Tenure Quote

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at RCI.RUTGERS.EDU
Fri Feb 4 18:00:31 UTC 2005

On Fri, 4 Feb 2005 08:09:35 -0600, Patti J. Kurtz <kurtpatt4 at NETSCAPE.NET>

>A bit off topic, but we do talk about quotations here..
>Does anyone know the full text and/or who said it when, of the quote
>that says something like this:  "In higher education, we only get all
>worked up about tenure (or something like that) because it means so little"
>That's a very bad paraphrase of it, but the gist of the quote is that
>things that college profs get all wound up about are things which in the
>scheme of things, don't make a lot of difference.
>Sorry for the vagueness.  I tried searching for quotes on tenure and
>came up with nothing that worked.

This sounds like a variation of the old quote, "The politics of the
university are so intense because the stakes are so low."  Barry Popik has
discussed this quote here before:

The quote gets attributed to many sources, but the originator was
apparently Wallace S. Sayre, professor of political science at Columbia.
The earliest attribution available on JSTOR is from _PS_ (Autumn 1977), p.
511, in a letter to the editor from Sayre's collaborator Herbert Kaufman.
Kaufman was correcting the attribution given in a recent _New Republic_
editorial (which said it was from Kissinger). According to Kaufman, this
is one of "Sayre's Laws", and "a more general statement of it appeared,
correctly  attributed, in Charles Issawi, _Issawi's Laws of Social Motion_
(Hawthorn, 1973), p. 178."  Kaufman said that this particular "Sayre's
Law" had been around for decades and that he himself had heard it directly
from Sayre a quarter century earlier.

Fred Shapiro turned up Issawi's formulation of Sayre's Law: "In any
dispute the intensity of feeling is inversely proportional to the value of
the stakes at issue -- that is why academic politics are so bitter." See:

Another one of Sayre's Laws is recorded on Barry Popik's website: "The
mayors of New York come from nowhere and go nowhere."

--Ben Zimmer

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