Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Irrational Service, Rational Shirking

Phil Arena posted a series tweets this morning pointing out some contradictions between people's theories and their behavior:

Phil goes on to suggest that most academics are rational shirkers/voters regardless of their theoretical dispositions.  I do not find this surprising.  In the great battles of the 1990s when Phil was just a wee lad, dreaming of formal models, there was a fun (from the standpoint of an outside observer) conflict between the rational choice crowd focused on utility maximization and an unholy alliance of Realists, feminists, post-modernists and others who only shared one interest--maximizing utility (gaining control of the APSR and other publications).  And the rat choicers felt guilty enough to give in a bit.   This old listserv post put it best:
The proponents of value-free social science are compelled by their sense of 
justice and fair play to hand over significant power to those who reject 
value-free social science.  At the same time, those who argue for a more 
straightforwardly normative approach to the discipline make common cause 
with their mortal ideological enemies in order for both sides to pursue 
the blatantly self-interested goals of tenure, promotion, wealth, and fame.
So, just as Stephen Krasner found that hypocrisy is not new to IR/sovereignty, political scientists often behave in ways that contradict their models.  This perestroika debate was at the level of the profession, but Phil's observation is more at the departmental level--that most folks tend to shirk, vote strategically and so on.  Actually, yes on the former, no on the latter.  We suck as political animals, so most of us do not count votes ahead of time, most of us do not lobby all that effectively, and most of us suck as administrators.

On the shirking thing, well, every department has folks who are reliable and those who are not.  Those that are reliable end up doing far more than their share of service.  Those who are unreliable find themselves doing less service since they are .... unreliable.  They may not show up at meetings, they may not do the paperwork, they may not read what they are supposed to read, they may not be appropriate advisors for about half of the human population, whatever.  And this may be a rational strategy to avoid work or it may just be that being unreliable is in their nature.  The challenge for any academic leader--chair, director, dean, whatever--is to find ways to reward the reliable so that shirking is less attractive.

I tried to be unreliable, but I sucked at it.  During the dark days before the move, I tried to avoid doing anything that would help out those that did me wrong.  Yet, I still ended up serving on more dissertation committees and I still met the service obligations of the profession.  Now that I am in a new place, I have re-set, saying yes to nearly everything.  Perhaps by over-doing it, I will miss deadlines and under-perform, leading to a reputation for unreliability--if only I was so strategic.

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