Saturday, January 27, 2007

Ruminations of a baby lesbian administrator

I just finished reading an essay in IHE by Ralph Hexter, President of Hampshire College, on being an out college president, and I am truly moved. Hexter discusses his conscious decision to be out, and the positive effects this openness has had on his administrative accomplishments and his identity as a leader.

Hexter writes, "It not so much that I happen to be gay but rather that I have always been open and honest about that fact, even in a world that is still sometimes hostile. For it seems to me that openness and honesty especially in the face of risks are values we should look for in the presidents and chancellors of institutions of higher education, and perhaps all leaders."

He counsels LGBT leaders to "be out there, and you can at least console yourself that every bit of resistance you smack up against is the real thing. None of it is of your own imagining. You didn’t put those walls there by projecting your fears and practicing avoidance tactics."

I really respond to Hexter's advice. And I also just love the image of him moving into the President's house with his partner of 27 years.

I left a comment on the article, which I guess they may or may not publish. I wrote:
I want to agree [with the last commenter] that your essay was heartening. I will look up the book you mention.

As an out lesbian administrator who aspires to higher administrative posts, it is encouraging to see others who are out--not just because they feel like it, but because they see their disclosure as integral to their performance and their honest "being in the world."

I like to say I am a cynical idealist, or an idealistic cynic, because I purposefully approach my outness with the highest of expectations for others' reactions, even as I know that they may not live up to those expectations. I firmly believe that if I expect warmth, inclusion, and graciousness, I am more likely to receive it. And while I do face my fair share of disappointment, I still have hope that even these negative experiences have positively changed those with whom I have interacted.

I also saw early on, from looking at colleagues who had lost their edge, that if you don't speak out when it costs you (i.e., as a doctoral student, a junior faculty member, a lower-level administrator), you forget how to speak out at all when you have more power.

Thanks for your words of wisdom and your hard work!"

I am very convicted regarding that last part about speaking out. I have run into too many people who sell out early on, telling themselves that later, when it is less costly, they can speak up. The problem seems to me that they get too used to being safe. And then, when they do have the power to make a change, to stand up and speak out, they tend to shy away from these moments. Sometimes, I think they don't even see the moments when they arise; worse, they don't see that they have the power!

This is also the case when it comes to being out as gay/lesbian. Those who spend years hiding their sexual orientation (SO) away from everyone start to accept the idea that their SO is scary, intimidating, upsetting, or odd. This acceptance and internalization makes it that much harder to claim their sexual orientation openly and proudly later.

I once had a lesbian professor who had made a huge impact on her field in her youth, but who had felt the need to be closeted, lest she be branded and her work dismissed. By the time I had her, when she was a more senior scholar, she still wouldn't speak out on lesbian issues, and she would not disclose (or confirm) her SO to students or some faculty. It still saddens me. Another semi-closeted senior lesbian with whom I worked critiqued my LGBT research as too "limited," because LGBT folks are such a small part of the population. Self-hatred not only hurts those who live with it; it hurts other scholars, the university, and the academic endeavor as a whole.

That said, I also know several out lesbian administrators in my field who are my role models. They are honest, thoughtful, and creative leaders, and all of them have shown the willingness to speak out. I doubt any of them would be described as strident or argumentative. Indeed, they are more likely to be considered fair, engaging, and willing to work across differences of opinion. But they are who they are all of the time. And that is what I aspire to do.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Football slut

Okay, so I am not really a football girl. I mean, my dad watched it when I was small, and I learned some basics during my time in high school and college (ie., the importance of first downs, not to call the uniforms "outfits," and the like). I never attended a school that was all that great in sports, at least, not while I was there. (I did go to one school that always hearkened back to a football great from the 1910s... Yes, it was that sad.)

But here I am, on playoff Sunday, and I know:

1. there are 2 black coaches in the playoff (one in the AFC and one in the NFC), who might actually play one another in the superbowl if they win today,
2. that one of them is named "Lovie" (which I think is a trip!),
3. Peyton Manning is on the Colts, and he is amazing and cute,
4. the games are on all afternoon/evening,
5. I will be watching them with the gf (well, "watching" may be an overstatement--I may do a little work while I look up from time to time).

I have moved to this space because my partner is a sports dyke. She played soccer and bball in her youth, watches most sports (including tennis and golf), and reads the sports pages and Sports Illustrated regularly. She does the whole "sports geneology" thing, telling me who comes from where, who used to play for/work for whom, and why that makes the game today so interesting.

I made the decision to not become a "sports widow" early on in our relationship, preferring to insinuate myself into the viewing of games of all sorts. I got us season tickets at my first job, her alma mater. I learned how many questions is too many (when she starts to get impatient), and I found that I can even distract her from some pursuits (especially now with Tivo) if I put my **mind** to it. While I do not get too involved--I only read the sports pages and SI when they have good personality stories, I have learned to have fun watching games and getting to spend time with my sweetie.

So, here I sit--uncoordinated, athletically inexperienced, and with only the rudimentary knowledge of pro football--sharing a day of football with my girl...and loving it! What can I say? If you don't want to be a sports widow, become a sports slut!

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Curses, foiled again!

Well, I have just returned from reading a new piece in Inside Higher Education about academic freedom. The story is good, but the comments section is BETTER...

John Bonner goes off on a rant about his experiences with the community college system, his union, and the legal system, and comes to the conclusion that we are all going to hell in a handbasket because he gets in trouble for saying "cunt," "pussy," "blowjob," "fuck," and other lovely phrases in his English classes. I am not sure what I think, to be honest.

I have to admit, up front, that I am a curser. I curse at home, in my office, and in class--actually, I have started my semesters by admitting to students that I will endeavor NOT to curse in class, but that I sometimes mess up and one slips out. I do that now because I had students, early on, tell me that it bothered them and that it distracted from their learning. So, as a result of that feedback, I actually do try not to curse, because I think that students' learning is the most important thing. But, when I am tired, especially in night classes or late in the semester, I am more likely to slip up. I am also more likely to curse outside of the formal class time--during class breaks, before or after class, etc. When I am actively trying not to curse, I don't feel censored, just challenged to expand my vocabulary and stay alert.

That said, I am conflicted about the little I know about Bonner's case--they provided a link to a court ruling on the website. According to the court papers, he discussed Monica Lewinsky giving Clinton a blowjob. Well, I don't know if you remember, but when it was in the news, everyone was talking about it and either saying "oral sex" or "blowjob." Little kids were asking their parents to explain both terms to them. So, being in a classroom of adults, it doesn't seem like a big deal for Bonner to address it directly. However, I get hinky when I start thinking about an English professor writing a diatribe about a student complaint, passing it out in class, and posting it all over campus, along with a copy of the complaint (even if the student's name had been removed). I also wonder about someone who would write about his students with such disdain, students he is trying to teach.

As a woman who has been in many, many classrooms in a variety of disciplines, I have experienced both harassing male professors and those who just like to curse. The former made me feel small and uncomfortable; the latter entertained me and made me feel like they were just normal people (though perhaps with more education). But what is to differentiate them, apart from my feelings? And what if my classmates experienced these professors differently than I did? In fact, I am certain that they did. To this day, there are professors who I found completely repugnant during my time in school who are thoroughly loved and respected by other female students and alumnae.
One of my problems with Bonner is that he clearly had gotten feedback, via complaints (and, I would bet, student evaluations), that students were bothered by his profanity and vulgarity in the classroom. And it seems to me that he didn't care. I don't get that part. I have taught several classes on human sexuality at different schools, in which we discuss all manner of sexual materials and use a variety of sexual terminology, and I have not had a complaint. I think this is because we address the discomfort at the beginning, we talk about the purpose of the discussions as we have them, and the students know that the purpose is their learning, not some salacious thrill on my part. It seems that students' concerns were not relevant or understandable to him; rather, they were the target of his derision.
Of course, I have to admit that when I do curse or use what some might call "vulgar terms" in a classroom setting, I think that I benefit from being a woman. Few men will find me offensive or harassing, and women--straight, bi, or lesbian--usually don't see my cursing as sexually harassing. Honestly, the few complaints I have received from students had to do with what they perceive as my "agenda"**--feminist, lesbian, or just plain leftist.
I guess I finished the discussion not sure about whether protecting Bonner's in-class speech, which may or may not be gratuitous, but is purposefully and unapologetically incendiary; and his out-of-class writing, which is about as nasty and sarcastic as any I have seen; is necessary to protect my (admittedly feminist, progressive, and pro-LGBT) research, writing, and service and my supposed "agenda" in the classroom. If Bonner could have simply explained his rationale for his using these words in the classroom in a court of law, rather than in a mean-spirited, publicly distributed apologia, he might have won his case. That said, I left the discussion not quite sure that he was as committed to learning as he was committed to his right to do as he damn well pleased.
**P.S. I would not label the content of my teaching the same way as I would my research, writing, and service (feminist, progressive, pro-LGBT). I am careful to be open to dissent and discussion in my courses. While some may label me extreme or refer to my "agenda" because I choose to include cultural competence, women's issues, racism, and LGBT issues in my classes, I give room for people to discuss and argue perspectives with which I might personally disagree. Sometimes, when they falter in their arguments, I even help them... but that is a post for another day.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Embarrassment of riches

I come to the new year with big questions about where I go from here. My large research projects are completed, and my smaller projects are coming to a close (I hope). I am doing some consulting, which is fine, but I have no project of my own. I am not sure what to do next; I feel stuck, and time is passing quickly. (This is when I wish I had a real mentor... I am not sure that they exist, and I am not sure I really would want one if they did, but that is a topic for another day.)

I have a ton of administrative busy work that could creep in to take up a lot of my time, if I don't come up with a plan very soon. I have many options and ideas for new projects--some related to extending my prior research, some related to some of my new administrative projects, some related to my political activities, and some just brand new. And I am not teaching this semester, so I could really do something big.

I want to be strategic about it, while still following my interests and passions and producing useful work. I have always done my projects by myself, shunning teamwork for the wonderful control that comes with working alone. When I do work on other people's projects, I am a consultant, not responsible for overseeing everything, and I get to drift in and out.

Yet, I also want to eventually become a Dean, which these days (in my field) seems to mean that you have run a major research project, usually a funded one. Choosing to go this route would push me away from my recent field of study and into something new and more mainstream.

Mostly, I am worried by being so stagnant. I have been writing non-research-related pieces, but that is getting old. And, truth be told, it is boring and tedious. I like the research-related writing better. And I have to admit feeling competitive... I want to compete in the future for leadership positions, and I need my vitae to look especially strong.

This impasse is futher complicated by the fact that my tenure packet is in, and I won't have that answer until mid-March. And I am still trying to decide whether to pursue more invasive treatment for fertility issues...

So, how do you get past your plethora of choices to make a damn decision--on anything?