Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Baby Boomers and Retirement in Academia

On Campus, the 60's Begin to Fade as Liberal Professors Retire:

Baby boomers, hired in large numbers during a huge expansion in higher education that continued into the ’70s, are being replaced by younger professors who many of the nearly 50 academics interviewed by The New York Times believe are different from their predecessors — less ideologically polarized and more politically moderate.

Individual colleges and organizations like the American Association of University Professors are already bracing for what has been labeled the graying of the faculty. More than 54 percent of full-time faculty members in the United States were older than 50 in 2005, compared with 22.5 percent in 1969. How many will actually retire in the next decade or so depends on personal preferences and health, as well as how their pensions fare in the financial markets.
Which, if the markets keep going the way they have, may make this talk of "retirement" moot.
In general, information on professors’ political and ideological leanings tends to be scarce. But a new study of the social and political views of American professors by Neil Gross at the University of British Columbia and Solon Simmons at George Mason University found that the notion of a generational divide is more than a glancing impression. “Self-described liberals are most common within the ranks of those professors aged 50-64, who were teenagers or young adults in the 1960s,” they wrote, making up just under 50 percent. At the same time, the youngest group, ages 26 to 35, contains the highest percentage of moderates, some 60 percent, and the lowest percentage of liberals, just under a third.

When it comes to those who consider themselves “liberal activists,” 17.2 percent of the 50-64 age group take up the banner compared with only 1.3 percent of professors 35 and younger.

It points up to one of the great myths regarding the social sciences: that all professors are "liberal activists". I'm not sure, if those numbers above are to believed, that it was ever true for a majority, and with younger academics being much more moderate in their pursuit of ideology, it would seem to more anachronistic than ever.

So is there an ideological divide in the generations of academics? In grad school in the 90's, professors of mine who were mostly Baby Boomers were much more "activist" in their pursuit of research and ideology than any of my colleagues seem today. Paradigmatic thinking is necessary in the social sciences, but Weber's admonition to be "value free" seems as relevant and practiced as ever. Put it this way: the last major "take on the administration," anti-authoritarian protest rally I was invited to had to do with demanding better access to quality daycare for those of us with younger kids.

That's not quite burning down buildings or coming to blows with the cops, but it does suggest a more practical and studied use of power and ideology amongst today's younger academics.

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