Lots of established academic hand-wringing in these final days of 2013. It’s like, I know that you told all your colleagues you’d “get some writing done” over the break, and instead you’ve been binge-watching Scandal and eating pot pie all day, so now to assuage your impostor syndrome/productivity guilt you have to do something that has to do with The Field, and so why not weigh in on an Internets War between two veritable nonentities, and then tsk-tsk people on their inappropriate tones, and “comfort” them by telling them that it’s OK, they’re just coddled millennials who’ve never been rejected from anything, ever, and this is how the big, bad world works?
Why not do that?
That’s pretty much the same as writing and submitting for publication a monograph whose peer reviewers laud it as a field-changer. Pretty much.
Oh, but here I go again. Would you look at my tone? Would you look at my hissyfitting? Would you just look at me, tsk-tsk-tsk. I’ll never get tenure now.
Both the Tenured Radical and her BFFF Historiann have taken what should be regarded as a trifling kerfuffle as a sort of call to arms about the single most important issue facing higher education today: marginalized contingent scholars hurting tenured people’s feelings.
Oh wait. That’s not the most important issue at all. That is not even a marginally important issue. The lack of importance of that issue is so staggering that I can’t quite see straight when I think about how unimportant it is. What, pray tell, is the result of a tenured person’s fee-fees being hurt? Hurt fee-fees. Period. Maybe—maybe, if I’m lucky—a slight change in how many days’ notice search committees think it’s acceptable to give conference interviewees (and that, by the way, is a positive result).
You know who gets hurt feelings every day? Everyone. You know who gets to go home and cry themselves to sleep on pillows they can afford, in houses they bought with functioning heat, after eating a meal they purchased? People with steady jobs, like professors with tenure.
You know who else gets hurt fee-fees every day? Adjuncts, contingent faculty, fast-food workers, service workers, retail workers, cubicle-farm denizens, and everyone else prostrate to a merciless economy that has no interest whatsoever in easing the job crisis because then corporations might start having to treat their workers better. And yet the hurt feelings of the marginalized and contingent often just get screamed into the air—or, worse yet, they engender the nasty rejoinder that we should “stop complaining,” that perhaps our complainey attitude is what got us into such a situation in the first place (and I’ve already linked it, but if you don’t read this article by Sarah Kendzior right now, you are a worthless schmuck).
My point: on a scale of what’s important to talk about in higher education, the grave injustices against the marginalized (and, o ho ho, the students!) in a contingency-based environment rank about a 9. The feelings of the tenured, and whether or not I mean all tenured people when I decry “lifeboaters” (I don’t!), whether or not I understand that some people are really trying hard to affect change from the inside (I do!)? I hate to tell some of you tenured allies this, but in the larger scheme of things your feelings rank about a 3.
Literally the last thing any marginalized academic should be worried about at any time is hurting the feelings of someone with tenure. That person already has 900 times more privileges (and much more money) than you will ever have. The fact that they also demand you treat them with awed deference should not have an effect on your behavior.
So here, friends, is Rebecca Schuman’s Guide to Acceptable Professional Behavior, Online, In Person, and Everywhere Else. This list has little to nothing to do with the Tenured Radical or anyone else specific, so please stop taking it so fucking personally—this is my personal set of rules, developed in the past eight months after I decided that since I was never going to be an academic, I didn’t need to abide by academia’s insane rules of sycophantic cowardice anymore.
- Speak the fuck up. Do it using any voice you damn well please.
- Understand that you will almost certainly never be granted entrance to The Club, so stop letting its hierarchy and whims dictate how you feel about yourself, and what you’re “allowed” to say, and how you’re “allowed” to say it.
- Recognize that “change from inside” is not going to come fast enough, if at all. Work as tirelessly as possible to enact revolution from the outside instead. Unionize, strike, agitate, speak up, speak out. NEVER SHUT UP.
- When someone attempts to shut you up under the guise of calling for “civility,” know that that person means: civility toward me. It means: how dare you step up to someone above you? How dare you? Dare.
- Make sure that your tenured allies understand that you have absolutely no reason to fight for the preservation of tenure, even if you nominally believe in its benefits. American Republicans might be stupid enough to fight to preserve huge tax breaks for people richer than they will ever get to be, under the misguided assumption that they, too, will be rich like that someday. American PhDs are not that dumb (or at any rate, they shouldn’t be).
- Understand that because of your lack of status, any systemic critique you level will be met with scathing personal attack, especially if you are a woman or a person of color. Your scholarship. Your attitude. Your tone. The fact that you’ve probably never been told “no” before because you’re a spoiled millennial even though you’re 37 years old. Anything you say will simply be ignored (because critiques of the academic system are incontrovertibly correct), and rather than defend an indefensible system, the people whose fee-fees you hurt will come after you personally, because they took your systemic attack personally in the first place, because after so many years in the system, they identify with the system. Be ready for this. Defend yourself in whatever way you see fit. You have nothing to lose, so fear nothing.
- It bears repeating: fear nothing. What’s the worst thing that can happen? You won’t get a tenure-track job? You won’t get one anyway. So fear nothing, and START A REVOLUTION.