In a rumination on the “Tiger mom” phenomenon, Andrew Gelman suggests:
…Back when I taught at Berkeley and it was considered the #1 statistics department, a lot of my tenured colleagues seemed to have the attitude that their highest achievement in live was becoming a Berkeley statistics professor. Some of them spent decades doing mediocre work, but it didn’t seem to matter to them. After all, they were Tenured at Berkeley. Now, I’m not saying Chua is like that–in writing this book, she’s certainly not coasting on her academic reputation–but I do think it’s natural for someone in her position to define her success based on where she stands in the academic pecking order (and, for that matter, a best-selling popular book will help here too) rather than on her accomplishments for their own sake.
That is an unfortunate, and frankly, scary side effect of the way meritocracy sometimes works. Some people fixate more on the proxy measures than the underlying variable which it is intended to measure. I immediately recall two close friends who were going to graduate school M.I.T. and Harvard at the same time, and by an unfortunate coincidence they made the same complaints about their advisors: that once these academics had reached their ultimate goal, they lost all sense of purpose, and simply decided to glide along after tenure. Status, not substantive contribution, turned out to be their ultimate motivation (one of my friends complained that his advisor had transformed himself into an extremely devoted family man after his reputation had reached its maximal value and there was no status return on labor investment!). No one could take away their positions as tenured faculty at M.I.T. and Harvard, and that was enough.
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