Sunday, December 30, 2007
We are known to go stomping into the Dean's office and rail about whatever grievous decision is vexing us at the moment. We write hateful notes to our colleagues, accusing them of high-handed skullduggery, and we exhibit cliquish tendencies that exclude peers we dislike. We act dismissive and thoughtless as we deal with support staff. We sometimes publicly embarrass students or blow off entire classes to suit our own (self-important) agendas.
The number of academics, especially men but some very well-published women, who sleep with staff members, grad students, or undergrads is consistently surprising to me. And it is rarely the case that the profs met the person in question in a bar. No, usually the first meeting happens in the professor's classroom or when the staff member was hired by the professor. Some academics are careful to wait until the grades are in before the first "date" (read: sex) occurs with a student, but many are not. While I would agree that not all of these relationships constitute "harassment," the problem is that the possibility almost always exists for this to occur in these relationships, even when the professor in question does not have that intention.
Perhaps these behaviors explain why the public sees professors as arrogant, elitist, and lacking common sense--because many of us fit the caricature.
I am sure Dean Dad will use this as another invitation to attack tenure... After all, if we didn't have an unreasonable sense of unending job security, we might be more careful in our actions. And if the Dean we yell at has to grin and bear it, rather than firing us, what impetus do we have to behave better? I am not sure abolishing tenure would rectify these issues, as the cultural identities of being a professor, an academic, and a scholar go far beyond the tenure issue.
We academic types like to think we are different from other workers, but the truth is, we could learn a lot from the 9-5 work world. Look around at the staff in your department...Staff members remember one another's birthdays, they ask about each other's children and families. They learn the rules of the systems of which they are a part, and they understand their role in the organization. They expect regular evaluation and feedback. Most important, they remember that maintaining positive relationships can greatly impact their success and happiness in the workplace.
Faculty members should take away a few of these ideas. We should learn the personnel policies of our employer and follow them, or work to change them when they are problematic. Our students are not consumers (ick), but their learning is one of the indicators on which we will be judged. We need to function within the organization, seeing ourselves as part of the system, part of something larger than ourselves. Along with staff and administrators, we establish the tone and culture of the department, just as we develop the curriculum. We should consider all of these part of our role as faculty.
So, when you are making your New Year's resolutions, perhaps you might consider reviving this old aphorism and making your department a better place to be. I'll do my part.
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
That was my reaction to reading Timothy Lukes' piece for the Chronicle Review. For those of you without the password, here is my somewhat biased synopsis. Lukes will not put a rainbow sticker on his door because it would compromise his politics and his desire to educate his LGBT students.
He has two primary points: First, he rejects the politics of identity and will not capitulate with any effort, however well-intentioned, that countenances such a politics. Identity politics obscures difference and posits only similarity related to one shared characteristic, offering a simplistic political understanding and ethos. He writes:
What I oppose, therefore, is not the safety of gay students, but the feeling of safety experienced by all students when they encounter the interest paradigm. A "safe space" sticker promotes a sense of comfort probably unintended by its promoters. It advertises the person displaying it as someone predisposed to a popular agenda, rather than an instigator of unusual, even unsafe, considerations.
Thus by displaying the sticker, I would be betraying my gay students, not assisting them. I would be exempting them from the disorienting but essential epiphany that neither they, nor I, can be certain of their full identity. It would also preclude our sharing those beautiful exchanges of the fanciful and transcendental. Safety is a much more complex issue in a classroom than it is in a motor vehicle, and the best classes are those in which seat belts are occasionally unbuckled.
So if a student, gay or straight, craves a safe and secure recapitulation and celebration of popular identity taxonomy, my office is not the place to visit.
These arguments are the kind of crap that makes my gf shake her head and denounce the uselessness of academics. Honestly, that is pretty much my own reaction as well.
5. whose religious upbringing teaches him that his desires are sinful and that to embrace his sexuality, he must discard any other notion of religious or spiritual connection or his sense of being a good person.
But, because Lukes is more concerned with his pursuit of beauty and light, he will demand that the hypothetical gay male student described above stop worrying about his damn sexuality and focus on real issues. And Lukes will forego any outward sign that he might be a good person to speak with this student. And perhaps, in the long run, he isn't. But what if Lukes is a good person, a good mentor, who is comfortable with LGBT people and can provide a friendly, accepting space for the student while they discuss and debate political philosophy?!
The "safe space" stickers do not signify the same thing as rainbow stickers worn by queers (and allies) around the world. (I would also argue that the meanings of the rainbow stickers also vary depending on time, location, and the people sporting them!) Instead, the safe space programs recognize that the benighted "real" world of fear, intimidation, and exclusion extends into the university, and LGBT students encounter these forces frequently. These students need very intentional signs of welcome, and that is all the stickers provide. Offering welcome and freedom from critique based solely on one's actual or percieved sexual orientation or gender expression is not antithetical to teaching in my book; actually, the creation of safe space allows the students to engage more fully and critically with materials, ideas, and differences, and to hear more challenging feedback from faculty.
Saturday, December 15, 2007
I planned to work today, but it feels like a "snow day," so I have since decided to send out some holiday cards and sit by the fire with the gf.
Hope everyone has a great day!
Friday, December 14, 2007
Candidate interviews are done, class sessions are completed, and the holidays are around the corner. Even better, my side won recent departmental policy votes, and I have disclosed to departmental friends about the upcoming interview at Wooing School (WS). I feel unburdened, but I am still not sure what will happen with WS. I like my current program so much, I will have a lot to consider if I get the offer.
But all of that is to come later. Right now, I can be happy with my accomplishments and see the light at the end of the tunnel, which leads out of town for the holidays!
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
At my very large, public university, and at almost all prior large public universities where I have worked or studied, the university choirs, bands, orchestras, etc. have participated in holiday concerts. I am okay with this in some ways, but not when they call them "Vespers." While the pieces performed tend to be the same (Handel's Messiah, Christmas Carols, and other sacred music, with a secular or Hanukkah song thrown in for "balance"), it makes a large difference to me when someone uses a religious term for a concert at a publicly-funded school.
Vespers has a distinctly religious connotation. Even Wikipedia notes that:
Vespers is the evening prayer service in the Roman Catholic, Eastern (Byzantine)
Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox, liturgies of the canonical hours. The word comes
from Latin vesper, meaning "evening." The term is also in limited use in some
Protestant (especially Lutheran and Seventh-day Adventist) denominations to
describe evening services, and in some Anglican circles is used unofficially to
refer to Evening Prayer.
My refusal to take students has become an issue. Some faculty advisors in other departments argue that just as we expose our students to events connected to minority racial and ethnic cultures, we should encourage them to take part in this dominant (Christian) culture event. Other faculty argue that the event is truly secular, that it is an important part of campus culture, and we should all share in this university-wide event. These arguments ring hollow for me.
Perhaps had I not spent my entire life in public school choirs, singing Christian songs every December, I could believe that the dominant culture needed to be "shared" with everyone. My guess is that none of my students has missed out on this kind of cultural event; most have probably participated at one time or another.
And the secularization of religious holidays (with Santa, reindeer, snow, and so on) ultimately does not make them secular. The music shows that to be true. Actually, the music at "Vespers" concerts is decidedly religious. There is no "Grandma got run over by a reindeer" to be had. Instead, there are prayers, old and new arrangements of sacred music, and other religious accoutrements, such as candles, religious decorations, orders of service, etc.
Friday, November 30, 2007
...but not so quickly that I don't get the work done!
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
My students are working hard, I know, as I gave them extra time to complete work over the break. The good news for me is that I have no grading to do until next week. YAY! (And yes, I planned it this way.)
The gf and I went out shopping for Thanksgiving groceries after midnight last night, stopping on the way home from a night out with friends. The store was empty, and we were able to get in and out with no muss, no fuss. I recommend it for all last minute shoppers. Unfortunately, we forgot a few things (we left the list at home), so I will have to head back out later tonight. Perhaps another midnight run?
We have recorded a number of movies over the last couple months, and I hope we will watch many of them over the next few days. They range from serious (Flags of our Fathers) to fun (Last Holiday), and include documentaries from the Logo Channel on gay Mormons, Harvey Milk, and a summer camp for queer teens. Okay, the gf probably won't watch all of them, but I might!!
This is how I normally act when I reach the end of the semester. It is a ritual I have had since undergrad, back when I used to watch the parents' cable and read magazines like Vogue and People. My taste in magazines has improved, but I will still watch almost any movie.
It is a little strange to be so cavalier about work this early. I could be worried about checking out of work right now, but on some level, I know I can and likely will jump right back in next week. As it is, I hardly ever "power down," so I am enjoying it now while I can!
I have written a lot of notes to friends and colleagues, and I have struggled with what to say about the holiday. For some, I would be better to say, "Hope you have a productive break." For others, it would be, "Hope the holiday is relaxing." I have settled on the following, which I will wish to all who are reading the blog:
Hope you have a satisfying break.
PS. Is it weird that I am so ridiculously happy to get my copy of the Chronicle of Higher Education? Ah, the fire, the food, the juicy educational gossip... Sigh.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
As is common, the student has said nothing of the abuse publicly. Instead, she is protecting her reputation and keeping it quiet as she enters the job market.
I am so angry at the abusive professor that I don't know what to do. I want to do something (towanda!), but I also know it isn't mine to address. This person is not at my school, nor is s/he a personal friend. I cannot even reach out to the student, because the colleague who confided in me did so with an understanding that I would not approach the student.
I contrast this with another instance, when I was a doctoral student, where a faculty member angrily attacked me and my work in a very unfair and public way. That faculty member later contacted me, acknowledged her anger, and apologized for her behavior. I was quite moved by her apology, and actually remember thanking her and noting that I had never received an apology from a professor. We eventually grew to become quite close, and I now consider her a friend. Unfortunately, that experience has been the exception, rather than the rule.
I do not want to intimate that I have not made mistakes. I have, and some of them were quite inexcusable. Once, as a doctoral student, I complained about a professor who considered me a friend to another faculty member in public, without ever discussing my concerns privately with the professor. More embarrassingly, I was overheard by the professor. Later, as a professor, I assumed the worst about another senior colleague early in our relationship and wrote her a nasty email, accusing her of manipulation. Both events were likely informed by some of my own race privilege. For each, I have had to have difficult conversations with each person, apologizing and working to rebuild the relationship. But I haven't ever behaved particularly badly regarding someone with less institutional power than me--at least, not that I know of. Perhaps that is a dividing line for me in regulating my own behavior...or perhaps I have not been in positions with enough power yet.
That said, the one time I did not report a particularly bad behavior of a supervisor has haunted me ever since, because I think reporting her might have resulted in the offender rightfully losing her leadership position, thus saving my (now former) colleagues a great deal of drama and angst. At the time, I felt vulnerable, much like the doctoral student in question probably does now, and I was unwilling to take the risk. I worried that I would make a name for myself as someone who always complained/reported others, and that this would become my reputation everywhere I went. Yet, I have to say that each time I spoke out, I felt stronger in the long run. And perhaps more important, I reminded myself of the power and ability I have to speak out in the face of injustice, even in the face of risk.
This discussion feeds back into my enduring belief about women in academic life: If we don't speak out when we have less power (ie., as a doctoral student or a junior professor), we will lose the ability and interest in speaking out as a more senior faculty member. I have extensive experience with senior women who still act like they have little power to exercise, even when they hold named professorships, endowed chairs, administrative positions, personal access to administrators in positions of power, and access to financial resources. As a person who has not had any of these resources until very recently, I have grown weary of and frustrated with these women.
That said, all I can do in the case of this particular doc student is sit on the sidelines, keep an eye on the prof in question when we are together, and try to support those students and junior faculty around me in my own department. That position feels very weak, but it is the best I have.
Monday, November 12, 2007
Give me my robe, put on my crown; I have
Immortal Lesboprof in me.
Check out the quotes at profgrrrrl , Dr. Crazy, and Dr. Virago.
Thursday, November 08, 2007
The point of Benton's essay is to acknowledge some of the cultural, ethical, and personal challenges of being a professional academic who grew up working class. He clearly and thoughtfully discusses this dilemma of no longer fitting in at home with your family and your community, while also not fitting in on middle- and upper-class campuses. He is even self-effacing in his acknowledgement that, as the person who got out of the neighborhood and now has the privileges of education, professional status, and income, his guilt is largely in his own mind and matters little to those working class people he encounters. All of this resonated for me--the child of a salesman and a secretary.
I struggle with how to define my family life in terms of class. Some might say that my family of origin were "climbers," starting out working class and moving up when my father moved into management. Yet, my immediate family members look a lot like Benton's friends in his essay:
Many of my childhood friends have struggled to find stable, full-time work. The police and fire departments aren't hiring; nursing and education have shifted to part-time, no-benefits operations; manufacturing is long gone; and the union jobs that lifted many of their fathers into the lower-middle class have disappeared.
So, in the place where I grew up, there are men and women in their 30's who live with their parents and can't start families because there are so few real jobs, even for the ones who put in a couple years at community college, transferred to a state school, and were the first in their families to get degrees that were sold as certain tickets to the middle class.
A lot of those people end up delivering pizzas, mowing lawns, waiting tables, or working the checkout lane at Wal-Mart for $7.15 an hour, and the message spreads that education doesn't matter.
My father died and took his big salary with him, leaving my mother with a small set of investments and my siblings with very little. They live on hourly pay; only one of them has benefits. Neither my siblings nor my parents have an undergraduate degree. My doctorate and my profession make me very strange, and while they don't understand my research, they believe that whatever I am doing must be worthwhile.
Benton and I are both white, roughly the same age, from the same geographic region, and both of us have secured tenured academic positions. We both have very different lives than our friends and family members. We have a great deal in common.
One of the biggest primary differences between Benton and me lies in our historical and current proximity to wealth: he is a child of private schools who got his doctorate at Harvard and teaches in a private SLAC; I have only attended public schools--elementary, secondary, and post-secondary--and I teach in a large public university. This difference may make his experience of students and faculty somewhat different than my own, as the students I encounter tend to worry less about which foreign country to visit and more about how to pay the rent and still buy books. Sure, some of my students have jobs to pay for beer, but more have children to raise or tuition to pay.
Another possible difference between us may be our relationships with people of color. My home community was very racially and ethnically diverse. While he lived nearby, I am not sure Benton had as much cultural diversity in his life. Our differences, growing up and now, may also effect how we talk about diversity efforts on campus.
And, in faculty meetings and in the larger profession, I sometimes feel deeply conflicted when someone talks about diversity in terms of race and gender without explicitly considering class as another significant variable. It's not that I am opposed to affirmative action but that I think we need a more comprehensive vision of who needs that assistance.
As has been said in many other contexts, academe's admissions, hiring, and promotion practices seem to favor people who look different but mostly think alike, largely because they belong to similar class strata. Celebrating diversity involves many arbitrary choices about who is "diverse" and who isn't, who should be shown deference and who should be shouted down, who should be "strongly encouraged to apply" and who should be called "overrepresented." In the end, I think too much of the celebration is about making privileged people feel like they care about inequality without having to really change anything.
I am turned off by Benton's grumpiness about diversity, although I take his point about the need to consider class. I find, though, that white people who grew up working class, especially white men, tend to buy into the need to refocus "diversity efforts" on class a little too hastily. They want to discount the importance and centrality of racial and ethnic oppression, and even gender oppression, and somehow subsume them all in class. It is no accident that Marx was a white (European) guy, as was Engels. A purely class focus obscures experiences of oppression that are specific to race and ethnicity and gender. And sometimes we just need to talk about race and ethnicity, you know?
Nothing makes me more tired and irritated than a hierarchy of oppression discussion, except for perhaps someone who makes a "but isn't it all really about class" move that tends to try to thwart all discussion. Focusing solely on class does not address the unique and important problems and experiences and needs of people of color in education, much as some white guys of all income levels may wish it did. And when white male academics start complaining about being silenced, I tend to head for the rhetorical door.
Class does matter, and we should consider it when we discuss diversity and oppression issues on campus. But focusing solely on class is not a panacea, and a formerly working-class white boy better be in touch with his white male privilege before he starts (re-)claiming space for his own oppression.
Thursday, November 01, 2007
That said, I came home very pleased to be a part of my current program. The candidates we interviewed for our positions were very strong, and the committee seems to be on the same page about our preferences. (We meet soon to hash out who to bring to campus.) I also remain impressed with my Dean, who is very thoughtful and generous.
So, now I jump back into the daily grind, pleased to know that the semester is more than halfway over and the holidays are coming soon! (Isn't it great to work in a system where life is structured by semesters? It just helps break up the passage of time and makes it seem more manageable.)
While tired and a little rundown from the conference travel, I am feeling very grateful that I am in a good school with smart and engaging colleagues, happily partnered, and doing work that I enjoy (most days). The future will unfold as it does, and my partner and I have agreed that even if they make me an offer, I don't have to take it unless I feel confident that it is a good move for both of us.
Monday, October 29, 2007
Okay, so I am trying to get ready to go out of town to a conference on Saturday, and I have so much to do before I leave. I have to pick up the travel advance (the gf does not believe in loaning the Big R1 University our money for trips, which I understand), buy some shoes to go with the suits, get my haircut cleaned up, get the dry cleaning, and grade student papers so I can pass them back before I go. Oh, yeah, and I have to get something to a potential research funder by Friday, a task which will take probably six hours, at least if I do it right. Which I might not. Because I keep putting it off.
Further complicating this mess is that I am distracted. I have gotten a call about a potential job in another place... an administrative job that sounds pretty cool. And they want to talk to me at the conference. Of course, almost no one at my place knows that this first stage conversation is going to happen, including (perhaps especially) my friends. This secrecy makes the whole thing more difficult, because I am more of a verbal processor. I need to TALK about it, but I really can't. I hate to get folks here upset or angry, especially because the talk is so preliminary and I may not decide to leave, even if I get the offer. My job is pretty great right now, and I would hate to leave it for a situation that turns out to be a disaster.
And there are all the challenges of moving, leaving friends behind and trying to make new friends, and learning the culture of a new university, city, and state. Damn, it makes me tired just to write that.
I joked on Tenured Radical's website about feeling like I was having an affair on my employer and my colleagues, but really, that is how it feels. With an eye to my appearance, I am more concerned about what I will wear, trying to look good at all times for my potential suitor. I am planning clandestine meetings at the conference, trying to figure out how not to be noticed by passersby so rumors won't start. And one thing I know is how small the academic discipline is... if the people on the search committee of wooing school talk to their colleagues and friends about me, it will certainly take less than 6 degrees to link them to people at my school. And even if it might be difficult during a normal week, at the national conference, everyone will be together in the same hotel, so the degrees will be crammed together in one damn room! Sigh.
So, rather than work, I am verbally processing with you.
Update: So, I finished the grant prep work and got it in, finished all the other tasks--small and large--other than grading, and I even graded some papers on the plane. I am having a very good time at the conference: meeting people, visiting with longtime friends, doing a well-attended presentation, interviewing people for jobs at my program, and receiving some nice compliments on my academic work.
I have had some close calls with people overhearing my discussions with faculty from the Wooing School (WS), but I don't think anyone really knows. That said, I am feeling very connected to my home school and my colleagues--most of whom are here at the conference--and can't quite imagine leaving. I am struggling with feeling guilty and even silly for even looking elsewhere, but I can't help but be intrigued by a new, more challenging position. I have never had a romantic affair, but I am sure this must feel somewhat similar (other than the fact that the gf and I talk about it every night!!). That said, I have the "informational meeting" with the WS faculty today, so we will see how it goes. I am trying to keep my options open.
Saturday, October 20, 2007
Drew Gilpin Faust, Harvard University’s first female president, was inaugurated Friday and offered a spirited defense of American higher education against demands that it quantify what it is teaching and focus primarily on training a global work force.-- New York Times, 10.13.07 (picture from NYTimes)
Drew Gilpin Faust just seems very real as well. I like her little-to-no-makeup style, her capability, and her strength. I know she grew up rich, but she also grew up outspoken, concerned about issues of race and racism, and interested in women's issues. I hope to meet her someday. With any luck, she will be as impressive in person as she is on paper.
Hurray for women in leadership positions!
Friday, October 19, 2007
the weird thing about our department here is that the usual undergrad/postgrad/ academic boundaries get eroded pretty quickly. Awesome Mentor takes a motherly interest in my life, to a certain extent... several of my teachers read my blog... some of us undergrads tag along to the departmental functions and end up off eating and drinking with our teachers. Which is great. I'd like to think i'm friends with some of them, including A.M.
[...] On the other hand, in the flurry of comments which have sprung up in the academic blogosphere since that First Person entry, it seems one of the common problems with supervision is students who are looking to be friends with their supervisors. I'd like to be friends with A.M. (althought that might not be feasible until i get over my hero-worshipping thing). Is that a bad way to start out on a thesis?
I may be the wrong person to ask about this, because I believe very strongly in the boundaries between student and instructor. I also think there is a vast difference between being friendly with students and being students' friends. I am certainly friendly with my students. I take an interest in their lives, their goals, their struggles, their learning, and their overall success. I make jokes with them and talk with them at school gatherings, parties, or when I am out to eat. But what my students would notice, if they really thought about it, is how little I share with them.
While I occasionally share tidbits about things that are affecting my life, like my goddaughter's hospitalization, I leave out a lot. They do not know about my relationship with my partner, who I like or don't like on faculty, my struggles to get pregnant and my decision to stop trying, my occasional forays into the job market, or my frustration with a recent article that I cannot get to work. I save these goodies for my friends, my peers, the people with whom I can and should be vulnerable. I may also flirt with my friends, get intoxicated with them, or say things I absolutely should not say publicly. I would not do these things with students.
(Okay, a caveat. I do share personal information if and only if I think the information will be useful to the student. I have told a student about my infertility when she was describing her own fertility struggles. That said, I tell it less in depth and less emotionally than I would with a friend, and I am not looking for support or help from my students.)
I draw these boundaries because I think students need to be protected and respected, and that the focus should be on them when I work with or talk to them. Students are in a vulnerable spot, and I am someone with power in their lives. I need to use my power responsibly. And as Highly says about her mentor, "I think she's the most fantastic thing since sliced bread,...And she seems to be unpertubed by my hero-worshipping at her feet, which is also good." That is not a peer friendship relationship in any way. While I have great respect and even occasional (platonic) crushes on my friends, I do not worship them in any way and we see one another's flaws and eccentricities in a more realistic light. The power balance is there, also, and that makes a huge difference.
One reason I have drawn this line is that I have seen unfortunate things happen when faculty don't draw the line very clearly. The students young Dr. A went drinking with will talk about the drunken episode with her colleagues (who later will evaluate her for tenure). (Hell, nowadays, it might end up with drunken pics on Facebook.) The student who finds herself with reknowned Dr. T who, after a few drinks, starts complaining about the problems in his marriage, how misunderstood he is, and how smart and attractive the student is. The student who hugs Dr. C when he finds her crying about how she can't get an article accepted, and soon hears that the other students are whispering about him in the halls. The student who regularly housesits for august Professor N, forgets to turn off the sprinklers, and has to face N's wrath when he returns, not only at the key exchange but during a required class that N teaches.
I am okay with advisees who want to be my friend. I take it as my role to set appropriate boundaries: friendly but not friends. And ultimately, once the student has graduated and gone on to become a professional, and our relationship has shifted out of the temporary power imbalance, we can become friends. That approach has certainly worked in my life. Many of my mentors are now friends, and some of my student mentees/advisees have become friends as well. We share more personally, and we get to know each other on a more level playing field.
So, I would tell Highly to enjoy her mentoring relationship as it is: friendly, supportive, and helpful. I am sure that the hero-worshipping is kinda fun for your mentor, and it will get even better as you become less worshipping and more comfortable with her. And perhaps, when you are done with your thesis, it will move from mentoring/maternal to a deeper and more lasting friendship.
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
You get to know your students. And this is a good thing. In class, students can seem rather one-dimensional. I am focused on their learning, writing, presentation skills, and critical thinking, and little else. But in advising, I get to learn more about their lives, the many demands and challenges they are balancing (family, work, friends, health issues, legal problems, you name it), and I get to see them grow as adults in meeting these demands and overcoming challenges to reach their educational goals. I also get to see some of their humor, their warmth, and their self-reflection. It feels like a gift, sometimes.
You get to help a student plan his/her life. Undergraduate students are often thinking ahead--to the next semester, the summer, and life after graduation. I get to remind them about the opportunities at the university and the larger community: study abroad, community service activities, research experiences, internships, student leadership activities, and recreational activities are all things they should consider. There are so many things they can do, and as I get to know them, my recommendations get better. And there is nothing more fun than when they try something new and like it! They often will stop by later and tell me about these activities, too, which is pretty cool.
You get to remember why your discipline is exciting and interesting. The newly-admitted students who come to see me are pretty excited about being in the major. I have had students cry when they are told they have been admitted, so pleased are they to become part of our profession. During our advising times, they talk about questions that are arising for them about our discipline, how much they are learning in their classes, and what they hope to do with the degree when they graduate. It is gratifying to know that these students will be out in the community using their degrees to make a difference in the world.
There are certainly some drawbacks of advising: students missing appointments, coming unprepared for advising, taking up time with revelations that are inappropriate or gossipy, and so on. However, those are few and far between, and they pale in comparison to the good experiences. While the advising is designed to help my students, I think it also helps me remember why I am here in the first place.
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
As a White Jewish lesbian, I obviously am not connecting with the author based on any shared race-based experience. Instead, the column resonates with my experiences as a lesbian scholar who is in a department where there are other lesbian and gay scholars **for the first time**!! I too have had to grapple with philosophical, professional, and personal disagreements with others who share an important identity characteristic--some of whom had tenure when I did not.
I spent the first 5 years of my teaching as the ONLY queer faculty member in my first small (5-person) department and the ONLY tenure-track queer in my second large (20+) faculty. Being the ONLY queer got kind of old, though as others who are the ONLY one of their type can attest, I got a lot of great invites to present in classes and I was afforded room and legitimacy to speak because of my unique "queer perspective."
In my current department, however, a full one third of the 20+ faculty were gay and lesbian when I was hired. I was very excited about this opportunity to have other GL scholars as colleagues within my own field. And yet, it has offered some unexpected challenges.
Early in my time here, I hosted a gathering of several of the lesbian faculty members and their partners at our home. While it started as a great party, it fell apart when we started to disagree about whether queer professors should be out in the classroom.
A VERY-OUT contingent argued strongly that all queer faculty should disclose their sexual orientation, as it provided an opportunity to educate heterosexual students, challenge homophobic students, and support queer students (assuming, wrongly, that these are mutually exclusive categories). Those who didn't come out were cowardly and not truly invested in the education of our students.
The WHO-US? folks argued that such a standard was oppressive; they saw their sexual orientation as tangential to their identity as a professor. They felt that they could educate, challenge, and support all students quite well without coming out themselves.
The GUESS-ME folks felt they were identifiable enough for the queers to find them without mentioning it in class. They would confirm their identities for those students who asked, but they would not reference these issues in a classroom setting.
Sometimes, these positions seemed to relate to individuals' levels of comfort with people knowing their sexual orientation. At other points in our discussion, people reflected on their own internalized homophobia, which did not necessarily break down cleanly into one or another of the groups. Other times, it seemed to be a basic disagreement over how much personal information anyone should share with our students. As we tried to understand and negotiate our different approaches, the gathering grew tense and people got defensive.
Where did I fall, you ask? My position was somewhere in the middle, yet strongly argued (imagine!) and deeply felt. I don't need to control the behavior of others and require that they make the same decision as I do, so I am fine for each of us to choose as we feel led. For myself, though, I certainly wanted to argue for my right to come out, and my belief that it is helpful and important to straight and queer students alike.
I went further, though. I wanted some respect and an assurance of support from those who do not disclose for my choices to disclose to students, to speak out on queer-related institutional issues, and to do queer-related research. I feel like I stick my neck out for all of us when I come out and speak out and, while I am okay with that role, I want my props. I tried to be clear that I find these actions risky, and I take them not because it is easy for me, but because I feel led to do so. Perhaps it is easier for me than it is for some of them--due to some experiential, personality, and age differences--but it is often scary, troubling, and painful.
Responding to this request was hard and upsetting, I learned, for those who do not come out, speak out, or do queer-related research to agree to. Some of these folks like to tell themselves that their decisions and (in)actions don't matter to anyone but themselves, and therefore, they have to believe the same about my decisions and actions. If my actions do make a difference in our institution and do help students, then they have to face that they themselves are choosing not to make these decisions and that this can have negative consequences for all queers and straights alike.
I tried to give them a pass, saying that our different approaches actually model for queer students the many different ways one can be lesbian/gay, which is not such a bad thing. We pretended that we could agree to this, but the gathering ended on a sour note... one that took months, and perhaps years, to abate. I have to say, even for myself, that the refusal of others to say that my being out is important or beneficial was challenging to hear.
In the intervening years, other problems have arisen: a tenured queer colleague who didn't find LGBT-related research particularly compelling and suggested an expansion of my research area to strengthen my tenure bid; tension with another queer colleague about who got to teach the one queer class; consistent prodding from a queer colleague to get others to attend queer community functions; loss of a treasured colleague to a school that offered domestic partner benefits.
Like Dr. Walker and the Black colleagues he describes, we academic queers don't agree on any number of issues: the usefulness of identity politics; the need for same-sex marriage, domestic partner benefits, or Lavender Graduation ceremonies (modeled on the African American graduations of which Walker writes); the appropriateness of lesbian-only spaces; and many more. Hell, academic lesbians can't all agree on whether we should be feminists, and what kind of feminism we ought to embrace if we do claim that identity. These kinds of divisions and disagreements are unavoidable among identity groups, even among a small group of faculty who share an identity on a large, predominantly other-identity campus.
A quick glance at the Factbook at Bridgewater College's website shows that Dr. Walker is 0ne of 34 tenured or tenure-track faculty of color (13%) and one of only 11 Black faculty at his school. I can't even tell you how many lesbians, bisexuals, and gay men there are at my university; no one gathers those numbers, and even if they did, it is hard to know if they would be accurate, given the stigma around queer identity.
As I see it, the issue for faculty who are in the numerical minority in our colleges and universities is whether we can count members of our group, and other allies, to support us in what can sometimes be a hostile climate. We don't need to be judging or pillorying one another for "being overly identity-identified" or "not being identity-identified enough." My hope for Dr. Walker is my hope for myself: to forge an academic community that welcomes diversity in all its forms, a community that supports our decisions and facilitates our successes. But I am resigned to the hard work that that goal represents--the divisions, disappointments, and challenges of within-group disagreements, and the necessity of choosing for myself what kind of "identitied" person I will be.
Cheers to Dr. Walker.
Sunday, October 07, 2007
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
You may think from the title that I am going to pontificate again on cursing. But no, that ship has sailed...and I still love to curse. As Mo'Nique said, those curse words "just taste good in my mouth."
- an oppositional (read: out lesbian feminist) scholar who does work that is not mainstream, but that makes a difference in the world and interests me personally (so I get some props from my fella and sista bloggers)
- a scholar who has "succeeded" as per the rather traditional and rigid standards of my R1 grad schools' faculty by (1) getting the first R1 job; (2) getting a second and third R1 job, each one higher up the rankings ladder; (3) publishing in the "right places"; (4) getting tenure at the current R1 and moving into administration here.
Okay, well, I have not gotten big NIH/NSF/CDC/other-federal-acronym multimillion dollar grant, but otherwise I have done what needs doing, as they described it in my doc program.
I achieved this "success"--if tenure at an R1 is the success story, as I was told in my grad program--in my own inimitable fashion, as I described in another post on tenure that got published in Inside Higher Ed. But it was planful, purposive, and strategic. I made my choices, some of them against advice of mentors, but I knew it was a game I would play to win. But even when I look back at my IHE post on my tenure reflections, I wonder why it was so much less offensive to readers than the Chronicle "tenure prep as exercise" first person piece by George Farmer that New Kid just skewers. (Though several folks did make comments about how "depressing" my piece was, for some of the same reasons, I think, that New Kid and others hated Farmer's piece.)
(Coughs noisily, as I don't smoke!)
It is strange to talk to other academics who don't have a big post-tenure plan. I do, and I always have. I like administration, and I am attracted by the opportunities and challenges that would await me in future positions higher up the administrative ladder. And I can't lie: the lure of being called Dean/Provost/President Lesboprof is part of the attraction (right, Dean Dad?)...
I guess I can only hope to keep my own values front and center, and try not to get caught up in the hype about assessing one's worth by looking at the types of colleges at which one teaches, the roles or positions one takes there, the kinds of research one does, where one publishes, the grants one receives, or the granting or denial of tenure (beyond its ability to provide job security and freedom of speech/research). I truly do believe that our academic system needs all of us, as we are, and that our diversity helps us serve students with diverse needs by doing the research, teaching, service, and administrative tasks we each select, and living the lives we want, as we are led and able. And I have to admit, I guess, that I am led to be ambitious.
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
When I started explaining the things I had learned at the U presentation today to the gf, she rolled her eyes at me and called me an "administrative nerd." I am a nerd, she explained, because I find the administrative details we discussed--such as how the budget works, how policy decisions were made, and the role of the Board of Regents in policy and budgeting decisions at our university--incredibly interesting. I guess I can see her point. I have read the Chronicle of Higher Ed since I was a doc student, and I still find it one of the best reads in town. Really, it is both educational and entertaining, providing insights about teaching, admin, and so on, alongside academic scandals and salacious gossip. What more can a girl want? I also follow my discipline: who is being hired where, which Deans are succeeding and which are failing, where schools fall in the US News rankings, and who has good jobs available. I have only recently come to understand that other faculty don't do this! So, I am only now coming to grasp my true nerdiness.
Saturday, September 22, 2007
I have spent a good deal of time in Panera's across the state, of which there are many. Good food, free wireless, homey atmosphere--some of the newer, posher ones have fireplaces! They were a great spot to respond to emails, work on grant proposals and reports, and (because I am in the South) have conversations with people I do not know. Sometimes I think they made these restaurants just for traveling academics, but I have met enough traveling salesmen, local businesspeople, and mom-and-child support groups to know better.
It is amazing the difference that a laptop and WiFi make in my life. I have been on my computer in airports, college buildings, restaurants, in friends' homes, etc. My favorite moment was late evening at a friend's house, where she, her partner, and I all sat at her kitchen table with our laptops open, pausing to read one another crazy emails from students and colleagues while we tried to empty our inboxes. (The other two are also academic administrators, so we all understood the need to get to the email sooner rather than later.)
While I can tell I am away from work, few work colleagues can. After one set of email exchanges, pretty much in real time, one colleague whose office sits across the hall from mine wrote me back and said, "Where the hell are you???" Access to my email and documents has been a great thing, even while it has made my trip less relaxing and less focused on research and family.
So, I will be back blogging regularly next week...perhaps from our local Panera!
Saturday, September 08, 2007
Thursday, August 30, 2007
This also holds true for LGB faculty members. There are many methods and venues in which a LGB faculty member can be out in academe, which lead to a constant series of choices to be made throughout one's career. So far, I have been employed as an assistant/associate professor in academe less than 10 years. In that time, I have had to decide:
- whether to come out to the search committee
- whether to disclose to the chair/dean, ask for accommodations for a partner or push for additional compensation to make up for the missing health care benefits provided to heterosexual colleagues
- whether to disclose to colleagues in other departments (because disclosure to the search committee basically outs you to the department)
- whether to disclose to students and in what fashion
- whether to pursue research in an LGBT-related area
- whether to become the "token lesbian" for colleagues who need an appropriate and educated guest speaker
- whether to act as advisor to the queer student group or serve on the LGBT-related university committee
- whether to serve on thesis/dissertation committes for students pursuing LGBT-related research
- whether to participate in community service activities that are LGBT-related
- whether to speak out on campus about LGBT-related policies and anti-LGBT practices
- whether to speak out in the local, state, and national media on LGBT-related issues in higher education
Now, I will admit that these choices are somewhat particular to my discipline (e.g., it is probably harder for a physicist to pursue LGBT-related research), my personal commitment to educating people about homophobia and heterosexism, and my intention to work for a better life for LGBT students, faculty, and staff on campus and LGBTs in our world. I also speak out on other issues of oppression and discrimination, as well, but that kind of advocacy is less personally marking.
The scary thing for those of us with aspirations for leadership in higher education is that each decision, each level of "outing," is a risk. Further, working to change university, local, state, and federal policies brings with it the possibility of me being seen as strident, unprofessional, consumed with a personal cause, and just plain "too dykey." (Which, as my lesbian and gay male friends will attest, is categorically different from being "too gay." Gay guys have to worry about seeming weak and effeminate; we lesbians have to worry about being too strong (read: butch), shrill, and scary.)The level of risk is apparent when looking for out LGB role models in higher education central administration. A recent story in the Chronicle about gay male college/university presidents or chancellors identified a total of three gay men in these roles, all at small private schools. (I can't find it, but a follow-up story or comment named a few additional out gay men in similar leadership roles.) It is exciting to see out gay leaders; it would be more exciting to me to see out lesbian leaders, especially those who don't commit suicide (see the tragic story of Denice Denton, the former Chancellor of UC-Santa Cruz). I have met and spoken with several out lesbians and bisexual women who have made it into positions in higher administration (dean, vice provost), but none in the highest positions.
At every stage of my career, I have gotten the message,"You don't have to tell everything." I am not good at hearing or accepting that message, partly because I have trouble countenancing the complicity with oppression that it involves. I made a decision early on in my professional career to be out basically all the time. And in choosing to teach, research, and do service related to LGBT issues, I have pretty much insured that there is no turning back. The evidence is there, forever, on my vitae. And yet... new choices arrive daily, each on a broader stage, requiring more outness, and at each stage I get nervous. And I have realized that the answer to the question/opportunity is not always yes.
For example, I have served as what I call a "professional queer" for many years in different schools. I have visited classes, spoken at meetings, led workshops, and spoken to the media about gay issues. And at some point I realized that it was time to stop saying "yes." If I kept offering to do the gay lecture for class, the teacher never had to learn about the material. In my own classes, I certainly lecture on things that are not in my area of expertise, which requires studying the topic and preparing for activities and questions. I realized that I was denying my colleagues a wonderful opportunity to learn more about LGBT issues by taking everything on myself. So, I am now trying to decline these invitations.
I also have been counseled by family, friends, and mentors to turn down some "opportunities" that do not serve my own interests, and that might, in fact, hurt me. This is a harder pill for me to swallow, because it feels both selfish and cowardly. Yet, when dealing with the media, who have their own agendas and spin to put on the news, it is a greater risk to be out and outspoken about LGBT issues. With the internet, news stories have a longer half-life than ever. A poorly written or biased story that misuses quotes and/or pictures might have a long-term impact on a career.
It is funny, but saying "yes" to being out is so much easier for me to do. Perhaps my struggle can be explained as the problem many women have of saying "no." Perhaps it is vanity--liking the idea of participating on a public stage and getting attention on such a large scale. Perhaps it is about wanting to be authentic. But in my heart of hearts, I know deep down that some opportunities should be refused. And perhaps if I don't step out this time, I can be one of those out lesbian presidents who can speak out later.