From the personal archive of a Russianist, installment nineteen

On the mutual contempt of academics and business people

Having come to business in 1976 from the milieu of professional academics, I quickly became aware of the mutual contempt that characterized relations between the scholarly world and the business world. From the standpoint of the businessmen around me, the academics were not merely impractical hence useless, but pitiful. In my mind’s eye I can still see the expression of impatience on the face of Babcock & Wilcox’s Vice President, International Arthur Tendler when our chat at a business event hosted by IREX was interrupted by Ivo Lederer, a sometimes professor, sometimes administrator who at the time was on the fundraising team of IREX. To Tendler, Lederer was just one more beggar from the academic community.

For their part, when professors recommended to their graduate students to look for employment outside of university teaching given the very poor job market for junior faculty, they thought first about seeking a position in the government, meaning in intelligence, or in think tanks. Banking was acceptable, because it was assumed one would enter their research departments, not become a grubby peddler of banknotes. 

These professors could not believe that someone like me who had received prestigious fellowships would turn his back irrevocably on the university. In this connection I think of my accidental encounter with Fred Starr of the Kennan Institute in September 1979 in a hotel in downtown Tbilisi. I was accompanying my client Castle and Cooke to meetings with the republic’s agriculture ministry for visits to fruit farms. He was accompanying Harrison Salisbury to a writers’ conference. Fred could think of nothing better than to congratulate me on the recent publication of “my” 1,000 page book, a listing of Russian archival materials in U.S. collections to which I was for a brief time in 1975 a minor contributor.   

Or I recall my chat with Marshall Goldman in the cafe of the Hotel National in Moscow on 24 November 1977. He was just completing a stay of several months during which he delivered lectures at Moscow State University.  His only interest in me was to ask whether I would yet publish my dissertation as a book.  That question was related not to the great importance of my scientific discoveries but to the loss of the several thousand dollars investment in me of the Russian Research Center, of which he was associate director. At that point, nothing could have been further from my mind.

Or still more to the point, I think of the puzzled look on the face of Harvard law professor Harold Berman when he ran into me in an elevator of the Intourist Hotel at the very start of the annual gathering of the US-USSR Trade and Economic Council in Moscow in early December 1978, an expression which plainly said “and what are you doing here?” as if I were an intruder at their party. 

Berman knew me well enough having four years earlier on campus advised me on whether it paid for me to apply to the Law School now that history had run to ground. In a way, he was justified in his perplexity, because I would have had to wait another 20 years in university life to be of the rank and reputation meriting an invitation to such august company. Had he known that I would be invited two days later to the reception in the Kremlin to mark Leonid Brezhnev’s 73rd birthday, whereas he was not, he would have fainted dead away.

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2020

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