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.