Saturday, February 11, 2012

A Narrow Escape

In my opinion one should not appoint a professor if no qualified applicant is available. That may go against the grain of bureaucracy, which presupposes, that there is always a suitable candidate around. In one case I could convince the committee I was in, that no suitable candidate had applied, i.e. for the faculty level I wanted, but could be expected later on. Some time later a very competent man showed up, being a major beneficiary to the faculty. Yet, it took some struggle to get him appointed, as external bureaucrats had concluded already, that the post was not going to be used. It also meant that I was not allowed anymore to take a position in an appointment committee, but I shrugged my shoulders. The crucial positions were taken, and according to my expectations, pushing the faculty to the top of the university. 
However, much later, a suboptimal lecturer from outside was appointed, who showed every trait of not being up to the demands of the faculty. Luckily for me, the law still stipulated, that lecturers could make up their own research plans, only to be agreed upon by the professor. I never reacted to his sour comments, such as, you should have held this presentation yesterday, knowing that I had nothing to do with the programming. Of course, I understood why - it would have saved him from a lot of sour comments by junior researchers, he apparently was not up to. 
At the very day I retired, a new law came into force, which would have given the poor man all the ammunition he wanted, making lecturers subordinates of the professor. So, under the present law, the level of silliness of your professor could determine your decision to stay or move on. May be the best way to go these days, is to become a professor yourself. That is, before taking the fresh ground approach. 
How? Let me overstate the usual 'procedure' for reasons of clarity. Start to make as many friends as possible in the relevant university circles. Put ample references to their publications into yours. Furthermore, you might also rephrase in a clever way their views, not only producing contents, but also proving the wisdom you found in their contributions. In so doing, do not forget to detect all your competitors, and use the gossip circuit to casually mention their shortcomings, which are definitely not fatal, but making them pitiful unfit for the professoriate level. Then, if you have succeeded, and still feel okay with yourself, remember that originally you wanted to break fresh ground. 
Why did my generation take riskier approaches to life, than seems to be the case these days? I think my generation that went through the war, did not expect to live that long. Also, the cold war of the fifties may have had an impact. Sacrifice was accepted as part of the individual daily philosophy. For instance, many wanted to be a fighter pilot, although everyone knew that jet fighters in those days came down easily, being unreliable.
In retrospect I consider myself a survivor, while many of my contemporaries actually passed away. I assume, they went in accordance with that postwar philosophy of not feeling sorry for yourself, but accept life and its hardship whatever way it comes..