Raising the Bar…..or Just the Microphone?

Should a TED talk be a required part of a faculty member’s tenure-application portfolio?  That’s the question stirring up controversy at Princeton University these days, following the decision of the school’s Tenure and Promotion Committee to deny tenure to Carsden Pik, an Assistant Professor of Physics. 

Pik’s publication record in prestigious scholarly journals is impressive, and in 2015 he was nominated for a Nobel Prize for his work demonstrating that black holes are actually dark grey.  However, these accomplishments were not sufficient, according to the Committee.  The decision letter sent to Pik, which he shared with the press, states that “student course evaluations were the only evidence you provided of your teaching ability.  The severe limitations of these measures have been extensively documented in the research literature.  A more valid indicator of your teaching performance would be videos of TED talks you have delivered.  Unfortunately, you have never been invited to present a TED talk.  If you are indeed the excellent instructor you claim to be, why have you never been invited to give a TED talk?  What’s wrong with you?  Virtually everyone in academia, including custodial staff, has given a TED talk in the past few years.  Why haven’t you?  We ask again:  What’s wrong with you?”

In response, Dr. Pik maintains it is not his fault that the color of black holes is not a topic sexy enough for a TED talk.  “I guarantee you, if I did a show-and-tell highlighting kittens playing with yarn, those clowns at TED would erect a statue in my honor.  Princeton’s T & P Committee can just go bite me!”

Princeton’s President, Christopher Eisgruber, has chosen not to reverse the Committee’s decision. “I feel bad for Professor Pik, but he’s his own worst enemy.  For the love of God, man, stop hiking your corduroy pants up to your nipples and wearing ketchup-stained shirts to work every day.  Maybe then you would get a nod from the folks at TED.”