Monday, October 1, 2007

Age Discrimination in the Academy

Gray The Chronicle of Higher Education recently ran an essay by a 36-year-old candidate for a high-level administrative position complaining that she is frequently dismissed for being too young.  New Kid suggests: "I have a hard time wrapping my mind around working somewhere with a 36-year-old dean.  Would you, personally, support the candidacy of a dean who was 36?"

To which Dean Dad riffs: “Wow. Which part of 'age discrimination' don't you understand?”

Putting aside, of course, the fact that employment discrimination against the young is not prohibited by the ADEA, Dean Dad makes what to me seems like a good point:

I've written before on some of the dynamics that lead to a remarkable upward trend in administrative ages: the paucity of full-time faculty hires over the last few decades that has left the pipeline thin; the ratcheting-up of expectations on the new hires, such that many new faculty are research machines who view even chairing a department as an imposition (but who regard tenure as a right, and don't see the contradiction); the much-higher vulnerability of administrative roles (as opposed to tenured faculty).  All of these result, mostly unintentionally, in an increasingly gray administrative population.

But in higher ed, as the average ages have moved up, the expectation that leaders will be eminences grises has taken hold.  It wasn't always so; as the article points out, in 1986 only 14 percent of college Presidents were over 60.  Now, nearly half are.  As with the "contagion of obesity" studies, which have basically found that people determine 'normal' by looking around them, there's a contagion of reverse ageism.  The kicker, of course, is that if you do the math, it quickly becomes apparent that some of the folks who just couldn't handle the idea of hiring someone under fifty were, themselves, hired under fifty.  But that was a long time ago, and the gradual aging-in-place has been happening for so long that it seems like things have always been this way.

Is the same true for law schools? Oddly enough, I heard in the halls of last weekend's conference from a faculty member who admitted to finding it a bit difficult to adjust to a new dean who is, as I understand it, in his/her late 30s or early 40s.

Comments are welcome.


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Mea culpa. I elided being 36 with not being a full prof, which isn't necessarily the case. I don't think a 36-year-old is inherently incapable of doing the job, just that they're not as likely to have reached an academic rank to allow them to do that job effectively (i.e., governing full profs is really difficult unless you too are a full prof). That's also assuming the author was aiming for an academic deanship, which I thought she implied.

Posted by: New Kid on the Hallway | Oct 2, 2007 8:26:53 AM

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