Yet I find at least some superficial tension with my own post, Talent versus character. By no means am I endorsing — or have endorsed or would ever endorse — the use of the drinking buddy test in hiring. But I do believe that severe character flaws, especially the selfish arrogance typified by the tenured Arschloch who treats his school as a personal expense account, are so inimical to the academic enterprise that I would trade that Arschloch and his entire portfolio for a quiet, thoughtful colleague whose congeniality is as genuine as his output is modest.
Comes now The Chronicle of Higher Education to the rescue. The Chronicle's On Hiring blog recently commented on Ready, set, punt. The seventh comment to that post, by an unnamed "humanities doctoral candidate," is so insightful that I will reprint it here in its entirety. As for the author of that comment, I hereby issue this invitation. Ms. or Mr. Humanities Doctoral Candidate, if you will write me at email@example.com, I will issue you a hall pass to MoneyLaw. We could use your wisdom here.
Perhaps it’s not true everywhere, and I know this will sound very young and idealistic . . . but I’m at a big scary Ivy, and I’ve had a lot of opportunities to see some pretty famous (and some pretty notorious) people.
It’s amazing to me how many times I’ve seen people — “established” scholars and younger students alike — give absolutely terrible papers, and then walk around snubbing everyone around them. Insecurity leads to intellectual isolation; people become greedy, self-centered, and unwilling to share. When they do present things, they are often incoherent because they don’t care a whit about sharing their thoughts with the community; indeed sometimes it seems like they try to intentionally make their arguments confusing in order to make themselves seem smarter. It backfires — they end up sounding pompous and priggish, but they don’t end up sparking fresh ideas or adding anything new to the discourse.
Scholarship matters; publications matter; teaching matters. In my department, it’s astonishing that the people who do all these things best — the ones with MacArthur Prizes, the ones with famous books, the ones who attract droves of students — they are also incredibly warm, kind, and friendly. Maybe this isn’t true everywhere, but every day I walk home from school and thank the stars that it’s been absolutely true in my experience.
PS: I should also add that one of our younger faculty members was awarded tenure last month — and yep, he is a brilliant scholar with two good books to his name, but he is also a genuinely nice person and universally loved among us lowly students. I know I will be accused of being very naive for writing all this, but I was the student representative at our faculty meetings for two years and my faith was continually rewarded: my department is full of big-name stars, and it’s amazing to see how beautifully they all get along.