Is Grad School a Cult?

11 January 2010 at 3:17 pm 2 comments

| Peter Klein |

A Chronicle piece by a pseudonymous English professor, urging prospective humanities PhD students to consider alternative career paths, generated some buzz last week. I prefer the same writer’s 2004 article, “Is Graduate School a Cult?” (via Vedran Vuk). “For all its claims to the contrary, graduate education does not seem to enhance the mental freedom of many students, some of whom are psychologically damaged by the experience.” The writer focuses on the humanities, but the arguments could just as well apply to the social sciences. Check out this list of cult characteristics, and see if they sound familiar:

  • Behavior control: “major time commitment required for indoctrination sessions and group rituals”; “need to ask permission for major decisions”; “need to report thoughts, feelings, and activities to superiors.”
  • Information control: “access to non-cult sources of information minimized or discouraged (keep members so busy they don’t have time to think)” and “extensive use of cult-generated information (newsletters, magazines, journals, audio tapes, videotapes, etc.).”
  • Thought control: “need to internalize the group’s doctrine as ‘Truth’ (black and white thinking; good vs. evil; us vs. them, inside vs. outside)” and “no critical questions about leader, doctrine, or policy seen as legitimate.”
  • Emotional control: “excessive use of guilt (identity guilt: not living up to your potential; social guilt; historical guilt)”; “phobia indoctrination (irrational fears of ever leaving the group or even questioning the leader’s authority; cannot visualize a positive, fulfilled future without being in the group; shunning of leave takers; never a legitimate reason to leave”; and “from the group’s perspective, people who leave are ‘weak,’ ‘undisciplined.'”

Comments are open for everyone except University of Missouri graduate students.

Entry filed under: - Klein -, Education.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Michael Marotta  |  12 January 2010 at 8:27 am

    That’s cute. Some programs must be more intensive than others. Also, my two hobbies are numismatics and aviation. They have different ethics, but data from both could be forced to fit the curve of cult. Perhaps all groups are cults, cults being more extreme groups, all collections being found along some continuum. I also socialize with libertarians and Objectivists and we have the old joke about the anarchists convention and the cult of individualism. So, there is all of that.

    On the other hand, I carry with me Klein and Stern’s “How Politically Diverse are the Social Sciences.” Two generations ago, a history or sociology department would have a “house Marxist.” Today, there are no “house conservatives.” While I found very little correlation between the Cult Model and my experience at Eastern Michigan University, I must acknowledge that we suffer from conformity and conformist behavior.

    From my point of view, the Marxists offer a voice of reason and reality to counter post-modernism. (The Sokal Affair is the paradigm for that.) But that still leaves unaddressed the very many egregious failings of Marxism (now called the “critical” schools, though what they criticize is limited).

    Pursing a master’s in social science, my bachelor’s is in criminology. We make all kinds of excuses for street crime, but blame the rich for their own errors. We also blame the rich for the mistakes of the poor. We barrage the wealthy with condemnation and never consider the consequences to them of that, as if they deserve our rebuke.

    Intelligent studies of wealth are limited to pop books like “The Millionaire Next Door” and “Rich Dad, Poor Dad.” Those books are a kind of soft porn for the sociology of markets because the art censors of sociology do not allow nakedness in the academy, i.e,, we cannot admit that we have bodies, i.e., we cannot admit that wealth is good.

  • 2. jck  |  12 January 2010 at 9:21 pm

    Well, he thinks so:

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