David Rubinstein, emeritus at UIC, has now made far more waves as a self-styled “whistleblower” than he ever made as a practicing sociologist. In that career he was apparently undistinguished and even lazy, having rarely updated the sociological theory classes he taught (“who wouldn’t?” he sniffed in his defense. I would!) and produced virtually no scholarly work of significance. His swan song: a small-minded expose of the “cushy life” he leads as a retiree, peppered with tired old saws about the ideological homogeneity of the discipline, largely discredited by serious scholars but trotted out reliably by hacks like Dr. Rubinstein.
Others have written convincing retorts (see here, here, and here). The bottom line: tenure is a gamble entered into by a university convinced that a scholar has the record, skills, and approach to continue to be productive given the latitude offered by tenure. This is, sadly, a gamble that can be inappropriately exploited by irresponsible people, as appears to be the case by his own admission of Dr. Rubinstein. The point of tenure is not to offer intellectually and literally lazy Ph.D.’s a cushy work and retirement life. The point is to trust intellectually curious and talented Ph.D.’s to create and communicate knowledge free of the tethers of immediate economic necessity.
Meanwhile, my colleague Philip Cohen writes about the latest intellectual dishonesty perpetrated by Brad Wilcox,
religious True Believer in the virtue of religiosity and sociological lightweight. Philip’s careful dissection of Wilcox’s shoddy analysis is great, and there’s no need for me to summarize here. But the final paragraph asks about whether and how sociologists ought to be willing to act as experts: that is, to comment on matters that go beyond specific data we’ve collected or analyzed. I think we should be willing and able to do that; to act as a public intellectual, IMHO, reasonably includes commenting in a learned manner on matters on which we might have important things to say, even if we haven’t directly researched those areas ourselves. The problem with Wilcox’s MO, to me, is not that he does this, but that he makes specific empirical claims that (as Philip demonstrates) are simply not warranted.
So here’s the question: Rubinstein and Wilcox both show downsides of tenure: people who jump through the hoops set up to warrant scholarly quality, then either kick back or abuse the privilege to add scholarly gravitas to wishful thinking. Is there a reasonable intervention that might prevent some of these cases while preserving the remarkable breadth of discovery and intellectual productivity enabled by tenure?