Academia: A Lush Environment for the Profusion of Jerks?

In certain sectors of society, jerks flourish and abound. One’s mind races all too easily and quickly to the political and religious sectors but, as Peter Schmidt notes in the most recent edition of The Chronicle, academia should not be so easily overlooked.[1] Schmidt reports on “Collegiality Assessment Matrix,” developed by Robert E. Cipriano (as Professor Emeritus at Southern Connecticut State University, he’s got some history with the subject), a test which supposedly determines whether a faculty member is a bully, jerk, or “an all-round pain in the neck.”

Cipriano’s assessment matrix, which purports to offer objective measurements for evaluating workplace behavior in the academy, consists of 10 statements about the behavior of the faculty member being evaluated. Respondents give an answer on a spectrum from 1 (“strongly disagree”) to 5 (“strongly agree”), ranking a faculty member’s collegiality in areas such as speech to colleagues, interaction with students, or respect for the administration (A8). With assessment matrix, Cipriano seeks to help faculty members and protect them from false accusations of noncollegiality by focusing on observable behaviors rather than on others’ perceptions of their personalities or aptitudes” (A8). One also suspects that Cipriano envisions the test having a broader range of utility than mere exoneration of professors falsely accused of jerkiness.

Not surprisingly, the test has received a mixed response. Miami Dade College used the matrix for a training workshop and found positive response among the faculty. Other institutions, however, like Western Kentucky found the test less useful because many humans suffer from the syndrome of wishful thinking. Harvard researcher Cathy A. Trower criticizes the assessment for “assigning numbers to subjective feelings, essentially” (A8). So while there does seem to be a near-universal desire for collegiality among faculty members, the Collegiality Assessment Matrix does not appear to be poised for near-universal acceptance any time soon.

My thoughts on the matter? My first reading of the article evoked a lot more laughter than it did “thoughts.” After the laughter subsided, however, several thoughts presented themselves to me. I’ll note them here, briefly. On the serious side of things, I find myself grateful for my colleagues and the healthy social environment we enjoy here at SEBTS. Scripture teaches that one’s love for God overflows directly into a love for fellow man. That movement from divine love to neighbor love is everywhere evident on our campus. Which is why I was able to laugh, rather than wince, my way through the article.

On the lighter side of things, I found myself hoping Schmidt would have spent more time discussing a proper definition of “the jerk.” It would have been helpful if he had told us that a “jerk” (US, slang, pejorative) is a person with irritating, unlikable, and even obnoxious character traits, typically including mean-spirited, self-centered, and socially-disagreeable behavior. (Synonmns include jerkhead, j-head, boor, buzzard, churl, scumbag, sleazeball, toad, varmint, and cotton-headed ninnymuggins.[2]) A jerkhead (my preferred term) is one who always feels entitled to do whatever egocentric thing he pleases, systematically and comprehensively, across a broad range of social interactions.

Further, it would have been helpful to have seen a treatment of the various species of jerkheads in the world (corporate jerkhead, political jerkhead, Hollywood jerkhead), which then narrows down into an in-depth treatment of the “academic jerkhead” as a unique manifestation of jerkiness. For example, he might have told us, for example, that academic jerks feel entitled to national recognition for their own inane research projects, and find it outrageous when scholars within and without their disciplines don’t cite them and cite them often. As a manifestation of their outrage, they regularly write scathing reviews of any recent literature which does not cite their own hair-splitting and irrelevant research. Given the teeming jerkhead ecosystem sprawling before us in American history and public life, a treatment of the academic jerkhead’s uniqueness would have been helpful.

Finally, it would have been delightfully appropriate for the author to have advised us on how to curtail such jerkhead profusion in American society generally and in academia specifically. This sort of analysis would necessarily include a treatment of jerkhead causation: do some social sectors produce jerkheads in higher numbers or with greater intensity relative to the general population than other sectors? Does any sub-group within academia (e.g. Ivy League schools) produce more jerkheads per capita than others? The analysis would, of course, also include pointers in jerkhead management, which is the dark art of refusing to allow jerkheads to destabilize a particular social environment.

In conclusion, I apologize to the reader for providing such a brief and superficial treatment of the present topic. I leave it to BtT readers to develop a more rich and profound analysis of jerkiness in the academic, corporate, religious, political, transportation, and entertainment sectors.


[1] Peter Schmidt, “Test for Collegiality” The Chronicle of Higher Education (June 21, 2013: A8–9)

[2] Those readers who do not recognize the term “cotton-headed ninnymuggins” possess a cultural IQ which does not reach the level necessary for interacting with this blogpost. My strong recommendation is for those readers to attend a viewing of Elf, starring Will Ferrell.

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