The usual depiction of a modern university professor is someone who is hardly paid anything, but spends all their time in research in an almost monastic fashion, trying to find the truth. They are seen as the most intelligent people, perhaps socially awkward, and aloof about modern society. People tend to think they are unimportant and their views so disconnected from reality, they don’t matter at all. However, the reality is that they are a very powerful class of people, here is why.
- A lot of people want their job. There are more recent PhD grads than at any time before, and more programs that offer doctorate-level diplomas than at any time before. There are a many and growing number of people who are graduating with advanced degrees competing for a fixed number of spots, meaning that actually getting to the rank of professor is very rare and as a result of many people wanting it, and few having it, it becomes very prestigious, and prestige has its own luster.
- More college students are under their influence. Since college education was first seen as a path to greater prosperity by the US government who offer subsidy for student loans, and since it became a prerequisite for many jobs to have a bachelor degree, more college students are taking classes taught by professors and falling under their influence than at any time before. It is hard to say that the professor’s views do not matter, or that they are irrelevant because, according to BLS, 68% of high school students go on to college. That is a huge percentage of people from the younger generations who are in contact with professors, of course their opinions matter.
- They are often in the press. As a result of not only influencing students they teach, and having a coveted job, they are viewed as being intelligent and so people count on them for advice. Additionally, they are paid to do research. The research is often fodder for new articles in the various media sources. The media is widely consumed and affects people’s attitudes. By providing research that gets used by the media, the media rely on the professors but via a trickle-down effect, consumers of the media are influenced by the research. Examples include sociological studies that make the news and create uproar. In fact, the more uproar caused, the more press attention a professor receives which can be a good thing for that professor.
- They spend government money. Professors apply for grants from federal money to do research. As a result, they, and the universities, have control over a not insignificant amount of money. Schools and professors will compete with each other to get this money, and seeking press attention is a good way to prove oneself as being a researcher so one might be able to receive the research grant.
- They have strong, powerful social circles. As a result of the various people they come in to contact with, they have incredible social circles. Professors who advise politicians are acquainted with very powerful people in political circles. Professors who work with the press know powerful figures in the media. Professors who work with science or technology have keen insight in to recent advancements and technological progress or lack thereof. David Cheriton is a billionaire who invested in his students to create Google. (He may be benevolent, especially because he donated money to assist graduate students who are essentially slaves to academia.) Students themselves who ultimately go on to do great things are within the professor’s social circle. Not only are the vast numbers of students they meet beneficial for them, but connections formed in government and business enhance their power and influence.
- They can change university policy. Their political influence within their own university enhances their power, for example, if they wish to exclude students from things who they do not agree with.
- Their research can be used to create businesses they own. Many professors do research that is paid for by the public that ultimately is used to aid their own business endeavours. There are many examples of this, Voltage Security is one that comes to mind but there are many more well known examples.
So ultimately, professors are very powerful people, not weak, absent-minded types who are irrelevant to life for people not in academia.