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Reading the No Asshole Rule So You Don’t Have To: “Petty But Relentless Nastiness” — The Academia Angle

Posted in Surviving Grad School,Transfer Your Skills by Caroline Roberts on October 25, 2010
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionBob Sutton’s “The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t” is perhaps the best workplace survival guide one can have. It could be reprinted repackaged as “The Worst-Case Survival Guide for the Office” and sold at Urban Outfitters. Everyone could use this book, grad students and academics in particular.

In fact, Sutton leads with a two stories about his own experience academia, one good and one bad. First, the good: “Our small department was a remarkably supportive and collegial place to work, especially compared to the petty but relentless nastiness that pervades much of academic life.” Yet his tale doesn’t follow the usual path of a department hiring a star who also happens to be a raging asshole. No. Instead, the department rejects the star in favor of someone who is a decent person. That is heroic.

And then Sutton continues with the bad story. He describes the time he won a best-teacher award. The students applauded him, and enter the asshole, who declares, “Well, Bob, now that you have satisfied the babies here on campus, perhaps you can settle down and do some real work.”

What an asshole. So, why is it that academia has such a reputation for being rife with assholes?

More after the jump! Image by foundphotoslj from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.

Tough competition. Since many schools are broke-ass, there are fewer resources to go around. The ones who are already in a cushy position will (understandably) do anything to keep it, which makes those competing with them even more bitter.

A false meritocracy. Some people will assume they can act like assholes because they got a job, which means they’re the best, right? And everyone else sucks, so they deserve the bad treatment, correct? Not exactly. Truth is, life isn’t a meritocracy, and neither is academia. Just because a person comes out on top doesn’t make him or her the best. You can figure that out from any reality show.

The imbalance of power. From pay to authority, there is a huge difference between grad students, adjuncts, tenure-track faculty and tenured faculty. The difference is so huge that some people might assume that those on the bottom somehow either deserve bad treatment or must be “hazed” in order to make it to the top. Then, the “hazing” reinforces the belief of those at the top that they are somehow better than everyone else.

So now you know that tough times make assholism rampant. In a few days, an installment on how to evade your local workplace asshole …

3 Responses to 'Reading the No Asshole Rule So You Don’t Have To: “Petty But Relentless Nastiness” — The Academia Angle'

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  1. [...] FX-style-show about professors I was only half kidding. It’s true that academic life is often fucked up enough for FX, or at least dramatic enough for TNT. And now Educlaytion has given me great idea — [...]


  2. Yup, yup, and yup. Nicely summarized, and more people in the Tower need to think about how right-on this book is. Of course, there’s still the problem of getting people to admit that they’re the ones being a-holes.

  3. gradland said,

    Throughout my grad career I’ve always been shocked at how many profs / grad students think their supposed brilliance gives them the right to treat “everyday” people like shit. It’s also remarkable how many people are willing to make apologies for said assholes, as if somehow their groundbreaking scholarship means they’re exempt from basic decency and politeness.


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