When An Academic Job Is Like An Airplane

When Is An Academic Job Like An Airplane?


Leonard Zwelling


I really enjoyed this piece from The New York Times by Amanda Hess that related a series of videos of untoward events in the friendly skies that have been posted on social media. These include a passenger forcibly preventing the person in front of her from reclining his seat, fathers who are offered to sit with the rest of their families and politely declining, and, of course, examples of frank racism. What the story is really about is the fact that we are all victims once we enter the realm of the enclosed metal tube that jets us from here to there. Rage surfaces as delays increase. Comfort dogs make everyone equally uncomfortable. Babies scream and passengers scream back. It’s a jungle in there.

After reading this article, I got to thinking how most people treat their job the same way. That is, they are captured in a virtual, metal tube of a maze of bizarre behavior and restrictive rules from which they see no way to escape.

Let’s think about it.

Lately, so many of us have been forced to DEI ourselves at work. We cannot object to anything without being accused of some form of “-ism” (racism, ableism, genderism, unprofessionalism) and we are always in the wrong and lucky if we can keep our jobs without the lawyers descending on our heads and putting us on a performance improvement plan, the latest weapon in Human Resources’ on-going battle against those who actually do productive work.

Then there are the endless HR computer-generated courses on everything from fire safety to sexual harassment. When I had to take the courses, I couldn’t tell if they were trying to train me not to do stuff or how to do it. And, my understanding is there are infinitely more of these courses now than when I was a faculty member ten years ago. I think those courses are just a cheap and easy way to shift all blame and responsibility to the faculty should someone accuse someone else of a misdeed. Once again, the institution and the lawyers are protected. The faculty member goes to jail.

Then there’s the whole tenure issue. Or really, what tenure? Is there any really? If the president can suspend it on a whim, does it even exist?

It seems to me that faculty at academic institutions are really just livestock in a pen like all of us are when we board the cattle cars with wings that double as aircraft. It should come as no surprise to anyone that once you encage humans in a small space, strange things tend to happen.

I see no solution to the problem on airplanes as we all have to get from one place to another and I don’t expect United or its competitors to make that any easier or more pleasant. In academia, things could get better, but only after the captive faculty say enough is enough and get off the plane. As of now, the faculty are getting free peanuts and can expect to be led off the plane in cuffs upon landing at the smallest of infractions. Now, more than ever, when you sign that contract you have bought a ticket on an aircraft whose destination you have no say in. And, by the way, they stopped serving peanuts years ago.

Bye, now. Thanks for flying with us. Have a nice day. Hope you have a golden parachute.

2 thoughts on “When An Academic Job Is Like An Airplane”

  1. Last evening, we hosted a casual dinner for a few friends, including a medical-school classmate of my wife. As we discussed how medicine had changed in the past decade of our careers, he mentioned that young doctors are beginning to unionize. That may be a smart strategic move since the medical businessmen and woman in the CEO slots and their staff are continuing to dismantle the medical profession that we need. We need to be organized nationally with a strong legal team to back us.
    And, as for ALL those computer courses on fire control, sexual harassment, etc. I found them not only annoying but also worthless in changing much of anything in my professional life. They are another example of using “stuff” to control employees. God only knows what will happen to American healthcare if Trump is re-elected. Certainly the sexual harassment and cultural integrity courses will be eliminated and perhaps replaced by some test of allegiance to the King.

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