Friday, November 30, 2007

How long can you live in denial?

I have entered a new phase: denial for academics...

Grading? Well, I can get to that sometime this weekend. That big report folks are waiting on? Yeah, soon enough that will happen, perhaps once school has ended. Prepping class for next semester? You know, there is more than a week after school ends before I leave for the holiday break; I can surely work on it then with all my concentrated free time. And of course I will have time when I return from the holidays before class starts. Of course, I also have to prep the job talk for early January, but that won't take too much time, will it? And then there is that national conference travel...

My denial is not limited only to my writing and teaching, it extends to my department as well. Yes, some of my colleagues are acting out and causing me to feel quite disillusioned, but that was last night's angst. And I am still ignoring the nagging guilt of not telling my colleagues I have applied for another job and have a campus interview scheduled. No, tonight, life is fine.

Ah, tonight I watch movies ("Running with Scissors"--funny, but depressing in an "Ordinary People" kind of way) and bad TV, eat chocolate and pizza, and pretend there is no tomorrow. And pray that the end of the semester comes quickly...

...but not so quickly that I don't get the work done!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Holiday Cheer and Glad Hidings Tidings

After my last morose post, I am glad to be writing from a happier place. As I noted in comments on Profgrrrrl's blog, I am blissfully ensconced in my home watching bad TV, reading books and magazines, and officially avoiding any thoughts of work. (Okay, so I answer an occasional email, but they are few and far between.)

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

Anger and disappointment

Reading about Profgrrrrl's recent brush with boorish colleagues reminded me of a story I just heard that made me very sad and angry. A colleague told me about a doctoral student I know who was manipulated, sexually harassed, and physically threatened by a professor I have known for many years. What is worse, I am not that surprised by the information. I have thought for many years that this professor had bad judgement and inappropriate interactions with junior faculty and doc students. In fact, hir casual interactions with me have creeped me out a little. Yet, I really did not imagine that this particular professor would have behaved in such a terrible and reprehensible fashion.

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.

All of this viscerally reminds me of my own brushes with sexual harassment, poor behaviors, and instances of manipulation by those with power over me. I have had to confront and/or report these actions numerous times. Each of these reports has been professionally and emotionally costly. None of the individuals involved in the incidents really offered much of an apology or recognition that their behavior was wrong. While some of the reports have resulted in negative outcomes for the parties involved, none of the personal or administrative responses to these actions was ever really satisfying to me.

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

The Immortal Lesboprof!

Okay, so I am playing along, and this is the quote I got!

William Shakespeare

Give me my robe, put on my crown; I have
Immortal Lesboprof in me.

Which work of Shakespeare was the original quote from?

Get your own quotes:

LOVE it!!!

Check out the quotes at profgrrrrl , Dr. Crazy, and Dr. Virago.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Class, and other bugaboos

Well, I had a post in mind to write--I had started it, even. Then I came across a column in the Chronicle, "A Class Traitor in Academe," penned by Thomas Benton aka William Pannapacker... I knew I had to discuss it.

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.

He writes:

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

Home again

Glad to be home again, that is for sure! The informal interview with Wooing School was certainly that--we had trouble finding a space to talk that wasn't incredibly loud and surrounded by lots of people. We eventually settled in a corner and had a nice chat. The woman who interviewed me indicated that they will bring me to campus for an interview, but probably not for several months. So, I am resigning myself to a longer process and staying open to where it might lead.

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.