Seventy-two-year-old Tim Hunt, the English Nobel Prize-winner, was forced to resign a professorship after some public comments. This has gotten a lot of press due to the number of people who enjoy thinking of themselves as smarter than a Nobel laureate. Let’s benchmark Hunt’s career-ending statement against Kleiner Perkins’s experience employing Ellen Pao:
Tim Hunt Ellen Pao at KP Let me tell you about my trouble with girls … three things happen when they are in the lab You fall in love with them Married partner wants to have sex with her they fall in love with you She wants to have sex with married partner, assuming that he will leave current wife and children. when you criticise them, they cry When you criticize her, she goes to court for “$16M. Shake that pu$$y!” (reader comment on February 2015 post, though it was later reported that Ellen Pao was seeking an additional $160 million in punitive damages)
Would it be fair to say that Kleiner Perkins incurred roughly $10 million in legal fees and a lot of aggravation to confirm Hunt’s hypothesis, at least with respect to this particular “girl in the lab.”?
[Update on the Ellen Pao case: the unsuccessful plaintiff now seeks $2.7 million to cover some of her legal fees and costs (cnet) in exchange for waiving her appeal rights against Kleiner, which presumably already incurred at least $10 million in legal fees and expenses. Coincidentally this is the amount that Pao’s husband owes in legal fees for one of his lawsuits and also the amount that the IRS is trying to get out of him (link from post about the total litigation generated by the Pao-Fletcher team). Will she get her fees paid? “You get your fees paid if you’re a female family court plaintiff,” said one litigator, “but having a vagina doesn’t get you a free lawsuit in other venues.” (see previous post about how Ellen Pao would have fared in family court)]
More productively, the Hunt case provides some guidance for universities struggling with how to get rid of old tenured faculty. The original concept of tenure was paired with a mandatory retirement age, e.g., of 65. Such age-based mandatory retirement is now prohibited by federal law and schools have discovered that it is not rational for highly paid and unproductive professors to retire. Being on campus is like being at a lively cocktail party. Why trade that to sit home alone?
Tenure doesn’t mean job security, however. A friend who is a physics professor at UC Berkeley points out that he “can be fired for any reason, except incompetence.”
A lot of older professors hold beliefs that aren’t in sync with current political dogma. People who were “liberal” in the 1970s would be called “reactionary” today. At Harvard College, 96 percent of professors support Democrats (Crimson). It should be easy to winnow out a lot of older professors simply by exposing their failure to keep pace with evolving concepts of what it means to be “liberal” or “Democrat.” Get out a video camera and ask a series of carefully crafted questions:
- Can you list five ways in which Caitlyn Jenner is an important positive example for America’s young people?
- Do you think that child support payments following a one-night sexual encounter should be larger than the after-tax income from going to college and working? (or indeed, your own paycheck from the university?)
- Why was Bobby Jindal wrong when he said “we cannot measure success [of Obamacare and other programs] by how many people are dependent on government.”?
Eventually one of these oldsters will probably say something sufficient to justify termination on the basis of creating a hostile environment, etc.
- “Women in Science” — why women can probably find better jobs than replacing Tim Hunt