Although relatively new to the academy, I’ve already had numerous conversations with fellow prawfs and profs about the high percentage of academics who have an academic parent. I myself am doubly blessed: my father taught English at Georgetown University for over 25 years. My mother worked at NIH during my early childhood years, but she later taught at the University of Maryland. Has anyone else noticed this phenomenon of professors begetting professors?
Accepting the anecdotal as representative, so what? Over at Prawfsblawg, Bill Araiza stirred up a little controversy by raising the specter of socio-economic class playing a role in the making of a prawf. (For a socio-economic look at college admissions from a fellow faculty-brat, see here.) Do ivory towers class barriers make? (or research agendas a cage?—sorry, couldn’t resist, child of English professor, see above). The socio-economic claim actually has two parts: 1) economic: certain types of people have more money/time to pursue scholarly work; and 2) socio: this is a pretty rarefied world, and some of its demands can be confusing and scary to the uninitiated, even if they are moneyed.
The economic claim seems pretty uncontroversial, simply as a descriptive matter. If you have 3 children and/or your mother is sick and needs caretaking, you may not be able to take time out to write or take 5 years “off” to get a Ph.D. The “socio”-claim resonates with me, as well. I remember being intimidated during my first days of law school by my many classmates who were children of lawyers and judges. They already seemed familiar with this strange new world, with its summary judgments and dicta and holdings. Conversely, I feel fairly comfortable in the world of academic discourse, and I think I have my parents to thank for that.
These observations do not mean that we need to let the overworked, underpaid, non-faculty-brat hordes pour into the academy, or that we have lower standards for them. They do raise some questions for me, though. 1) Are professors creating their own academic class and becoming increasingly out of touch with “regular folks”? 2) A variant of the old nature/nurture debate: Did my parents pass on some sort of “academic” (“bookish”? “nerdy”?) gene? Or was it because I spent so much of my childhood on Georgetown’s campus that I developed such an affinity for old stone buildings and grassy quads? 3) Is this no big deal? Children tend to follow their parents’ career paths (look at all the second and third generation doctors, lawyers, and military men and women out there), and academia is just the family business.
No matter what the reason, a smile always creeps across my face when I set foot on a campus, any campus. It feels like home.
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