Wednesday, July 23, 2008
The Second Failure of Academia
There has been some discussion recently of whether senior philosophers have an obligation to retire, given the difficulties of the job market (here, here, and here, in various tones of voice). I think it's pretty clear that they don't (the question survives in another, weaker form, namely, whether senior philosophers should generally regard it as good for the profession and act accordingly; which I'll let senior philosophers decide), although I must say it has been extraordinarily amusing how quickly senior philosophers have jumped in to deny it. What has struck me about the whole conversation, though, is that everyone assumes that retirement is and must be the end of the road: that the only reason you'd retire is because you've become dead wood. And no one has recognized that this is a symptom of a profound failure on our part, one almost as profound as the failure to prevent 'adjunctification'. It is utterly absurd that we have no standard options after retirement for senior philosophers who still want to be actively involved in philosophy. If anything, retirement should standardly be the next stage after tenure, not an exit from the field but another kind of removal of constraints. Perhaps we get something vaguely like this in how some departments treat emeritus professors; but only vaguely, and only like. We are failing people at the end as we are at the beginning. But what gets me is that everyone takes it for granted: suggest retirement and it is assumed you are suggesting uselessness -- and, given the way the system's set up, that's a not unreasonable assumption. But it needs to be brought to consciousness that this is a failure that needs to be overcome, not a reasonable feature of the landscape.