In the comments to this post, Anastasia pointed out that I was probably engaging in a kind of gate-keeping. I think I was. I've been pondering my own ideas for when I think gate-keeping is good, and when it's bad. Faculty engage in gate-keeping all the time. Grades are a form of gatekeeping. So are hiring committees and T&P committees. Of these, grades are the ones that arguably have the least wiggle room; faculty should be grading almost entirely on the merits of the work and whether it meets the criteria of the assignment. Search committees can be more nebulous -- there's a lot of legitimate room for 'fit', but then there are also discussions of whether candidate A or B is more likely to be a productive scholar ... all kinds of things. T&P committees, so I've heard, can be all over the place. Friends at campuses trying to reinvent themselves often tell me that T&P committees often seem to take great joy in expecting new faculty to meet requirements that far exceed what already-tenured faculty had to meet for their own T&P. Me? I think that it's really important to have standards, but that they have to be applied fairly. If these things are done fairly and transparently, then I think it's not really gate-keeping in the negative sense -- it's trying to maintain standards.
It's when gate-keeping is applied unfairly that I tend to worry. In almost every workplace -- or part of life, for that matter -- we run into people who want to make and enforce rules because they can. The ability to prevent people from doing things -- in fact, to complicate their lives and jobs -- is an expression of their personal worth and power. That's true for the people with some authority as well as the Jobsworths. What surprises me is that often, these are people in support positions. When I worked in support, I got my ego boos by helping people and out of being able to say that I was just doing my job after helping untangle a hopeless crisis. There are definitely people like that out there -- the guy who stayed on the phone with me for two hours after Adelphia accidentally disconnected my internet service (and initially claimed it would take three days to bring back up), talking to managers and getting things fixed was an absolute star.
I've run out of ideas for a snappy conclusion. What are your ideas on gate-keeping? When is it legitimate? When is it just obstructionist?