The Chronicle of Higher Education
26 May 2000
Page A26


Physicist Examines 'the Soul-Battering System' That Envelops Professionals, Including Academics


STEAL THIS BOOK: Jeff Schmidt did. "This book is stolen," the Physics Today magazine editor declares at the beginning of his new work, which he wrote on the job when his bosses weren't looking. "Written on stolen time, that is."

Mr. Schmidt acknowledges that at first glance, his book could also be seen as an exercise in bait-and-switch. With the title, Disciplined Minds, in bold letters on the spine, and the category "Careers" stamped on the back cover, the book will no doubt attract the attention of hard-working professionals eager for an edge over their competitors -- we mean, colleagues.

But Mr. Schmidt's subtitle -- A Critical Look at Salaried Professionals and the Soul-Battering System That Shapes Their Lives -- tells a different tale.

He envisions the readers of Disciplined Minds (Rowman & Littlefield) not as ladder-climbing careerists, but as "dissatisfied professionals and disillusioned graduate students -- the majority."

Maybe you can identify. Mr. Schmidt believes that most people enter the work world or graduate school with the belief that their labor will be of social value. More often, they find that it's of only economic value -- and not primarily to them. The hierarchies of professionalism leave them alone on their ladders, afraid to make a change.

If that sounds bleak, he has the solution. After examining the worlds of work and education with an eye for the political, he concludes with "Now or Never," a 33-point manifesto for changing the world, or at least your office.

It's not rocket science, says Mr. Schmidt, who earned his Ph.D. from the University of California at Irvine. Form a union, fight elitism, and "undermine management's information advantage."

Sound like hard work? You're already doing it. For laborers in academe, Mr. Schmidt recommends reading "the weekly intelligence report for university bosses," The Chronicle of Higher Education.