Yes, Sloppy Faculty Drinkers, I Suppose I Am Judging You

Today on Slate, I offer a companion piece to the Chronicle of Higher Ed’s weeklong exposé (not to be confused with Exposé, in case my friend Justin is reading this) about alcohol on campus. Because I am a special awesome snowflake I was given a peek at many of these articles when they were still embargoed, and as I read through them (they are, by the way, impeccably reported and obviously the result of a lot of very hard work), I laughed to myself at the continuing omission of one of academia’s biggest drinking problems of all: THE FACULTY. HELLO.

Yes, #notallacademics, whatever. Many academics do manage to drink in moderation, but goddamned near all academics drink, and they expect you to as well (and will ostracize you if you don’t, no matter what they say. Really, they will. Ask anyone who doesn’t drink — like doesn’t at all — how they feel at departmental events). And there are so, so, so, so, so many who drink too much, and cannot hold their liquor and act like embarrassing fucking 19-year-olds — and sanctimoniously believe this is an important part of the Life of the Mind.

This is one of my final Slate columns before I go on maternity hiatus, so I am ready to scrap with anyone and everyone! Give me something to miss/not miss when I’m too busy making my own kid milk-drunk to piss anyone off on the Internet.

Here’s a taste — and thank you to the many, many, many people who contributed stories, most of which didn’t make it in because (understandably) nobody is able to talk on record about this, lest their “collegiality” and “fit” be questioned.

The “rose-colored glasses of life,” as Fitzgerald called it—or “pain-go-bye-bye juice,” as Patton Oswalt did—has been a central element of the scholarly mythossince before Faust conjured wine at Auerbachs Keller. From Plato, Euripides, and Homer to (if the scholarship of Monty Python is reliable) every modern philosopher ever, there apparently can be no legitimate thought, no great art—in short, no Life of the Mind whatsoever—without the fruit of the vine. In gently suggesting that scholars learn to cut themselves off, I will be accused of engaging in the height of anti-intellectualism.

Read more here!

10 thoughts on “Yes, Sloppy Faculty Drinkers, I Suppose I Am Judging You

  1. I loved your Slate piece! I am one of those academics (though only kindasorta at this point, what with having taken a job as a NTT full time writing instructor, but whatever) who doesn’t drink at all. And yeah, it’s…isolating. (Even more so in my particular situation, since the smell of alcohol is actually a migraine trigger for me, so those wine-soaked parties where everyone socializes are not places where I can even hang out as a teetotaler without experiencing 24+ hours of intense pain and vomiting…kinda like a horrendous hangover, except not. I don’t think I’d drink even if I didn’t have that problem, but I do, so it’s a moot point.)

    The hilarious/depressing thing is that when you point out how isolating it is to be a non-drinker in academia, the response you get is that, oh, you should just pretend to drink! Just get apple juice and nobody will pester you! That sort of crap. Which is patently false, in my experience, but even if it weren’t – how does that NOT strike people as problematic? Seriously, how is “you just have to pretend to drink and everything will be fine for you” not emblematic of a REALLY fucked up culture surrounding alcohol? (And yet 75% of the Slate comments are saying this sort of thing. Even recommending that folks get alcoholic beverages and then sneak off and dump them!! As if that isn’t a patently insane thing to have to do.)

    I see this other places, too. One place, surprisingly (and also relevant to you, soon!), is when I’m talking with other parents, like, on the internet, when I’m going nuts from my kiddo and I need to talk to other people who might understand how frazzling it is to have a 3 year old screaming at you for 4 hours straight and waking up 5 times a night or whatever. And what I notice is that when other parents struggle, they really commonly say things like “Beer me!” or “I’m gonna drink all the wine when this kid goes to bed” or whatever (actually, the same sorts of things academics say when stuck with a pile of grading or something), and you know, fine, if those parents’ way of handling the awful parts of parenting is to drink their woes away, that’s their thing…but it’s just weird to not speak that language, and frustrating to seek advice about coping with parenting struggles and to get nothing back but responses indicating that you should develop a drinking habit. And it just ends up being yet another social circle that you’re not really part of. I mean, I’d hang out with Mormon mamas but, um, not drinking is pretty much the ONLY thing we’d have in common, so that wouldn’t really improve things.

    I’m rambling now, but anyway, just wanted to say thank you for writing about this!


    • Thank YOU for contributing your voice. The response to the Slate piece, largely from drinkers, strikes me as very similar to the response to feminist criticism by men, or to racial criticism by white people. The view I’m presenting is from the perspective of a non-drinker, saying, hey, this is how it comes across to me and it’s a problem to me, and the result is a bunch of people not only refusing to acknowledge my perspective, but definitively proclaiming it wrong from their own position of (relative) privilege. It’s fascinating.


    • I’ve always been amazed that the “omg, stressful day, totes* going to drink ALL THE WINE*” types (be they academics, parents commenting on message boards, or whatever) don’t understand how this DIRECTLY leads to drinking problems in younger people. From the age of, like, seven, we get the cultural message of “stressed? tough day? can you JUST NOT EVEN* anymore? Alcohol! You Will Feel Better!” Emotional distress is fixed by alcohol. It’s an incredibly pervasive cultural narrative. In academia, in parenthood, on TV, in freaking country music, EVERYWHERE.

      Now: imagine a bunch of pimply tweens who start having ALL THE FEELS* when puberty hits. Imagine a bunch of spoiled 18-year-olds who think they’re “being adults” for the first time when they’re shipped off to college on their parents’ dime. Imagine a bunch of 20-something grad students who have just stepped into the gaping abyss of academia and realized they’re not the smartest person in the room. All these groups = emotionally distressed. Why the hell are we all so surprised when they all raid the liquor cabinet because hey, it’s what they’ve seen the Grown-Ups do to cope after a rough day at work and surely these youngsters have had an EVEN ROUGHER DAY BECAUSE DRAMA*??

      I’ll point out that technically I am a “drinker”, in that I very much enjoy the taste of a good Italian wine or craft beer and am happy to have a glass, maybe occasionally two, at a meal or a social if it tastes good. However, if you could make really amazing beer/wine without the alcohol I would be thrilled (because yay, I can drink more of the tasty beverage!), and even THIS gets me ostracized some academic functions – I actually drink because I enjoy what I’m drinking and not because of “zomg* stress relief let’s all get hammered”.

      To me it’s a fairly straightforward story: Academics love to talk about how their jobs are SOOO HAAAARD. Our cultural narrative dictates that if someone really is stressed, they *must* drink to relieve said stress. Academics also love berating grad students about how they must work eleventy-nine hours per week, and how truly dedicated undergrads should embraces the “all-nighters-and-Ramen-noodles!” approach to their work. In other words, those groups should be terribly stressed too if they’re Doing It Right. And then they DARE to act all pearl-clutchy when those younger groups turn (sometimes purely performatively) to alcohol as well? Argh.

      *goddamn, do I win the prize for “most pop-internet-culture references squeezed into a single comment?” And does this mean I have to give back my Very Serious Hard Sciences PhD?

      Liked by 1 person

      • I am pretty impressed by all the * moments in this. Like, are you the most articulate and intelligent and reflective 22 year old ever to exist? But seriously, this is a very perceptive and compassionate comment. I really am in awe of it.


      • Bless you. I’m 30 (proof: I’m apparently too old to figure out how to actually reply to your comment below, hence why it’s up here). I just apparently absorb internet parlance really easy. I swear to god, I once said “pwns” – out loud – as _part of a scientific talk_. It was to an audience that was primarily other postdocs my age – it got a big laugh – and was actually a decently accurate description of what was happening, but I made a conscious effort to be careful of ever making a similar mistake after that. Can’t show too much personality or uncouth youth while trying to be a Serious Academic, after all!

        And thanks!! I read your blog and articles frequently and love how you write 🙂


  2. So I am one of those lucky non-drinkers whose grad advisor also didn’t drink (both for medical reasons, more or less). When I told her that I can drink half a glass of wine, without ill effects, if circumstances require it (we both work in Europe sometimes, so hello), she said, “You’re so lucky!” I do feel lucky, though, in that a) I am American, so the concept of not drinking is at least legible here, and b) I had a lot of free time in grad school, within my circle, just because I wasn’t drunk/hungover all the time.


    • I was lucky that my grad adviser was a really committed family man whose family really didn’t want him spending any more time at work than he absolutely had to, so he was not around on campus much and when he was, it was all-business. I’ve never seen someone so devoted to his family; he really continues to be one of my greatest role models.


  3. I realize the ship sailed on this, but I am at my department’s holiday party NOW, and there is NO BOOZE. No wine, no beer, no champagne. Someone spiked the eggnog and that’s it. This might as well be a student government party in 7th grade.

    What Schuman hath wrought!


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