College Faculty Go Postal
During the past week, there have been hundreds of articles written about the tragic faculty shooting in Alabama. One of the themes that is beginning to emerge is the mental stability of higher education faculty. Thomas Bartlett and Robin Wilson in a recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education opened by stating that the “Academe is often home to oddballs” and that “choosing to spend your life in a library or laboratory is, by definition, out of the ordinary.”
Jennifer Ruark in another article in the Chronicle states that “people have seized on the killings as evidence that academic life today is a petri dish for madness: The high stress of the tenure process, the pressures to be brilliant at research and teaching, the cloistered environment, the extent to which internal politics affects people’s careers it’s a combination that could damage even psychologically healthy people.” As faculty, are our eccentricities part of the faculty persona, signs of too few social interactions, or are some of us simply nuts? Have we become the new Postal Service? Will the phrase, “Don’t make me mad or I’ll go postal” become “Don’t make me mad or I’ll go academic”?
Jennifer Ruark’s article concludes with: “The danger of insisting that the Huntsville killings had nothing to do with academic culture, says Mr. Yamada, of the New Workplace Institute, is that colleges and universities will miss an opportunity to take faculty members’ mental health more seriously.” With the growing stress of the higher ed. academic environment and the tendency to overlook anti-social behavior as being a sign of intelligence or professorial quirkiness, maybe it’s time to pay more attention to the impact of academic life not only on the students, but also on those who teach. What do you think?