This is just a short post to document a growing issue I’ve been noticing more and more in recent years. What I would describe as ‘Hollow Academics’.
What do I mean by this? Well this is after a long time following multiple institutions, organisations, and individuals from a range of disciplines and countries, and I will not be drawn to be any more specific than that. What I have observed is a group of individuals who, to my mind, miss (intentionally or unconsciously) the point entirely of what being an academic should fundamentally be.
To me, being an academic should, through whatever methods and routes, boil down to one thing. One end goal (which can be expanded with detail). It should be about making a difference, an impact, in such a way that it improves or advances either the lives of specific people or greater humanity in general. Again, one may identify different strands or nuances to this, but at the basic level this is what academia should be about.
Yet sadly there are people I see who I don’t believe ‘get’ that this is what academia should be. Or perhaps become too wrapped up in simply proving that they are a ‘good academic’ in a methodological or administrative sense. The work these ‘hollow academics’ do often has no scope or potential to actually make that necessary difference that should distinguish what is just simple research and who is truly an academic worthy of the title.
I have a suspicion that much of the time this ‘hollow’ form of academia is created by individuals who get lost in the ‘game’ or the ‘business’ that academia has become within many institutions (which to my mind is an endemic-systemic problem running through the profession), where autonomy and true individuality and creative thoughts are being stifled in the face of accountability to targets and corporate objectives (again, no specific institutions are my target here, this is a widespread issue).
A few days ago I read an article regarding a contemporary issue asserting that a proportion of academics are afraid to take risks, and I wholeheartedly agree with this. However contrary to that article I don’t believe it is an ‘age’ thing (the article was asserting that it was young academics who would not take risks). I believe it is a profession / culture issue that has bred or relegated some academics to this ‘hollow’ status where they either never learned, have been forced to forget, or have become too scared to embrace that true meaning and purpose of academia and being an academic, even if their own career progression suffers through having the courage of their convictions and staying true to what they know and believe to be true in an academic sense.
The day I think that the work and research I do does not have that potential to make a difference; the day I feel I cannot continue to be a true academic; the day that I think the work I do has become ‘hollow’, will be the day I retire, quit, or am fired. I hope that day doesn’t come for a long, long time, as if that is the case then I know that to somebody I might have made that difference. I will do this even if it means being overlooked for promotions, positions, or institutions.
To do otherwise, I could not look at myself in the mirror and call myself an academic.