Why Do Some UW Professors Feel Voting Is Beneath Them?

One of my contacts at the University of Washington told me this weekend some of his colleagues won’t vote in next week’s election. I asked him why — after all, you expect intellectual types to be socially and politically engaged — and he said because once they’ve got theirs (tenure + fat salary) complacency sets in. In other words, human nature.

I’m not an academic, I’m a lawyer, which is an entirely different deal. We lawyers don’t squat on lofty perches; we sweep gutters for a living. What I’m saying is, I’m in touch with pragmatic reality, which puts me in better position than you to detect what might be creeping up on you behind your back.

As a career state employee, I never assumed my job was safe, because it wasn’t. State lawyers, whether they work for the attorney general or for state departments and agencies, don’t have tenure. They’re “exempt” which means they serve at pleasure, and to survive must ingratiate themselves to someone — politician, appointee, or bureaucrat — willing and able to protect them. Lawyers, given their unpopularity, need a lot of protecting. In my case, I was a decently good public servant, i.e. always worked hard, usually kept my mouth shut, and did most of what I was told to do; so I managed to navigate through a 25-year public service career without getting fired and needing to find another agency willing to employ me more than 3 or 4 times. (It took only 1 interview to land my first state job; but later in my career, I once went to 130 consecutive interviews before getting rehired; I wonder if that was because I’d been instrumental in getting 3 of my previous bosses sacked? That was public service, too; I did the agencies and citizenry a valuable favor by getting rid of them.)

You ivory tower types apparently believe the University will be there forever. After all, even a Republican-controlled legislature wouldn’t totally eviscerate the vaunted UW’s state funding, eventually leading to de facto (if not overt) privatization, am I right? Partisan zealots whose intellectual curiosity never progressed beyond a GED wouldn’t dare censor your textbooks or dictate what you can say in classrooms, like they do on Texas and Colorado school boards, no? And none of you lived through the red-baiting of university professors when the Canwell Committee swept through town; this happened too long ago for anyone to remember it, and nothing like that could ever happen again, am I not correct? Federal research funding will never dry up just because a political party controlling Congress (and which someday will occupy the White House again) has convinced itself and its followers that science is bunk and scientists are subverting our economy, is this not so? You’ve got your tenure and six-figure salary, so all is right with the world, and what could possibly go wrong inside your cozy little rookery?

Go ahead, sit on your sinecures, and tear up your absentee ballots when they come in the mail. You’re too important and busy to fill in ovals on a sheet of paper like some undergraduate (sniff) taking a standardized exam. Why should you care who gets elected, what governing philosophy runs everything that depends on public funding, or what policies get enacted; just let the chips fall where they may, eh?

Enjoy your quiet little world of ivy-covered isolation while it lasts. Roger Rabbit icon


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