Interesting piece on the upcoming MLA convention in Chicago:
They’ll all be there: muckety-mucks whose rings ache for kissing; frazzled early-career professors angling for tenure; and, of course, hordes of desperate graduate students and barely employed Ph.D.s, hoping to break into what everyone actually calls “the profession.”
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?
UPDATE: I was going to add this to the comments but they are getting a bit out of control. Here is the gist of my position:
1) The dude was involved in the process – I don’t care how he came to be involved, but his involvement happened and it was accepted by the parties involved. No one just wanders off the street into this. Sure, maybe there were some issues – don’t care. The fact of involvement is established.
2) The dude got no mention in the book at all. We can argue the finer points of what does and does not constitute editorship – everyone knows high ranking folks don’t do shit on edited volumes, but still get listed at the top of the bill so books can sell – but the final fact remains – his name is nowhere in the final book.
I (and two other students at the time) helped my adviser edit a volume when in grad school. I helped him finish the last part of the introduction. Should I have been included as an editor? No. But he did generously acknowledged my help in the Acknowledgements section. If he didn’t, I would have survived but I would have been pretty annoyed.
To sum: if someone’s involved in your project and negotiates a contract on your behalf, don’t be a dick, even if things go sour later, mention the dude in your Acknowledgement. Period.
Read this story and weep, comrades!
I wrote to Simon about this and let him know how much work I put into securing the contract for him. The next day I received a single sentence email from him stating the following: either you accept the new amendments or else I take everything and leave. I wrote back and asked him if he understood how many months of intense work I put into the project and he responded by letting me know that he would, of course, detail my work in the acknowledgements section. While I was still a little bitter, I nonetheless thought that this was better than nothing. At least I would receive a little bit of credit for my work.
I received a copy of the book today and my name is nowhere to be found.
Lesson: Volunteering your labor to help others is overrated, especially when academic egos are involved. Beware!
“I have a question for you:
What is the proportion between the time you spend, on the one hand, reading and thinking and writing in your field, and the time you spend, on the other hand, selling yourself by writing proposals and applications, shmoozing with colleagues and professors, and so forth?
And I have another question:
Did you know that the most cold-blooded corporations spend on advertisement anywhere between about %1 of their revenues (in the retail business) and about %7 (for companies selling packaged goods)?
This is just an educated guess, but I have a feeling that, on average, successful academics spend a much bigger chunk of their intellectual resources on self-promotion than what good capitalists spend on marketing their wares.”
To see a philosopher of Badiou’s stature engaged in such sniping is a shock, given the operatic architectonics of much of his work, but it is also to see him as MBK saw him: petty, self-aggrandizing and paranoid (not unjustly) about betrayal. This is one of the troubling things about MBK’s book: Belhaj Kacem charges Badiou with a number of misbehaviors and seems to be telling the truth. And yet it’s also true, as Badiou counters, that he tells it in an anecdotic and even vulgar fashion.The critique comes couched in a surprising amount of name calling, enough that his future translator may have to resort to the innovations in invective that Hergé’s used for Captain Haddock. But we must remember that Belhaj Kacem’s philosophy is in fact an avowed antiphilosophy. Perhaps because of its correspondence with his own rhetorico-emotional register, he is further empowered to accuse Badiou’s philosophy, too, of being petty, self-aggrandizing and paranoid. Reading Après Badiou, you begin to believe him.
In an otherwise confused and incomprehensible discussion about academic life in the NY Times, Mark C Taylor made one comment that I actually agree with: “Nothing represses the free expression of ideas more than the long and usually fruitless quest for tenure.” I’ll leave aside whether or not it’s a fruitless quest, but Andrew Hacker makes a similar case in The Atlantic.
A lot of the pressure to publish is tied in with the pressure to earn tenure. You argue that tenure actually doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do—it doesn’t preserve academic freedom.
Here’s what happens. Academics typically don’t get tenured until the age of 40. This means that from their years as graduate students and then assistant professors, from age 25 through 38 or 39, they have to toe the line. They have to do things in the accepted way that their elders and superiors require. They can’t be controversial and all the rest. So tenure is, in fact, the enemy of spontaneity, the enemy of intellectual freedom. We’ve seen this again and again. And even people who get tenure really don’t change. They keep on following the disciplinary mode they’ve been trained to follow. Continue reading