I’ve been called a hack (at least) twice in the past two weeks. The first time was by Brian Leiter, who is for serious now in such deep shit with all but the Mens Rights Activistiest in his profession that I feel sort of bad piling on.
Anyway, Leiter called me a hack because I lacked the ability to bend the space-time continuum (even though time is obviously a flat circle and OH MY GOD TRUE DETECTIVE SEASON FINALE IN THREE HOURS WHO IS THE YELLOW KING I CAN’T HANDLE IT). That is, I filed an article (about something I no longer talk about for fear of overly litigious recrimination), approximately three hours before Leiter posted some new information about the topic of said article that might have altered my characterization of him slightly. Although, to be perfectly honest, his behavior about the subject in question since then strengthens, if anything, my characterization of him as an apologist. Anyway.
Then yesterday, some rando on Twitter called me a hack professor, claiming that the problem with higher education is not the rampant, virulent, odious abuse of digital slideshows, but instead “hacks” like me, who have the hackish audacity to believe that the purpose of a college class is to have an ongoing, productive intellectual conversation that lasts 15 weeks. (I blocked the motherfucker, but he repeated his rather baffling critique in the Slate comments, which of course I never read, so I only heard about this secondhand.)
Now, I have a rather robust defense against both charges, but I will only bore you with two sentences of it. One. Not being privy to news that breaks after your article is filed does not make you a “hack,” and in fact it happens to journalists all the time, and that is precisely why we run updates and corrections. Two. Here are evaluations and a post about teaching that would serve to contradict calling me a “hack” professor.
However, what I’d really like to talk about are the pros and cons of even being called a “hack.” The first pro is that perhaps this will lead some people to believe I am a taxi driver. The second is that perhaps this will lead some people to believe that I am Audrey Watters. The third is that “hack” is a 100% gender-neutral term, even (perhaps) one that leans slightly male. So both insults to my work–one from one of the most pompous, hegemonic assholes the discipline of philosophy has ever allowed to wield influence over it, for reasons I 100% seriously cannot fucking fathom; the other from a complete rando whose Twitter profile said he enjoyed destroying “the Left”–though they could have taken a gendered approach, did not. This is a major improvement for me in the insult-taking department, given that the insults about my last two super-viral articles about academia, “Thesis Hatement” and “The End of the College Essay,” both engendered (as it were) countless cries of “screed” and “screechy” and “hysterical” (and no I WILL NOT go find links, I have a very strict Do Not Google Self Ever rule, and I stick to it).
The downside is that calling me a “hack” definitely has the potential to hurt my fee-fees, precisely because I know it does not come from some ingrained social bias, but from some other realm of assholishness, one that is actually connected to the content of my work.
This year I have taken a $10-15,000 pay cut whilst simultaneously taking on about three to four times the work I used to do. I would not live this way if my work–teaching, writing, consulting–were not tremendously rewarding and important to me.
I work very, very hard, both to connect with and nurture students in the classroom and to provide writing that informs and entertains (and, occasionally, rakes some muck that could hypthetically have a hand, hypothetically, in getting hypothetical dirtbags out of the classroom, not talking about anyone in particular, obviously).
Because I spent almost a decade as an academic, I still have severe Impostor Syndrome about damn near everything I do. The “hack” designation hurts because it pierces directly the core of the doubts that I battle every single day. These are doubts that make me work constantly, and cause me never to be satisfied with what I’m doing–generally a positive quality if you’re a striver like I am, though for my nearest and dearest it can get kind of…”intense.”
But these are my doubts. I get to have them because I know myself. I get to have them, and I get to try to beat them. I have massive, throw-down fights with them every day. I beat them down when I develop a new activity that has the students telling me, “This is why yours is my favorite class.” I beat them down when I bring national attention to the plight of adjuncts, the misdeeds of (alleged) sexual harassers in Colorado, the corporatized axing of departments.
And they are beaten down, somewhat, when I get grateful emails from laid-off professors, pissed-off part-timers, grad students who’ve been at the business end of a game of uninvited grab-ass.
I think of all of these things when someone calls me a “hack,” and it makes me feel better. But not all the way better. Part of me still believes it, and still thinks I am a fraud, that every vitriolic word anyone has ever said about me is true. That wants to hack myself to pieces.