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Gary T. Marx
Life is far too important a thing to ever talk seriously about
A detailed career statement up to 1988 can be found in Marx (1990). I was raised in Los Angeles, although I grew up in Berkeley. I attended UCLA as an undergraduate and took a course from Donald Cressey who had been a student of Edwin Sutherland, a central figure in the founding of American criminology. I had an early respect for authority as a result of seeing cowboy hero movies at the Hollywood Hitching Post theater (where you had to check your cap guns at the door) and being in a Boy Scout troop sponsored by the Los Angeles Police Department. Later as a moderately rebellious, or at least independent, adolescent coming into adulthood on the cusp of the 60s, I was experientially interested in deviance and social control and fascinated with rebels, whether deviant (as in the films The Wild One and Rebel Without a Cause) or political --with a cause. I was ambivalent toward authority and ever ready to ask, "Says who?" 2 That came with an abundance of Oedipal conflict and being threatened with expulsion from UCLA because of my difficulties in a then-mandatory ROTC program.
However my intellectual interest in the field and the related areas of criminology and law and society was sparked by a spectacular course from Erving Goffman my first year in graduate school at Berkeley. I had the good fortune to work with a number of leading scholars. My orals committee was made up of Goffman, Herbert Blumer, S.M. Lipset, Neil Smelser and Joseph Lohman (former Sheriff of Cook County and Dean of the School of Criminology.) I clearly recall walking out of that 2-hour plus exam and waiting outside what seemed to be an eternity, while the committee discussed my case. Why was it taking them so long? Were they discussing whether or not to fail me? In fact they were discussing whether or not to pass me with distinction. That honor was an early warning of the unexpected degree of success that was to come my way in the next decade, much of it within the first few years out of graduate school.
Recognition came early and in abundance. 3 Those initial years were a lived fantasy. Since most of the time dreams don’t come true, we don’t have to confront the question of what happens if they do. Yet that level of success didn’t last. I had several years left on my contract at Harvard, but the future there did not look promising. In 1973 I left for a tenured position at M.I.T. For the first time the successes I had come to take for granted weren’t there --some grant applications and articles were rejected and the steady flow of invitations and requests that tell us how we are doing, slowed markedly. In addition subsequent successes were less satisfying. This caused me to reflect on the experience and to search for meaning in an academic career.
After a few beers, many productive academics, no matter how successful, will admit that they don’t feel sufficiently appreciated and rewarded and that their work has not received the attention it merits (although it is considered gauche to publicly discuss this.) That comes with the lectern given American society’s status consciousness and the lack of respect for intellectuals relative to Europe. Perhaps it is found with any competitive endeavor where the standards are not self-evident (e.g., winning a 100 yard dash vs. deciding which book is best for an award.)
While it would be disingenuous to deny occasionally feeling that way when a rejection comes along, I feel exceptionally fortunate with respect to professional recognition. 4 The issue for me wasn’t not getting enough, but what did academic success and failure mean? What did it all add up to? What was important? What were my goals? What was there in an academic life that gave satisfaction beyond the competitive aspects and that could sustain one in the face of bottom-line bureaucratic challenges and those not sharing academic values?
From this experience of early success and perceived failure, in a 1990 article I drew 7 conclusions about success and noted three ways of staying engaged. I came to terms with both winning and losing and was better able, as Kipling advised, to "meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat these two imposters just the same." I developed a perspective that made both failure and success easier to understand and accept. A part of this perspective is awareness of a George Bernard Shaw-Woody Allen paradox wherein when we do not have what we want, we are unhappy, but should we get it, it turns out not to be enough.
Seven Characteristics of Success
After all how long can one person stay in the spotlightWhile it’s nice to be cited and invited, success is not all it is cracked up to be:
before the bulb is changed?
--Boxer Jack Dempsey
It is necessary to value the process of creating. Work has to be fun and interesting in its own right, apart from any external rewards. If you can, it is important in the words of poet Henry Nebolt "to set the cause above renown, To love the game above the prize." Once you have tenure, if you do not enjoy the research or writing, then it is not worth doing. I receive pleasure from finding partial answers to questions I wonder about and discovering new questions, turning a clever phrase, ordering a set of ideas, and seeing connections between apparently unrelated phenomena.
I work best when I am cranked up and energized and that happens when I feel something strongly and want to figure it out, document it and communicate about it. In my discussion (Marx 1997) of the mandate to write (#3 Table 1) I consider this in more detail. Writing can be cathartic and helps you answer the often related personal, political and scholarly questions. You are in control of it and when I write about what I care about it is effortless and deeply fulfilling. As prolific folk song writer Gordon Lightfoot has observed, at such times there is no special trick to it, "it’s a kind of energy that will not be suppressed." You do it because you have to. For example the level of police abuse I saw when working for the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders and the infiltration of a civil rights group I was active in at Berkeley generated indignation and a series of articles and eventually a book on undercover police and on the role of social control agents in creating disorder, whether intentionally or unintentionally. My surprise and disagreement with the ejection of whites from segments of the civil rights movement led to an article that sought comprehension that transcended the particular personalities involved by looking at equivalent structures in historical context through comparing tensions between majority and minority group activists during the abolitionist period and the movement to end untouchability in India. (Marx and Useem 1971). My displeasure (both scientific and political) with social analysts (on both the left and the right) imputing deep ideological significance to every act occurring during periods of civil disorder in the 1960s resulted in an article on "issueless riots" and the need to empirically differentiate types of event. (Marx 1970)
I loved research, but contrary to Bob Dylan, the times didn’t really change, or at least change enough from the optimism of the 1960s to the 1970s which saw consolidation and even retrenchment, and contrary to the high promise of social research, most of the changes we did see were not directly tied to our research. In an edited book on muckraking sociology (Marx 1972) I sought ways that one could both do research and hopefully contribute to social change, not in a social engineering sense, but through effecting the culture with respect to what the facts were and how issues were perceived and analyzed. Concerned both scientifically and politically about the frequent gap between official versions of reality and what may really be going on, I wrote about means for discovering "dirty data." (Marx 1984)
I don’t draw a strong line between writing and teaching. In teaching I try to offer the ideas I am writing about --with the added benefit of getting feedback. Perhaps the most satisfying or enduring aspect of an academic career is the teaching and the friendships that can be formed. Inert words on a page can’t offer the excitement of a thoughtful conversation or seeing students improve on work you do together or have done, publish their first book or co-author a paper with one of their students. The informal mentoring, the sense of a shared journey of intellectual discovery and being able to pass on knowledge, methods and values is deeply fulfilling. I am amazed to see what my students have accomplished and I have stayed in touch with only a fraction of them. Beyond the majority doing good works in higher education and as popular writers, others are heads of non-profits concerned with police, drug, and probation reform, have founded social movements and held high positions in government. There is something of a sacred family bond between us because of our shared understandings and commitments. I take great pride in their activities and having been their teacher. I feel satisfied with respect to the several thousand or more students who I have had only passing contact with in one course, because I had the chance to educate them about matters that matter and to communicate the art of question asking. In the softer social fields, our contribution to students is as much or more about identifying the questions, as about the substance of our answers.
Editorial work (whether on student papers, reading for journals and publishers or editing books) has also been very satisfying. This offers a way of keeping up with the literature and of helping to shape fields. I was inspired to become a sociologist partly because of a powerful course on race relations taught by Mel Seeman at UCLA. We used the text by George Simpson and Milton Yinger Racial and Cultural Minorities. The intelligence, richness of information, clarity, balance, humanism and good sense of that text was inspirational. Given the ways of business publishing and changing academic fashions, the publisher (after several revisions) refused to bring out a new edition. Being able to keep that book alive for yet another generation of students as part of a book series I was editing gave enormous satisfaction.
After you have established a firm sense of your research questions and the intellectual traditions which nourish you, it becomes possible to locate one’s self within, and to view one’s work as part of, a communal endeavor (including your own students but going far beyond -- you will never know most of those in the "community"). 7 The frustrations of a local setting and a greedy organization can be partly negated by living in a broader national and/or global network of colleagues. This invisible community of scholars can serve as an anchor relative to the past and the future. With respect to the former, I take great sustenance and satisfaction in identifying with and seeing the direct lines from Simmel to Park to Hughes and Blumer to Goffman, and in my imaginary conversations with them, knowing that they wrestled with similar issues and that I can build upon their foundations. In that sense, however lonely and internal intellectual work can be, we are not alone. The challenge is to find the appropriate scholarly traditions.
On a hill behind our house we planted a two foot redwood tree that had been carefully nourished years before from a small container. The tree grows a few inches a year. In several hundred years it will be a majestic redwood. I get great pleasure from imagining that and seeing the daily contribution to it made by rays of sunshine and droplets of water. On a more modest scale it can be the same with academic work across decades and centuries. One need not sit under the shade of the tree he or she plants. It is enough to be blessed to sit under the shade of trees planted long ago and to know those whose lives we touch through writing and teaching, who subsequently touch other lives in an endless idea-chain may someday sit in the shade of a tree we helped to grow. When scholarship or artistic creation are seen as part of an organic, collective endeavor that endures and transcends the individual, then the daily frustrations or the absence of reward are less bothersome.
Beyond Success and Failure
In our culture stories need endings. I don’t know the ending to this one and may never know it. Life is filled with surprises. And as a friend said about sharks and diving, "you never see the one that gets you." Perhaps. But I do know how the story evolved over the next decade. The article on success and failure partly summarized above reflected maturity and coming to terms with academic life. It ends on an optimistic note, as I found the appropriate balance between work and life. That balance and career satisfaction deepened over the next decade with more success and greater wisdom and perspective, if at a cost of contradicting the seventh characteristic of success noted above.
In 1988 at the age of 50 with the publication of Undercover: Police Surveillance in America my career took off again. The further validation from the external world that Undercover and related publications brought –more than 40 favorable book reviews 8 more awards, fellowships, reprints, translations, testimony and board-serving; publishing widely discussed Op-Ed articles on surveillance and communications issues in the major newspapers; having one’s concepts and ideas enter the culture; 9 numerous radio and television interviews and participation in documentaries; 10 teaching in Belgium, Austria and China and lecturing throughout Europe; having a double issue of the Journal of Crime, Law and Social Change (Block 1992) devoted to discussing and extending the issues the book raised and with NSF support, organizing an international working group to apply to other countries the model I applied to the United States (Fijnaut and Marx 1995) was highly gratifying.
With this success I felt a new level of contentment and inner peace. I had become my own person and the person I wanted to be. I learned from Erving Goffman the power of enough role distance for self-respect and to gain an independent perspective, but not so much as to make others uncomfortable or to appear arrogant, from C. Wright Mills the links between the personal and the social and the importance of seeking and listening to criticism, and from Max Weber the eternal struggle between the liberating and suffocating aspects of culture and social structure. In the best Hemingway-Bogart tradition, I was not afraid to use my bullshit detector to lance pretensions, but then only when it was really necessary and in a subtle enough fashion that left the target some space for maintaining face. 11
From diverse role models I took elements I most admired (intense dedication to scholarship and hard work, 12 engagement with the great social issues of the day, clear writing for multiple audiences with both theoretical and applied concerns, interdisciplinary and comparative perspectives, persistence, independence, risk taking and a certain cultivated marginality, reflexivity and self-criticism, and honesty, helpfulness and civility with students and colleagues.) 13 I avoided those elements I least admired (a one-dimensional life in which work overwhelmed everything else, one-trick theory or method ponies, arcane arguments and misplaced certainty, inappropriate uses of power.) I established a recognizable and effective writing and research style and a set of questions around social control and technology that felt right and nourished my soul. I was drawn to issues out of passion, 14 but once there sought to apply the most rigorous standards of scholarship and writing, often with a mercurial eye to complexity, interdependence, tradeoffs, irony and paradox. This was informed by a noir sensitivity or realism, but without noir’s degree of cynicism or attitudes towards gender and violence.
I hope the perspective on the academic life offered above (and below with my list of 37 moral mandates for aspiring professors in Table 1) provide some guidance to those beginning or re-assessing their careers. There rarely are easy answers and life can’t be lived by how-to-do-it books. It has to be continually invented and negotiated. That makes it exciting and it encourages you to be clear about your assumptions and the often conflicting values that guide your choices.
Those who work on criminal justice issues of their own choosing from a broad, interdisciplinary, and often critical perspective, generally have a more difficult time than their colleagues whose feet are squarely planted in a single discipline and who quantitatively pursue micro-level questions defined by funding agencies and criminal justice establishments. The success of Undercover left me with a number of professional questions which have no fixed resolution, given variation in contexts and value conflicts. However the heightened awareness of the tension between polarities can be positive.
The twelve professional issues noted below are discussed at greater length in Marx 1995.
The Century Fund financed
the study of undercover police and receives the royalties. I was glad to
be finished and wanted to move on to other things. Yet I also felt a sense
of responsibility to shape public debate and the sponsor desired to have
the results be widely disseminated. With more than fifty thousand books
published each year in the United States it is rare that a book speaks
for itself. While my identity is as a producer rather than a promoter,
I was not shy in calling the book to the attention of audiences whether
colleagues, journal editors, policy makers, or bookstores. Yet I would
much preferred to have been writing or biking.
Go West Middle-Aged Man
I locked my door as the sun went downMy cup was running over as the clock was winding down. I wanted more, but not more of the same. I was ready to spend less energy on my own work and more on institution building. In 1992 I left M.I.T. for a position as Chair of the Sociology Department at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Most of our friends could not understand how we could leave the cozy life of academic Cambridge after 25 years for a non-elite school in the wild west. However given the pushes from Cambridge and the pulls to the west, the decision was easy.
said good-by to Boston town--T. Rush, On the Road Again
My MIT department was then headed by an interim chair who was a very smart, domineering, mean-spirited and dogmatic individual who had been on my case for two decades (he was against hiring me and later tried to block my promotion to full professor.) 18 His response to the best academic year of my life (–beyond the success that Undercover was enjoying --I had just received a large NSF grant for comparative social control work and given a very well received new undergraduate course,) was to freeze my salary because he felt I was not doing enough for the department. Given his narrow definition of the situation he was correct. But those were not the terms under which I was hired –I was not a city planner and had no intention of becoming one. Rather I was a scholar following my muse, something that could not be decided by any organization. The salary freeze was symbolic and I could live with it. 19 But when he sought to rename the department by dropping the title "urban studies" (from Urban Studies and Planning) and focus it even more on professional planning and development questions, I knew it was time to go. The issue is often found in professional schools in which those with an applied perspective want to advance professional practice, while liberal arts types are more prone to ask critical questions and their preferred audience is not practitioners.
As confirmed Westerners, we had never planned to stay on the east coast and viewed it as a cultural experience. 20 Imagine my surprise when, 25 years later, we were still there. Beyond weather and a more relaxed life style, we wanted to be closer to aging parents and our sons who had settled in the west. I felt under-utilized in a department and institute that tended to value application over reflective and critical thought. My best experiences had been working with graduate students and I wanted more graduate students who shared my interests.
In addition every four or five years I had made a major change of some kind (either in residence, affiliation or intellectual activity) and it was that time again. The ever present entropic tendencies and dulling from the familiar must be fought. (Marx 2000)
I also wanted to give something back to a discipline and a way of viewing the world that I strongly believed in and that I saw as endangered. I was not happy with developments in sociology --the turn toward ever greater specialization and compartmentalization of research, the fetish of methods divorced from meaningful content, theories that had little to do with reality and the growing influence of ideologues masquerading as scholars.
The kind of sociological scholarship I learned at Berkeley was pluralistic (if softly positivist) and civil in spite of deep disagreements, sought the integration of theory and research, appreciated the importance of comparative and historical perspectives and was concerned with human betterment. What is more its practitioners were learned individuals for whom the pursuit of knowledge seemed a calling not a job.
I saw being offered the Chair’s position and resources to build a great department as a way to sustain and validate my vision of social inquiry. That approach was and remains marginal to much of the sociological and criminological establishments. 21
However as blues poet Mose Allison sings, "it didn’t turn out that way, it just didn’t turn out that way." I loved the mountain biking and the grandeur and visual orgy of the physical setting, including living in an artful glass house built into a mountain, made some good friends, worked with some fine students and helped bring about modest change. 22 But after four years, "happiness was Boulder, Colorado in my rear view mirror." 23
Put most charitably, Colorado was a learning experience. It was a second rate institution with a potential to be much better, pushed hard by some faculty, administrators, legislators, regents and the president to become third rate. I learned on the job about the power of organizational culture apart from the formal structure of power, about the timidity of administrators and how tenure and fear of lawsuits can protect those who would be better served by some other line of work.
It is a big, wide world, Professor Marx, containing things hardly imagined in the tradition- and resource- rich institutions of Berkeley and Cambridge. As a besieged chair, almost everything I had heretofore stood for and believed in was at some point challenged --the effort to be as objective and empirical as possible; the need to define terms; the need to locate our specific findings relative to the discipline, the literature, comparative and historical contexts and broader issues; the notion that knowledge was possible across observers and that membership in a group was neither a necessary, nor a sufficient condition for understanding; the need to determine faculty rewards by focusing on the attributes of the work and its’ logic, imagination and originality, not on personal characteristics such as ethnicity and gender and the belief that in a university truth should hold sway and that persons of different views had an obligation to discuss their disagreements in a civil, honest and honorable fashion.
Did I make some mistakes? Sure. I was probably too honest and not Machiavellian enough, even though I specialize in studying secrecy and deception. I forgot the first rule of any good scholar or detective: "the unexamined assumption is the mother of error." Based on my three previous decades in the university, I assumed shared values, good will, competence and integrity on the part of those I dealt with. I was unprepared for the lack of professionalism I encountered.
There are many aspects to the story – an elected and highly politicized Board of Regents, 24 non-supportive taxpayers who looked with suspicion on the university, a hostile legislature, a controversial (and eventually fired) President who exploited tensions on the campus and in the sociology department, 25 insulated and tired administrators lacking the courage to speak out or to lead 26 and ethnic and gender politics. 27 But a central theme is summarized in the following question, "How many chairs does it take to change a sociology department?" Answer: "Only one, but the department has to really want to change." 28
The sociology faculty, while relatively congenial and socially concerned as individuals, had too many persons who were immobile and professionally isolated, avoided external conflict and were ambivalent toward, or resistant to departmental change. Even most of those who were supportive of change refused to step forward and play leadership roles. 29 As a result of a hand that remained strong from the grave, the department had failed to create a culture of professionalism and continued to fight decades old department battles, sometimes demonstrating a meanness of spirit that was hard for an outsider to comprehend.
The majority of the faculty either received their degrees from Colorado or had never had regular faculty positions elsewhere. Some had checked out of the academic motel long ago, or never even checked in and a few tried to sneak in. Others, who should have known better, could not resist the siren call of the local culture –a culture which could dampen aspirations, lower standards, engender incivility and, as a colleague put it, turn potentially good minds to guacamole. An antiquated 1960s political, drug and cult haze, supplemented by an indefensible, but for many, irresistible, political correctness too often clouded the blue Colorado sky.
This is not the place to analyze that experience. As with many 19th century voyagers, Colorado was a stopping point on a migration further west. I am grateful for what I learned there and for the chance to publicly stand for principle, something that academics with their secret ballots, anonymous reviews and the security of tenure rarely seem to do. Salman Rushdie (1995) has observed that "our lives teach us who we are." Seeing what I was against helped me become clearer about what I was for.
The four years at Colorado caused me to reflect on the kind of cultural climate I would like to see in a department, something that I had previously been privileged to take for granted. Such a climate would honor the 37 moral mandates in table 1 (discussed at length in Marx 1997.) I also came to see more clearly the meaning and importance of a liberal arts environment and the political and economic threats to it in settings such as Colorado’s during the mid-1990s.
The Liberal Arts Ideal
If there is one message above all others that I would like to pass on to future academics and citizens it would surely be the importance and vulnerability of a liberal arts education. Two of its central elements are valuing knowledge as an end in itself and maintaining a climate of openness and civility in which to pursue that knowledge.
A liberal arts education starts with questions, not answers. It asks "why" as well as "how." It values the search for beauty, as well as the search for usefulness. It instills a love of learning, knowledge, and creativity for their own sake. It inculcates humility and tentativeness in the face of complex and changing natural and social worlds.
Under the best of circumstances learning has a sacred quality. Knowledge is one of the few things in life that is enhanced by being shared. Its’ value is often not immediately perceived. An education must be viewed as more than a meal ticket bought at a discount, through ever larger classes, greater reliance on poorly paid, less experienced teachers and untested, quick technical solutions. Mass-produced, bargain goods come with hidden price tags. Modern management techniques and bureaucratic standards offer many advantages, but they must be used cautiously and with full awareness of what is special about education and the pursuit of knowledge. A university should not be run in exactly the same way as a business. Its worth and the quality of its performance cannot be adequately determined by market forces or looking at easily quantifiable measures regarding faculty activity, student demand or the short run employability of graduates.
Faculty at Colorado and other state schools are increasingly expected to meet a variety of contemporary goals of an applied nature from diverse constituencies–e.g., change curricula and research to better meet the needs of industry, prepare students for jobs, solve social and environmental problems. Yet a university must not become a giant consulting firm for either the private sector or the state, a trade school or the arm of a social movement, nor must its mission be solely defined by those who momentarily hold political power. The liberal arts ideal involves much more than short-term or local goals and it encourages us to question our goals, as well as our means. We must ask not only, "What do we owe the citizens of the state today?", but "What do we owe civilization and future generations?"
While education and the correction of social and economic ills may be linked, they are not equivalent. The university’s central mission must remain education. The university offers an environment in which the values and empirical assumptions accompanying our beliefs about injustice and social needs can, and must be rigorously examined.
Much of my professional energy has been devoted to developing and applying social science knowledge to social problems. I think we have much to contribute. Certainly as citizens and as recipients of resources from the state we have social obligations. Yet the university needs a degree of detachment (although certainly not indifference) from immediate social concerns. The university cannot solve all of society’s current problems. But it can help in the preparation of reflective and well-rounded individuals with the skills and humane values required to live creative and socially useful lives.
A state university that is too removed from public concerns and needs runs the risk of being irresponsible and unduly elitist, not to mention its being politically stupid. Yet one that is driven solely by public demands sacrifices the independence and critical spirit that should be the birthright of the intellectual. A university must be a somewhat protected enclave for the pursuit of truth. Yet its truths, while dependent on the work of the individual, cannot be subjective. They must be socially ratified. Its claims to truth must be public and submitted to rigorous peer review.
This brings us to another threat to the liberal arts ideal –fundamentalist political and cultural forces on the campus. A fundamentalist is a person who, whether viewing the world from a secular or sacred lens, says, "I’m right because I know I’m right." The fundamentalist seeks to propagandize, not to educate. He or she never gets off the soap box; his or her concerns are non-debatable and non-negotiable. Fundamentalists are unable to see shades of gray, to appreciate irony and most important, they lack a sense of humor. They are threatened by calls for rational discussion and analysis and by the initial skepticism of the scientist. They will throw up McCarthyite accusations and look for ugly "-isms" under every rock, rather than calmly examine their own and others’ beliefs in light of standards of logic, empiricism, and values.
The variety and abstraction of values and the complexity of the natural world guarantees that there will be disagreements. Sociologists have long known that conflict within proper bounds could be socially constructive. Wise and gentle persons acknowledge the difficulties in finding the truth and then go on to put forward their best case . But this is done in a spirit of openness and is always subject to revision. That is not the case with the fundamentalist, who is self-excused from any reflective activity that might cause such examination.
For those who so choose, revealed truths have a place in private settings such as church or a voluntary association. But a public liberal arts university must require that those who walk through its portals honor the sacred values of free and unfettered inquiry. We must guarantee the freedom to ask questions and to express unpopular views.
Ideally a university is a community held together by trust and a shared commitment to professionalism and respect for the truth. Within the university, claims must be argued on the basis of logic and empirical evidence, not by personal attacks on those we disagree with. In doing this we have an obligation to put forward our arguments rationally and civilly.
Academic freedom requires that no topic be beyond the bounds of inquiry and that research topics be open to all regardless of their personal characteristics. Yet this freedom must be exercised in a responsible manner with respect to both content and form.
Civility requires that we listen to others with whom we disagree in a shared spirit of understanding. The fundamentalist is prone to behave in exactly the opposite fashion, offering rhetorical behavior that includes: 1) sweeping generalizations divorced from concrete examples, 2) deceptive and selective arguments, 3) argument by name-calling and demonization of opponents, 4) reliance on solipsistic and transcendental justifications, and 5) the failure to listen to what those they disagree with say. As humans and as scholars, language is our most precious possession, and in a university of all places it must not be debased, however strong one’s feelings or noble one’s cause.
Since movin’ is my stock ‘n tradeI am glad to have helped protect the flame of Erasmus amidst the destructive prairie winds of the cost cutting, self-aggrandizing politicians who sought to further bureaucratize and control the university and the politically correct fundamentalists. Those nourished and protected by the ideals of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment must be ever vigilant for the waters are indeed filled with sharks.
I’m movin’ on
I won’t think of you when I’m gone
--Gordon Lightfoot, For Lovin’ Me
After a few years as chair at Colorado it was easy to agree with the view of leadership offered by an Italian politician, who, when asked, "is it very difficult to lead the Italian people?" Replied, "no, just useless." Given the cornucopia of limitations at multiple levels, it seemed prudent not to anticipate the imminent arrival of a great sociology department at Boulder. Camelot fails again. Once champagne turns to vinegar it never turns back. 30 I was embattled and in danger of becoming embittered. Life is too short for that and besides anger destroys your judgement. Deep in my genetic and cultural code has always been a willingness to walk. As Wallace Stegner knew at such times it is best to keep rollin’ west. 31
37 Moral Mandates for Aspiring Sociologists and Criminologists
1. These and related papers are available on this web site; you can find them by following the links on their dates or by going to the index page.
2. The earliest entry in my "permanent record" in the Los Angeles City School System: "he had trouble at various times talking out of turn and not taking direction well…. For awhile as a discipline measure he was put back into morning kindergarten, desired effect not accomplished” by the first grade “…would not adjust or conform, he busts his stitches at first opportunity…particular troubles on playground, fighting etc.” and by the second grade an escalation of the sanctioning, “constant source of irritation and trouble…kept after school, sent to office, denied privileges.”
3. I taught at Berkeley the first year and then moved to the Department of Social Relations at Harvard. In retrospect, given today’s markets and procedures the job process seems unreal. I applied in late September, submitting my book manuscript and some articles and by early November was offered a bountiful job without the bother of a job interview or talk, although I never dreaded those and welcomed the chance to make my case. I just wanted the ball as basketball player Larry Bird used to say. My book Protest and Prejudice sold well, was timely, of interest to academics and the reading public and contributed to knowledge and social change. Bayard Rustin the major strategist of the civil rights movement wrote the introduction. I received coveted fellowships and awards that usually went to older scholars, funding agencies came and offered to support my work. There was also media attention, reprints (an article on religion and protest was reprinted at least 20 times that I am aware of), election to the august executive council of the American Sociological Association, editorial service on the boards of leading journals, tenure offers from Columbia and others schools that I parlayed into a promotion, work for national commissions, identification in the student course evaluation as one of the best lecturers at Harvard and more writing, speaking and consulting invitations than I could respond to.
4. With time I sometimes felt it was their loss (e.g., for a residential fellowship or an article they would be unable to publish). I also knew I could always come back again and that there were other places to apply. At the same time one must learn from rejections about both substantive improvements to an application or article and how to better “game” it next time.
5. In “Provide, Provide” he further writes, “the witch that came (the withered hag) To wash the steps with pail and rag Was once the beauty Abishag, The picture pride of Hollywood. Too many fall from great and good for you to doubt the likelihood.”
6. There is no doubt variation here by personality type and career stage. Now as a Professor Emeritus living on an island, I find myself whipsawed between Twain and Greta Garbo’s line in Grand Hotel (as well as in her life), “I want to be alone” and Jefferson’s observation in a letter that remaining close to home for five years had an ill effect on his mind and that withdrawing from the world, “…led to an antisocial and misanthropic state of mind, which severely punished him who gives in to it.” (Ellis 1997)
7. Yet do
this softly and with readiness to expand and change. Although as academics
many of us benefit from a loosely applied labeling approach, try to avoid
the labeling of your own work whether as interactionist, functionalist,
Marxist, feminist, critical etc. Beyond type-casting and narrowing your
options and perspective, the reality we seek to understand is much too
complex for such simplifications. It also makes it possible for those opposing
the label to ignore what you have to say. As in life it is better to show
a little role distance and opaqueness in such matters.
8. While there were occasional criticisms of the book for being too conservative or liberal, too academic or not theoretical or tightly enough organized, too indecisive, and failing in places to offer documentation or to cover particular topics, I was very surprised that among a highly varied group of reviewers there were no negative reviews.
9. Consistent with Andy Warhol’s observation about everyone needing a few minutes of fame, it is satisfying to see one’s name in print and to be quoted, an adult version of “look ma, no hands”. Being quoted in a New York Times editorial or in the lead story is thrilling (especially initially), but it was no less thrilling to see my ideas in another Times editorial or to hear concepts I have used such as the surveillance society, surveillance creep, covert facilitation and the maximum security society used in the media without attribution. While hardly a power behind the throne, there was satisfaction in being the voice behind the speaker. If the cause is just and the words well put, it’s ok to be the organ grinder making the music while the monkey gets the attention. I first learned that 30 years ago after a presentation for Vice President Humphrey. Later I heard him use my ideas almost verbatim without attribution in a speech. An important way that academics can effect change is through impact on the culture and climates of opinion. Of course if colleagues steal your ideas that is a different matter.
10. Being driven in that elegant limo to Night Line or Good Morning America is a great feeling. Yet fortunately there are always humbling little reminders that help keep hubris at bay. For example a month after what I thought was one of the best interviews I had ever done, I received the following message, “Hi, this is Lisa from ABC 20/20. The piece we interviewed you for is on this Friday. Unfortunately, you’re not in it.”
Note also Michael Levine’s (1996) account of his Sensei’s words, “if you ever want to understand just how necessary each of us really is in this life, just stick your finger in a bucket of water, pull it out and watch how fast the hole fills.”
11. Among some other late adolescent, early adulthood cultural influences helping to order a life and define a personal style: Ayn Rand and her sophomoric characters in The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, Sinatra's swingingly having it his way, Hemingway, Steinbeck, Chandler, Hammett, Traven, Sartre, Camus, Kerouac, the lyrics of Cole Porter and the Gershwins, Chet Baker, June Christie, Chris Connor, Anita O'Day, Mose Allison, Johnny Cash, Buddy Holly, The Beach Boys and Southern California with its’ promises and betrayals, Groucho Marx, Humphrey Bogart, Jack Webb, Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, James Dean, Natalie Wood, Leni Bruce, Mort Sahl, Shelley Berman, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Bobby Kennedy and farther away in time --Sandburg, Mencken, Kipling, Twain, Whitman, Thoreau, Emerson, Conrad, Kafka, Orwell, and Huxley.
12. Above all this involves focus and laser directed intensity to one’s scholarly concerns. There is some truth to the stereotype of the absent-minded professor, although that being-in-a-daze mental state, (or “somewhere else” as my sons used to say when I was obviously tuned out even though physically present) may apply to any deeply engaging activity involving intense preoccupation and concentration. This need also works against leading a balanced life. It sets academics apart from those not so engaged.
13. A style that could be “critical without being curmudgeonly”. Yet as I learned at Colorado to those less secure and perceptive, or caught up in a pc feel-good world, this can be misunderstood and threatening. If all one is concerned about is being liked, not challenging others, and bolstering egos perceived to be fragile, then honesty is hardly the best policy, even if it is the morally compelling one.
14. The passion-objectivity and knowledge or art for its’ own sake vs. its’ social usefulness tensions can not be avoided. Hemingway observed, “if you want to send a message, call Western Union”. In contrast George Orwell (1970) writes, “it is invariably where I lacked a political purpose that I wrote lifeless books…”
15. It is paradoxical that a part of our knowledge is awareness of our ignorance, or at least of the limits of our knowledge. For many questions we lack firm scientific evidence. This is not only because the research has not been done, but because of the intractability of many problems given history, culture and consciousness and the weaknesses of our methodologies, including limits on human experimentation. Most passionately contested social issues involve conflicts over values that can be informed, but not adequately resolved by evidence, even if the evidence were unequivocal. When there is a sense of crisis, strident advocates claiming empirical certainty often dominate the megaphone over those whose expertise points toward qualification and moderation.
16. The same question ought to apply to readers of any account such as those in this volume. Freud observed that biographical accounts may lead to “lying, concealment, to flummery” and a study of middle-aged men reports that the chance of their accurately remembering events from adolescence is no greater than chance. (D. Offer, June issue of Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry).
17. More generally web pages are a wonderful way of combating the short-shelf life and inaccessibility of academic writing which is often widely scattered over time and place.
18. I mention this not to fight old battles but to remind future academics that they must be prepared to encounter unreasonable people in positions of authority and often be able to do little about it, beyond waiting for them to move on. Their power, secrecy and the interpretive, elastic and conflicting nature of the values that serve to justify actions offer enormous room for bad behavior masked by high sounding motives.
19. A bigger issue was the salary compression which can happen if you stay in the same place too long and don’t play the game of threatening to leave in order to obtain significant raises.
20. Like the characters in the The Great Gatsby, as Westerners, “…perhaps we possessed some deficiency in common which made us subtly unadaptable to Eastern life.” Fitzgerald (1953)
21. Space precludes more detailed consideration. I never thought of myself as a criminologist. Rather I was interested in the question of social order and change and that led directly to issues of norms and control, as well as to an interest in race relations and mass behavior. My interest was not in criminological phenomena per se but in the window they offered into broader questions about rules and power in society. I do not follow the criminology literature the way real criminologists do, or should. I came to criminology because that was where a major market and lots of data were to be found. In spite of a record that might qualify me, I am not a fellow of the American Society of Criminology, although I have been nominated several times. I have consistently been rejected by NIJ over the last 15 years, including the proposal for my undercover book.
While by education, work, service and recognition I have been toward the center rather than the periphery of the American Sociological establishment, that is not the case for the fields I work in. The study of deviance and social control, criminology and social problems are less prestigeful and often seen as less intellectually respectable, dirty, atheoretical and too applied. Such work has not been prominent at elite institutions since the golden age at the University of Chicago. Having spent most of my career in an interdisciplinary department, using a variety of methods and approaches to study a wide range of topics and seeing myself as a social studies person rather than exclusively as a social scientist or a humanist was also marginalizing. Specialization is one key to making it, although not necessarily to wisdom or authenticity.
22. For example four very strong appointments, new policies and procedures, redefined and more rigorous undergraduate and graduate programs, national and international graduate student recruitment, increased research funding and beginning to redefine the local culture which through attrition and dilution grew weaker.
23. This paraphrases a song by Mack Davis about Lubbock, Texas. However I would not claim that “the only good thing about Boulder is the road east and west,” rejecting Dr. Johnson’s quip that “the only good thing about Scotland is the road south”.) There was too much that was wonderful about the local and regional setting of Boulder, including the world’s best hardware store, and too many good faculty and students for that. There were times however when my favorite T-shirt, an image of the city with the words, “Boulder, Colorado 3 square miles surrounded by reality” fit in both senses. A line from the film The Santa Clause also resonated, “can I get a direct flight to reality from here, or do I have to change planes in Denver?”
24. I should have known that something was wrong at the start when the head of the Board of Regents, a retired Air Force General tried to block my appointment on procedural grounds stating that the citizens of Colorado did not need a sociologist from Berkeley. There were other signs that I ignored -- although a relatively rich state, Colorado was 47th among the states in proportional funding for the university. A colleague from an ivy league school I spoke to (brought in the year before I came as an outside chair in another department) resigned after only a year, complaining of over-bureaucratization and micro-management.
25. As this relates to sociology see the Denver Post, P. 1A Sept. 10, 1995 and my op-ed articles in the Boulder Daily Camera, Feb. 26, 1995 and July 1, 1995. Among other things the President overturned the strong recommendations of four university committees to deny tenure to a sociologist.
26. Many in the administration for example were inbred and long ago burned their bridges to regular academic work. Whether out of career ambitions (show that you can keep the lid on things and don’t offend any constituency, especially if you are a Dean on the short list to become vice-chancellor), character defects or fatigue, they tolerated incompetence, public mendacity and deceit on the part of some faculty and followed more than led. They were intimidated by the Regents and legislature who seemed always to be investigating the university. The sociology department was investigated several times and always exonerated. This was a direct rejection of those who made frivolous charges, misused grievances procedures and engaged in misinformation, disinformation, slander, defamation and violations of confidentiality and other university rules without suffering any penalties, things that a strong and principled administration would not have tolerated. The administration’s perspective seemed to be, “if you ignore it, it will go away.” Too often there was, in poet Czeslaw Milosz’ words, “a conspiracy of silence”, in which, “one word of truth sounds like a pistol shot.”
27. To take several examples, in an ostensibly open search, a candidate with an exceptional publication and teaching record who towered above the competition was not hired because the candidate was deemed to lack the appropriate ascribed characteristics. In a similar case, a candidate for another position with an even stronger record was hired away from an elite school, but only after a bitter internal fight and the dean acted as if he was doing me a favor in supporting the hiring of the superior candidate. Nor did the administration much want to support change when it became clear that there were political costs. Promotions were granted in several very weak cases and early tenure denied for one of the strongest cases I had ever seen.
28. The department offered great material for a satirical academic novel, were it not so sad and poignant and for the suffering of those involved. At least one such novel has been published and another is unpublished. The department was founded by an individual with broad ranging intellectual interests who was literally born on the campus. He did not have a PhD and had little interest in advancing the discipline of sociology. He took pride in his anti-professional orientation and his vision of a department seemed to be that of a salon. He is said to be the central figure in the novel by Bradbury (1976).
This environment involved more than the garden variety of skeletons that can usually be found in academic closets. The department specialized in criminology, although with its’ history of alcoholism, drugs, mental illness, sexual escapades, violence, a professor claiming a fraudulent Ph.D., embezzlement and the falsification of student records etc., it might have profited from self study.
29. The lack of stronger and more consistent support from many faculty members was a major disappointment. Perhaps it is not surprising that some resented the mandate of an outside chair brought in as one administrator put it, “to clean up the mess in sociology.” A mess that was so bad a few years before that serious consideration was given to closing the department. One faculty member was even on television complaining that what was wrong with the university was my salary and light teaching load. Others who supported change were conflict shy and didn’t want to get involved, or were too busy with their personal lives.
In contrast to the usual pattern in which assistant professors lie low, my strongest support came from the two exceptionally strong assistant professors I was able to hire, in spite of opposition. They have since left the department in disgust for much better jobs and environments. Their departure along with mine and another stellar colleague led some graduate students to believe that rats were deserting a sinking ship. While I didn’t much like the rat metaphor, there is a kind of justice in the fact that in such situations, highly qualified individuals often have other options and the luxury of avoiding the necessity, as the man sings of, “making the best of a bad situation”. In fact however given the systemic limitations and supports, nothing much has changed and the ship bobs on in the same seas.
30. Vinegar of course has its’ uses and as Erving Goffman used to say, it’s all data anyway. While it is not my entre, the Chinese expression, “revenge is a dish best eaten cold” also could apply. In time I came to agree with the interim chancellor brought in to clean up the bigger mess in the university system, who after we had both left, told me that the Colorado scene during that time period was best viewed as another chapter in the absurdity of the human condition. That chapter continued after our departure –the vice chancellor was stopped for driving under the influence, a new president brought in to save the system resigned under a cloud of suspicion involving the awarding of a lucrative consulting contract to a female friend and three members of the sociology department were arrested.
31. He writes being free to move on “…is associated in our minds with escape from history and oppression and law and irksome obligations, with absolute freedom, and the road has always led west.” (Stegner 1987)
32. As originally written I said write books don’t read them. That was the only imperative that generated disagreement and was said partly in jest. Given the common belief that the young know too little of the non-contemporary literature in their own fields, let alone related fields and perhaps an overall decrease in writing quality with the proliferation of outlets and the increased centrality of publishing to reward, one might add another imperative to “read more and write less”. As with marriage and guns, perhaps a license should be required for academics to write. But if you are hungry there comes a time to fish rather than to cut bait. The scholar’s obligation to know the literature can never be fully achieved and should not be an excuse not to write. Another more curious justification (not intended here) was offered by a colleague who rather meekly told me he had not read my article on a topic he had just published on because, “I didn’t want to be accused of stealing your ideas.”
Top | Notes | Back to Main Page
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