BREAKING: Tenured Elitist SHOCKED JUST SHOCKED Contingent Faculty Upset

Or, rather “contingent,” in scare quotes, since apparently we are alleged.

Here is a brief response–using, of course, my full name and affiliation (to nobody)–to Rachel Toor’s “The Pleasure of Hating.” Toor castigates the Chronicle of Higher Education‘s commentariat for being snide, beastly subhumans most of the time. Having been the target of said snide, beastly subhumans’ ad Schumanem attacks for the past six months, I initially cheered her calling academics out for trolly behavior. But then she went and wrote this:

The “two cultures” of academe used to refer to the sciences and the humanities. Is the great divide now between the haves and the have-nots—those with the T-word in their job description and those who are “contingent”? Many of the most scathing comments seem to be from Ph.D.’s who are unable to get the jobs they want. I don’t blame them for being upset; the job market stinks. But I do wish they could find a more productive outlet for their energy and anger than their fellow Ph.D.’s who got lucky enough to find a tenure-track job.

Pardon my improper tone, but: what in the everloving fuck? By far the most controversial works of academic journalism are about the bleak job market and how that market can damage people. By far the nastiest, most vitriolic comments on those articles–as well as counter-posts to them–are from by highly successful academics, such as endowed comp/rhet chair Jeff Rice, or FULLPROF Jonathan Mayhew.  Mayhew has told me, in the online version of “to my face,” that academia is far better off without me and my “high-school level platitudes.”

By far the nastiest, most vitriolic, most self-satisfied commenting I get, both anonymous and named, is from tenured academics who are highly offended that a pleb such as myself dare speak with a voice that anyone wants to hear (and believe me, I am as shocked as they are that anyone wants to hear me).

Since Slate redesigned, all of the original 2000 comments on “Thesis Hatement” have been lost (I’m crying about it), but from what I can remember during the very few times I was dumb enough to scroll through, the most scathing of them were from a troika of tenure-track and tenured faculty (self-identified, of course), who had a field day ganging up and ripping apart the terrible credentials of an imaginary Rebecca Schuman, who had a PhD in English (false), wrote on Kafka in translation without knowing any German (false), never had anything published (false), and instead had all my important publications rejected (false).

One of the worst parts of Toor’s article was that she didn’t use any examples: it was basically one epic subtweet where apparently the worst offenders Know Who They Are. Well, I don’t, and I would have appreciated some examples from “bitter PhDs” trying to grasp for power they do not deserve. I mean, honestly, why the fuck would you pick on underemployed PhDs, who often live in poverty, and almost always live surrounded by the scorn of their discipline (if they choose to still attempt to perform research)? I’ve said it before like 500 words ago, but why in the everloving fuck would you single out a bunch of hurting, battered people and blame the incivility of online academe squarely on them? Not only is it cruel, but it’s just untrue.

Case in point. Because I love you, my beloved readers, I am going where no sane Schuman ought travel: to one of several Chronicle of Higher Ed fora about yours truly. This is from a recent one about the “I Quit” piece–I really can’t handle the pain of going into the one about “My Academic Metamporposis,” as it’s just too cruel. Here is but an abridged list of whatever random comments I could handle cut-and-pasting with one eye closed. Most are from tenured faculty (to be sure, there are a few in there defending me, too, but they are rather outnumbered by this):

When is she going to quit? She seems to keep hanging around the fringes of academia by writing pieces like this and her work for the Chronicle. If she is going to quit and do something different, she needs to quit and do something different rather than continuing to talk about how she quit looking for a teaching position.

And when is being an author constituted by having a piece “currently under advance contract” with a publisher?

Or…

The point, Luder, is that after ranting about the ills afflicting academia she leaves us with this:

“Rebecca Schuman is the author of Kafka and Wittgenstein: The Case for an Analytic Modernism, currently under advance contract with Northwestern University Press.”

She’s the classic academic, identifying herself with advance contracts (!) and university presses, at the same time that she bemoans academic culture.  The dissonance is jarring, and apparently invisible to her.

Or…

I find her really insufferable, mostly because there are so many urgent and necessary critiques of academia to be made, and hers effectively boils down to the fact that she, personally, did not receive the job she so clearly feels entitled to. I would so much rather see an adjunct organizer be given the prominent mouthpiece position she gets to have, though of course that would mean engaging more substantively with questions of academic labor rather than bizarre, distorted, and simply untenable and inaccurate hyperbole about academia being a brainwashed cult–which is presumably the very reason she gets to be the mouthpiece, of course. It’s irritating because serious conversations need to reach a broader public, and she does not offer serious conversation.

And…

I was talking about this with a friend who has successfully gone the alt-ac route after a fairly traumatic break with academia–one loaded with internalized feelings of shame and failure that ze is only slowly getting past–and hir response was still pretty scathing toward Schuman. Again, not because many of these things should not be said or critiqued, but simply because she does such a poor job of it. In fact, my friend had a nicely pithy way of framing it: Schuman is basically taking the solipsistic Katie Roiphe approach to her analysis: the problem with academia/feminism, fundamentally, is that it just didn’t work for me personally. And while I agree that such a personalized approach is fine on a blog, the fora, etc., my main frustration is with the fact that her subpar writing has clearly been chosen for national highlighting, at the expense of other possible voices. I’m actually kind of curious how she obtained this position.

I really, honestly do not understand how a bunch of unemployed PhDs saying “get a life!” or whatever can be substantively worse than  a bunch of successful, tenured academics pulling rank and talking about what a terrible writer I am.

All that said–I wouldn’t have it any other way. I would be lying if I said I didn’t love provoking my haters. I love it, because at this point they offer me a lot of low-hanging fruit, and most of the time, without any help from me, they show more about academia than I could ever say (Was gezeigt werden kann, kann nicht gesagt werden indeed). But, more than that, the last six months have really taught me how to take criticism. I used to be so bad at it that when someone dared express that anything about me was less than spectacular, even gently, I would withdraw, cry, and skulk for days. I could not take not being perfect, and demanded nothing less than universal agreement on this (feel free to infer that my parents and teachers praised me too much when I was growing up, and feel free to impart this lesson unto your own children!).

But nowadays, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of people who hate the shit out of me, and it is my responsibility to use their critique in a way that helps me be better. What I do now with h8eration–and what Rachel Toor could also do, instead of writing a 1500-word subtweet–is what we should all do with it:

  1. Anything that is simply false of absurd, or revealing bias or cruelty on the h8ers’ part, just ignore or laugh at it. UPDATE: you should especially laugh, hard, at people’s righteous indignation for being called out on their assholish behavior. St. Schuman of the Job Market LIVES!!!
  2. Anything substantive, think very hard about whether it will help you, and if it will, apply it.
  • For example, a lot of those motherfuckers above really don’t like my writing style, because it is so revealing and so personal and so unflinching about expressing failure, and thus it makes them feel uncomfortable. GOOD. That means I am doing something very, very right. Another thing I have to chew over is: how much of a living do I want to keep making by being an academic failure? It is, alas, a rather meta line of work, and it’s quite true that there is only so much longer I can keep kvetching about being shut out of the Ivory Tower, because even now I know I am better off not on the tenure track, and I could not write something like “My Academic Metamorphosis” today because I am not as existentially obliterated as I was eight months ago.
  • A lot of mocking me for having a book under advance contract–which, really? But anyway: In case anyone’s wondering: Kafka and Wittgenstein is done. It exists. I finished and submitted it in May. It has been at the publisher for review for five months, and soon I will probably hear back. The editor there is a fervent supporter of my writing, academic and otherwise. I expect that it will be accepted for publication, but if it’s not, I will not be too heartbroken about it. But, in case anyone was wondering: an Advance Contract is a big fucking deal, and I honestly don’t understand why I’d be mocked for it. Most academics have to submit a proposal, and even then they are just invited to submit the manuscript and rarely offered an advance contract. I got my advance contract by an editor emailing me out of nowhere saying my work looked interesting and did I have a sample, and I emailed him a copy of the German Quarterly article, and he offered me a contract based solely on that. I did not have to write a proposal at all. Judge that how you want, but that’s the whole story. That said–I will probably change my bio at Slate with the new piece I’m submitting today, because my life has changed quite a bit since I wrote the last one.

Holy shit this is long. I guess it’s because h8rs are verbose. I hope you appreciate me seeking that out; I usually stay far, far away.

UPDATE PART DEUX: I am not trying to martyr myself and show how mean big mean meanies are to me–honestly, I can take it (and, anyway, if people want me to stop writing about myself, they shouldn’t devote entire message boards to me, because that FEEDS MY EGO in a really unhealthy way). I am not making the job market All About Schuman–I am “writing about what I know,” and hoping to normalize my experiences for the many, many disillusioned PhDs out there who for one reason or another don’t feel they can speak out (yet). I write about my experiences because I want people to know they are not alone in theirs.

And anyway, my larger point was just this: I reeeeeeealllly don’t think unemployed or under-employed PhDs are the problem in the Chronicle comments. Or at any rate, not the worst one, and not worthy of singling out without evidence.

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29 thoughts on “BREAKING: Tenured Elitist SHOCKED JUST SHOCKED Contingent Faculty Upset

  1. Your article caught my interest because I have also been trying to come to terms with the hateful comments aimed at people who are struggling, especially when it is a story of someone struggling that has the audacity to hint that perhaps the system creates some difficulties or inequalities. The only thing I can come up with to explain it is that people for whom the existing system has worked do not like the idea that some level of luck rather than pure talent and hard work might have been at play. They feel as though the people who would like to address systemic problems are challenging their right to do well. I could be wrong on that, but it is the only thing that I can figure to account for the level of vitriol I often find in comments.

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  2. you just do an excellent job dr schuman. the serenity and better wording and different phrasing and shit those people are asking for is nothing but the serenity of privilege. just keep going, you enlight a lot of us in an inspiring manner.

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  3. Rebecca, I love your writing — both the tone and the subject matter. I’m an ABD in English at a Southeastern R1 finishing my diss, I’ll be defending in spring, and I’ve been depressed and resigned about my prospects on the market for the last few (several) years. (Matters are not helped by my being a second-career grad student with a family.) There are a lot — A LOT — of us out here in the wilderness; far more, I’m sure, than there are ensconced safely in the shiny white tower or who harbor a genuine expectation of getting there. Not to be too melodramatic about it, but if your voice doesn’t necessarily give us all hope, per se, it at least helps us understand that we’re not alone, that we also have voices, and that we too can and should speak — and for that, you deserve our thanks and support.

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    1. Love you (and your family!). I first of all love reading things by devoted dads, but also: that is entirely the point of me putting myself out here like an idiot (and I understand that oftentimes I look like an idiot). I want to normalize what happened to me, and make sure to scream it loud and clear that I am the rule, not the exception. It’s not about “I didn’t get the job I wanted and now academia rots,” it’s that while I had the job I did want–one of the fanciest post-docs at one of the best programs in the country–I took the wool away and began to see things for how they really are. Then when I published something in a moment of real rawness, there was a huge reaction and I realized that it hit a huge nerve. That huge nerve exists precisely because of the academic labor system and socialization process. Again, thanks for reading, and my absolute best of luck to you!

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      1. I’m in the same position as grad dad, but without children. I am 35, ABD, on the market, and becoming increasingly depressed about the “what ifs” since this is my second career. Wrestling with the identity crisis, “If I’m not an academic, who am I?” alongside the “I’m a grad student, I’m almost a colleague, what is this weird grey-area space I inhabit, and do I truly have the right to make strong claims about my field like I know what the hell I am talking about?” It’s an incredible mind-fuck, and I thank you for putting your story out there for those of us who are scared and wondering if there is hope after the PhD if we don’t secure academic employment.

        By the way, being a language nerd, I thoroughly enjoy any and all writing that weaves profanity so seamlessly into otherwise high-falutin’ academic prose the way you do it. 🙂

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  4. I too had liked that article until the sentence you quoted. I’ve probably read different comment threads, but I don’t remember ever being able to tell whether the participants were tenured or not.

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    1. And something else that I thought of: If those ‘lifeboaters’ think that the crisis of the academy should be discussed differently, with more serenity, with a broader view, structural analysis and so on WHY DON T THOSE PEOPLE STAND UP AND START TO TALK THEMSELVES FOR ALL THE OTHERS THAT ARE FALLING OF THE CLIFF!!!!!!

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  5. The problem with making your audience cringe and squirm is that it eventually deserts you, and sooner than you might think. And the rage, I think, is fleeting. I myself washed out several years into a doctoral program, and though I was initially furious it wasn’t long at all (a couple of years, maybe) before I started looking back and wondering what the hell it was I was so damn angry about. For the rest, some of the comments you take from the thread discussing your work are indeed worthy of contempt, but I also think it’s slightly unfair of you to insult Mayhew, who was brave enough (or rash enough) to respond to you under his real name and who believes (evidently sincerely, if perhaps mistakenly) in the “enterprise,” as I think he called it. There are academics much worse than Mayhew out there. Some of them, indeed, were active on the comment thread that has apparently prompted this post of yours. Why not save your wrath for them?

    I am, finally, a believer in the prophetic character of names, and since you are a German speaker you can probably figure out pretty easily which of the motherfuckers from the aforementioned thread am I.

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    1. If you think I am ever going to set foot in a CHE forum thread again to figure out the user name of someone who hates me, you are gravely mistaken. The only reason I dipped a toe into that cess pit was to provide evidence that countered Toor’s truly baffling assertion, as she provided none.

      I truly, honestly do not see what it is about my writing that makes my audience cringe and squirm. First of all, the vast majority of my readers don’t do that. Look for awhile at the comments on this blog; if you’re on Twitter check out what some my Twerple say. Second of all–is it because I have the audacity to admit in public that I had the academic job-market outcome that over 90 percent of job seekers have, but are supposed to be ashamed of and skulk away in silence? Is it because I dare write in a voice that is something other than the WASPy, detached one of the academic treatise? Is it because I have the balls to demonstrate human emotion, and show that there is indeed nothing wrong with reacting to the vicissitudes of the job market like a human being?

      If disillsioned PhDs don’t like me being their voice, then there is a simple solution for that: they can stop being such fucking chickenshits, and speak in public themselves. One of your forum colleagues was right in that I have the position I do because I am *the* only representative of thousands just like me who for one reason or another is brave enough to be blunt about it. If my work makes you squirm and cringe, that is likely because it hits too close to home.

      As for me being a terrible, sub-par writer–well, let’s just say my literary agent disagrees, and I care more about what she says than I do about a bunch of self-appointed Tenured or Academic Sycopant Tone Police who have nothing better to do all day than lurk around in a CHE forum and kick people when they’re down.

      As for my audience deserting me–my blog views have gone up rather drastically every month since June. This month I will hit 40,000. I’ve got a regular gig at the CHE now, and will be doing more at Slate in the coming months, too. Other than on this blog, I write almost exclusively about academic labor issues that now have little to do with me, other than the fact that I, too, am now an adjunct so I can speak about working conditions from a bit of experience.

      Do you want an apology for quoting you without attribution? Go ahead and send me your name, and I’ll take care of that. The same goes for the rest of your friends in there.

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      1. Look, the name is Penuel, and I post (rarely) as Luder in those forums, where I’m pretty sure I don’t have any allies, let alone friends. Nor did you quote me. Why would you have, since in fact I came (tepidly, ’tis true) to your defense? After all, I happened to find some of the posts attacking your pieces, including at least one of the ones you quote, sort of despicable.

        Bluntness is fine–no, better than fine; but I, for one, find criticism (or invective) of the type you’re engaging in more interesting and more effective when the anger and other emotions that inform it stay just below the surface.

        My hearty congratulations to you for your 40,000 blog views a month. One hopes, for your sake, that those views translate into something approximating a living. (I myself have had a blog for a couple of years or so, and in its entire existence it has garnered only about twenty-four hundred views, most of them from ‘bots apparently located in the republics of the former USSR.)

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      2. Well, if you knew me you’d know that when I let my emotions stay below the surface, it ends very badly. I happen to be a very emotionally direct person, for better or worse. I remember your posts now–and I thank you for defending me, tepidly or no. I LOVE that the Katie Roiphe friend got in trouble for blabbing about that, by the way. The Internet is forever, friends! Now I’m off to nail myself back to the cross ;).

        My living comes from three places at once right now, which can be very overwhelming at times. I adjunct three courses per semester, which brings in a healthy $1700 a month or so, upon which I very much still depend. Then I have seven coaching clients, and from them I get between $125-200 per month, depending on their rate (some came on board with me when I was training, so they got the ‘cheap amateur’ rate). Then I make about $20-50 per month from this blog (that’s what all those godforsaken ads do; make no mistake, I FEEL DIRTY ABOUT IT), and then my published writing makes between $50 (for a short blog post) and $1500 per piece (the latter was a commissioned article for a scholarly journal that pays its contributors, and will almost certainly never happen again. The average I get for a published article is $200. Hardly a living, but it does help supplement the other two jobs. My favorite thing about your forum non-buddies is that they think this post makes *me* look bad. Er, yeah, that’s the ticket.

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      3. For @oneofthemotherfuckers. Curious. Neither I nor any other marginalized academic has expressed any quibbles about Rebecca’s loudness. I only seems to cause discomfort among the settled in academia.

        I applaud her voice. I’ve had simmering ire ever since the department head told me, back in 2000, that despite the fact that I graduated with honors from their M.A. program, I would not be getting funding for the PhD because “concerns had been raised about the ability of students from certain countries to meet the rigors of the PhD program.” Yeah, you read that right. In a private, highly regarded university that takes pride in its “social justice” and “racial awareness” orientation.

        And, believe me, that comment was just the start. I got more unethical, illegal crap from men for three years (and the cowardice of complicit women faculty in this alpha-male department). This included a man who “prided” himself for having been active in racial justice issues an Ice Age ago. At least I got the satisfaction of telling the Dean about this after I had a meltdown one evening in 2003 (for a whole other episode). An amazing university counselor not only treated my emotional distress but was responsible enough to set up an appointment with the Dean without me asking him to do so.

        Why did I put up with all this shit? I had no choice. I believed (still do) in my craft but not the industry. I was bullied, unethically and illegally treated by men because I was brown, female, from a different country (and constrained by a student visa and had absolutely no lateral mobility). I had three people who gave me strong support in that department (one was on sabbatical when I’d started and the other was hired during my second year)–because they knew my intellect, my work and my persona. To them I am eternally grateful.

        And guess what? I’ve had a couple of fantastic post-docs and made some amazing original contributions (now finally recognized). But the market and, yes, I suspect my age at this point and my “non whiteness,” has, either consciously or unconsciously, worked against it. I am adjunct–ing one last year while I finish my manuscript and then I’m out.

        Was all this worth it? I don’t know. But I sure would like to name those pricks publicly. But don’t you even DARE tell me about the need to have a detached, calm conversation about this.

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  6. You know what annoys me the most? That at the same time we are told that more students than ever attend university, we are also told there are not as many jobs as there were in the past. So at the same time that students numbers go up, academics numbers go down. By this of course we all understand that real (ie, tenured, or in the UK, permanent contract) academics go down in number. Adjuncts, part-time, visiting (oh the irony, as if you were there visiting your aunt Madge or something), zero-hours, occasional academics go up and up in number. And if you dare complain, you are told to shut up and suck up. Obviously, you are not as good as the tenured academics. Obviously, you haven’t published/taught/got funding enough to get a tenured position. As if they had when they got their jobs….
    Keep up the fight Rebecca.

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  7. I didn’t see Toor’s article, but the assertion you excerpt is laughable (and infuriating).

    I have personally been shocked to see trolls on the CHE at all – how disappointing to discover the ways education can leave ignorance and spite untouched.

    Your writing is hilarious, engaging and on point. Which makes it dangerous. That’s why you come under such fire. Notice the attacks are primarily ad hominem rather than substantive. It would be more fruitful for the trolls to weigh in about the job market, adjunct pay, doctoral admission and placement statistics (or the lack thereof). But then they wouldn’t be trolls..

    Keep on keepin’ on. 🙂

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    1. Danke sehr. Their point is that those things–adjunct pay, etc.–are what *I* should be talking about, instead of myself. Which is interesting, SINCE I AM AN ADJUNCT. Why do you think people who read me “squirm and cringe,” other than at my hastily-written compound sentences (which is actually a valid critique, and one I employ when I am writing for more than this blog pays me)?

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  8. Thanks, Rebecca. Aside for the delicious cathartic benefit of telling this story in public forums (albeit anonymously, for obvious reasons) is that it shows the existence of bigotry in the academy in such a clear–cut way that even the worst of apologists does not have wiggle–room for a retort (they can only repeat their racist/sexist thoughts to themselves).

    My experience illustrates, in a dramatic way, that all is not well in the university (and has not been for a long time), and exposes the shameful hypocrisy of a still largely white academy (despite growing numbers of qualified candidates of color). The academy loves the “equality” and “diversity” discourse (as you and Kendzior pointed out) so long as it does not mean it has to have a game–changing number of colleagues of color (or white peers from non-elite backgrounds).

    Granted, yes, there are a few departments that have impressed me very much in their commitment to “diversity.” Most scholars, however, will continue to be happy and feel enlightened by showing off their mastery of the “subaltern” discourse to all white academic audiences (and I extend white to include faculty members from overseas who also qualify as such).

    And, as I inchoately attempted to say in my previous post, I have absolutely no doubt that my age and physical appearance has played a role in my not getting a TT job. My inability to do so has been politely acknowledged by other academics through the “yes, the market is so bad” platitude but I don’t leave it at that when the person saying it is someone I trust. I’m exiting the academy and I plan to leave my story with some people–despite the fact that it makes them uncomfortable. I didn’t speak about my experience until very recently.

    Bottom line, for a lot of us: No, it’s not just a bad market and, in fact, a bad academic economy provides a perfect cover for more brutal discrimination (age, color, gender, etc.) and abuse of non-ladder faculty.

    With my clear-cut story, I also hope to show privileged academics that all the hell that you (Rebecca) and others are raising is not merely the figment of the imagination of “unqualified, surplus, disgruntled scholars.” The problematic and dishonorable issues in the academy are real.

    I must point out that I’ve witnessed HUSH–HUSH, oblique discussions of these industry pathologies among a few tenured faculty members over the years but they have to much comfort, fear and self-aggrandizement (all at once) to attempt to do anything about it. The worse part: they actually feel kind of smug in their ability to “deconstruct” their own industry. Breaking news: Pierrre Bourdieu, one of your own, did it before you (Homo Academicus, a classic…sometimes you just have to love the French, even on a Germanic studies oriented blog 🙂 ).

    Thanks for providing this safe, healing space for me Rebecca–I hope that what I tell will open some eyes and/or encourage others to tell their own tales of woe. The internet is, in many ways, the worst thing that could have happened to the academic status quo. Scrumptious.

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    1. Thank YOU for sharing this story, and for continuing to “make people uncomfortable” (read: dare to challenge the status quo that has benefited them, or to whose norms they are still incomprehensibly beholden).

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  9. Rebecca, I’m sure that the reason you make people squirm and the established academics try to isolate you is because you are becoming a kind of Borg Union of Adjuncts all on your own. By which I mean, every time you post, someone on Twitter says “YOU READ MY MIND!!!!” (paraphrase), making you the collective and audible voice of a lot of silenced, overlooked people.
    (Borg, ’cause, you know, hive-mind threat… not because you are an evil, alien enemy of cultural diversity and scientific exploration. Just making that clear.)

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