The Waiting Room

This could take a while...

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Age Ain't Nothin' But a Number

Posted by Seeking Solace |

There is an interesting discussion going on at Dean Dad's blog in response to a post written by New Kid's regarding an article in the Chronicle. The question revolves around age and what we think someone who applies for a deanship should look like. New Kid states that she is not sure she could wrap her mind around a working for a dean that is 36 years old.

In defense of New Kid, I do not believe she meant this comment to be ageist. I respect her honesty.

But, I can't agree with what she is being honest about.

When I first began to practice law, there were some clients who did not want me representing them because I was young. Although I was in my early 30's, I had a youthful look. (I still do). The perception is that with age comes knowledge, wisdom and experieince. I also think that people still perceive that legal profession as a bunch of old white men.

You could make the same arguement about higher ed. Dean Dad cites the stats. We picture deans as some white haired old guy that the students refer to as the "crusty old Dean". How could some young whippersnapper have the wisdom and experience to handle such a job?

Here's the rub. Should someone make apologies for accomplishing their professional goals a little earlier than what is expected? Should we cut someone off at the knees because of ambition?

As for myself, I make no apologies for attaining success at an early age or doing things that are not "age appropriate" for my profession. I have been a successful attorney, small business owner (law practice) and college professor and I am only 39 years old. You could call it drive or ambition that fueled my early success. But I think most of it is because of a arrogance on my part to do things because someone said I could not do it for whatever reason. (Think: race, gender and age).

I also know there are those younger than me who have achieved more than I did at that age. My office mate is 26. But, she has more knowledge and experience in higher ed than I do.

Should I be afraid?

Of course not.

After all, age ain't nothin' but a number.


Prisca said...

It's so funny that poor New Kid's comment got taken as ageist. I felt like I was right there with her when I read her initial post. I feel totally inadequate at my age just trying to get my PhD but at the same time it is strange to think folks so much younger are in leadership roles. I am completely intimidated by these younger (but more experienced) scholars and I have certainly had professors younger than I am while in grad school. I could care less about their ages and I completely defer to them in that arena. They've got experience I do not have. I just feel OLD seeing that these often much younger folks are so much further along than I am.

If anything, I feel like I get discriminated against because I'm such an OLD person to be doing my diss. now. Just goes to show that it is really all relative to one's own experience.

Anonymous said...

see, the thing is, I took New Kid to be asking whether this person actually had the qualifications, whether she actually had time to acquire them. If she did, okay. fine. But if she had, in NK's field and in mine, she would be exceptionally young to have achieved all that and thus NOT a standard mid-career academic.

I didn't think it was ageist at all, not even by implication. Simply a series of questions about milestones and expectations.

Seeking Solace said...

I guess the bottom line is that it is all about perception and what life experience we bring to the table. On the one hand, some perceive the comment as being ageist, while others see it as merely a question of qualifications. Meaning, as Anastasia stated, whether the person has the proper qualifications.

I can see both sides of the discussion. But, I feel somewhat stronger toward the former point of view, based on my own experience.

righteous babe said...

Thanks. I am so sick of being put against for my looks (can I see some ID?) as well as my age. I work my @$$ off at our college and what for? Even one of my student evaluations read "She's young but seems to still know her stuff." gee thanks.

I'd write more but I'm sick. Nap time. I'll bitch later.

New Kid on the Hallway said...

Thanks for weighing in on this, seeking solace - these discussions are giving me a lot to think about! I am rethinking some of the assumptions behind what I posted. I think they really were about qualifications, and my question really was, can someone realistically earn those qualifications by 36?, but it's good to hear how those assumptions sound to others.

Chaser said...

I obviously disagree, as I noted on my blog. While nobody needs to apologize for being ambitious, I thought the entire essay this person wrote demonstrated a wont of judgment--which need not reflect experience or age. It's hard to get back in the academic game when you've job-hopped out (as this woman has), and everybody in the academy has a self-mythologizing story of why they have to overcome something--everybody has one. Some are legit, some are not, and I'm dubious of hers, given how youth-obsessed US culture is.

"I'm held down 'cuz of affirmative action' is on the lips of every old white dude who didn't get the provost job he wanted, too. Mine? I didn't get the job at Ivy Uni because I'm fat and that doesn't fit their snooty self-image.

Or I just didn't get the job, because somebody else interviewed better that time out.

Good sense tells me: don't write petulant first-person columns to the CHE as an outraged fat PhD in urban studies who didn't get a job at Ivy last year, especially not a column that highlights the role of that blond hosebag who was especially snotty during my interview. If you go read her column...this woman all but comes out and tells us who she is. It's a small world, and you don't need that kind of banner attached to your wagon. Fight for what you want a different way, retire and THEN write about it if you want to impress me with your judgment and savvy.

Seeking Solace said...

Chaser: I read your post about this and I do agree with you. As I said in my comment, it seems that the writer does not have clean hands when it comes to her complaint.

Chaser said...

Well, obviously the comment set me off in other ways, too. If reverse age discrimination is such a problem, how do we explain all the PhDs who take up administrative positions as program directors or research directors on campus? Yes, these aren't academic positions, but they are leadership positions.

Mano said...

I really love this post. You make a lot of very good points, and your personal experience in a field different from mine adds an angle I'd not thought of.

My response to New Kid's post was more a curiosity about why some folks feel intimidated by younger scholars to begin with, and how we might rethink that response. I think this question is actually central to addressing the question New Kid posed (legitimately and thoughtfully!) about the 36-year-old's qualifications and history.