It is said that once you have spent some time in prison, your modes of thinking become framed by the institution. What happens within the walls is vitally important; everyone’s concerns are your concerns; if you get involved, then you can make a difference for the other inmates. Institutionalised behaviour, it is called.

I’ve been pondering these matters since a fascinating conversation a few nights ago. A couple of people, overburdened by administrative responsibilities, castigated me for well over a decade of avoiding the weight of administration and the hurly-burly of institutional politics. Various phrases were tossed about: it’s your duty; everyone must take a turn; you can wield power for younger scholars; you can foster your own discipline. They were particularly vocal when I mentioned that I had turned down an offer to be nominated for the College of Experts at the Australian Research Council. Why not? I was asked. Then you can make sure that we get grants.

I will leave aside the point that those making such observations are paid way more than I am, up to three times as much, and that they have permanent positions. What interests me more are the assumptions that lie behind such comments:

1. One is committed to the institution.

2. That one wishes one’s discipline and thereby institution to prosper and outdo competitors.

3. Or, if pissed off by aforesaid institution, one is committed one’s colleagues and/or students (the institution has you by the tender parts there)

4. One can change the institution.

5. By doing so one can change the world.

6. One does not piss off everyone who expects much (positions, grants, money, etc) from one’s elevation, and then finds that nothing is forthcoming.

The catch of course is that all of the above do not apply when you have – as a colleague puts it – only two toes on the diving board.