Back in 2013 I did a series of articles on the MacArthur Fellows Program (collected as The Genius Chronicles) arguing that the Academy of Big Mac (aka the MacArthur Foundation) was copping out by giving the majority of its awards to people who don’t really need them because they had secure employment at prestigious institutions. If they wanted to be true to their original mandate, to seek out those not normally graced by the award fairies, they should avoid those institutions entirely. But they don’t listen. How could they? They’ve got to feed the vanity of the elite institutions on which they depend for advice, personnel, and approval.
Back in 1992 Anne Matthews wrote a full-dress review of the program for The New York Times Magazine, “The MacArthur Truffle Hunt,” in which she observed: “Officials at other foundations note the MacArthur fellows program has never really decided if its job is to reward creativity or to stimulate it, if it wants to be an American Nobel Prize or a fairy godmother to talents unappreciated by mainstream society.” Their solution seems to have been to aim for the Nobels while appearing to be a fairy godmother. So they favor those firmly entrenched in elite institutions, spawning ground for Nobels, but who have not yet reached the highest levels in those institutions, though some of them are pretty high indeed, with named professorships.
They’ve just announced their class of 2016 and they’re following true to form: 23 awards, of which 13 go to people who have lifetime employment at good universities. That’s 57%. They may well be fine and innovative people, probably are, but why not give those awards to people who work temp gigs, fast-food or low to mid-level office gigs, any kind of make-do gig, to support their creative efforts in the evenings and on weekends? Why not? Because it’s too hard to find them, requires too much imagination and a taste for risk, that’s why.
Here’s the Big Mac “waffle” tally (awards to people with secure gigs) for the last four years:
MacArthur Fellowships: Let the Geniuses Free – This is the original post in the series and tallies the winners for 2013.
Here's the Big Mac site for this year's class. I’ve divided them into four groups:
Secure university posts: 13
Pre-tenure university: 2
Secure University Positions (13)
These people have the rank of Associate Professor or above. As that rank normally carries tenure I assume these people have lifetime employment.
Ahilan Arulanantham, Human Rights Lawyer, Director of Advocacy and Legal Director, American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, Los Angeles, California, Age 43
Daryl Baldwin, Linguist and Cultural Preservationist Director, Myaamia Center, Miami University of Ohio, Oxford, Ohio, Age: 53
Anne Basting, Theater Artist and Educator, Professor of Theatre, Peck School of the Arts, University of Wisconsin / Milwaukee, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Age: 51
Kellie Jones, Art Historian and Curator, Associate Professor, Department of Art History and Archaeology, Columbia University, New York, New York, Age: 57
Subhash Khot, Theoretical Computer Scientist, Silver Professor of Computer Science, Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, New York University, New York, New York, Age: 38
Josh Kun, Cultural Historian, Professor of Communication, Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California, Age: 45
Maggie Nelson, Writer, Faculty, School of Critical Studies, California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, California, Age: 43
Dianne Newman, Microbiologist, Gordon M. Binder/Amgen Professor of Biology and Geobiology, Division of Biology and Biological Engineering, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California, Age: 44
Victoria Orphan, Geobiologist, James Irvine Professor of Environmental Science and Geobiology, Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California, Age: 44
Claudia Rankine, Poet, Frederick Iseman Professor of Poetry, Department of English, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, Age: 53
Rebecca Richards-Kortum, Bioengineer, Malcolm Gillis University Professor, Department of Bioengineering, Rice University, Houston, Texas, Age: 52
Julia Wolfe, Composer, Associate Professor of Music Composition, Department of Music and Performing Arts, Steinhardt School, New York University, New York, New York, Age: 57
Jin-Quan Yu, Synthetic Chemist, Frank and Bertha Hupp Professor, Department of Chemistry, Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, California, Age: 50
Tenure-track University Positions (2)
These two hold the rank of assistant professor, which is normally pre-tenure. I am assuming that they are in tenure-track positions, but tenure is not guaranteed. For example, Henry Louis Gates failed to get tenure at Yale even though he’d won a Big Mac (maybe it didn’t have enough cheese).
Manu Prakash, Physical Biologist and Inventor, Assistant Professor, Department of Bioengineering, Stanford University, Stanford, California, Age: 36
Lauren Redniss, Artist and Writer, Assistant Professor of Illustration, School of Art, Media, and Technology, Parsons, The New School for Design, New York, New York, Age: 42
These people work for someone else, but not a university.
José A. Quiñonez, Financial Services Innovator, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Mission Asset Fund, San Francisco, California, Age: 45
Bill Thies, Computer Scientist, Senior Researcher, Microsoft Research India, Bangalore, India, Age: 38
Sarah Stillman, Long-Form Journalist, Staff Writer, The New Yorker, New York, New York, Age: 32
Vincent Fecteau, Sculptor, San Francisco, California, Age: 47
Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Playwright, New York, New York, Age: 31
Mary Reid Kelley, Video Artist, Olivebridge, New York, Age: 37
Joyce J. Scott, Jewelry Maker and Sculptor, Baltimore, Maryland, Age: 67
Gene Luen Yang, Graphic Novelist, San Jose, California, Age: 43