Saturday, November 25, 2006

Allodoxaphobia and doxophobia

Fear Factor
Scenes from the reality series, Fear Factor. Clockwise from top left: Stripping for food, skydiving, bobbing for rats
I had just learned the meaning of the word allodoxophobia from one of my new favorite sites, the Wikipedia Knowledge Dump, when I stumbled upon MaryAn Batchellor's fantastically succinct definition:

Don't look it up. Allodoxaphobia is the fear of [receiving] opinions, as opposed to doxophobia, the fear of expressing one.
This pair of phobias, a mere drop in the ocean that is PhobiaList.Com, would find safe haven throughout academia. Part of the fascinating exchange between Jeff Harrison and Orin Kerr over Personally annoying goes to the question of allodoxaphobia, the fear of receiving opinions. Jeff and Orin have hit upon a serious issue of law school management, that of the seemingly hypersensitive tenure-track faculty member. Though this topic can and will receive more air time on MoneyLaw, for now I am content to express some sympathy for Jeff's view that excessive complaining by a junior colleague undergoing the tenure review process can be a sign of future trouble. I also think that this forum should devote more time to the question of allodoxaphobic leadership by deans, associate deans, and pivotal committee chairs.

By contrast, it is allodoxaphobia's mate -- doxophobia, or the fear of expressing opinions -- that has commanded the lion's share of MoneyLaw's attention to date. And with good reason. As I hinted in Academia's loneliest hour is High Noon, and as Jeff Harrison stated more explicitly in Making nice, knowing better, doing nothing, it takes but a relatively small band of dedicated Arschlöcher to wreck a law school.

I am trying not to overstate my case. I truly believe that the vast majority of us know the difference between right and wrong. It would be hard, if not impossible, for any decent person to work in this profession if it were otherwise. Nor does faculty governance usually deal with matters of life and death. The opposite is true -- if anything, the pettiness of what divides us is precisely what makes disagreement so bitter. The typical issue that comes to a faculty vote, generally speaking, allows ample room for disagreement. But the ferocity with which a select minority will assert what it perceives as its divinely given prerogatives can quickly reduce the range of politically permissible outcomes to one. Allow even one faculty meeting to proceed on this basis, and you are well on the road to academic kakistocracy.

KakistocracyThink this one through for just one minute. It is yet another instance of the clash between principals and principles. Deans who view themselves as "agents" of their faculties (as opposed to their law schools' broader constituencies) rarely if ever serve all colleagues equally. They cater to a select few in a self-defensive strategy in which avoidance of (decanal) job-threatening strife supersedes all other interests. And who in academia -- a not-for-profit community dedicated to the furtherance of science and social good through the collective pursuit of truth -- would raise hell in order to secure personal prerogative over communal well-being? Only an Arschloch.

Rule by Arschloch, you see, is every bit as democratic as every other form of academic governance. The Arschlöcher among us are exceedingly few, and few if any of them would win the title of Mr. or Ms. Congeniality in a secret election. That's inherent in the nature of Arschlochkeit (German for the state of being an Arschloch). But put even a small number of committed Arschlöcher together at a law school, add a whiff of the doxophobia that mysteriously but routinely grips this population of professionals with (of all things) lifetime job security, and the Arschloch ticket will ride high and rule long. After all, if you've remained silent in the face of outlandishly selfish professorial conduct, you've been voting for the Arschloch party. The silence of the decent majority is all it takes.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Coming originally from a career outside of academia, I have been amazed at the many techniques of the committed Arschlöcher.

One of the most effective methods is the concern troll approach, where the merits of a progressive idea are admitted, even praised, but all of the supposed concerns (usually of a process nature) lead to its slow death.

11/25/2006 10:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I too came from a real world practice career and always put my law professors on a pedestal. Now that I am one, that has changed. In terms of professional ethics, the people I practiced with (and opposed) are way ahead of the law professors.

11/25/2006 7:04 PM  

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