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September 23, 1987 - Image 24

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1987-09-23

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Tracking the
Faculty Stars
Are all those Very Important Professors really earning their keep?

tephen Jay Gould should be accustomed to celeb-
rity by now. He has hosted a public-television
series and appeared on the cover of NEWSWEEK,
and he retains a press agent to handle hundreds
of requests for interviews. But when two tourists
recently showed up in his cavernous office at
Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology, the
famous professor with the controversial theories about bio-
logical evolution was clearly rattled. "We just saw the muse-
um, "offered the middle-aged man. "We thought we'd finish
up by seeing you. "Gould chatted with
his fans for an impatient minute be-
fore hustling them to the door. "I'm
not on goddam display, "he sputtered
when the intruders had gone.
Before Jihan Sadat entered her
classroom at the University of South
Carolina at Columbia, a security team
would scour the lecture hallsearching
for bombs. Mrs. Sadat, by all ac-
counts, was a committed and engag-
ing teacher; she also was remarkably
well remunerated for teaching one
course a week over the three semesters
from spring 1985 through spring
1986. Responding to a freedom-of-in-
formation lawsuit in October 1986,
South Carolina revealed that it had L
paid the widow of Egyptian President
Anwar Sadat $212,000 in salary and Jehan
honorarium and incurred $113,000 in Distmguished V
related expenses. President James B.
Holderman justified this large ex-
penditure as the price of fame: "She Marketing fame Lec
helped the university achieve nation-
al recognition way beyond our capacity to reimburse her."
Jimmy Carter spreads himself like peanut butter over the.
Atlanta campus of Emory. Besides teaching classes in his-
tory, political science and the law, he has ventured into
theology ("I try to be as inspirational as possible"), popular
culture and medicine. As guest lecturer one day last spring in
Prof Kenneth Stein's course on modern Israel, the former
president presented a torrent of history, personal recollection
and public-policy proposals. His tone was sober, his insights

unique. The lecture might have been spellbinding, save for
one distraction: throughout the performance, a camera crew
from ABC's "20/20"swept up and down the aisles, flashing
lights and maneuvering forshots of Carter and his audience.
While most professors build their reputations in academic
journals, an appearance on "20/20" doesn't hurt. In a sense,
says David Blasingham, an assistant vice chancellor at
Washington University in St. Louis, faculty celebrities "be-
come, for some, the personification of the university, or even
of higher education." And while many
celebrities cringe at being mounted
like academic moose heads, the super-
stars have become too valuable in re-
cruiting and fund raising for universi-
ties not to put them on display. "The
reputationsofourfacultystarsputthe
university in the spotlight ... The im-
pact on philanthropy is undeniable,"
says Blasingham, whose school counts
constitutional scholar Lucius Barker
and economist Murray Weidenbaum
e among its heavyweights.
Academic celebrities are nothing
new to a handful of universities such
as Harvard or Columbia. But many
lesser-known institutions-some dis-
tinguished academically and some
not so-distinguished-find themselves
caught in the paradox of needing rec-
aadat- ognition to attract better professors
sting Profesor and needing better professors to ob-
tain greater fame. That helps explain
why South Carolina hired Sadat, and
uirer Sadat how she also landed overlapping ap-
pointments at American University
in Washington (spring 1985) and Radford University in
Virginia (academic year 1985-86). The same pressures apply
to the heads of individual academic departments. "They're
looking for recognition within their own university," says a
humanities professor at the University of California, Berke-
ley. "They tend to use the capture of a star as a way of
capturing credibility."
Often, however, the image builders come at inordinate
expense-financial, of course, but costly, too, in their host of
nonacademic commitments. A celebrity's salary might well

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8 NEWSWEEK ON CAMPUS

SEPTEMBER 1987 '

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