Monday, June 02, 2014
Sociology of Academics: Part 8: The Scrooge Factor
On average academics are a cheap, miserly lot but I want to be careful. Many are not cheap at all. Instead they just have to deal with the reality that they are not earning much of a salary. On the other hand, here is an example of cheapness. I am at a restaurant -- a fairly high end one -- and a colleague orders. Then he is asked if he wants soup or salad which comes with the meal or if he would like a Cesar salad for $1.00 more. He pondered this for awhile and asks "May I have the regular salad with Cesar salad dressing but not pay the $1." Yes, I am not kidding.
It's not about the money for most; it's about the deal. This should not be surprising. For many of these folks, life is a continuous negotiation -- am I teaching the fewest number of hours, am I grading the least number of papers, did someone else get a new computer, etc.
But nothing comes close to travel in terms of cheapness. Somehow traveling on someone else's dime is the holy grail, the creme de la creme, the quest to end all quests. And it does not seem to matter what the destination is. Professors will go anywhere if it is paid for. I feel confident that you could hand many a round trip ticket [from my point of view, one way would be better] and not say where is to and they would snap it up. For some, a lifetime of vacations turns on getting the best deal, not going anywhere in particular. I have heard stories of colleagues who insisted the expenses of their entire families should be paid for. Not kidding. Of course, they gobble up the frequent flier miles and make sure the single room rate is the same as the double room rate. Oh, and can we get 5 roll away beds in that room?
Sometimes I think it must be a status thing. If someone else is paying to have you go somewhere you must be important. In a sense it's not cheapness at all. It's all part of the play that they both perform and watch. No one cares about them except people who are like them. My pal who insists on not being identified calls it the terrarium effect. Their entire existence is inside a bubble of equally unimportant people.
BTW, do you want chicken or shrimp with that salad?