I want to touch on this post by the Wirtschaftsphilosoph who is a tenured German professor, who blogs under a pseudonym and who is now afraid of being exposed (full disclosure: I know the identity of the Wirtschaftsphilosoph, but of course I am not going to divulge it). He (I am using a generic masculine) is now thinking of stopping his blog for fear of being exposed.
The other potentially important piece of information is that he has been very vocal against the Euro and has started advocating (I believe as a new member) the new Anti-Euro party in Germany, AfD.
I can only speculate about the true reasons why he fears being exposed with his true identity so much (and maybe it is not fear at all, just a matter of fun or principle or whatever). But I did want to make a few points as to why I can see why he might be ”afraid”, which the commentators to the aforementioned post do not seem to really understand (he is after all a German civil cervant, cannot be fired, so what is there to be afraid of?).
Well, a lot. Suppose this colleague ever wanted to move. In Germany, just like in the US, the way to really increase your life time income in academia is to generate outside offers. Now suppose the strong, public anti-Euro stance of this colleague becomes known. How many university presidents, who all have to deal with local municipial authorities, will be thrilled to hire this guy, given the Euro consensus sauce that we have in Germany? Very concretely, in Aachen the president of the RWTH is part of the Karls Prize Committee, a prize that recognizes “European achievements” – is it really crazy to think that this guy might think that Aachen would not make him an offer (independently of his scientific achievements). And just like Aachen, a lot of cities in Germany have similar prizes, and the president of the local university is usually part of this local club. So, not being able to move is, depending on your age, a potentially huge permanent income cut, we are talking thousands, ten thousands of Euro in life time consumption. And even if you don’t want to move and are happy where you are, your are still dependent in your every day work on many things from the university administration that are not contracted and cannot be taken to court, if push comes to shove. So, true, university professors enjoy a great (de jure) independence, it is a phantastic job (the best job in the world), but they also have a lot to lose and they can be hurt big time in doing what they love doing. And then it comes down to: is it really worth speaking up? Why should I do this to myself?
So, again, I have no way of knowing whether this what is behind the Wirtschaftsphilosoph’s hesitance, but it may be. I also want to point out that this is not meant as a defence or promotion of the AfD on my part, which I like on the one hand, because it formulates one coherent scenario how to deal with the crisis as a policy platform and thus completes the choice space: on the other hand, I don’t like it, because there are other coherent ways to deal with the crisis which do not involve abolishing the Euro, and because I don’t like professors using their academic credentials to promote policy (rather than just discussing consequences of policies) – the German general public unfortunately is not very well versed in the fine positive-normative distinction, so subtle abuse of professorial soft power is an issue here (not even speaking of the fact that professors are paid to do research, not politics). But that is a side issue…
I have of course chosen a different route and made my identity known. Sometimes I think this was juvenile naivete and that I hurt myself with this blog or, more generally, with being opinionated and voicing this opinion publicly (even during the hiring process in Aachen, which otherwise has been absolutely professional and an overall pleasant experience, at some point I had to dispell rumors that I was a methodological and political ideologue). I know for a fact that it has hurt my chances of being made offers on multiple occasions (maybe some day more on this). And sometimes I do ask myself, just like the Wirtschaftsphilosoph: Why do I do this? Why not stop and shut up? And maybe I will… It would make life easier in some dimensions.
PS: this morning I read this article that the UN (yes, the same organization that gives dictators the same vote as Germany) has criticized Germany and put forth an ultimatum for not dealing with Thilo Sarrazin – again, I think his theses are basically crap, but I would still defend his right to say them. How anyone can think that there are no costs of speaking freely in this day and age (just like this ZEIT author, who thinks that all is well with freedom of speech in Germany and ridicules everybody who thinks otherwise), is beyond me.
Update: to make this absolutely clear. The example with the RWTH Aachen president was meant as a complete hypothetical. I have no way of knowing how he would actually handle such a case (I assume he would handle it utterly professionally, as I have experienced him so far), the point was merely that people might feel a general climate, justified or unjustified, where they are afraid to speak up. Aachen and the Karl’s Prize just made a good concrete, again HYPOTHETICAL example to make a more general point.
Update 2: I feel this post is too long for what it wants to say. Let me try it differently and more succinctly: to judge risks for tenured professors or civil servants resulting from them speaking up you have to gauge the risk for their expected life time income, not for their current income, which is mostly nil, the risk that is…