I’ve never written about my niece, so obviously I hate babies.

Recently, I caught wind of an unpaid post* on the website Full Stop, by grad student Laura Goldblatt,*** that characterized my now very-much over December mini-skirmish with Claire Potter as such:

This winter, Rebecca Schuman and Chronicle of Higher Education columnist Tenured Radical came to (fiberoptic) blows over a discussion of interviewing practices in higher education. Using increasingly overwrought pronouncements about unfair hiring practices, the pair described adjunct professors and graduate students as the most exploited members of a rigged game, the disjecta membra of the knowledge industry. Never once did either mention the plight of dining service workers, janitors, or groundskeepers at universities. Their idea of exploitation apparently failed to register either as academic labor or precarity.

I’ll cop to “overwrought”–that’s my MO, after all. But the idea that I “fail to register” the exploitation of workers who don’t happen to be adjunct professors, simply because they were not included in the scope of a very specific argument about a very specific incident, is…now what is the most intellectual, erudite way of phrasing this? Oh yes, it’s fucking preposterous.

Goldblatt’s narration of the Italian skirmishes around precarity was very interesting and worth considering. But to function, that argument needed some straw-women–few academic labor advocates, if any, would ever, ever classify themselves as anything other than in full solidarity with our working brothers and sisters everywhere. Including New Faculty Majority’s Maria Maisto, whose position was also heavily mischaracterized in the piece! But still, to make her point, Goldblatt needed a bad guy, and the actual “bad guy” (aka any smirking free-market Capitalist Ayn Randy fuckwad off the street) would not do. So instead she went after me, painting me as some sort of effete, academics-only windbag who doesn’t even “register” that the university also exploits staff workers. (This is especially rich considering that Claire actually MENTIONED many kinds of workers in one of her original ‘takedowns’ of me.)

I wasn’t aware that in order to talk about my one and only area of labor expertise–the academic sector–I had to qualify my work at all times with acknowledgement that exploitation of the working poor is a thing. I wasn’t aware of that because I assume that in labor-aware circles, we all know this, that this weighs on all of us, that our economy’s parasitic, abusive relationship with the cheap labor it needs for those at the top to continue living large was a foregone conclusion, because I read the news, and I have eyes.

I am not a general investigative journalist–unlike my friend Sarah Kendzior, who is, and who spent months researching and writing this stratospherically wrenching piece on St. Louis fast-food workers, to whose research and writing process I was privy (Sarah has been working on this since last Fall and spoke to me in general terms about her experience throughout), and whose struggle for non-exploitative publication I both approached with solidarity and condemned in public, and whose eventual triumphant publication I publicized extensively. Not that it needed that–it’s one of the most successful posts on all of Medium, the site whose editors wanted to cut all of its best lines and turn the all-Black interview roster of thinking, feeling, intelligent, aware, hard-working human beings into a “cast of characters” to be gawked at. Boy, for someone who doesn’t even register that fast-food workers exist, I got awful pissed at that.

Anyway, my point is this. I agree (I think) with Goldblatt’s larger excursus, though it does get a little academic at times for my personal taste (and that is just personal taste), but her use of me, of Claire and of Maria as straw-women to make a point that all of us agree with, simply because we write almost exclusively about education–BECAUSE THAT IS OUR “BEAT,” so to speak–is ludicrous.

I’ve never written about my dad on Slate, but I have used the word “family” many times–HOW DARE I ignore the important contributions of fathers to the family structure? (Or, for that matter, judges or lawyers?) I’ve never written a single article anywhere about babies (other than about my own failed attempt at creating one), so I must completely not care about children or parents, especially poor ones.

The fact that a single argument does not have the scope you want it to–and that is thus reason dismiss wholesale the argument and its giver–is classic academic-conference “takedown” twaddle. “Why isn’t this about what I want it to be about? I object!” It shouldn’t fly in the real world (it shouldn’t fly in academia either!), and I call bullshit on this instance.

The Full Stop Twitter feed offered me the chance to respond in an official capacity–I appreciate that offer, but I’d rather write here, and I hope they respect that. In the meantime, I will also hope that Goldblatt’s article will sink into obscurity (or perhaps never even rise from it)–I’d fret about it ruining my rep, but luckily I’m only 37, so I don’t have a rep yet.

**This has been edited to remove perceived “big-timing,” but to reflect the important fact that Goldblatt schooled me about what exploitation is whilst writing for free.

***You’re welcome, by the way, for all the work I did publicizing the MLA Subconference, and going to bat for it at Slate when my editor thought it was too insular of a topic. You’re fucking welcome.

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20 comments

  1. Love this: “The fact that a single argument does not have the scope you want it to–and that is thus reason dismiss wholesale the argument and its giver–is classic academic-conference ‘takedown’ twaddle. ‘Why isn’t this about what I want it to be about? I object!’ It shouldn’t fly in the real world (it shouldn’t fly in academia either!), and I call bullshit on this instance.”
    Thank you!

  2. Ha… she’s missing the obvious: full time groundskeepers have a full time job with benefits, so they ARE TREATED BETTER THAN ADJUNCT PROFESSORS. Tell her to pull her head out of her arse.

    Oh yeah, and of course you hate babies.

  3. Classic tactic: distract workers, get them to fight one another rather than the structural problem. What an idiot the fullstop mag “article” writer is (not that I think s/he is that shrewd and that that was h/is/er goal with the piece…it’s “Ground Hog Day” re: this fullstop mag “author-like piece” is just like the clueless German grad student from a few months ago. Both want to be “important when he/she grows up” so they inchoately pick on you, formulate some inaccurate bullshit half piece and attempt to “go public.”) A lemonade stand might make them stand out more…and teach them a thing or two about labor. Anybody who even remotely follows your blog and tweets knows you have consistently embedded contingent academic labor as part of the greater corporate exploitative crisis.

    1. I’ve talked to her on Twitter all morning, and she’s definitely not an idiot, but she is just guilty of several academic tics that happen to drive me bananas, the first of which is to take something out of context and then decry it for not having the proper context.

      1. It’s worse than being an idiot, then: it’s unethical when one deliberately distorts context and information–unless she owns the mistake. Just saying.

      2. She truly believes that by not mentioning other low-wage workers on college campuses (many of whom actually make more, have better hours, and more benefits than adjuncts anyway!), I am excluding them from ‘academic labor.’ They are ‘university labor’ and I talk about ‘instructional labor’. Most people can see that and don’t go all grad-student-nasty on me about it, but she doesn’t, and that’s her choice. I went to bat for her MLA Subconference last year–Slate thought it was too insular and nobody would want to read about it. Guess I shouldn’t have bothered…

      1. All of us involved with the subconference appreciate very much the work that you do, and were grateful for your sympathetic coverage of the subconference. At the same time, I think it’s unfair to cast aspersions on Laura for attending UVA, particularly as she’s been involved with some amazing battles there, including the 10+ year living wage campaign for UVA food and service workers. I think some of Laura’s frustrations with the limits of many discourses about precarity come out of that experience; I didn’t take her remarks to be an attack on you but rather a comradely, if critical push to get us all thinking about how we can build solidarity between the struggles of contingent academic laborers and university food and service workers. I feel like that point got lost in all the back-and-forth. The point here, for me, is that building solidarity is hard work; it involves frank and open dialogue, as well as the ability to offer and accept critique. My hope is that we’ll all be able to find a way do that.

      2. That is my hope too. And I’m not making fun of Laura for attending UVA, which is by many accounts the best public school in the country. I am making fun of her for criticizing me using the age-old grad student technique of “your thing does not 100% overlap with my thing,” which is a truly absurd form of argument. The idea that I don’t care about food and service workers–who, by the way, nobody is shocked to learn make shit money, because this country has been abusing service workers for centuries–because I focus primarily on educators–who, by the way, everybody is surprised to learn make shit money because they have spent so long on their education–does not mean I don’t care. If Laura wanted to have a dialogue with me that was productive, she would have made a slightly more concerted effort to recognize the broader context of my work. Of course that wouldn’t have served her argument.

  4. Big-timing her by mocking her as a just a grad student and saying “something called Full Stop”– so classy and so left-wing of you.

    It doesn’t bother me that you so clearly think you’re a very big deal– it’s a common failing of writerly types when they start writing for publications like Slate. But it’s the way that you spend all of your time arguing that you are the subaltern while simultaneously big-timing other people that’s grating. You can’t have both. Either you are the most abjectly oppressed human on earth, which is the thesis of most of what you write, or you are a very big deal at the very big deal website Slate who looks down her nose at poor grad students who don’t have your platform. Please choose.

    1. Erm. Neither? I choose neither.

      I have never, ever, ever, ever, ever, never, nerver (that’s a Mr Show reference), nevenevehneh, said that I am even slightly abjectly oppressed. To think that is “the thesis” of anything I have ever written is again to hold me up as an enemy straw man when I actually agree with 95% of everything you write.

      Writing about a larger narrative of labor issues (and other issues affecting educators) is what I do. Writing about the affect of academic hierarchies on people’s FEELINGS and sense of self-worth is what I do. Getting your feelings hurt is not the same as oppression. I know this very, very, very well and I am quite clear about it.

      I don’t think I’m a big deal, and I am not big-timing anyone. What I am doing, deservedly so, is mocking academia for creating a very stupid culture where people think that it is a reasonable analysis or critique to say “Your thing is not exactly my thing. I object to its entire existence.”

      That is VERY popular with grad students who are learning the craft from “the best” to have chips on their shoulders, and it is also a very, very grad-studenty thing to go on a giant tirade about being more of a Marxist than someone else, while at the same time enjoying the relatively cushy trappings of PhD life at Mistah Jefferson’s Univesitah.

      I don’t look down my nose at people who don’t have my platform, which is in all actuality quite tiny, but I’m sure as shit not above pointing out why they might be making specious arguments.

      1. Wow, Rebecca you just got called out by freddie deboer, a guy who spends all of his time being a pompous internet leftist who feels the need to chastize other leftists for not being as awesomely leftist as he is. Because that’s how we’ll solve the big problems: by critiquing to the enth degree other people who basically agree with us on most issues. Keep up the wonderful work, Rebecca, you are very much appreciated!

  5. Yup, it’s a page borrowed from every academic book review ever written by a grad student: “Ultimately, however, this survey of post-Wende cinema is fatally flawed by failing to adequately address Goethe’s Wahlverwandtschaften.” Things just like that get written in just about every humanities field, all the time. Most people recover eventually.

    1. That happened to one of my closest friends just this month! Incredible book, THE toppest of top presses (according to you, ie mine), and the dumbest review ever by some pip-squeak. I once heard a grad student say in all seriousness that you could not read Heidegger with any seriousness without first embarking upon a protracted study of Meister Eckhart.

  6. https://www.h-net.org/jobs/job_display.php?id=48787

    Apropos of shameless, this is what Brown offers? Brown. Love how they frame it as Visiting Lecturer/Visiting Asst. Prof.–pick your abuse. An Ivy League. And I can only imagine they’re going to flooded with applications. God, I teach at a state university (in a very expensive state, granted) and was paid 12 k for two courses (6 k each–a gold mine next to $2 k or less so many adjuncts make). My “stipend” is sad but it’s even sadder to see what an Ivy offers. JUST GODAMN make it a full visiting position with benefits, jeez.

  7. “Why isn’t this about what I want it to be about?” This comes up in every playwriting feedback session in which I’ve ever participated.

Don't be a dick.

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