Tuesday, January 14, 2014

"Aaay." (Or, What Does the Fonz Say While Grading and Jumping the Shark?)

The current iteration of the "adjunct movement" has jumped the shark.

Its self-appointed spokesman, who has been making far too much of a career out of being post-academic to legitimately call herself post-academic (does a general news-reading public actually care about sex at the MLA?), has written that her rageful, vulgar, over-the-top rhetorical style is a deliberate way of showing other people that it's possible to speak out without the world coming to an end. Except apparently it has:

Losing your job and rendering yourself unemployable technically isn't one of the signs of the Apocalypse, but it's also completely disingenuous to exhort people to do the things that have gotten you fired without admitting that fact except off-handed and buried in a comment thread.

Perhaps it's not unconscionable to ask other people to put their jobs on the line for systemic changes, but it's completely unconscionable to claim that you're being completely honest about what you're asking and about what it implies — the only truly honest one out there, in fact, because you have nothing left to lose — and then not to be.

Theme and variation on that conclusion, which also starts to get to my next point about this discussion just becoming a lot of noise, is this:

As I said the last time I wrote about all of this sound and fury, I hope that in a few years I will be in a position to do something both about academic publishing, which is my pet issue (about which I have written angrily and honestly but completely differently), and about the state of hiring, which is a far greater systemic issue. I'm fortunate to be in a department that is very supportive of non-TT faculty, so the idea that I would be in such a position isn't at all far-fetched. But that'll never happen if I were, say, to pull the house down on myself right now; so I'm going to do something that is completely self-serving while also being the thing that will position me to do something other than shout.

For the first time since I signed up for Twitter, I'm finding the cacophony of the academic Twitterverse to be far more distracting than productive while simultaneously being completely tedious. So I'm taking a social media break, if not until my book manuscript is finished, then at least until the end of January when my book-manuscript marathon is over. It's a bit like putting on my own oxygen mask in a depressurized airplane cabin before helping others with theirs. I'm able bodied, to continue the analogy, and yes I'm helping myself first, but if I were to pass out from lack of breathable air, I wouldn't be any good to anybody.

I don't want to continue to watch what is, in effect, someone having a huge professional meltdown, and that's what's come to dominate these last few weeks. It is no longer a social movement but rather has become voyeuristic social-emotional gore:

I'll continue to write in this space, and I may even post the occasional link on Twitter or Facebook, but other than that, I'm checked out. The din in my head, to borrow a turn of phrase from Cynthia Ozick, has just gotten too much.


  1. Personally, I don't join Twitter (although I do read it avidly), because I fear getting sucked into the endless discussions. Also, because I do not trust myself not to answer "impulsivamente" one too many times.

    As for the adjuncts: I consider myself an ally, and I will keep considering myself an ally regardless of what they think about me. It is not just an issue of justice but of self-interest: at places like mine, the next in line are principal faculty, so I would like to have as many allies as possible if that time comes. That being said, their fight is not mine. I don't say it in a mean, I don't care way, but in the sense that I am not in their position, therefore I don't think I get to say much about their strategy.

    I think Rebecca is one of their voices, maybe the loudest, but not the only one. And she can say whatever she wants. And adjuncts can admire or criticize her as much as they want. I will criticize her if she believes that a principled "I refuse to hire adjuncts" is the smartest strategy Tenured professors can have. But in principle, I refuse to dismiss her as a drama queen throwing hissy-fits. That was just nasty. And

    I also think that Rebecca's hyperbolic tone allows other people (like Marc Bousquet) to appear like the common sense, middle of the road, "good" cop. I am sure she knows it, but even if she does not, it is invaluable. Also, if she can get a few more people to realize what doing a PhD entails, the chances you are taking, and how high the risks are, then she is doing a great public service.

    Personally, my biggest criticism of many of the adjuncts is that they reproduce the R1 mentality: you are only a winner if you get an R1 job in a cosmopolitan city. It was never my aspiration, I always wanted to go to a SLAC. I am the first one to admit that I didn't apply to a single job in many states (Mississippi, the Dakotas, Nebraska, Oklahoma) because I would never move there. I do not believe that this profession is so magnificent that you have to sacrifice quality of life just to get a TT job. But I am very happy in my mid-sized midwest city with a 3-3 teaching load. Of course, even that is almost impossible to get in most humanities disciplines. My point is that it should be OK to aspire to that.
    Una anecdota: cuando estaba haciendo el Phd -en un mid-tier university- un alumno termino su MA y se fue a hacer su doctorado a tu alma mater diciendo "Si me quedo aqui, solo voy a conseguir trabajo en algun lugar en el medio de la nada". Pues ambos nos doctoramos al mismo tiempo, y conseguimos trabajo en la misma ciudad!!! (en distintas universidades, obvio). Cuando lo veia lo cargaba que habiamos terminado los dos en la misma ciudad, y yo no me habia tenido que aguantar los inviernos de Ithaca.

    Anyway, I hope what I am saying makes sense. It is also my way of saying how much I like your blog. And good luck with your book!

  2. I'll be a little more substantive in the comment thread over at your blog, but just for here, you lead into a good point about the different uses of Twitter. I really didn't sign up for it to follow the goings on in "the profession." For me it was originally as a way to aggregate links and has become a way for me to connect up with other medievalists. And that's good from a methodological perspective (for example, getting to follow what old and middle English people are doing with digital text corpora) and also in terms of academic socializing/networking which, for me, is something that's really hard to do at conferences — I'm shy and I find crowded rooms overwhelming. So especially given that it's not my primary usage, the fact that that's what's dominating my feed these days makes it just sound like a lot of noise. I really do avoid getting into the ugly discussions and I'm pretty good at thinking before I speak — the one time that I ever tagged Rebecca Schuman in a post was when I was agreeing with something she had written. I'm not really interested in arguing with her particularly in large part because of the tone. I do see that you all are arguing back against what she said (I think here I'm responding more to what's in your comment thread) and I'll be really curious to see how she responds when she gets back from her road trip.

    Anyway... more on the flip side. All else I'll say here is that avoiding Ithaca in the winter (and, frankly, most of the rest of the year) is always the smart move. :)

  3. Also, just because this is getting a little inter-hyper-textual, here's the link to the conversation over at Spanish Prof's: