Thursday, November 05, 2015

Retire already!

The lengthy diatribe of an email from some stranger named Jake Elder was in response to an op-ed of mine, and it began like this:
I see the Geography Department at O.C.E., opps!...Western Oregon University has  an individual who is somewhat challenged with grasping reality. You from India?  Maybe it's a cultural thing that makes it difficult to understand Western Civilization and the people who created it? Maybe there are also very obvious reasons why the 3rd world is just that...
One of the downsides in my pretentious existence as a public intellectual is, well, that word "public."  In addition to the constructive engagement with strangers who comment and email, there are these wackos as well who email me.  Of course, this guy Jake Elder's nonsense does not come anywhere near that hate email's content. What is scary in a way is what this Jake Elder notes in the middle of his rant: "a number of my former students."  He was once a teacher?  Oh my!

Such bizarre emails are not going to stop me from writing op-eds.  Heck, if my union ball-busting colleagues could not stop me, ... good to know that my insignificant life is hated by quite a few; I am not that insignificant after all, eh! ;)

After having written 178 newspaper op-eds (yes, I counted them when I came to typing this sentence) over 22 years, I wonder if I am battle-tested enough for a larger audience.  Hubris, I tell ya!  The best part about the 22 years and 178 op-ed essays is that they have not all been in the same paper and not even in the same geographic area.  In California and Oregon, and spread over four newspapers.  That variety makes me feel even better about what I have done in this commitment to public scholarship and engagement, even if my esteemed colleagues think I am not qualified to teach at any level.  Did I already remark about hubris? ;)

What about those columnists who have written for the same paper for years on?  Like Thomas Friedman.  Speaking of him, this commentary raises an interesting question: "does anyone even read Thomas Friedman anymore?"  I can't recall the last time I read his piece.  Or, even if I read it, I don't recall it making any impression on me.  But, he has been there for a gazillion years.  Shouldn't even people like him be term-limited out of their positions?
Why shouldn’t there be term limits for opinion columnists? It’s a fair question, given that the Times op-ed page too often feels weighed down by tired pundits who dispense the same thoughts long after they’ve curdled.
Exactly!
There are no writing positions at the Times more exalted than that of opinion columnist. It’s as close as a journalist can get to having tenure without having to teach, which may be why so many who hold the title cling to it for so long
A good point.  Further, by the time they write the column, well, we bloggers big and small have already discussed those issues anyway.  Their columns are stale and boring to us.

Such lengthy tenures at the supposedly truth-telling places concerns me.  Supreme Court justices serve for ever and ever until they croak.  And, of course, in higher education it is tyranny of the senior-citizen faculty.

It is one thing to provide a sense of job security when the task requires sorting out the truth.  Even I, despite all my insignificance, won't be able to write the op-eds that I write if I were not in a tenured job.  Early on in the op-ed writing I was not a member of academia.  One day, the boss asked me to meet with him and suggested that I stay away from certain topics that might bring attention to him and the organization.  When I reminded him about the freedom to express opinions, he said that maybe I could at least stop identifying myself as an employee of that organization.  As Socrates exemplified, truth-seeking and truth-telling is fraught with dangers.

Oh well.  Such craziness will continue on.  The same old columnists will spin the same stuff over and over.  The justices will drool and stumble.  Faculty way past retirement age refuse to go away.  No wonder that is a shocking surprise when the 65-year old "weeper of the house" vacates his seat.

Meanwhile, who cares for the truth, right?

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