On Dramatic Exits From Academia


UPDATE: I guess there is more drama here than I thought – maybe this one deserves a dramatic exit?

To complicate matters, a few years before Ms. Chant came up for tenure she had had an affair with a philosopher outside Missouri, and Mr. Ernst, who was crushed at the time, is said to have told a colleague here that he actually wrote most of his wife’s work. Mr. Ernst now says that’s something he never claimed, but Ms. Chant says she believes that it was a factor in her tenure proceedings.

This post by Zachary Ernst (a great Public Radio announcer name, by the way, in case he’s looking for a cool job now that he is out of academia) has been going around = Why I Jumped Off The Ivory Tower:

I’m leaving my position as a tenured Associate Professor of Philosophy and taking a job in the private sector. By any normal standards, my academic job was excellent. I was tenured at a Research-1 institution, in a department with a growing PhD program. I had a lot of freedom to pursue the kind of research and teaching that I wanted. And I used that freedom to pursue a lot of diverse interests. My students — especially my graduate students — were excellent. I enjoy teaching, and I also happen to believe that philosophy is increasingly important and relevant.

It’s an interesting read, including some of the issues related to higher education in general. However it strikes me as overly dramatic since it present the decision to leave academia as some sort of earth-crushingly life-changing event of gigantic importance. Needless to say, it is a brave move in and of itself since Ernst has tenure and is basically guaranteed employment and salary for the rest of his life. That he find this unsatisfactory and openly admits to it is an honest move and I think most people feel that it is not a pose. But, at the same time, hundreds (if not thousands) are leaving academia every year – I’m talking about graduate students who get their degrees and are not able to find full-time employment, as well as adjuncts who give up and stop teaching – and yet their exits are sort of a matter of academic life.

The reasons that Ernst lists are not really the sorts of reasons many of these unlucky unemployed academics would actually mind. “Academia discourages interdisciplinary research and my department head is kind of a dick” (paraphrase) – is that really so bad?

One aspect of all the dramatic accounts of exits from academia that I do not understand is that they so clearly reinforce the narrative of academic paradise that the folks who are leaving are criticizing – an academic job is thought of as such a desirable job that leaving it voluntarily surely requires a long and elaborate explanation. No one writes a post “Why I Am Leaving McDonalds” or “Why I Decided To Look for Another Mid-Level Management Position” – do they?

I have been teaching at my institutions as an adjunct ever since I was a graduate student – it’s been seven years and I took one year off for a full-time lectureship elsewhere. I have a full-time regular job so I don’t need the income and mostly teach because I enjoy the distraction (and an institutional affiliation with a library access). When I leave (and I will since there is no prospect of the full-time job) no one will really notice since all I have to do is to forget to fill out my preference sheet for the upcoming semester. No “retirement party” will be held, no announcement will be made. Some other adjunct will quietly take my place and I will move on with my life.

It’s a job change just like any other job change – you quit academia, you start something else. I don’t think there needs to be so much drama around it. Right?

4 thoughts on “On Dramatic Exits From Academia

  1. Pingback: PLURALISE OR MONETARISE?: On para-academic speculative gamification as neoliberal cognitive heroism | AGENT SWARM

  2. Can’t you see this story is an inspiring act of resisting the hegemony of the neoliberal university! It’s an inspiration to anyone who’s ever had a mean boss…

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