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I'm trying to understand an excerpt from a New Yorker article about the mathematician Yitang Zhang. The excerpt is included at the bottom. If possible, please help clarify Yang's point about tenure and nontenure positions; commentaries on the accuracy of his point would also be helpful.

In the excerpt, Yang seems to be asserting that nontenure positions are generally undesirable when he states,

There are people who try to work nontenure jobs, of course, but usually they’re nuts and have very dysfunctional personalities and lives, and are unpleasant to deal with, because they feel disrespected.

However, in the preceding sentences he seemed to be describing benefits of nontenure jobs:

If you become a good calculus teacher, a school can become very dependent on you. You’re cheap and reliable, and there’s no reason to fire you. After you’ve done that a couple of years, you can do it on autopilot; you have a lot of free time to think, so long as you’re willing to live modestly.

I feel like he's contradicting himself. Is his point that while there are benefits to being a nontenure Calculus teacher, most people in such a position are “nuts” with “very dysfunctional personalities and lives” who “feel disrespected”? I feel like I'm not quite understanding him. The full excerpt:

Zhang’s preference for undertaking only ambitious problems is rare. The pursuit of tenure requires an academic to publish frequently, which often means refining one’s work within a field, a task that Zhang has no inclination for. He does not appear to be competitive with other mathematicians, or resentful about having been simply a teacher for years while everyone else was a professor. No one who knows him thinks that he is suited to a tenure-track position. “I think what he did was brilliant,” Deane Yang told me. “If you become a good calculus teacher, a school can become very dependent on you. You’re cheap and reliable, and there’s no reason to fire you. After you’ve done that a couple of years, you can do it on autopilot; you have a lot of free time to think, so long as you’re willing to live modestly. There are people who try to work nontenure jobs, of course, but usually they’re nuts and have very dysfunctional personalities and lives, and are unpleasant to deal with, because they feel disrespected. Clearly, Zhang never felt that.”

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    I was just about to say that Deane Yang posted about this on facebook to clarify his comment slightly; he specifically mentioned that the adverse conditions under which untenured faculty, especially adjuncts, work does lead a few of them to become bitter about their circumstances. (Not facebook friends personally, but friend of a friend) – Aru Ray Mar 17 '15 at 1:49
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Justin, I think you raise good questions, and I'll try my best to clarify what I intended to say.

Regarding the first quote you cite, I did not meant to imply that in general non-tenured faculty are dysfunctional. The vast majority are incredibly dedicated and hardworking teachers. When I said "most", I really meant that most adjuncts who believe they have proved a major theorem (as Zhang did) are almost always wrong and usually "have very dysfunctional personalities and lives, and are unpleasant to deal with, because they feel disrespected".

As for the second quote, I was trying to be facetious. Those of us who are tenured professors know how many responsibilities and duties we have in addition to our research and teaching. So I like to say that Zhang had set up the perfect situation for doing research over a long period of time. He didn't have tenure (which as I said entails a lot of distractions) and just had to teach calculus (which, after a year or two, requires minimal preparation time outside of class). In addition, he had no children, and his wife lives on the other side of the country. This was perhaps not a good joke for a broader audience, but my colleagues all get it.

Finally, my point about Zhang is that he really was a good mathematician who had received very little respect from his peers and yet showed no signs of being bitter about his experience, even though he certainly would be justified in feeling that way.

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After the advice in the comments section, I found Deane Yang's clarification of his comments here. What he says is,

This is a beautifully written profile by Alec Wilkinson of Yitang Zhang, who recently proved a spectacular math theorem about gaps between primes.

There is however an extremely unfortunate quote by me about untenured faculty. I just want to apologize to all untenured faculty, who are among the most underpaid, hardest working, and most dedicated people working at universities today. I know this firsthand working together with the instructors in my department.

What I will say, however, is that the adverse conditions under which untenured faculty, especially adjuncts, have to work does lead a few to become bitter about their circumstances. This is an extremely unfortunate circumstance that we tenured faculty need to address.

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