I just got an email from a “concerned” mansplainer, chiding me for my tone and commending the Tone Police. He (of COURSE it’s a he!) is certainly welcome to his opinion, as is the smattering of individuals who have, in the past eight months, chided me for being “unpfrofessional,” as if I give a fuck about the rules of a “profession” that wants nothing to do with me. But thinking about my horrible, unacceptable unprofessionalism–and participating in some hilarious Twitter conversations about bad conference-paper-giving behavior–has reminded me of something.
The only–and I mean only–thing about me that’s unprofessional is my conscious, measured decision to speak about ‘the Profession’ in a blunt, uncensored fashion. That’s it. Literally everything else that I do, both in what is left of my academic life and my post-academic life, would be considered the height of professionalism, if it weren’t actually more “professional” in the Profession to act unprofessional. Wait, what? Here’s what I mean.
- I have never, and I mean never, missed a deadline in my life. Every single piece of writing I have ever submitted to anyone, from the stupidest unpaid column for The L Magazine in 2003 to my academic monograph, has been submitted on time, and by “on time” I mean the actual deadline requested by the editor, no exceptions. Yes, this includes graduate school, during which I never, ever, ever took a single incomplete, and was aghast that it was the norm in other departments (and I was even looked down on for my department not issuing them regularly!). On the very rare occasions I’ve needed an extension (like when my boyfriend dumped me on the same day my column was due in 2005), I’ve asked for one in advance, and then filed punctually thereafter. When I submitted my paper to the moderator of my first panel at the German Studies Association in 2009, three weeks to the day before the conference, as stated in the bylaws, I was laughed at. Classic grad student noob move there, Schuman. Don’t you know that Real Academics treat deadlines like flaccid, laughable “suggestions”? Most academics I know are 100% comfortable making the entire staff of the journal or book publisher re-arrange their entire lives to wait on tenterhooks for their stupid work to come in whenever the fuck the Academic Muse allows it. This behavior is the height of unprofessionalism, and yet it is de rigeur in academe, and the fact that I never participated in it once actually made me an outsider.
- The person I sleep with is not, and never has been, one of my students. You know what’s unprofessional? Schtupping people you grade. You know who does this anyway, all the fucking time? People who have, I am 100% sure, called me “unprofessional” in the past eight months.
- When I was lucky enough to have my own office, I kept it neat and clean. Oh, but Real Academics are too busy using their big, smart brains not to have their office look like something on Hoarders.
- I actually worked in my office and was seen around campus at times I wasn’t teaching. Real professors in The Profession abscond the second their five-person seminar is over, not to be seen again for another week. That’s what cracks me up about the insanity of academic hiring–“Oh, but we’re going to be in close contact with these people for FORTY YEARS.” You will not. You’ll see these people once a month at meetings you make difficult on purpose. Speaking of which…
- I am on time to meetings and never, ever, ever make trouble in them. There is an unofficial rule in higher ed that if you show up to a meeting early, you’re not spending enough time working–and yet, there’s another unofficial rule that if you don’t bring up some inane personal vendetta that stretches the meeting an hour longer than it should be you’re ALSO using your time wrong.
- I write my conference papers well in advance of the conference, practice them ahead of time (with a timer!), and edit and cut them until they are both suitably interactive and suitable in length. I cannot count the times I’ve seen an MLA paper where the writer said, “I wrote this on the plane,” or went on for 20 minutes (of a 20 minute paper!) and then said, “In this paper, I will argue…” And most moderators don’t have the balls to call time on anyone, so it cuts into the next schmuck’s time, and yet the person droning on doesn’t give a fuck, because THOSE SENTENCES ARE PRECIOUS. The result is that your average MLA paper is utterly incomprehensible to anyone, including the person reading it, and way too long at that. And I did this for my papers when I was a graduate student finishing a dissertation, when I was an adjunct writing on my own time and dime, and when I was an incredibly harried VAP with new courses and other publication deadlines (all of which I also met). And yet, if you come to a conference and deliver a well-rehearsed presentation, your audience will immediately dismiss you as an amateur. It’s “unprofessional,” again, to be professional.
- I beckon students to my office hours on purpose and thus have a constant stream of them in there. Many “real” academics I know, unless they’re advising (which, by the way, how’d they get stuck doing THAT? What a waste!), hold their office hours on Friday at 8 a.m. with the express purpose of never seeing a student out of class once.
- When I was given a Fulbright grant to write my dissertation in Austria, I wrote 100 pages of my fucking dissertation. When I was given a dissertation completion grant the year after that, I fucking finished it. I cannot count the number of people I know who used their years and semesters off to do literally anything but produce work whatsoever–and still felt entitled to their money. And a bunch of them have tenure-track jobs now.
So make no mistake: I’m professional. I’m professional as fuck. Just not where it counts.