Tuesday, March 29, 2005

 

I cannae take much more o'this!

It's altogether possible that I have had my fill of academia, hence the fall off in blogging. Blogging in anger rarely results in anything useful.

The general problem I'm having is that the field that I entered more than a decade ago is becoming more and more unrecognizable to me, as it is encroached upon by cultural and area studies, and as the political left makes it more and more impossible to exist as a conservative in an English department.

On of the straws that may have broken the camel's back has to do with asinine curriculum decisions--more mandatory leftist texts (works which force an instructor to talk about race, class and gender, as that's all they are about), less in the way of real reading and writing standards in the classroom--but the anvil was a minority woman being given a tenure-track position. I kid you not. A minority woman was given a tenure-track position without even interviewing for it. All of a sudden, she was a member of the department. Just like that. No national search, no MLA interviews, no campus visits. It was all handled on an administrative level and it was presented to the department as a done deal.

This is not, mind you, a famous scholar--it's not like we've hired a superstar here. This is a person at the very beginning of her career, with minimal teaching experience, all of it thus far as a graduate student. She was, I have been told by a number of colleagues, hired because she was a minority.

And she has become well-known amongst the students and select colleagues--the ones whose opinions I value--as a lousy teacher.

So I'm kind of at the end of my rope with the academy.

So what in the hell do I do with myself? What does a Ph.D. in English literature in his mid-30s do with himself, when he has done nothing outside of the academy for decades? What am I qualified to do?

I know that there are others out there who have successfully made the transition from academia to the real world. I would like to hear their suggestions for how I might do the same, and strategies for coping with the transition from being the master of much of your own time to having others master your time for you.

Comments:
Winston,

Don't give up yet man. Didn't you just finish your dissertation recently? Give it some more time. The situation you describe is complete b.s., but it's not like everyone in the business world gets hired purely on their merits (how many dimwits get jobs because their Dad knows the VP, etc.?)

I've done some other academic-related, but non-professor jobs including Acquisitions Editor for a publisher and a Project Manager at a research institute. Both have been great jobs (though both were in more science-related fields).

I hope you stick it out. The field needs more people like you, Erin O'Connor, etc.
 
Yeah, but I'm stuck in adjunct mode, and it pisses me off, of course, that there was enough money to pay this woman's salary, and not enough to pay me anything even close to a fair wage for my work.

Plus I've been flipping through the programs to two conferences in the area I thought I'd like to go to--both of them quite large. I cannot find one panel at either conference that I am even remotely interested in attending, because the papers all sound like typical postmodern bullshit, with the parentheses and the references to body parts, and the latest--queer readings of heterosexual relationships.

How many signs does it take over the course of an average week to let me know I'm done here?
 
I know I left grad school after only two terms because of exactly this kind of crap, and yet...

You've got so much invested in this, plus a tremendous amount of teaching skill, and the kind of command of the literature that most newly-minted PhDs won't get for many more years.

Maybe I'm crazy, but it looks like the pushback against pomo is starting to get some traction. People like Joseph Carroll and Ellen Dissanayake are being cited, Horowitz' campaign is at least scaring a few administrators, the Ward Churchill fiasco has put the public on alert in a way that Allan Bloom never did...

(Course, it may be that all this will only serve to shrink lit/hum department budgets further, restrict t-t positions more, expand their reliance on freeway flyers and grad students, and so forth.)

I keep hoping that some wonderful alternative to the hopelessly corrupt academy we now have will emerge. I'm not sure how much longer parents will put up with paying for their kids to learn essentially nothing.
 
winston

while the outside world does a better job with merit promotion than academia (actually it does a better job of pretty much everyhting than academia including ture diversity and critical thought), there is still alot of quota based promotion here too. Leaving academai, alas, wont completely eliminate that.

But boy will you get a clearer and truer picture of the real world, and your place in it, and really how far off the mark those in the ivory towers are from reality.

And you feel much better about yourself and your contributions to society in general.
 
Dear Winston,

My initial selfish response is to implore you to stick it out. Academia desperately needs people like you, and I'd like for my own children to have professors like you when they reach college age.

On the other hand, you're probably not in this to perform a public service for other people's children (or not entirely, anyway). Like Rose, I fled graduate studies in English, but my current real world experience is at-home-momhood, which I'm assuming is not an option for you. I taught high school for four years after I left graduate school, and while I wasn't thrilled with low pay, extremely low-stakes faculty politics, and lazy students with an unwarranted sense of entitlement, I liked it better than graduate school. My favorite experience as a teacher was reading/studying Pride and Prejudice with Juniors at an all-girls high school. My students were unabashed in their enthusiasm for the book. I'm embarrassed to say it almost brought tears to my eyes to be united with those girls in the deep pleasure we derived from a reading experience that a thousand readings of Lacan, and Derrida, and Kristeva, and Foucault, and Gilbert and Gubar, et al, could never have given us. It's an experience I rarely had as an undergraduate and never had as a graduate student.

My first semester of graduate school, I took a seminar taught by a hot shot professor who had gone from being a respectable Shakespearean scholar to a pomo theorizer of "transvestism" and culture, among other things. The seminar was meant as a deconstruction of the concept of heroism, and each week we covered a different aspect of heroism (war hero, political hero, sports hero, etc.). There was a Shakespeare play, along with lots of theoretical works and a movie (Wizard of Oz, Field of Dreams, Patton), on the reading list for each week. I guess I shouldn't have expected anything different, but each damned seminar discussion consisted almost entirely of dissecting the movie, with some bits and pieces of theory thrown in to flatter our intellectual vanity. God, I grew weary of it, especially as it became clear that a significant minority of students had never really read Shakespeare (and wouldn't know Milton if he came up and bit them in the butt). I should have known then that I wouldn't stick it out in graduate school, but I hung on for a year and a half, and I became increasingly convinced that English departments were becoming places for people who didn't really like literature.

Anyway, I've rambled about myself and ranted about the state of academia, and I've offered little else to the discussion. Forgive me for using your comments section to vent . . . I suppose I just strongly identify with your feelings. I wish I could offer some actually useful advice.

Good luck with everything. I'm going to add you to our blog roll and check in every day.

P.S. Rose, it's great to see you commenting here. I still check your blog every day. Hope things are going well.
 
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
 
Winston--

This might be a very long shot, but have you ever considered pursuing a tenure-track post at a smaller school, like the University of Dallas, that still has its priorities in order?

Just an idea.
 
Off-topic: Hey *Rose*...good to know you're still around somewhere. How about some updates.

I'll try to provide some thoughts for Winston later.
 
Yeah, Rose. Update your blog. You spend money on a new design, and then disappear.
 
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