Category: Academia

See Ya, Academia. Wouldn’t Wanna Be Ya.

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In April 2014, I ended my career in academia — though calling it a “career” may be overstating the case. I had two months left in my fifth year of an English Ph.D. program. My wife was pregnant with our son. For the first time, I saw my professional future clearly.

It would probably take another year to finish my dissertation. With a hodgepodge of hard-won fellowships and teaching assignments, I had added three quarters to my original five years of funding. That money would support me through next winter. Then… what? Another teaching gig? One of those secret research fellowships that my department occasionally, according to mysterious criteria, handed out to advanced graduate students?

If everything went smoothly, I would defend my dissertation in the spring or summer, get a one-year VAP at my university, and go on the job market. Ah yes, the famous market for humanities professorships. Where colleges line up and throw cash at you.

I would have had as fair a shot at an academic job as any other graduate student in my field. I had worked my ass off in a name-brand program. I had presented and published research. I had assembled a credible teaching portfolio. But I, like the legions of other apprentice scholars who show up at MLA every year with the same qualifications, still faced long odds.

I don’t need to repeat the stats. We are all aware of those.

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On Rage, Smarm, and the Academic Labor Debates

In the many posts and tweets about the late-December dust-up between Rebecca (pan kisses kafka) Schuman and Claire (Tenured Radical) Potter, no one, as far as I know, has brought up Tom Scocca’s Gawker manifesto, “On Smarm.” But I see a number of suggestive parallels.

First, though, a recap of the beef. (If you are overfamiliar with this background, feel free to skip the next couple of paragraphs.) On her personal blog, Schuman “named and shamed” a UC Riverside English search committee for deciding to notify applicants about interviews only five days before the MLA Convention. She called this move “elitist and out of touch” and encouraged readers to email the SC chair and express their dismay. In an Inside Higher Ed article, UCR representatives said that the committee had fallen behind on reading  applications. They also promised that applicants unable to attend MLA would be offered Skype interviews (which they did not do until the story blew up).

In the midst of this controversy, Potter posted a rumination on the discourse of anger, using Schuman’s takedown of UCR as an example of “chronic rage” in online academic culture. Potter voiced concern about “the ways that digital media now allows us to express our rage without having to deal with actual people,” and chided Schuman for going public before getting UCR’s version of events. “Anger can be healthy,” Potter concluded, but “it can also be a real problem in a colleague if it is a chronic response to insecurity, or if it is a way to refuse the resolution of past harm.”

Spoiler alert: People got angry at Potter; Potter got angry at them; things fell apart; the center did not hold.

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