How to run an academic department

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Paul Krugman, when visiting our School a year ago, talked with some exasperation about the years he spent as chairman of the department of economics at Princeton. ‘It was like herding cats,’ he said invoking a wonderful image. ‘It was impossible to make my colleagues do anything I said.’

This is of course exactly as it should be. Academics must be cats, independent-minded and uncontrollable. They should all go off in their own respective directions looking for adventure or trouble. This is why they are academics rather than, say, accountants. Or differently put, the ones who are too easily controlled are rarely proper academics. They’ll never have an original thought in their lives and they’ll contribute nothing but boredom to what they take to be ‘the profession.’ ‘Thou shalt not do as the Dean pleases …’

The way to make cats do what you want is of course to open a big can of tuna fish in the middle of a large field. Smelling a good meal, they’ll all come running towards you.

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