The Advantages of Rage

Even though I am the unequivocal victor in yesterday’s Radical Feminist Cat Fight (and innumerable thanks to the members of the Schu-Live Crew for descending upon those comments while I was stuck in LA traffic for five hours), I spent a lot of last night tossing and turning, full of yet more piss and vinegar about what is as of yet the most tone-deaf, privilege-dripping, extra-lifeboat-tastic defense of the academic hiring status quo, which is indefensible. The primary points of Potter’s tsk-tsking from “on high” (she pulled rank multiple times in her increasingly defeated comments) were:

1) It has Always Been Like This in academic hiring, and if you don’t like it, you don’t deserve to join the club–after all, railroad workers and high-school principals regularly pay $1000 out of pocket to travel to a strange city for a single 20-minute interview (except they totally don’t), and do you think you’re better than the working class, to which Claire Potter of New York City most certainly does not belong, you disgusting plebs? Also, here are some blatant lies about how “cheap” it really is to travel to MLA. (Current Southwest fares from San Francisco to Chicago start at $300; she recommends people consider taking the train instead, which would cost as much and take four days, but hey).

2) An epic set of concern-trolly “concerns” about what expressing such a “hissy fit” in public really accomplishes.

What our disagreement really comes down to is a category dispute.

She believes that academic hiring is a noble, fair and just process, where “good people get jobs,” and if a search committee gives candidates five days’ notice about a conference interview, they must have a very good reason for doing so, and their side of the story deserves to be heard before anyone lets loose on them.

I believe that academic hiring is a needlessly cruel exercise in gatekeeping by a bunch of self-professed Marxists whose own hiring practices favor the wealthy and well-connected; I believe that there can be no good reason on the planet for giving candidates five days’ notice whilst your own lavish, all-expenses-paid conference-attendance plans go completely unchallenged.

So, in her belief system, someone railing against an academic search committee without first contacting them to get their reasons is unfair–and, further, it doesn’t help anyone get that job, which of course is the ultimate goal.

But in my belief system, someone railing against such a search committee constitutes speaking truth to power. I also know that unless UCR kills that search (which they might, because the UCs are notoriously fickle about who is good enough to join their ranks, and one or more “bigwigs” in each department have been known to go full-on nuclear on everyone else’s favorite candidate just to fuck with people), someone will get that job, just as they were always going to. That someone will almost certainly be either an Ivy eminence’s favored pet, or a well-established Assistant Professor already on the tenure track somewhere comparable (who also has the “correct” pedigree, by which I mean Ivy). Nothing I say or do was ever going to get in the way of that.

In Claire Potter’s belief system, she is better than most of you.

Now, the next two paragraphs are going to look like an ad hominem attack, but I don’t mean them that way; really, I don’t. But I’d like to discuss Claire Potter’s scholarly bona fides a bit, simply as an example case of why the current market is insane.

This morning, I looked at Claire Potter’s CV, and in 1991, when she was hired onto the tenure track, it appears she did not have a single publication (or, if she did have publications, they were minor, so she took them off her CV; her 1987 dissertation fellowship is on there, though!). For comparison, on my fourth year on the job market, I had three articles in print (two in  high-profile journals in German), and a book under contract (see below for how that turned out). Claire Potter’s one and only single-authored monograph of her entire career came out in 1998, seven years after she started at Wesleyan. I repeat: Claire Potter has not written or published a single-authored monograph in over fifteen years, and her only other book is an edited volume at a respectable-but-just-OK press.

I do not mean this as an attack. I mean this as a statement of fact: If Claire Potter went on today’s job market for an Assistant Professor job without her fame, but with her 1991 CV, she would be  summarily ignored. If Claire Potter in 1996 tried to go up for tenure today with no book in print, she’d get denied. Make no mistake: I am not calling Claire Potter a bad scholar. I think her productivity level is great, and I’m sure her work, which I haven’t read, is also great–but the fact is that her level of accomplishment, good as it is, would simply not distinguish her in today’s insanely, manically overprofessionalized field.

So, now, to some conclusions:

In my belief system, I know that what drives the abhorrent behavior of many senior academics is crippling insecurity and fear. Impostor Syndrome sets in your first year of graduate school, and continues well beyond the piece of the grave, where as your corpse is lowered in, your ghost wonders: Is my graveyard cohort prestigious enough? 

Senior academics today know, either blatantly (if they’re Peter Higgs!) or deep in their souls, that almost none of them would be hired in today’s market (largely because, as one of my Twerple pointed out astutely, their jobs wouldn’t even exist). They are terrified that we will find this out, and so they  defend themselves with the tools they learned coming up in academia: belittling, shaming, and abuse. They must stomp in the only direction they are allowed: down. They must do so as hard as they can.

But in Claire Potter’s belief system, senior academics are protectors of a precious field, gatekeepers of sacred knowledge-making against a tide of unqualified hoi polloi. Until now, that hoi polloi had the decency and dignity to remain cowering in the shadows. As Lee Skallerup Bessette pointed out to me yesterday, in the past few years, something has changed. Something has emboldened the academically marginalized to begin to break out of the belief system of the people that marginalized them, to both notice and call notice to behavior that should be unacceptable, and yet has gone un-protested for years.

In short: the purpose of my rage, Claire Potter, is to break myself out of your belief system, which I believe to be both erroneous and exploitative. The purpose of my rage is to speak truth to power, and I didn’t know the (for now) “powerful” got to make the rules about what emotions people get to feel or express when they are speaking truth to power.

And the results? More than I could ever imagine. For one thing, my friend Noel Jackson started an Indiegogo campaign to subsidize UCR interview candidates, so that they don’t have to tell Deborah Willis, “Oh, I’m not going to MLA because I can’t afford it,” which is basically saying, “Please don’t hire me, I’m an Untouchable.” It has, of 7:39 a.m. Pacific time, raised $340 already (and I hope it will continue to raise money–perhaps Claire Potter and the UCR English department will contribute; obviously they should).

For another: the previously invincible, that all-important search committee every aspiring academic is petrified to offend, has been called out for bullshit, loudly and in public. They were forced to admit publicly that they couldn’t get their shit together and that they fucked up. They were forced to say they accept Skype interviews, and thus reveal how unnecessary their trip to MLA is (MAYDAY: PREENING IN DANGER!). They will think very, very carefully about ever pulling some similar bullshit again, and so will everyone else.

This isn’t about getting people jobs. Anyone who’s been on this market knows that failure on it is the norm. This is about holding people accountable to basic human decency, so that a heartbreaking process does not also have to be needlessly debasing.

And, finally, my rage–and others’ rage–accomplishes the simple fact of reclaiming just a sliver of human agency in a powerless process. I get emails from frazzled, marginalized scholars nearly every day, thanking me for running my mouth off on their behalf. If you’re one such scholar, I’m doing this for you. If you’re one such scholar and you don’t appreciate my tone, there’s an easy solution: SPEAK THE FUCK UP. Stop being a chickenshit. Stop letting the belief system of a dwindling despotic minority control your own belief system. You are a worthy human being whose voice deserves to be heard, and who is allowed to demonstrate human emotion. If you don’t like the way I’m representing you–REPRESENT YOURSELF. (Just make sure you do it with appropriate deference to established faculty, or you might get righteously tsked too.)

74 thoughts on “The Advantages of Rage

  1. Jane Kokernak says:

    She has a belief system; you have an evidence system (which is admittedly embedded in rage). Not sure how she can ignore the reality of higher-ed hiring and staffing today, unless she is shutting her eyes to the numbers, which scholars should not do.


  2. Albert says:

    She might get a job. I know people with no publications (none even forthcoming) with TT jobs, but they have friends and do feel entitled to the jobs they have.


  3. Albert says:

    Oh and I also know someone who did not get tenure because he had no book in print, though months away from coming into print and have been told by a retired academic that throughout his career he watched people with edited collections (referred to as “books”) get tenure and others with edited collections (referred to as “just edited collections”) get denied tenure.


  4. bloggerclarissa says:

    Great article. I always feel completely shocked to see you say what I believe are completely obvious, non-controversial things that somehow turn out to be hugely offensive in the eyes of many.

    This happened with the story about Bates College, the article about essays, and now this.


      1. J. Otto Pohl says:

        Reading this whole series I am just glad to be living and working in Africa on this blessed Christmas Day. I am not sure why I even bothered applying to work in the US back in 2005-2007 any more. Very impressive critique of the system Dr. Schuman.


  5. DM says:

    In the words of Rebecca Schuman: “Drop mic.” This is my manifesto. Thank you. Brilliant.

    And I encourage everyone to pitch in with something toward Noel Jackson’s fundraiser.


  6. George Caye says:

    Amen. Thank you. Are there actions planned at the MLA to disrupt this corrupt system? If so count me in. Tired of people just fading away because it’s “too hard” to deal with the reality of the job market. We must change the market and change the system – hiring, firing, transparency, etc. There are way more of us than them and they know this. They are the problem too, not just helpless pawns caught accidentally in tenure. Step up and organize.


    1. Olinthus says:

      Professors on search committees can’t change the “reality of the job market” because the reality is if there were an appropriate number of jobs to the number of candidates not a single squeak would be heard about a single search committee messing up and offering late interviews.


  7. Aimlessweasel says:

    A slightly different topic, but Peter Higgs, Nobel physicist, recently published an article that he wouldn’t have made it in today’s academia. He did go lighter on the whole “rage” thing though.
    Also, “Schu-live crew”? Brilliant. So jealous. Now you need some academic themed covers… Possibly in German (because: fritaug (sp?) fritaug, gotta get down on fritaug.)


      1. Aimlessweasel says:

        That was what I was referring to… It was great. This is Miles. Seriously though, 2 live crew covers would be hilarious. Or just German versions even.


  8. sentthebutt says:

    What do you think of her assertion about being present at MLA to present or to be a serious scholar in some other way? I suspect that you know my take on this, but to be clear: I view presenting and publishing as generally academic game, and (generally) less meaningful than ought to be outside of successfully sitting for tenure. ALSO: How fucking boring are most academic conference presentations? I stopped reading papers, religiously, a couple years ago. Tap dance your argument, falsetto that shit, hand jive, perform a gymnastics routine, accept one dollar bills in a g-striping, but please no more reading of the papers.


  9. europeanhistorian says:

    I do understand your rage, Dr Schuman, and that rage is entirely justified. However, try not to take too serious the spoilt and Weltfremd kid that ridiculously postures as ‘Tenured Radical’ and obviously has no clue about… almost everything. (By now I have read her ‘contribution’, and indeed, it makes my blood boil too. BUT!!!!) The thing is: these people are actually mentally handicapped (i mean this literally), and their handicap is directly congruent with their sheltered living conditions in a VERY sheltered, isolated college community, within which the hardships of the crumbling middle class live in 2013 are just VERY distant newspaper rumour. They may believe they have somehow ‘survived’ a competition, buit they have never experienced any insecurity, as everything was settled for them from the beginning. Any REAL taxi driver, construction worker or walmart employee proletarian would regard these spoilt kids with JUSTIFIED CONTEMPT. Let us nurture that contempt, and make sure that whatever the conditions, we end up higher and more succesfull than this elitist prick, just becxause we have learnt to fight and to overcome some obstacles in the first place. ‘Meprisez ce qui vous méprit, et ne baissez plus jamais les yeux’.


  10. eas says:

    I’m not an academic, but I’ve been thinking about these issues in academia (and elsewhere) for a while now, and think you are on to something.

    My alma matter has a excellent track record of launching people on academic careers. I assumed I’d follow the same path, after spending a year or two working in a research lab. That pause was enough to make me realize that I my “realistic” view of academia was overly idealized and that there were growing structural problems in academia that were likely to get really ugly during the course of my working life.

    In retrospect, I was right on both counts, and about a decade ago, I realized that insight still hadn’t made its way back to current students. Many of them still believed then (and now) that their highest and best purpose as alumni of my alma matter was to become academics.

    In the course of trying to expose them to a wider range of possibilities for imagining their futures. I realized that my view, and theirs, was always too narrow. Even at its peak, during the expansion of the US public university system, only about 25% of our graduates went into academia. Further, I realized that even during that golden age, across all of academia, a huge % of people who started graduate school, and even those who received their PhDs, ended up leaving academia.

    Given this situation, it isn’t surprising that there is ample evidence of survivor bias, including ugly outward manifestations of impostors syndrome. How much academic culture is based on the belief that the cream rises, and that those who have tenure must have tenure for good reason? How many professors feel that the’ve done their duty by washing out the unworthy, without feeling any responsibility for what happens to those all those casualties after they leave campus for the last time?

    I think that a lot of the current state of things has been precipitated by a shock-doctrine attack on academia and public institutions by various right-wing factions, but the underlying ugliness and self-deception has been there for years.


    1. eas says:

      Ugh: “In the course of trying to expose them to a wider range of possibilities for imagining their futures,” should have been be followed by a comma, not a period.


  11. Z says:

    What I don’t understand about the UCR thing is that I would never base my decision to go to the MLA on whether or not I had interviews, even if the purpose of it were to get employed. If I meant to apply for a lot of jobs, I’d plan to go. It’s just far too expensive to make last minute plans to go there, and a last minute job interview doesn’t mean a job, and isn’t reason enough to go. Do candidates understand this?

    So sure, UCR planned to only interview people who were going anyway, and I guess understood people would have full schedules already and would have to fit UCR in where they could. All of which means they won’t necessarily get to see the people they’d really like to, or would most like to, at least not at the MLA. And they could have an inside candidate, anyway. This, again, is why I would never go to the MLA for one interview, or drop other plans and make plans to go to the MLA because I got some last minute call.


    1. Z says:

      On planning to go even if you don’t know you’ll have interviews: what I do in these situations is stay somewhere alternative and cheaper, find a really cheap ticket, have interesting holiday/research plans if as it turns out you want to skip the conference, etc. … although it’s not that hard to get a paper in so again, this is what I do: have paper, apply for jobs, do it on the cheaper, interview or not, if not enjoy the town. Again I would NEVER base a decision to go or not on one interview, and I would certainly not spend all that money for one interview. Do people really do it … ?


      1. Z says:

        My point is, I wouldn’t even consider dropping everything and going to the MLA for some last minute interview. This is what Rebecca is calling for as a new thing. I have no idea who these people are who are going to the MLA for one last minute interview, or who the dissertation directors are who are telling them to, but it’s a losing proposition, always was. Plan to go to MLA whether nor not you get interviews, sure, I can see the point of that. But up and run there at the last minute? Crazy!


      2. Rebecca Schuman says:

        We have to state in our letter that we are planning to attend. It is hard to get a paper in. Very hard these days unless you know someone. As far as enjoying the town or tourism–hard to enjoy anything when you are paralyzed with uncertainty and feelings of inadequacy. Finally, these days many many wonderful candidates get a single interview, last minute. Should these people be shut out of the profession? I’m walking as I type this so sorry it is disjointed.


      3. Rebecca Schuman says:

        I personally also need psychic space to cry and recover and be myself. Assuming I should share a room or stay with someone presumes a level of existential comfort most precarious faculty don’t have. Of course they have no choice but to do it the budget way, which puts them once again at a disadvantage in interviews.


  12. Z says:

    Or in other words, DM: the people who do that (run to the MLA at the last minute for one interview) are the people who are not going to get a job. Therefore, even more reason not to do it.


    1. Rebecca Schuman says:

      So what you are saying is that only mythical candidates who “know” they will have ten interviews and who are well connected enough to get a paper in should even be considered for the profession these days? That shuts out everyone but the most elite of the elite. I mean, they run the show, but should people really just roll over?


  13. Z says:

    Well then so go, if you believe you will get a job on the strength of that one interview. I don’t know how you can afford the cost of last minute tickets and sudden hotels when everything is full, but suit yourself.


      1. Z says:

        What I think is that, while forcing UCR to give more notification, etc., is as fine a place to start as any, the idea that if one could get to the MLA for one interview (for a job that may or may not be designated for oneself) it would all be fine is an impractical place to be. One of my friends in German was convinced until recently that all of his employment problems were the fault of another of my friends in German. Another of my friends was convinced that I and a friend were competing for jobs when we were not — could not have because of field, couldn’t realistically have applied to the same jobs.

        I think that when people get to this kind of space, things have already gone too far. Sure, if one can make it to a UCR interview when one had no interviews and was not going to the convention, and then end up being the one hired, it is a marvelous coup, but it is more along the lines of Christmas miracle than of strategy.

        The whole thing is more screwed up than that, is my point.


  14. DM says:

    At Z: I agree. But one is so conditioned, and naive, to believe that there’s the possibility of getting the job that one does it. I’ve gone to the AJS and AHA (not the MLA) on relative short notice (and had to charge my CC…can you say interest payments???)–but that was when I still believed that only one’s efforts, creativity and academic merit, rather than posturing, adviser connections and an Ivy diploma, got you a job (and this is after having racist and sexist comments directed at me by faculty during grad school–somehow I thought that the problems I’d had in academia were just relegated to my bad luck in school choice). And, while I’ve stopped doing going to academic conferences (I’m no longer on the market), I know of peers who continue attempting this pointless pursuit. The last time I attended an academic conference for an interview was in 2012–but I flew in only for the interview and stayed on to visit friends. I was not even a member of the host academic association at that point.


    1. 'Bad Attitude' says:

      Would love to see a post on the true limits of an Ivy diploma. What doors it does and does not open (in the academy) and for whom, how race and gender and class (i.e. parents’ education/parental wealth–cultural capital) determine how much that Ivy diploma is going to help you.

      Yup, there is serious elitism in academic hiring, from which Ivy diploma holders benefit, but this is not the whole story. Race and gender can actually trump the Ivy diploma (for White males especially) because if issues of (perceived) ‘fit’, which are HEAVILY affected by race; and if you are a PoC grad student or non-TT faculty who speaks out to criticize any abusive practices of the Academic Establishment Gatekeepers, your Ivy degree is not going to do you much good after being branded a Troublemaker; especially when you are a (dark-skinned) Black person, who will be seen instead as a Violent Black Threat, even with your ‘precious’ Ivy diploma. Yup, ‘meritocracy’, that’s how it works.


  15. John says:

    I suppose you have to see it from Potter’s perspective: She was one of the lucky ones. When you’re one of the lucky ones, of course the system will seem to be working as it should. You’ve got the Golden Ticket, Charlie! Good things happen to good people!

    I’ve observed numerous grad school classmates on the job market. One fellow got a job at their prestigious SLAC alma mater. They come from an academic family background (dad teaches around the corner), situated in the stratosphere of the upper-middle class — they’ll never have to worry about anything but moving up up up. Several got jobs at institutions where someone on the hiring committee had the same advisor (this advisor has something of a cult following among their advisees, and you’ll notice there seem to be a lot of institutions with two or more people from this particular department on the faculty). One person was allowed to defend a dissertation they spent 12 years (!!!) working on, despite not even having completely finished it, and was given TT employment at their partner’s institution (the partner is a key collaborator of the dissertation advisor). Not ONE of these people had publications before going on the job market, yet every one of them got a TT position right out of grad school. So, I suppose I have to question the assumption that Potter would not succeed on today’s job market if she were just starting out the gate. If she knew the right people, I’m sure she’d succeed. The academy is simply clannish. You don’t get to join the country club unless you know someone already in it. It’s easy to get book chapters published and/or books edited when you’re networked appropriately, which leads to more publications, which leads to more publications, and so on.


    1. John says:

      Also: The network is essentially a guarantee that you WILL be published somewhere, somehow. Committees know this, and I’ve heard this point being discussed frequently in hiring committee meetings about most candidates: “Well, she was X’s advisee, and she was on panels with Y and Z. Who else does she know who would make sure she could get publications out there?”


      1. DM says:

        I also agree with John-I had a major research article in a top journal when I first went on the market (and on a subject completely unrelated to my dissertation, to boot) but peers with an encyclopedia entry ( or something similar) as publication (sponsored by direct big wig adviser connection) got jobs. All ivy folks, white upper middle class. That’s the problem: white ivy folks are deemed to have the “potential” for success even if hired with no (or insignificant) publications. Non Ivies, especially if you’re brown and female, are viewed as a liability. And oh boy do I have the anecdotes to back up that statement.


  16. apostropheisha says:

    Your tone is more than appropriate, Rebecca. It’s the tone that we all have in our innermost thoughts, the one that we use to vent to our loved ones and close friends about our frustrations with the job market. It’s also the one that professors like Potter don’t want to hear because it calls attention to their own hypocrisies. Too bad we can’t have a real protest of the MLA. Too many are too desperate for a job. Was it last year or the year before that some attendees put a penny on their name tags to symbolize solidarity with the Occupy movement and the 99 percent? What a joke that was! Talk about preening and positioning! The MLA is ripe for a sit in or something, but it won’t happen. Those of us who’d like to rage against the machine have too much to lose when you think about how much it costs to attend.


  17. guest says:

    In case you never saw it, there’s a fun Tenured Radical blog post ( that argues for increased production of humanities PhDs and includes these lines:

    “Senior scholars are currently exhibiting an unnerving tendency to crumple up every time a frustrated graduate student or unemployed Ph.D. is at a career impasse. This too has kept us from clearly, and collectively, thinking through the problem. Instead of asking younger people to defer gratification, or be satisfied with a less materialistic life in exchange for study, we tacitly support their position (one nobody over the age of 50 actually believes) that if you are not well on the road to prosperity and a full-blown adult life by the age of 30, you are a failure.”


  18. Media Prof says:

    Your point about credential creep is so important! Credential creep is real and is the result of the shrinking number of TT lines. If the MLA chart I saw is accurate, there were some 500 fewer TT openings in 2012 than in 2007; that’s 500 more people who didn’t get employed and who may have stayed on the job market and tried again, with more publications, more teaching, more postdocs–more more more credentials. Applications from ABDs without prominent pubs or PhDs without a book contract end up on the bottom of the growing pile of applications for each TT. If no one can get an entry level job with entry level credentials because so many more applicants are competing for the entry level job with nearly Associate Prof level credentials, then all the expectations anyone ever had about what counts as “qualified” are unsustainable. Then to add to the horror, academics who piece together postdoc after VAP after VAP while building their overcredentialed c.v. risk being tainted as stale PhDs once a certain number of years have passed. These are real problems coming out of the restructuring of higher ed. But maybe all this debate about “tone” is just an unspoken acknowledgment that it’s easier to scold you than to do anything about the deprofessionalization of higher ed.


    1. Raya says:

      I don’t think that’s true. I’m currently on the market with Assoc Prof level credentials (having been denied tenure in a decision unanimously viewed by my department and others in my field as shocking and unfair) and I have yet to receive a single interview invitation. in 2003 when I was a hotshot ABD with one minor publication and two completed chapters of a dissertation I got eleven preliminary interviews and five campus visits. Ok, 2003 vs 2013, but still. Still.


      1. Media Prof says:

        Very sorry to hear! Being on the market after tenure denial is very hard. I was on a search committee some years ago that chose a candidate who had just been denied tenure at another college; we were overruled by the provost, who hired our last choice instead. Why? Because our candidate of choice had been denied tenure! Infuriating. I’m sorry to report that such snobbery happened at a teaching institution where a lack of pubs (the ostensible basis for denial) should not have mattered as much. In my previous comment I was referring to candidates with VAPs and postdocs–years of teaching and pubs but without the “stain” of tenure denial–who may be outranking ABDs during searches. The all-or-nothing effect of tenure decisions–as when someone who is denied tenure cannot find a new position–is one argument against the tenure system and the pseudo-meritocracy it is supposed to uphold.


    2. Raya says:

      Since I can’t reply to your reply to me, just leaving a note here to say thanks for the sympathy! I appreciate it. Yeah, I guess I won’t be so upfront about the tenure denial in my cover letter next year. Which will also be my last year in academia if I don’t get a decent job by the end of it.


      1. Media Prof says:

        So (maybe a thread hijack, sorry!) but yes, you might want to consider how best to explain your situation and tailor it to the hiring institution. In our case, a small teaching college, we were sympathetic to a tenure-denied candidate who seemed to be a devoted teacher. We asked her point blank what happened & were satisfied with her response that it had to do with her research record–and not poor teaching or lack of collegiality (a loaded term anyway impossible to ascertain). Her excellent teaching won us over. We interviewed another candidate (another search) who had also been denied tenure, but her teaching presentation was so poor, we did not consider her. We gave both of those tenure-denied candidates a chance. So, consider your own circumstances and present yourself in a way to give a search committee a good reason to call you despite this (definitely don’t lie or obfuscate!). Showcasing what you can bring them may be your best bet. Rec letters that deal with your situation frankly and sympathetically may help too. Good luck!!


      2. Media Prof says:

        We figured that many tenure denials are for political reasons rather than for on actual poor performance. That seemed true in one case, not true in another. But we wanted to make our own determination. What bothers me is that most search committees probably won’t take that step. And with the overabundance of other applicants, are less and less likely to. And for the applicant, it is super hard to figure out how to present it honestly while implying the denial was unfair without bitching or sounding too defensive.


  19. Z says:

    My dissertation director wants one of her more recent students to go to the MLA although he has no interviews so far. She filed in May and is a VAP on a 4-4 in a bad place, but renewable. Dissertation director thinks she should be working on book and go to MLA to sell it to editors. Do you find this a realistic plan?


  20. DM says:

    In my view, that is an absolutely absurd and unnecessary expense. Yes, she should work on the book–at home. She should write a strong proposal and submit it to various presses. I think schmoozing with editors can be counter-productive, actually. The “yeah, I remember her” when they get your proposal can work in both directions–if they liked you, great, if not, not good. Pointless $1000 expense. She should focus on her book proposal pitch more than on “Hi, I’m….”. Just my two cents.


  21. John R. Churl says:

    It’s a bit disheartening to see people here (though not you, Rebecca) buy into one of the things they should be opposing: the productivist assumption that publishing more = being more qualified. Academia in general, including the humanities, suffers from overproduction (i.e, articles and books that are written not because they say anything compelling or new but because the author needs a job or tenure). In the humanities in particular, what is lost in the frenetic rush to publish as much as one possibly can is the only thing that any of us should care about: the value of the argument. Indeed, a great many people are frantically publishing anything they can manage to get out there just for the sake of having it on a CV. This is not conducive to disciplinary health. All work is not equal and that is why it makes little sense to say things like “so and so got a job despite only having one article and I had 7 and didn’t even get an interview.” Einstein published 4 articles in 1905 and, despite being only 4 in number, they outweigh any 4,000 articles that you can cite.

    If you want academia to become more like a meritocracy, one of the things that’ll have to be jettisoned is the bean-counting mentality that says all books are equal and all papers are equal and someone who is as yet unpublished is necessarily undeserving of being hired to a TT (or any) academic job.


    1. DM says:

      Hi John, I COMPLETELY agree with you and, if you take closer note on this and other entries, most of us also make the distinction between quantity and quality (I have done so in multiple reader comments on this blog). Hence, an extensive research article should weigh more than an encyclopedia entry or the same article published in four separate journals, under different titles and with a BS minor, argumentative “differentiation.” But they don’t.


  22. Sharon O'Dair says:

    Regarding the tenured and whether they would be competitive today for a TT position is irrelevant, it seems to me, unless at the same time, you are lobbying for an end to tenure. (Or unless you want to be a tenured jackass yourself.) I didn’t read all the comments here, but I did not in my skimming see anyone suggest that tenure has to go. Tenure is part, and probably the most significant part, of the structure of this profession that results in the situation you face. And the situation I and a lot of others face: 1st job and 25 years later, same job, last job. Tenure is the reason Tenured Radical still holds the position she holds. With, say, 8-year contracts, she’d be gone. And probably Professor Willis, too.


    1. John R. Churl says:

      Tenure has existed for a long time. This situation is new. If tenure is “the most significant part” of the problem, why has the problem taken decades to manifest itself?

      How do you know that with, say, 8-year contracts you wouldn’t also “be gone”? Oh, but, you’re “worthy” and would be mobile if only it weren’t for all the deadwood occupying the jobs that you’d be taking up at 8-year intervals. What makes you worthy? Or is this just a death wish on your part?

      My own view is that the difficulty in finding an entry-level job has two main causes:

      1) Tuition that outstrips inflation year on year thanks to:
      a) the proliferation of non-core “programs” and “centers”;
      b) the country-club-isation of all colleges in order to broaden their appeal to a much broader market (who may not be at all interested in the main “product.”

      This has led to a need for administrators to cut costs elsewhere and replacing tenure-track jobs with adjuncts is one way to do that.

      But the main reason is:
      2) Managerialism: the rise of what Benjamin Ginsburg has called “the all-administrative university” with a parasitical, professionalized, and proliferating group of bureaucrats who see their job as running universities “like businesses” complete with “key performance indicators” (a driving force in both the glut of publications and the burgeoning requirements even for those just starting out). These are the people who make the decisions about whether a job will be tenure track or adjunct. Making it the latter might allow them to hire another deanlet as well.

      Calling for the abolition of tenure might well result in people like Willis, Potter (and O’Dair) being out on the breadline, to be replaced by a constantly-churning series of poorly-paid adjuncts. It might be more just (since we’d all be in the shit and not just some of us). But it would serve nobody but the administrators. It certainly wouldn’t serve students who, lest we forget in our frantic careerism, are one of the reasons universities exist. The assumption that so-and-so would “be gone” is part and parcel of the all-administrative university where teaching (because it is difficult to quantify) counts for nothing and number of publications (regardless of their content) count for everything.

      In addition, nobody would be able to take the time to research anything with any patience at all. Or anything unpopular. What looks like “deadwood” to you might well be someone taking the time to produce work that takes decades. Or it might not. That’s the risk you take and what distinguishes academia from capitalism. Abolishing tenure will ensure that only those adept at churning out reams of stuff that flatters the current consensus (and that nobody reads anyway) will have a place.


      1. Sharon O'Dair says:

        Hello John,

        You write: “Tenure has existed for a long time. This situation is new. If tenure is “the most significant part” of the problem, why has the problem taken decades to manifest itself?”
        And I reply: The situation is not new. The job crisis is not new. Ask people in Rhet/Comp with an elite PhD in literature granted in, say, 1975, if the situation is new. (Or read my essay from 97 in *Michigan Quarterly Review*.) And people have argued against tenure for decades. I have argued against it since before I got it. And I have argued against it since. Tenure is like marriage without the possibility of divorce. It’s hazing. It protects the unworthy.

        As for this–“How do you know that with, say, 8-year contracts you wouldn’t also “be gone”? Oh, but, you’re “worthy” and would be mobile if only it weren’t for all the deadwood occupying the jobs that you’d be taking up at 8-year intervals. What makes you worthy? Or is this just a death wish on your part?”–all I can say is I don’t know that, nor do I assume that I am worthy. But I do know I’m willing to take my chances and see where I end up. I would like to have mobility. I would like to teach in different settings, with different sorts of students. Tenure makes that impossible.

        You also write: “My own view is that the difficulty in finding an entry-level job has two main causes:
        1) Tuition that outstrips inflation year on year thanks to:
        a) the proliferation of non-core “programs” and “centers”;
        b) the country-club-isation of all colleges in order to broaden their appeal to a much broader market (who may not be at all interested in the main “product.”
        2) Managerialism.”

        In contrast, I would suggest and have done so in print (in 2010) that “the difficulty in finding an entry-level job” has these two “main causes”: “the development of a prestige-based research culture and the push to make access to higher education universal in the population. Both developed in the postwar period; both, therefore, have a history and are overdetermined and thus difficult to analyze. But both have had deleterious effects on the professoriate, and most particularly on PhD students, because both—democratized access to the dissemination of knowledge and the prestige-driven approach to research or the production of knowledge—require cheap labor.” Every bit of “research” produced in English by the tenured is produced on the backs of cheap labor. Each of us with a reduced teaching load is guilty of this, me included. And all the “access” and “democratization” is produced on the backs of cheap labor, too. You want research? You want to send 65% of an age cohort to “college”? Cheap labor. And who, may I ask, determined that these should be the goals of our profession? Sociologist Randall Collins pointed out in 2002 that the division of labor could have been distributed differently, that all could have shared equally in the unpleasant task of teaching “unintellectual” or uninterested students. We did not chose that path.

        As for your arguments about time and quality and difficulty, well, according to John Guillory, writing in what? 2000, those already are gone for graduate students. I think he’s right. You’re right; it’s not gone for those of us with tenure, but I would say the likelihood of anyone on my faculty taking 10 or 15 years to produce a volume that will change the state of his or her field is zero. Zip. The odds of this happening even at Berkeley or Yale are low. And besides at the Ivies, which have been so bandied about in these discussions, tenure effectively does not exist. Assistants (and sometimes Associates) don’t get it; Professors don’t need it.

        So just whom are you protecting here? People who already have it and aren’t doing important work. And a lot of these are people in their 70s who won’t even retire!! And you give them a terrific excuse: not their supposedly depleted TIAA-CREF accounts, but because they’ll be replaced by the non-TT!!! Tenure is already gone, so why not get out in front of this curve and begin to think about ways to imagine our work differently? Could we do what Collins suggests we should have done in the 1960s, all share equally–well, more equally–in the teaching of these “unintellectual” students?

        I don’t think we can because when it comes down to it, no one who’s really smart wants to do that work. I sure as heck didn’t want to. In my view, that’s why we defend tenure. And research. And it’s largely indefensible.



  23. MM says:

    Sharon and everyone,
    I believe in tenure but it only works if the university resists the structuring properties of capitalism. (For the sake of the poli sci people, stop saying corporatism.) Perhaps the profession only works for those who have trust funds — just as Stegner writes about in Crossing to Safety (set in the 1950s) in which professors scoff at the poor guy who actually has to live off his professor salary.
    Now we plebs have joined the profession and the university systems have joined the neo-liberal order, so where do we go from here? Sharon has a great idea — much better than Berube’s presidential address at mla last year which made the radical call for tt profs to demand adjuncts have access to the library. How brave! Here’s my call: tt profs — take yourself off the “graduate faculty” roster. No longer teach coveted grad seminars. Increase tt faculty load by one course for a year. I know teaching a 3-2 load sounds scary. Have tt profs teach gen ed and intro to comp courses. Let the adjuncts teach advanced major courses. Those students are easiest to teach anyway. Let the tt prof teach language 101 — hello, my name is…” courses. Come on, t-t profs show us you care at all.


    1. loumac says:

      That’s exactly what many of us have been quietly doing – and the likes of Berube represent a disconnected minority, not the majority of us trying to keep our programmes alive outside the well-funded charmed circle represented by the MLA higher echelons. This idea that T-T professors all teach small upper-division or graduate seminars is a fantasy to most of us. The problem is that most professors who rise to the top of the MLA do have cushy teaching loads that allow them to take on things like MLA presidencies in the first place (and have given them the time to write the books that allow them to gain the required visibility in their field in the first place).

      Look, I am one of the privileged. I have tenure in a large state institution. Our department has a Ph.D. programme, even if it is hanging on by a thread. And yet I have not taught a graduate seminar for over 3 years. In fact I can’t remember the last time I taught a class at any level that was related to my research. We teach 5 courses a year. One of my annual classes enrolls over 100 students, engineers and undeclared freshmen and economists and everyone in between. The survey classes for our major (a modern language) cap at 50 and they are taught exclusively by T-T faculty. None of our adjuncts or lecturers teaches any class with more than 25 students. Faculty are all expected to teach language. And this is at an institution considered an R1.

      I understand the anger of the unemployed and the underemployed. But it’s not helpful to lump all tenure-line faculty in with the minority represented by some of the MLA talking heads. Most of us don’t end up teaching 2-2 loads to elite students on our research. We work damn hard, teaching large classes on things we had no idea we’d be teaching to freshmen and the supposedly “unintellectual” students (who are usually great fun and refreshing to work with). In fact (and I realise my department may be atypical in this), the tenured among us have less opportunity and time for research, since we are the ones coming up with these new large classes outside the major in order to stay alive. When I was untenured, my colleagues protected me so I could write The Book. Now I have tenure, it’s my turn to protect my junior colleagues, and honestly I don’t know if I’ll ever write a second book. But that’s probably the way it should be. If tenure is helpful at all, it’s in encouraging me to develop and work on my teaching, not my research which, while perfectly respectable, will certainly not shift any paradigms.


    2. Z says:

      I am tenured at a large state research institution and I would love to go DOWN to a 3-2 load and not to teach language 101, but it is highly unlikely either thing will happen. We don’t have adjuncts but we do have a lot of FT instructors, people with MAs, and they teach some of the advanced courses while we tenure track and tenured PhD types teach gen ed. That’s so the instructors don’t get too bored-discouraged teaching only language 101 and such. MM are you still interested in a tenure track job in these conditions? Because they are the conditions in most tenure track jobs.


      1. MM says:

        I amend my post to read “research tenure-track” professors — the elite guard. The profession is highly hierarchical. It’s not the same thing to be tenured at some schools as it is at others. These powerful professors have the means to stop enrolling 100s of graduate students until they help their graduated PhDs find jobs by calling for elimination of the exploitation of others. All faculty — tenure track or not — need fair remuneration and benefits. If these schools cannot afford faculty then restructure the program/college or even close the school altogether.
        Your t-t job is ideal to me. Guess what I have the same gig: t-t, no grad students and no adjuncts. I bet you can even guess what state I live in. The ONLY reason my amazing job exists is because we don’t have a glut of unemployed PhDs in the area. Check out small private schools in California. Only 1 per cent of the faculty is tenure-track as they take advantage of the PhDs in the area. I cannot do much from where I sit on the life boat except cheer for Schumanites. But lots of people in more powerful positions can. How about this: instead of boycotting Israeli institutions–how about the ASA boycotts any higher learning institution that has more adjuncts than faculty?


  24. Z says:

    PS — Are you aware that the TR is against tenure and believes in multiyear contracts and a union?

    And — about going to the MLA or similar conference and being eaten up by nerves and doubts, not able to enjoy conference or other things in city: this is only worth doing if you have a lot of interviews. Otherwise it’s a losing proposition for sure.


      1. DM says:

        Tenured Radical….Claire Potter, the person with whom Rebecca sparred (um…epic horn locking episode that ended with TR being vanquished and pushed over the ledge of the mountain).


  25. Z says:

    I have one more thought on this: does German have a quick burnout rate? I ask because 25 years ago or so when I first started hearing things from people on the job market, it was the attitude of the graduate students and new PhDs in German that people 20 years older than they were no good and should be retired. We don’t have this problem, people becoming no good, in the fields I work in, so I am starting to wonder whether there is something about German as a field that wears people out, slows them down soon after tenure, or has them so tired-disaffected by tenure time that they can’t work any more after that. There has to be *some* explanation of why tenured German professors are so bad, if they are in fact as bad as you suggest (they don’t work, etc.) and as was also suggested to me by newer German faculty a generation ago. Or is it just that program reduction started in German then, and I don’t feel the problem in the same way because of being in an expanding field where there is at least some work?


    1. DM says:

      Z: It’s the same in History, based on my personal and vicarious experience. You might disagree. In my subfield, the amount of truly substandard scholarship that gets celebrated, so long as it’s a “the correct” pedigree is staggering. The exquisite work by many “no name brand” scholars never gets due attention . In fact, my subfield is, quite literally, controlled by four people in the United States. They all come from the same school and, if you’re not “in” with them, you’re out, kiddo. My subfield has stagnated intellectually, and remained quite small actually, because of the “bandwagon” mentality of four people. Literally.


      1. Z says:

        (I am in Spanish and there are enormous numbers of journals, presses, programs, conferences, etc., etc. and a lot of work, comparatively speaking. I am not saying it is great but there is space to exist. It is huge and varied, lots of different things to do, as is the case in English, except there isn’t the same kind of glut as in English because you do have to work in a foreign language. Disadvantages of Spanish also exist, but lack of space in field and lack of variety in types of established scholarship are not problems. It is also a lot easier for me to get papers and panels into conferences like the MLA, apparently, than it is for people in German, based on how hard Rebecca says that is — it all appears to be a question of space.)

        Speaking of which, by the way: Rebecca says you have to know someone to get into the MLA but look, folks: submit a special session and populate it with better known people that you cold call, whether you have met them or not. I have never had difficulty with this and it is not a thing of the past, and I just put a panel together for another fancy, similarly competitive and visible conference exactly this way. Seriously, these things are not that impossible to do — at least, not in Spanish, French, Portuguese, English, Comp. Lit., Latin American Studies, anyway.


      2. someonecommentingonthings says:

        just corroborating this – history is the same. I’ve avoided AHA precisely because of these reasons. There’s fawning and preening for sure; and the worthiness of your scholarship doesn’t matter as much as old fashioned networks of patronage, and pedigree.


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