Bullish Q&A: Help! I’m Locked in an Abusive Academic Job


Have you heard the phrase “golden handcuffs”? I am a tenured professor who’s locked into an abusive, dysfunctional system with frozen pay. I still love teaching and, sometimes, research. Yet I yearn to be one of the “rule-breakers, risk takers, and skate-through-life bros who don’t get trapped in petty systems” you describe in your columns. Is it possible to take charge of my income potential (and dignity) without giving up the basic security of my job? I’m a fan and welcome your advice!

Yes, absolutely.

The whole point of tenure is pretty much that you can’t be fired for your ideas. You have academic freedom. You can court controversy. Are you using this freedom? Wouldn’t that be invigorating? How about lending your “Dr.” title to a cause that would benefit from your voice? Go on a social justice crusade. How about prison reform? Just throwing that out there.

As for your income, your contract may indeed have some (many) stipulations about outside work. However, there are about a million internet businesses you can run semi-anonymously. Look at all the semi-scammy courses on Udemy, for instance. If you decide to violate the rules in a way that isn’t hurting anybody, find out in advance what would happen if you were caught. It’s quite possible that the university would just … ask you to stop. Or would they suspend you? Find out.

You are feeling stifled, so going undercover as an anonymous internet entrepreneur may provide the frisson of excitement you need. (”Golden Handcuffs: Sex Tips from a PhD – in 6 Easy Lessons” <— SEE WHAT I DID THERE?)

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