The Academy’s Fatal Addiction

Academia. Is. Dying.

And we’re all watching helplessly, as though its malady is like a case of Alzheimer’s, and what-is-self-harmthere’s nothing we can do but watch it deteriorate, wait until it forgets us, and welcome death as nothing other than a release from pain and grief.

It is dying because it is at war with itself, within itself. But it’s really not like Alzheimer’s at all. It’s more like addiction. The continual, compulsive engagement in an action that feels like a release from pain in the short term but always only results in self-harm and greater deterioration.

Look at the stages:

Initial Use:

Faced with lower enrollments, we realize that cutting faculty and cutting pay are the two quickest ways to slash millions from a budget.


Faculty cuts are overused as a strategy, to the degree that the institutional mission is harmed.


The institution begins to find ways to “cope” with the cuts. We all take on more responsibility to fill the gaps and keep programs viable. we find ways to justify our departments and jobs for the time being, to manage with fewer resources, etc. Thus the institution develops a certain tolerance to the substance.


Because the substance is reducing the institution’s overall ability to function, enrollments decrease further, we have less to offer, and financial crises begin to pop up quite regularly, every 2-3 years. Because we’ve developed a tolerance for dealing with cuts through the mechanisms listed above, we see more cuts as the only viable solution. We form “working groups” and engage in processes under euphemistic titles like “prioritization,” telling ourselves that maybe this round can be our last. Perhaps, just perhaps, we can downsize to a point of homeostasis. And we forget that homeostasis is impossible when one is continually cutting pieces off of the organism.


The institution finds it can no longer live at all without the substance. Following the usual pattern of addiction, the institution then begins:

  • Using more of the substance than originally planned
  • Finding itself unable to stop using the substance
  • Experiencing relationship problems because of the substance abuse
  • Reducing its engagement in activities that give it purpose and meaning
  • Continuing to use the substance despite negative health effects
  • Experiencing fear that stopping the abuse will lead to withdrawal and death.


The pain and trauma of both addiction and fear of withdrawal take their toll; the institution cannot help returning to the one substance it knows provides even momentary relief.

The good news?

While Alzheimer’s is not treatable, addiction is.



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