pension.

Rubinstein responds in the same article and apparently regards himself as a “whistleblower,” although usually whistleblowers blow the whistle on other people.

Author: jeremy

I am the Ethel and John Lindgren Professor of Sociology and a Faculty Fellow in the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University.

9 thoughts on “attack of the deadwood!”

  1. If I were looking for a way to discredit critics of public higher education and politics in sociology, I would look no further than David Rubenstein.


    1. Ugghh, exactly. I look forward with dread to argumentum ad rubenstein the next time there’s a discussion of whether it is a problem and what is the explanation for the fact that sociology has so few people of the sort who might be interested in writing for The Weekly Standard. I’m already predicting that such an argument will turn into a rather ugly contest to see who can point to the tallest stack of deadwood.


  2. It seems to me that the issue here is not tenure. Most major research universities have mechanisms in place to address tenured faculty not performing assigned duties. A lower formal classroom teaching load assumes engagement in graduate mentoring and supervision, an active research program, and service to the department, university, and discipline. If this is not the case, adjustments can and should be made.


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