July 3, 2008

Generations in Academia


There was a brilliant article in the Times today about how Baby Boomers are retiring from academia and causing a cultural shift. The article talks about the life experiences of the different generations and how their values are different based on those experiences. The comparison of Mr. Olneck and his socialist upbringing with Ms. Goldrick-Rab in the Reagan years put the two generations in perspective.

The younger teacher, Ms. Sara Goldrick-Rab, observes:
“Senior people evaluate us for tenure and the standards they use and what we think is important are different,” she said. They want to question values and norms; “we are more driven by data.”

She's 31, and I'm 32, and I can attest to the fact that that is definitely the way a lot of my generation thinks. In educational issues, I want to see the facts and the facts, and when I'm done, I want to see more facts. I like the ideological stuff as well, but everything has to be supported by (or at least not contradicted by) facts.

There was another interesting quote at the end by a moderate married to a conservative:
The notion that campuses are naturally radical or the birthplace of social movements, Ms. Kelly-Woessner said, was specific to the 1960s and ’70s. “I think the younger generation does look at it differently.”

I think she may be right, but in the whole life cycle of the typical person, a person's college years is the best time to actually do something. It's during those years that a person is most free from direct corporate involvement and social obligations (family, suburban life, etc.). Most college students don't have the life experience to create a philosophies solid enough to lead movements, but they have advantages in power and freedom. And so while the idea of social movements starting on campus may still have roots in the 60's and 70's, I wouldn't write off college activism just yet.

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