Academic Inbreeding

There was an interesting conversation on Houston’s Sports Talk 790 yesterday. The host discussed problems facing the NFL’s professional team, the Indianapolis Colts; if you do not follow pro football or pro football talk, here is the basic break down. The Colts have been one of the most dominant teams over the past ten years. Furthermore, one consistent reason for said success is that of its star quarterback, Peyton Manning. Though Manning has been brilliant throughout his pro career, he has struggled some of late; in his defense, Manning has been operating with a patchwork of players around him due to injuries. I say all of this to draw my thoughts back on what the sports talk host alluded to. When a team promotes from within, often there is a vacuum in which the new leader is unable to fill. For the Colts, they promoted Jim Caldwell, a coach I think much of and one I greatly respect; however, he has had it easy until now. He inherited a team from Tony Dungy; a team with many of the same parts in place. The problem is too much continuity. He has faced a wall this season and has not found a way to deal with its challenge. Caldwell is a religious man, one who speaks softly and carries himself in the same light as that of his predecessor.

However, the challenge Caldwell faces with the Colts this season is a reason why top-tier institutions avoid inbreeding. In academic circles, the notion of academic inbreeding has a negative connotation. It promotes a sense of safety and an element of conservatism. It follows the law in that what is best is what is known. Any thought of deviating from conservative decisions is irresponsible. But, conservative thinking in hiring also promotes cultural and intellectual stagnation. Thus, many top-tier institutions believe that it is best to hire from outside rather than promote from within. Often times, promoting from within stifles growth and curiosity; it does not allow a leader to truly be a leader; he/she tends to fall back on the same patterns that already exists. My current school has started its search for a new academic leader. We are in the process of conducting a national search via a search firm, which is the responsible thing to do. This, in my opinion, is how top-tier schools function.

As for Harding University, it is no longer a secret that its current president will be stepping down very soon; I would like to encourage its board to break away from its third tier mentality in promoting from within. Please do not hire a current faculty member. I am sure there are a number of great candidates, but will they offer the type of political and intellectual diversity lacking at Harding?

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4 thoughts on “Academic Inbreeding

  1. Jim Caldwell helped the Colts get to a Super Bowl last year, going undefeated until intentionally benching starters to rest them.

    The Cowboys fired Wade Phillips mid-season this year and promoted offensive coordinator Jason Garrett. Dallas has been 3-1 since, and the one loss was because Roy Williams had a late-game fumble.

    The Vikings fired Brad Childress mid-season this year and promoted defensive coordinator Leslie Frasier. The Vikings won their next two games.

    The Redskins fired Jim Zorn last year. Zorn was an assistant coach who was promoted to head coach, but did not have the instant success the fans/owner wanted. Enter Mike Shanahan, two-time Super Bowl winning coach. With an upgrade at quarterback, Shanahan has done little to improve the Redskin’s fortunes while alienating both the quarterback and the highest-paid defensive player on the team.

    Bill Walsh was an assistant with the Cincinnati Bengals for quite a few years. Despite being well-respected and known for being an innovator on offense, the Bengals passed on hiring him for head coach. Frustrated, Walsh took his services to the 49ers…and proceeded to win three Super Bowls—two of them against the Bengals.

    I’m not sure it matters so much WHERE you get the right person…just that you find the right person. Also…does the balance of ideology go both ways? Most major institutions of learning have gone very liberal to where conservative teachers get the stiff arm.

  2. MattS, mid-season changes do not count; they have little choice. Now, I think such changes should have be made at then end. Garret is different; he was brought in years ago to be the man. As for conservatives and stiff arm — I need proof. I doubt that.

  3. Excellent post. I am a believer of hiring from within, only if doing so will lead to changes for the better. Otherwise, the infusion of proverbial new blood from is the best way to promote change.

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