It’s Summer Break: Do You Know Where Your Professor Is?

Hey, it’s summer vacation for academics, so it’s the perfect time for a road trip! Let’s all go visit the eminences of our fields, in the vibrant towns, cities and hamlets where many of them hang their mortarboards–you know, that soulless, unwalkable exurb; that cold-as-bejeezus mid-sized “city” whose greatest selling point is that it’s only two hours away from Detroit; that college town with fifty dive bars, where Qdoba counts as “Mexican food” and when the university got rid of its racist mascot or serial rapist football coach, the students rioted; that post-industrial Rust Belt city that battles it out every year with my home, St. Louis, for most murders.

These places, of course, are not all bad–and all of them, simply by being affordable and devoid of both hedge-fund types and tech-startup types, are in many ways “better” than New York and San Francisco–and if you move there with an open heart and mind (and your family in tow!), lay down roots, embrace the local culture and get embraced back (if you don’t live in St. Louis, which is full of provincial folk who shun anyone who doesn’t go four generations back), you may very well have a long and wonderful life there.

That is true, yes–and it’s also what our advisers and mentors and “betters” tell us when we’re on the job market: Don’t be an elitist about where you live. If you weren’t such an elitist, they say, you’d love it wherever  you managed to get yourself hired, even before you moved there–and you would have “projected” that love during your campus visit. Instead, your wide-eyed terror at having your every move scrutinized by a bunch of strangers who used your appetizer order to assess the “quality of your mind” (true story) was misunderstood as sneering rejection of the college’s unpretentious locale.

And, alas, if you don’t “project” enough love for a place that is 1000 miles from your closest family member or friend immediately, then that means you never deserved an academic job in the first place, you elitist. Embrace your inner North Dakotan, the FULLPROF intones fullprofily–

–as he puts the finishing touches on his two-month sublet in San Francisco, New York, Paris, London or Madrid. Because here’s the thing–all those people who tell you not to be such an elitist, that their towns, wherever they are, are “not that bad”? (And make no mistake, if you have any support system there at all, no town is bad; if you have nobody, even New York and San Francisco are bad.)

Anyway, like I said, here’s the thing: For every single second these academics are not required to be in those towns, they are nowhere to be found. Crickets. Their massive, often-subsidized houses are empty altogether. Go to any college town in Real America right now–Columbus, Little Rock, Tuscaloosa, Lawrence KS, Baton Rouge, Bloomington, Madison, College Station, State College–and the professors, provided that they have not been stupid enough to marry a local with a real job, are packing their bags.

And they are leaving–for every sabbatical, for every break–for exactly the same reasons that I got out of Columbus every second I didn’t have to be there: To visit their loved ones, to be near support systems, to escape, at times, truly atrocious weather (ahem St. Louis)*.

The vast majority of academics have sacrificed a great deal to pursue their chosen careers, and that almost always includes moving somewhere they would never have otherwise considered living in their wildest nightmares. And yet, often they manage to eke out happiness and thrive–but a lot of this is precisely because they only have to stay there eight months out of the year. So my question is: Why can’t academics just be honest about this? Why can they not, on your campus visit, say Oh, yeah, this town is–well it’s a place, just like all other places, and it has its good and its bad, but the best thing about being an academic is that you have a lot of time to live wherever you want, and a nine-over-twelve pay scheme, weehoo! Aren’t we lucky!

Because they are lucky. And the ability to get out of dodge and go to Tokyo or Singapore or Sydney for three months a year is probably the best perk of being on the tenure-track . And if people were just open about that, the rest of us wouldn’t feel so utterly, terribly guilty for being elitist when our betters are allegedly so ready for domestic adventure; we wouldn’t feel like such lonely, utter failures to assimilate if we know that it was totally OK to miss your loved ones and wish you were nearer to them–and leave to be nearer to them whenever possible. I am legitimately curious as to why more successful academics aren’t forthcoming and forgiving to struggling academics who dare to admit that moving all around Creation and being heart-wrenchingly lonely all the time isn’t the greatest way to live. And I’d love to show up at all of their houses and ask them–except, of course, it’s summer, and so nobody’s around.

*The original draft of this post had a minor rant about the lackluster scenery of the St. Louis region. My fellow St. Louisan Sarah Kendzior took legitimate issue with this, and pointed out a bunch of places I am too curmudgeonly to go. Lest this devolve into some sort of giant fight with St. Louisans, I deleted it, because as far as places to get stuck as an academic is concerned (which is why we live here; my husband’s job), St. Louis is definitely in the top of the field, simply because it has a Korean/Nepalese restaurant. 

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66 responses to “It’s Summer Break: Do You Know Where Your Professor Is?

  1. mmelaprof

    I try to be very explicit about the geography of American higher ed with undergrads talking about grad school and with grad students. But I have trouble seeing the grand conspiracy: if you want an academic job you most likely can’t afford to be snotty about where you live, so you have to decide which you want more. Whatever that decision is, is OK by me–it’s the student’s life–but where’s the problem in pointing out that very few people get both to have an academic job and to live in the city of their dreams? And that if you want the academic job, you should at least consider the possibility of living someplace other than a coast, cause that’s where all the colleges are?

    It’s also worth pointing out that for those of us who do fieldwork outside of their home bases, getting out of dodge isn’t optional. And that many of the destinations ain’t that glamorous. And/or hella expensive!

    • “I tell students exactly what you make fun of in this post, and then I leave town, because I ‘have’ to because my research and I are so important–and at the same time I call you an elitist for being honest about things I refuse to be honest about, thus I just demonstrated exactly the kind of hypocritical behavior you’re calling out here!” There, I fixed it for you.

    • Honestly, this comment couldn’t have been more tonedeaf and missing the point if you’d tried. AT NO POINT do I say that neither I nor any other job candidate “won’t consider” living somewhere other than the coasts. That is precisely the opposite of what I’m saying. I am saying that it is PERFECTLY ALL RIGHT to have pause about moving somewhere random where you don’t know anyone, and telling someone that they are being “snotty” about something that is a natural human reaction to isolation is HUGELY hypocritical.

  2. Lonely ABD

    Maybe it’s the “I had to deal so you will, too,” or “I did it, and I love my job, so you must not love your profession as much as I do, thus aren’t serious about being an academic.” Maybe it’s projection on someone who dares admit to having (normal, sane) priorities like living with one’s partner or near family because they wish they’d had the balls to do the same. Whatever it is, it sucks and makes me want to punch people.

  3. Todd

    I think a lot of this attitude comes from the love-hate (mostly hate) attitude that most professors seem to have with the cities where they end up. “I’m stuck here and I have to pretend to like it/learn to like it because it is a kind of home now and I’m resent and am insulted that you don’t want to be here to.”

    Being from Ohio, and in grad school at Ohio State (imagine!) I witnessed no small amount of contempt and loathing from tenured professors from “better” places. These people mostly thought of themselves as too good for Ohio, so naturally they had no limit to their resentment of anyone else who seemed might think themselves likewise ‘above’ this place, and by extension above the tenured professors who are stuck here.

    The point about a support network is well-made. I, at one point, worked with a consultant who flew in every week to Columbus from Chicago. At one point he mentioned to me that he hates this city, and how much it sucks. I asked him why?
    “There’s nothing to do.”
    “Ok. Fair enough. What can’t you do?”
    “At home I go to concerts and bars and go to hockey games and there are all kinds of restaurants. Not just chain stuff.”
    “Have you been downtown? or the short north? We do have some decent food. And all the major concerts come through here. Kanye was here last week and The Who are here in a couple weeks. There’s even hockey. I mean kind of.”
    “Yeah, but none of that is fun without my girlfriend. And she’s in Chicago.”
    “So that’s really what sucks then.”
    “Yeah, Columbus sucks. Chicago is so much better.”
    “Ok.”

  4. polarbearfan

    Sometimes it’s not even _about_ coasts, in the American sense. I have no problem with flyover country, and I’m saying that honestly. However, I was once up for a job in Asia (made the top six, but not the top three) and once I didn’t get the job I heard from Mr. Polar how relieved he was because he would not have been willing to live there.

  5. DM

    So fed up with bougie academic martyrdom. Yeah. Like someone I know who signed off an email she sent me with “off to Paris!” immediately after a classic academic humblebrag about “how busy s/he is.” Like that. Not kidding.

    I have to tell you: I am so, so, so done with academics’ martyrdom (and the truth is that while many, many folks on the tt and post tt work very, very hard…..many, many don’t. That’s another dirty secret of academia–”we are so busy” sometimes is an effort mask the fact that A LOT OF FOLKS really aren’t. Years worth of stories on that). After fifteen long years, rich in stories and experience, I just don’t see/buy/ that TT and post TT academics are really THAT much busier than “the normals” (the issue is that you are ALWAYS supposed to be busy…and the anxiety about not working enough is corroding and pervasive, true. One can never work/publish enough in the academy–but that doesn’t mean people are actually busier or work any harder). But THAT IS IT as far as distinctions go. Again: I just don’t buy the “i’m so busy bullshit” after fifteen years. I just. don’t. Is it just me, or does it seem that it’s the folks earning over six figures (and I know some in the CHUNKY six figures) who complain the most?

    • anonymous grad

      I believe that some people are that busy, but I also see that some of the people I know who talk most about how they’re “never off” and “always working, all the time” (specifically, people doing full-time research) are also the people who consider letting thoughts percolate slowly while doing other stuff to be “work”, or who count from beginning to end regardless of how many hours of active work are involved (so the “12 hour day” includes yoga and a shower, maybe a midday break for coffee with a friend or phone calls and errands, a couple hours off to buy groceries and cook dinner, etc.). Some people really do work that long, and they impress me, but they’re not the people who talk that much about it…because they’re busy. And yeah, the amount of travel people manage while “always working, all the time” would be literally impossible at any other job!

      • DM

        The intensity of academic work demands is also cyclical–even the most intense of periods (and yes, they can be intense) is not sustained throughout the year/throughout a career. As for actual hours of work? “The normals” work 50-60 hours a week or more, just like academics, including weekends and weeknights. I see the rest of my family–from my spouse to siblings, all working very hard–again, also on weeknights and often weekends. Yet nobody sighs martyred sighs. You wanna eat? You work. End of story.

        By contrast, this is the norm in academia (If it weren’t so infuriating, the following anecdote, one of many, might actually make you laugh): two years ago, I nickle and dimed my way to a conference in the Mediterranean and, following a day of sessions, while enjoying dinner al fresco, including wine, one academic (full prof, Ivy League, conference expenses all paid, spouse was also there–also an academic!) went on a roll, complete with sigh, about “how hard we [academics] work” after enumerating his/her multiple, ongoing editorial/professorial/research obligations. I truly, truly regret not having made a comment about how amply his/her hard work was remunerated, in contrast to contingent labor, academic and at McDonalds. I hope I’m served a similar opportunity to say something in the future (although I might not given that this is my last year adjuncting).

        I just think many academics haven’t actually got an f-in clue of what happens in the real world (especially dual track couples and in certain cases where working in academia is almost a family business).

    • former academic

      This is true. I left academia about 7 years ago to work in private sector, but still had my best buddies all in academia. One night we were drinking together, and I was being ribbed (in good humor) and one of the guys said, “Hey, cut him some slack. He’s the only here who works for a living.” And they all nodded, raised their glasses and said this is true.

  6. TenuredAnth

    Generally, I agree that we don’t all have to drink the kool-aid in order to be damn good mentors/educators/employees/committee members, etc. But I do have sympathy for the search committee members who expect job candidates to be enthusiastic about a poor location. My U is in a location that is, well, let’s just say it’s not everybody’s cup of tea. It’s very small, very rural, and very cold. It sucks for single people. And people with hard-to-employ spouses (frankly almost any spouse). And people of color. And…well, you get the idea. We have a horrible time recruiting. We’ve had people refuse on-campus interviews, withdraw from the search after coming for an interview, and turn down job offers (frequently we have to go 3-4 deep on our list before someone accepts). We have people accept offers only on the condition that they live in a real city 3 hours away and only have to teach T-Th. On one memorable occasion, a candidate accepted a job here, but when he arrived with his wife in August, she took one look at the town, turned around and went back home. He resigned. Even after people accept positions here, we have much higher turnover than similar institutions in the same state, and a lot of unhappy coworkers who are looking for a way out. (Just to be clear, the U is wonderful and the community is friendly, it’s the location that’s the problem.)

    So, our search committees are understandably gun-shy when it comes to candidates who show too much concern about living in a small, rural town.We expect some concerns – and try to address them – but we are much happier with candidates who express joy at the bucolic pleasures we offer. Maybe that’s hypocritical, but lots of people hate it here. We try to weed some of them out, so we don’t have to listen to the bitching and moaning for thirty years (because, honestly, with the job market the way it is, most people who want to leave aren’t going to.)

    • But that’s not what I said: we are as enthusiastic about a location we know nothing about as we could possibly be. Most hesitation of candidates is just because they are scared shitless of being judged–because they are. And in your location’s case, it would be good to be honest and say: Yes, OK, we’re in the middle of BFE–but that makes summers in [wherever] all the better.

    • Again, what I’m talking about is people who demand you love the town or you’re not worthy of their time–AND THEN LEAVE IT at the first possible opportunity.

      • TenuredAnth

        I try to be honest with people and address their totally reasonable concerns, but some of my colleagues are afraid that will scare people away (as if, perhaps, they’ve mistaken our corn fields for skyscrapers, and won’t notice our total lack of coffeehouses until we point it out). Search committees may seem like they’re demanding love and awe from a candidate, when in fact they’re just afraid of saying something negative about the location for fear of turning off the candidate or having it reported back to the administration. Or, yeah, they may just be hypocritical jerks. That happens too.

    • George

      Do tell – what the hell kind of nightmarish place is this? Moscow, Idaho?

  7. Z

    All the people who love it where I am are either from here, or are very new and still interested in discovering the culture, or can afford to leave a lot. The big problem is if you cannot afford to leave a lot. I was always willing to go anywhere because I made that decision when I decided to do the Ph.D … my error being not realizing I would not be able to afford to go places most of those four months of not having classes.

    I applied for a job recently in a place like what TenuredAnth describes. For all I know, the same place. Thought very seriously about the place, investigated it closely, decided yes I would accept job unless I discovered something really bad about the job itself (not the town) at the interview. Wanted to have a paragraph about that right in the application letter — my proofreaders said it was too soon to discuss this topic but I am not sure, speaking as someone who has worked at places where it is hard to hire and knows what it is to worry about not being able to hire because of location.

  8. DM

    On the flip side is the fact that many of us WOULD have been fine living in the middle of nowhere–and striking roots for thirty years. I’ve lived in the middle of nowhere and was fine. But you know what? If one says something like that then I’m sure the old “there’s something wrong with you” mentality could also strike and you know what else? Serves these smaller, more rural schools right to end up with an entitled and reluctant individual because s/he has an Ivy League diploma that looks good on the university marquee instead of the superb candidate from State U. who was personable and happy to embrace life in Nowhereseville. Ivy Leaguer leaves anyway ten years down the road and the job line is cancelled due to funds. I say to many depts/programs: it’s the taste of your own damn elitist medicine for not looking at great candidates who are nice people (but didn’t seem sophisticated enough because they lacked a stick rammed up their ass).

    • TenuredAnth

      Schools that go for the Ivy-Leaguers are idiotic. We hire mostly from the region, and we particularly like our own alums. At least they know what they’re getting in to.

      • DM

        Interested in hiring a historian? I’m there. Kidding. ;) I did not mean all schools, but it’s a trend. My advice to hiring committees: affection does NOT equal erudition. And make it OK! (as in, INITIATE THE CONVERSATION ON THE SUBJECT) to air concerns about living in a small town.

  9. Z

    My two favorite places I worked were in out of the way-ish places but I genuinely liked the schools. They were the two places which also had the most people in them who complained about the place. I think it was sort of a fashion statement on their part, not really serious. That is the attitude, I guess, that gets excoriated so much on CHE-type threads. Yet I still think there are places that really are difficult and that it is not a sign of non seriousness to care about place.

    We also hire a lot of our alums, because they know what they are getting into. It creates insularity, though. My rule of thumb now is that you if you liked your undergraduate institution, you should work in a place like it. Not the same place, but the same type or style. You will thus understand it deeply, yet not be so close to it as to reproduce aspects of it that might better be changed.

  10. Z

    Oh, and — I have just figured out what the root pain of rejection is: the feeling that there is something wrong with you that you do not see (I think I am doing everything right but evidently there is something wrong … what is it?) combined with the perception that doing things right turns out to be wrong (a point Rebecca makes; this is a really terrible double bind and confusing contradiction). These two phenomena are fundamentally different from there just being too many good people and not enough jobs — knowing that it is terribly competitive and ultimately a dice-roll is one thing, but getting jerked around with the idea that you have some ghostly failing is quite another.

    • saymwah

      Thank you, Z. I’m printing this out and taking it to the tattoo parlor.

      • Z

        Honestly — I made a terrible hiring mistake one time. Two errors. 1- person had had a lot of visiting gigs, like seven in a row, and no TT; I thought that must mean something was off; 2- person had research area that out of ignorance at the time I thought seemed eccentric (actually, it was emerging). So, result: I ranked this person #2 rather than #1, and ranked #1 someone more classic seeming: new PhD, more standard research field.

        This would not have been a problem had we been allowed to bring both #1 and #2 to campus, because in person as opposed to on Skype #2 would clearly have won … #1 was disappointing in person … but at our place, #1 has to be a complete disaster, or turn down offer, for you to get authorized to bring #2 to campus. I was afraid that if we waited to get authorized to bring #2 it would be too late and we would get neither … and then we would have a failed search and maybe not get to fill the position at all. So I said, let’s go ahead and hire #1 despite doubts. So we ended up with this divisive dud when we could have had someone who was really really interested, and more engaging, and more experienced, and ultimately more cutting edge.

      • DM

        Very interesting and refreshingly honest, Z–I wish more folks would be willing to discuss “hirings gone wrong–in retrospective.” It’s the first I’ve seen anyone do so and I thank you very much.

  11. Tiny Tim

    Experiences differ of course, but when my wife (still in academia) and I (not) were going through our various job market adventures, I actually thought this was one area people were pretty up front about. Sure there’s some pressure to take “the best job” even if it’s in the middle of nowhere, but that isn’t horrible career advice for a new academic. It wasn’t accompanied with any geographic elitism talk. And several institutions were pretty up front about the fact that yes they were isolated, but you have your summers and a nice research/travel budget.

    Anyway, not disputing your experiences, just saying they weren’t ours. We experienced relative honesty about geography.

    • Z

      If the job really is good and really is the kind of job you want then it is different. I vapped in a good place, that fit my personality, that by some standards was in the middle of nowhere, and people there complained about that, but I was totally happy and would have stayed — liked the school, and the town was fine for during the week/some weekends, and in time off one could travel (and made enough to support that, and the affiliation was good enough so you could get regular grant funding to support yet more of that).

      It is when you compromise *everything* that it starts not to be worth it. And this is a slippery slope.

  12. staffSci1

    If you’re an experimentalist, you need to go to a school with the hardware and labs you need (or giving you enough of a startup package to build your own). If you need a beamline, and the only place that has a beamline and a TT opening is in Trashcanistan — that’s where you go.

    Luckily, I *like* flyover country, and that’s who was hiring, and had the labs I needed… Emphasis on “luck.”

    (I imagine that, for theorists, the same problem obtains, but replace “labs” with “supercomputers.”)

  13. Tom

    What is wrong with people in St. Louis? We stopped for about four days in 2012 as part of a larger road trip and had a great time. I had done some research and had put together a list of list of restaurants, bars, and attractions that sounded interesting. Pretty much everything lived up to expectations and we also stumbled across some funky little shops and neighborhoods that we really enjoyed. But every single person we talked to in St. Louis seemed to be totally down on the city and acted like we were insane or mentally deficient for choosing to spend part of our vacation there. Once we noticed this tendency we made a point of mentioning that we were on vacation or that we loved the city just to see how people would respond. And the responses were uniformly negative. It was kind of sad really.

    • 1. St. Louis has a major structural racism problem, having to do with the separation of the City and the County; it can be very depressing to people.
      2. St. Louis has the worst fucking weather imaginable. Winters are cold, damp and precipitous; summers spend weeks on end in the triple digits and humid as fuck. It can tend to wear on people.
      3. St. Louis is a ghost town. There are pockets of life, but everything in between is just desolate. It’s not a real city anymore (it once was!).
      4. St. Louis is TERRIBLE for entertainment and food if you live a healthy, alcohol-free lifestyle like mine. There is nowhere to go that doesn’t involve drinking, and nowhere to eat that doesn’t involve meat and dairy. The few restaurants that have vegan-friendly options always close down within a year or change their menus to better accommodate the unhealthy lifestyle of the people.
      If you like to drink, eat meat, and don’t mind having to drive everywhere, then it can be great, but as I just said on Facebook, the city just happens to be fundamentally incompatible with all of my values as a person.

      • Tom

        I get why you don’t like the place, but it seems like no one likes it. I’ve had the opportunity to visit lots of Midwestern cities with similar sets of issues (Omaha, Des Moines, Indianapolis, Detroit) and it’s not hard to find people in those cities who love them and will sing the praises of their home town if you give them half a chance. We chatted with a decent variety of folks in St. Louis (I know some of them were drinkers because we met them in a bar) and all of them seemed to just hate the place.

      • Lanie

        I like St. Louis, but I grew up there- perhaps I should say I like visiting my family and friends there (plenty of whom like it). The weather doesn´t bother me as much as it does people who are not from the Midwest. There is vegetarian food (l go to Grand or some places in the Loop), but you have to do a lot of looking. There is NO good public transportation, and people are confused and put off by bikes. And the biggest problem that Rebecca mentions above is the insularity- people from St. Louis aren´t always that friendly to those who didn´t go to high school there and have long family connections. It´s a running joke, actually, among St. Louisans you encounter outside of the city to ask where someone went to high school (not a joke for lots of people). This is a great example of stuff you wouldn´t know that would make it difficult to live in a place as a beginning professor, and that is not unique to St. Louis. You can bet that if I´d had campus interviews in such a place I would have been playing up my Midwestern background and adaptability to that kind of city.

      • If I had family here, I would probably love it. I think the reason I don’t like it is because I am so alone. But I don’t want pity-friends either!

      • Lanie

        The racism is actually a much larger problem than the insularity, but is also part of it.

  14. Z

    It is not just geography, it is the whole gestalt of the place. I just had lunch with a friend I made at our first job, about 25 years ago. We both left in horror and both have had stunted careers since, because the place really shook our interest in the whole profession. We had both taken this job among other offers, because on paper, technically, it was the best we had — tenure track, well ranked place, and so on, and so forth … our other offers either weren’t tenure track or were less viable tenure track. We both took this job because it was the most logical and most sensible choice, but it went against our instincts and we were so right … yet anyone would have advised us we should take it.

    • Your stories are so valuable, Z. Everything you say–even the stuff I disagree with–should be required reading for beginning academics.

      • Z

        On that story, too: that year I had 3 offers, all in good geographical locations although the other TT one did not actually pay enough to live on in the said place. So I actually left a good geographical location to go to a better job (for me, anyway) in a worse one … therefore, no Fullprof gets to tell me I am not willing to sacrifice location location location, because I have done so more than once. Also, we would be making 6 figures now if we had stayed in that first job, so nobody gets to say we were just interested in money.

      • DM

        “We both left in horror and both have had stunted careers since, because the place really shook our interest in the whole profession.”

        This nails the problem, for TT folks and those of us who leave/were forced to leave: how is it possible that this industry is so, so problematic (a kind way of putting it0 that it shakes our interest in the whole profession? (and even the love/interest in the discipline/??). I know it did for me–and I find that so, so tragic. I’m coming around, though, seeking to take the best of what I learned and transform it into an alternative path.

  15. Bardiac

    You may be absolutely right about faculty in R1s getting to go away for long periods regularly, but those of us in underpaid regionals can’t afford that sort of trip (or not often if at all). So, it’s not that I wouldn’t love to go to London for two months a year, but that I’m making ends meet, and maybe taking a couple short camping trips to state parks. And doing extra work for extra pay at the university, which will help.

    I have colleagues who absolutely depend on summer teaching or other employment to make ends meet with their student loan payments.

  16. Kathleen Lowrey

    I normally love your writing but I’m an associate professor at the University of Alberta, in Edmonton, Canada. It snowed yesterday (May 4th) and it snowed this morning (May 5th). It might snow again later this week. I am spending exactly one week in North Carolina to visit my parents this summer. Otherwise, I’m here. So are most of my colleagues. Some of them are traveling to exciting places — for a week or two. Nobody that I know ever spends the summer in a sublet in New York London Paris Munich (everybody talk about pop music). I have a small kid — you have to pay for your daycare slot all summer, even if you were to go away, or lose it; people with older kids usually have them enrolled in day camps and so forth during the summers; people with teenage kids I imagine would find them difficult to persuade to spend a whole summer anywhere en famille rather than with their friends. So maybe you are talking about a well-padded subset of late career profs with grown kids or no kids. Of that population, here many of them are incredibly boosterish about the U of A and Edmonton (and this I think holds true at many “flyover” unis: the people who will tell you they don’t actually believe Yale or Vancouver hold a candle to good ol’ Prairie U and Prairie City — whether this makes them admirably soft-hearted or distressingly soft-headed is variably interpretable).

    I think pretty much all of your critiques of academia are spot-on, but the idea that flyover country unis are full of profs who spend their summers renting posh flats in Rome is, erm.

    Though now that I have written this I’m feeling bad that my first comment here is not in the form of praise. I think you are sharp, kind, and hilarious and I read you all the time.

    • Oh, but don’t you know that “real” academics should be willing to abandon their families?!? If you cared about getting promoted to Full, you’d ditch that kid for months ;).

      It may differ from field to field. In mine, it is standard practice to get out of dodge the second class is over. Everyone I know does it. Perhaps Canadians are less elitist?!? (Or worse-paid?).

      • DM

        Or, as I’ve seen it, it adds to the martyrdom or nobility of being an academic. Tending to your kid is a nod to your “humanity” because you would otherwise be welded to your work. I’ve seen this. Again: it’s part of the bullshit coat of arms about working more than the “normals.” I actually think academics work LESS than the normals (but again, as I mentioned in the comments earlier, they feel compelled to perpetuate the “I work and am angst ridden all the time…I’m so noble” script). Yeah. You win a year at a university overseas where you get to have a “family year abroad,” complete with entire mornings spent at the coffee shop doing “field research.”

      • Kathleen Lowrey

        Thoughts about kids (also in re: DM, below) — I do think there is more than a bit of this with male academics. *So* many male academics post as their professional photos a pic of themselves with their small child (a stage at which, let’s face it, the lion’s share of parenting is done by moms). I have yet to see a woman academic do this. For men, it feels always like a boast about humanity, well-roundedness, and (not so subtly) “having it all”. For women it would just be an invitation to not be taken seriously as colleagues.

        I don’t think Canadians are worse-paid these days, now that the Cdn dollar is doing very well (at least as compared to public uni profs in the States). I’d like to say it’s less elitism.. but it’s probably just that it is SUMMER AT LAST (minus a bit of May snow, of course). Many Canadian profs, like many Canadians, spend their vacation dollars heading south in winter.

      • Anon

        Spot-on. I remember when my department at Big Fancy University was hiring a new colleague — a father of two young children, with one more on the way. His wife had just received tenure 350 miles away, and we hired him on the tenure track. He took the position, despite the fact that we couldn’t hire his wife. And it’s not like he didn’t have a good *permanent* job where he was — at her institution — it’s that he wanted to be on the tenure track at all costs. So what does he do? Packs up, moves to our town, and he sees his wife and young children once a month. Except, you know, when he has to miss out due to the grueling labor of going to all-expenses-paid conferences in fancy European cities. It infuriates me to see how people prioritize their stupid careers over seeing their family grow up. I suppose, though, that it’s acceptable for HIM to dump his family for his job, since, you know, penis.

        But the ladies aren’t completely without guilt when it comes to sacrificing family. They can be just as careerist and phallic as the men they love to hate. Case in point: Another colleague of mine was PROUD to tell people that her tenure file contained notes that she had never missed work due to having to take care of her now-grown child. If you’ve never missed work to take care of your kid, you can’t possibly have been a good parent. Needless to say her child has become a seriously weird and maladjusted adult. And my colleague? The portrait of elderly loneliness. Completely alone. Talks about all of her “friends” … but her “friends” aren’t friends. They’re “colleagues” … and those “colleagues” aren’t even really colleagues; they’re just folks she bumps into at conferences. Otherwise? No one. Is it worth it? Nope.

      • Oh, I’m just as guilty as anyone. I waited until forever to start a family, and now I keep firing blanks.

      • And I cannot possibly express how NOT worth it it was.

      • Jm

        This is really foreign to my experience too so it might be a field thing. In the sciences it’s hard to do your research from a distance – unless that research is actually based somewhere else (sometimes glamorous aka the Amazon or cool islands but rarely urban or posh – there is a lot of crap to bite you in the Amazon). Is it that in the humanities people are more interested in being in urban areas and their research is portable?

  17. E

    Then again, some of us are genuinely drawn to places in the middle of nowhere. When I started graduate school, I had this romantic image in my head of living in a small, rural college town, with a close-knit community. (I actually chose my grad school largely because it was located in such a place.) I ended up in NYC. I know, poor me. But it is rather ironic.

    • NYC is NOT all it’s cracked up to be. I lived there from 1998-2005, just at the very tail end of its affordability. Many neighborhoods have now devolved into self-parody. I often think I might be happier in a rural area myself–and my husband too, though we would like some better scenery than the blown-off mountaintops and muddy-ass rivers around here.

      • DM

        You should look up a standup bit Chelsea Peretti has about living in NYC (it’s on youtube, a few years old). A real gem of a piece

      • E

        Exactly. NYC sounds great if you don’t actually live here and have to deal with paying half of your salary in rent and having a grueling commute. Sadly, when I’ve had interviews for other jobs, the search committees seem skeptical that I’d be willing to move to somewhere small or rural after living in NYC. This I think, is one of the problems with the fact that job candidates are expected to feign enthusiasm for every location in which they interview. It is hard to convince search committees of your sincerity once they’ve been burned before.

  18. JWM

    I thoroughly enjoy reading your posts, and this one in particular could not be more accurate. When I was a prospective student, visiting several graduate programs across the country, the comments made in poor taste at “geographically disadvantaged” programs at universities outside of “major” urban areas (a.k.a urban — or even suburban or rural — areas only academicians from the East and West Coasts deem worthy of their presence) made me want to scream. Of course neither the DGS nor other professors at these programs mentioned how wonderful it could be to live in Amherst, MA, Charlottesvile, VA, Bloomington, IN, Urbana, IL or Iowa City, IA, but instead the same, robotic response came out of their mouths each time. “You know, you won’t have to spend your summers here if you don’t want to. There is always a plethora of opportunities for travel grants. For instance I was in [insert expensive European capital city here] last summer completing my book.” That usually was followed by a few insults toward locals and in-state students with regards to political stereotypes. My first reaction was not only to disagree, but to be disgusted by the self-importance of people who were not making an adequate case for a student like me with several competitive offers to matriculate. Later, when I went on the job market, I could not believe the level of déjà vu I encountered with regards to similar comments that were made.
    When I reflect on that incredibly idealistic part of my life (when I entered graduate school), I think of moments like that and ask myself why I didn’t run for the hills then. Not to mention, I always wonder why these professors thought I would conflate their funding opportunities as tenured professors to my own (another slip of their veiled narcissism). More importantly coming from a liberal arts college (similar in student body and profile to Vassar), I could not believe how the academy values such shallow personalities at these institutions, who are more interested in complaining about how horrible it was that a Columbia PhD must spend the rest of their days making a six-figure salary as a full TT professor in “flyover” country, while ignoring the graduate students who so desperately were in need of job training and advice. Even though I stayed clear of these institutions and matriculated elsewhere, and later accepted a job offer in different setting than the ones mentioned, I fear it has gotten much worse in the past decade. As professors frantically try to save their departments from merging or closing, while struggling to lose that identity of the self-loathing and self-important intellectual, they are still stuck in a giant cornfield for a state instead of Silicon Valley, New Haven, or Manhattan.

  19. Robin

    One reason I am not going to grad school is that I don’t want any future kid of mine to be the only non-white kid in their class, or the only kid in the school with two moms. Go ahead, straight white people, call me a snob for wanting to live somewhere that at least somewhat recognizes my basic humanity.

    • RIGHT???? My “privilege to call people ‘snobby'” post is a thing unto itself, that I will write soon!

      • JWM

        What posts are you referring to that denote privilege? I think of my own difficult experiences growing up in places that the academics you refer to in your original post would never choose to live or spend more time than they must, and where people of color, LGBT community members (like myself), and religious minorities all struggle. So when TT academics (which is to whom I explicitly referred) complain about the “pits” in regions that actually are not it is snobby, especially because they are actually complaining about island communities that are generally much more accepting and progressive than the places from where many of their graduate and undergraduate students grew up.

        I understand your post is about the elitists who would even look death hypocritically in the eye and deny their elitism, as they spend as little time as possible at the location of their home institutions. What their behavior (especially as TT professors) also fails to do, however, is convince future generations of students at all levels of study to perhaps change the social and academic climate of these areas if they are lacking in some way. It doesn’t exactly demonstrate that progress is being made at institutions where the majority of academicians think in this way. It’s understandable TT academics who are fortunate to get the funding leave over breaks, many times to far off destinations. But when it is done for personal escape, and in the hypocritically elitist way many have mentioned, how can we leave this slew of similar issues off the list as just some of the many things also plaguing the academy?

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