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Anxious gatekeeping

Analogous to nervous cluelessness is something we might call “anxious gatekeeping.”   This is desire to police the borders of poetry, or of...

Friday, May 4, 2012

Disappointed

I got this comment the other day on the most popular all-time post on this blog:
Well, as a tenured faculty member who sacrificed a lot to get to this point, I would have to that in my case a lot of depression in academia is environmentally driven. Academia amounts to high expectations with almost no reward. One is either bombarded with large amounts of trivial criticism or politically supported unworthy praise. I for one wasted my life following an academic life and would recommend others to look elsewhere for a more fulfilling life.
This morning, I saw a facebook post by the out-going chair of the English department at KU, which said, simply, "I love my department." I love the English department here too, as well as my own department of Spanish and Portuguese. The amount of knowledge and culture present when I am at the table drinking martinis with people like Ken Irby or Susan Harris is extraordinary. My response to someone who can only see the negative in academia is to get out in order to let one the hundreds of other people who want her tenured job in. (Or his tenured job; I shouldn't be sexist not knowing the identity of this whining loser.) Yes, depression comes from outside, from "environmental factors," not from how one responds to these factors. Because it is easy to discount all the praise your get as "unworthy" and hence impure, and all the criticism as "trivial." Nothing means anything, then, if you set up those as the only possible categories. How can you waste your life pursuing your most passionate interests and getting to teach them to a new generation of young people?

12 comments:

Ryan Stuart Lowe said...

"Whining loser" is rather harsh, don't you think?

The OP states that he/she is a tenured professor, so the "loser" title isn't right: there are plenty of grad students who will graduate and search for tenure track jobs and not find them. (only 50% of English Ph.Ds, for instance, get TT jobs nowadays)

And "whining" isn't right, either. I'd use the term "cynical." To label all praise as political and all criticism as trivial is, in a sense, to no longer value the same virtues as the work community you've joined.

Plenty of people find themselves in such a situation after working in a profession for years -- that Goldman Sachs manager who wrote a piece for the NY Times recently, for example -- and many quit and join new communities that suit them. But that can be a long and uncertain process, so I don't imagine they all do.

Clarissa said...

"My response to someone who can only see the negative in academia is to get out in order to let one the hundreds of other people who want her tenured job in."

- Hear, hear! A person who says "I'm miserable so the entire profession must be stupid and unrewarding" demonstrates very faulty reasoning skills. I wonder if this is not the real reason for this person's unhappiness.

Jonathan said...

I think "whining loser" is just about right, thank you. The person is whining about sacrifices and the lack of rewards, and can't even appreciate the advantages of having a tenured position. He / she imagines some more fulfilling life elsewhere, even though a tenured professor can do just about anything. You have to be a pretty big loser to win and then turn it around in your head so that you've really lost.

profacero said...

Young man, it would be easy to feel as you do working at a place like KU. Please realize that things are not always the same. Where I work, also a research university, it is hard to attract job applications for heaven´s sake, because people are not foolish and they know they need certain kinds of resources to function. It takes a huge effort to hire, with gaps of 2 and 3 years in some posts, and so no, I am never happy to see people go, even if they were not 100% happy campers or perfect faculty members and so on.

I also *don´t* advise people into PhD programs unless they are *really* perdidamente enamorados of their temas and so on.

Jonathan said...

I don't see any young men around here.

Clarissa said...

@He / she imagines some more fulfilling life elsewhere, even though a tenured professor can do just about anything.@

- I have to agree with this. I'm not even a tenured professor yet but already I have four entire months ahead of me to travel, read, work on my research, grow intellectually and personally. This is my time and I will be able to manage it in any way I choose. If I chose not to write a single word and just lie on the couch spitting at the ceiling, I could do that. Of course, I don't want to do that but the freedom is mine.

My husband who also has a PhD has chosen not to go into academia. He now has a really great job that he loves. But. He gets 12 free days per year including sick days. He has to plan his entire life around that. In the meanwhile, I only showed my face on campus on Tuesdays and Thursdays this semester.

I don't criticize the choices of people who went into industry, of course. But I wake up every day amazed at my great good fortune in having the job I do.

And I never conceal this enthusiasm from students who say they want to go to grad school.

profacero said...

You seem like a young man because you speak with the naive assurance of the uninformed.

Something I never enjoy about some people from your kind of institution is that they often:

-first, bash people from here for even considering alternative jobs
-look away in condescending horror if told why it is that to do so could be the rational thing to do
-then visit to give talk and say, oh gosh, you have paved streets and restaurants here! ...who woulda thunk it! ...because, they seem to believe, if we don´t have all that they have then we must be living in 17th century conditions or something.

A lot of people who quit academia, do so because it precisely does not give them the things they came for; I always feel slightly awful while hiring because I know that the candidate, if they take the job, will have a personal crisis when they realize this.

These things having been said, I don´t think the comment you quote is from an actual academic -- it souds like something from a David Horowitz or similar plant.

profacero said...

You seem like a young man because you speak with the naive assurance of the uninformed.

Something I never enjoy about some people from your kind of institution is that they often:

-first, bash people from here for even considering alternative jobs
-look away in condescending horror if told why it is that to do so could be the rational thing to do
-then visit to give talk and say, oh gosh, you have paved streets and restaurants here! ...who woulda thunk it! ...because, they seem to believe, if we don´t have all that they have then we must be living in 17th century conditions or something.

A lot of people who quit academia, do so because it precisely does not give them the things they came for; I always feel slightly awful while hiring because I know that the candidate, if they take the job, will have a personal crisis when they realize this.

These things having been said, I don´t think the comment you quote is from an actual academic -- it souds like something from a David Horowitz or similar plant.

profacero said...

P.S. sorry for double posting - I inadvertently clicked twice!

Re comment about person being Horowitz plant - it is that third sentence especially that makes me think so.

While it is sort of true in a lot of places ... and I am coming off of having had an essential colleague in related dept. denied tenure for trivial reasons while other less worthy people are supported for political reasons ...
the fact that things are or can be that way does not deter actual academics.

On the other hand, one can look at things the way Ryan Stuart Lowe does (seems like a sane comment to me). I got to go to graduate school in a nice place and didn´t have to take on debt; I´ve always had TT jobs and have never had to live in a place of no interest; many people make much greater sacrifices than I have done and yet don´t get to do the things they wanted to do; is it so bad not to recommend that situation to others?

profacero said...

...and also, I have a student right now who is just like that priest in San Manuel Bueno, m├írtir -- is in graduate school because he first lost faith in church, then in G-d. Yet, he still works as a minister. Has kids, has to. Eventually he will be able to make a career change (one hopes) but for now, he has a job he doesn´t really believe in and yes he is keeping it as long as he needs to (but not recommending it). Is it so bad of him to be doing this and thinking in these ways? I don´t think so.

Jonathan said...

I was responding to the "Horowitz plant" aspect of that original comment. Hence my harshness. I wouldn't recommend grad school in English to anyone now, but I would recommend Spanish. There are still tenure track jobs, and a reasonable chance at a good career if you can compete in this brutally competitive profession. I'd say it's a hard field if you can't stand language teaching, because even at the higher levels of the curriculum you are still always teaching the language.

Tanya Golash-Boza said...

I would just like to chime in here (a bit late) by saying two things:

1) I love my job. I know that not everyone in my department is happy, but I do work in the kind of place where it is possible to be happy if you learn the ropes and make an effort to be happy.

2) I understand that some academics are completely miserable. It is hard to disentangle their misery from their environment.

If you are an unhappy academic, it would be useful for you to try and figure out if it is because of your environment or if your personality is just not suited for academia. I had a friend who went from Tufts to KU to UMass Amherst only to realize that it wasn't the institution - it was her. She didn't want to be an academic. She's lucky she figured it out and left academia before spending her whole life hating her job.