Here’s the UIC Fanfiction You Have Clearly Demanded

Reader “Penthesilea*” has this to say about our previous discussion of a current job ad for a “part-time” position at the University of Illinois-Chicago that offers twenty-eight thousand dollars per annum as compensation:

Typical Schulman job. Doesn’t contact the school for comment, doesn’t understand the political context, singles out an institution that’s been brutalized by Rauner, writes a cutesy little fantasy of evil admins, and flails in the comments in response to folks who actually know what’s going on.

I don’t know who this Schulman is, but she sounds terrible.

It’s true that in my capacity of writing a blog that critiques job ads, I don’t routinely reach out to the writers of those job ads for comment/explication/justification. This is not because I have derelicted my journalistic duties—largely because in my capacity as a writer of blogs that critique job ads, I have no journalistic duties.

If I had chosen to write this up for a national publication such as Slate, the Chronicle or the Atlantic, you can be assured that I’d do my due diligence and reach out for comment, as I have in every single one of the hundreds of pieces of higher-ed journalism I have written since November of 2013, when, in my fourth or fifth article as a professional Slate writer, I did neglect to reach out to an institution for comment on a shitty thing they did, because I was a baby journo and didn’t know I had to. Then my editor said, “You have to,” and I said, “Duly noted,” and I have done so, and rigorously and professionally, ever since.

The fact is, I have neither the time nor the desire to turn something so highly specialized as job-ad critiquing into a palatable piece of actual journalism. This is my hobby. (Hey, we all have some weird-ass hobbies.) And it’s a hobby I barely have time for these days, in my capacity as Stay-At-Home Fuckup and Alleged Professional Author. (Also, BUY MY BOOK?)

It is also true that job ads should stand on their own. No applicant should have to go on a fact-finding mission to understand what’s “really going on” with an advertisement for a job. I didn’t contact UIC for comment because not only didn’t I want to, and not only didn’t I have time to, but also I didn’t have to. If they have something they’d like to explain regarding this ad, I’m all ears, but it’s nobody’s job to assume there’s a justifiable backstory and then go hunting for it, least of all nobody who is currently in the unfortunate position of an active academic job search.

Anyway. I wouldn’t say I “flailed” in my own comments, or did anything close to it, because flailing would involve caring, and I don’t. Do I care about the Illinois budget crisis? Sure, I guess. As much as someone can care about something esoterically that is just part and parcel of a larger conflagration of outrage-inducing garbage nightmare realities, a.k.a. our world at present. Have I been following said budget controversy religiously? I most certainly have not, and I am guessing that unless you are an Illinois public employee, neither have you.

I also know that there is literally no context on the face of the Earth that would allow for the advertisement of a job that bills itself as part-time, is definitively not part-time, and pays more or less the Chicago minimum wage for a highly specialized position requiring a specific and highly-learned skillset. The only mildly acceptable thing would be if this job had been posted as a piece of performance art in protest of Illinois governor Bruce Rauner, which it definitely wasn’t, because I have seen its poster attempt to defend it, and I watched as it was disseminated in earnest (and then most of the people it was disseminated to balked and refused to pass it on).

HOWEVER. I certainly know ENOUGH about the Illinois budget crisis to know that a job like that doesn’t get posted without some serious wackadoodle shit going on behind the scenes. And luckily for you, I have been offered a glimpse behind those scenes.

So here, gentle Penthesilea, is what’s “really going on” at UIC.

CHAIR: We need a new language program director.
DEAN: No you don’t.
CHAIR: Really we do.
CHAIR: Yes, the budget thing is terrible.
DEAN: Wait, I have an idea!
DEAN: I’ll curb my own salary about $200 a month, and get a bunch of my dean friends to as well, and that will create more than enough money to offer one full-time job once.
CHAIR: That is both weirdly generous and also not helpful in the long run.
DEAN: HA HA HA I am definitely kidding. My kid’s third birthday party isn’t going to pay for itself. Do you know how much a gluten-free bouncy castle costs? 
CHAIR: So are you saying we should just kill our German program? 
DEAN: *I* didn’t say that, *you* said that. Also THE BUDGET!!!! Our governor is AN ASSHOLE! It’s his fault!
CHAIR: He’s the worst.
DEAN: So we agree.
CHAIR: I guess?
DEAN: Look, you seem nice. I’ll tell you what. How about a “67 percent” appointment?
CHAIR: That sounds awful.
CHAIR: True. Everyone who is looking for a job in German follows our budget travails religiously, and will immediately understand the context of this posting, and will also be grateful for such a good job opportunity that will offer a “foot in the door” while they work on their own publications in their copious spare time. I will get a committee together and write an ad, and then disseminate it widely to German listservs, and everyone will be happy to pass it on. Also, everyone knows pedagogues aren’t real scholars anyway.
DEAN: Good meeting. 


PS: If you liked this, I heartily recommend a book you might also like!

PPS: this post has been updated to reflect the corrected spelling of a name, and to finish a thought about why that damn ad should have stood on its own merit that was truncated earlier thanks to a certain toddler.

PPPS: IMPORTANT! The milk-afflicted car, aka the #Retchmobile, is currently at the detailer with its stench fate TBD. STAY TUNED.

“Finally, an egg for my generation!” –adjunct edition

Today in Slate I’m (thank ALL DEITIES) back on my well-worn education beat, and I’ve got an interview with the truly brilliant artist/adjunct Dushko Petrovich, who decided to launch an entire periodical just for adjuncts, with content contributed just by adjuncts. It’s called Adjunct Commuter Weekly, and you should all go there IMMEDIATELY.

Dushko is one of those folks who’s just RIGHT THE FUCK ON POINT about everything, and quicker and cleverer than everyone else. This rules. I’m proud to be able to publicize it.

Here’s a taste:

PETROVICH: I find a lot of people us the word “real” to bully people. In fact, I’m not actually sure the people making those kinds of comments are “real” people. You know? If you go deeper into it, the immediate question is: Why would universities create a category of “unreal” professor and then entrust most of the teaching to these people?

I’m sure a lot of these armchair ontologists will say Adjunct Commuter Weekly isn’t a “real” newspaper. And then people—or are they spambots?—will say that ACW isn’t a “real” website, and that I’m not a “real” editor, and so on.

Form is crucial. The form of the comments section, for example, instantly gives many people the idea that they are some kind of pundit. Just a small rectangle with a blinking cursor, and presto! So I think people should look carefully at form. That’s why the form of this project is a weekly newsmagazine—so people might start to wonder, why doesn’t my demographic have a weekly newsmagazine?

Lessons in F*ckupreneurship: People Are Suspicious When You Don’t Drink

One of the most discussion-provoking sections of my last post was about alcohol. Specifically, the lack of consumption thereof, and the deleterious effects this may have had on my career in academia.

I thought this would be an ideal subject to tackle in my sporadic (perhaps only singular?) series on F*ckupreneurship, since what better way to be a fuckupreneur than to already have an immense disadvantage “out there”? If you really want to go for the full fuckupreneur jackpot, be a woman (with children!), be LGB or T (especially T), be a member of an underrepresented minority, and don’t drink. That will ensure you’ve fucked up even before you started!

All I’m going to do here is tell my own story, about how I came to give up alcohol and how that decision has made me feel ostracized in academia, and then leave the comments open for people to discuss reasons they think academic drinkers (aka most academics) look down upon those who don’t partake.

My story is mine. It’s not meant to be universal (for obvious reasons, see two paragraphs down).

When I arrived at UC-Irvine to begin my PhD in the Fall of 2005, I was just out of a three-year relationship, totally broken, and completely shellshocked to be moving from vibrant, walkable, diverse New York, where all of my friends were, to sterile, subdivided, homogenous Orange County, where the only people I knew were the second- and third-year cohort in my program, all of whom at the time regarded me with utmost suspicion, because during my campus visit I had expressed a disapproval of Los Angeles (since retracted!) and an interest in popular culture.

My two University-assigned roommates were a recent Emory graduate who liked to smoke her hookah in the living room, and a 100% bat-shit-fucking-nuts 22-year-old Rutgers grad who I would soon realize was a full-blown, non-functioning, unapologetic drug addict. “THIS WORLD is what’s FUCKED UP,” she’d whine to her parents when they confronted her about her disease. “I’m the SMART ONE, doing something to COPE.” Heroin, meth, pills—anything she could get her junkie hands on, she shoved up her ass, literally. Yes, she gave herself heroin enemas. HEROIN ENEMAS. I realize that you basically don’t need to read another word, or even look at the Internet for another second, once you’ve seen the phrase HEROIN ENEMAS, but I’m just getting started with my story.

Between the heroin enemas and the meth binges—sometimes involving cleaning off Roommate #2’s hookah-coal residue off the burners by soaking them in a noxious mixture of ammonia and bleach—things in my student-housing apartment in a sterile complex on a sterile hill up the street from a sterile campus in a sterile “community” were very weird, and I immediately fell in with a group of rowdy Historians (not the real discipline, to protect the innocent) whose favorite activity happened to be the same as my own: drinking.

Weekends (and a few weeknights) were spent roving from one house party full of hazy-eyed Comp Lit or Chem students to the next, college all over again except that everyone was of legal drinking age. In the meantime, I finagled a mini-fridge from my brother and kept a stash of beer and liquor in my room so that I wouldn’t have to brave whatever was going on in JunkieTopia to get my drink on.

While I found coursework harrowing but exhilarating, my social life had “improved” since my arrival, as I took up with one of the aforementioned Historians, the rowdiest of the bunch, the charismatic, jocular and intellectually imposing Bartholomew (obvi not his real name). He awoke each day at 6 to study, wrote seminar papers (and later journal articles) that were the envy of his department, had many other women equally (or more) interested in him…and he drank. He drank like I have never seen anyone drink before or since.

I had always been around drinkers, and I had even been around a few alcoholics, but in New York the worst thing you had to do was pour them into a cab and stuff a few twenties into their bra. Here it was different—because this guy was an intellectual role model for his peers (and, at first, me), and because the volume of alcohol he and his friends consumed was beyond anything I have ever seen. We’re talking thirty beers. We’re talking ordering four more pitchers of beer after it’s abundantly clear that he should have been cut off. And we’re talking drunken behavior that bordered on psychological abuse—never physical, which was good, because Bart outweighed me by about 100 pounds and very easily could have killed me.

But he was “hilarious,” and never once would anyone suggest that a 32-year-old with a child (oh, I forgot about that part) who drank like that was not hilarious. He was an alcoholic. But to the grad-student community, he was awesome. He is faculty in the Ivy League now.

I only dated Bartholomew for three months, non-exclusively, but after we called it quits, I lost the taste for booze completely. The UC-Irvine world is small, however, and so I kept seeing him everywhere…until I got so disgusted with both his behavior and the enabling (and similar behavior!) by other grad students that I just stopped socializing altogether.

My new distaste for alcohol coincided with meeting the guy who is now my husband, who also happens not to drink. The early stages of our relationship had a giddiness and real-ness I hadn’t experienced since high school, when I was similarly straight-edge-esque and got my first real boyfriend completely sober. Call me weird, but I think that one of the reasons our relationship weathered so much of my job-market bullshit is that it was based on a true connection that we made as our real selves.

Because that’s the thing about alcohol. Once you’ve been sober in a roomful of drunkies, you realize that while you may like all of these people, you might not like all of their drunk selves (while some of their drunk selves may actually be more pleasant than their real selves—it’s hard to keep track!!!).

My point is, whether you think of it as alcohol intensifying sometimes-dormant personality traits you already have, or inventing traits you otherwise lack, a lot of people aren’t themselves when they drink, and they’re not that easy to be around unless one is also drunk. And I don’t like being drunk anymore—because I can’t drink without thinking of the pain that Bartholomew caused me, and also because something about my brain chemistry as a decrepit 36-year-old makes it so that I get so debilitatingly hungover from one glass of wine that I crawl around on the floor sobbing for 36 straight hours. And also, because the behavior patterns that I was getting into in graduate school–drinking alone, drinking at every social occasion, drinking, for the first time in my life, until I vomited–were dangerous. So I quit, and the result in graduate school was immediate designation as “no fun.” This has largely continued apace after graduation, and gets worse the more “prestigious” the scholars I find myself hanging with are.

Yes, as an academic non-drinker, what I usually got from colleagues was either disappointment or outright scorn. Here are a few reasons I think this might be the case (helped along by the many conversations I’ve had about this on Twitter with my postacademic Twerple, @pankisseskafka in case you’re not sated from all this Schuman):

Reasons Not Drinking Might Cost You the Job, or Tenure, or Any Friends

 Your colleagues assume one of the following:

  1. If you don’t drink, you’re pregnant. The worst. Forget the job, forget tenure—obviously you’re not a Serious Scholar if you’re interested in, as Sarah Kendzior’s colleagues once said, “having a litter.”
  2. If you don’t drink, you’re a recovering alcoholic. This means that you could fall off the wagon ANY TIME and start becoming an unreliable, raging lush…er, like all of your colleagues, so that’s bullshit. What it really is is this: if you have had the courage to admit you’re sick and need help, that is a sign of weakness. Anyone in academia who admits weakness EVEN FOR A SECOND will be crushed.
  3. If you don’t drink, you’re religious. RED FLAG. Because we all know that in all cases, religious=conservative=not Marxist=Tom Friedman-style neoconservative=AYN RAND! GEORGE W. BUSH! DONALD RUMSFELD! RONALD MOTHERFUCKING REAGAN! Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo.
    1. EXCEPTION: are you South Asian, Middle Eastern, or otherwise acceptably “brown”? You may be MUSLIM, which = diversity hire, which = jackpot..who will then be excluded from all department functions and regarded with suspicion by the radical Marxists who hired you.
  4. If you don’t drink, you are silently judging people who do. Project much, alkies? If you enjoy a glass or three of wine with dinner, I am most certainly not judging you. But if you are a 45-year-old father of two who thinks it’s an acceptable form of scholarship to go out and get plastered with your grad students and bum cigarettes off of them, I am judging you, because you are fucking pathetic. Go home. Be a goddamned adult. Or, alternatively, retaliate against me for my luck at not suffering from addiction (which is just as much my fault as my luck at having a lot of grey hairs or stumpy legs), by insisting that I’m not “collegial” enough.

And now, PKK Universe, the floor is yours. Other reasons academics (or people in other jobs) regard non-drinkers with suspicion?


Please Stop Saying “Not Everyone is Suited for Academia”

Some real talk today, talkin’ ‘bout my feelings ‘n shit.


[Rockin’ the Catskills today. You jelly?]

I am coming to terms with the fact that I am never going to be a “real” professor—although try telling that to the students whose lives I will enter in a few weeks’ time: their homework and grades will seem “pretty real” to them. But no, I’ll be a mere adjunct at a tiny Honors College inside a regional university in the Middle West (Gatsby style!), an “academic nobody,” as Lee Skallerup Besette has characterized the uncharitable views of some of her blog’s worst trolls.

Most days I am happier than I have been in many years about this. My long-term partner, whom I met my first year of graduate school (and whom I attracted precisely because I “didn’t seem like a grad student”) has remarked that since my postdoc ended and I moved back to St. Louis, that I’ve aged in reverse.

It’s true—there are some “Ohio wrinkles” I don’t see anymore, accompanied by a life in my eyes and a general dearth of the abject terror that lurked below each day in Columbus, like so many pollution-filled mussels on the bed of the Olentangy River. I dye my hair again, a glorious bottle-red, unleashed in all its pigment after years of Professorial Gravitas Brown—or, even worse, my natural color, which is now aggressively peppered with grey.


[Who’s that sweet redhead who appears to be in her MID-thirties instead of her LATE thirties?!?]

If I was a disciplined and productive academic writer, cranking out journal articles and then finally my monograph—finished and submitted to the press this past May—then now I am a motherfucking locomotive. I have so much to write that I simply can’t get it all down. It’s like eight years of pent-up creativity that had been stuffed back by my own dismissals of anything other than Serious Scholarship as wasted energy have come geysering out, for better or worse.

A few weeks after “Thesis Hatement” came out and all I saw on the Internet was hate, hate, hate, hate and more hate, I lay curled on the couch in St. Louis crying, wishing aloud that I would just die in an accident already, something that wouldn’t be my fault, quick and painless, gone. I had lain extremely bare my own failure after seven years of sacrificing my health and my happiness, I had perilous few new prospects, and I had an Internet peanut gallery making sure I knew I had no future in anything. I wanted to die. One night, I made a list of my positive attributes: I started with “Usually Remember to Drink Enough Water” and was stumped thereafter. Although in my defense, hydration is IMPORTANT. (I know now, of course, that it was far from all hate, but like so many of you, I get eighteen adulatory evaluations and one critical one, and I commit the latter’s complaints to memory forever.)

Three months later, I feel like a different person, though I am drawn sometimes into spats about the vicissitudes of the job market and academe’s cult-mentality in general. Still, now I’m emboldened by my new identity as a curse-spewing postacademic hellraiser, straight-up high on the inimitable sobriety of being able to speak aloud the truths that so many people are still afraid to whisper. I’m emboldened by the simple fact that I live another life now,  one for which I am infinitely better suited.

So it’s true—I was not “suited” to academia. But I don’t want to hear that from anyone but me, and here’s why. First of all, I still adjunct, and because it is not my primary source of income and it’s two sections of the same course I’ve taught before, it truly is part-time and I like it. So when nonacademic friends  said, in attempt to make me feel better during the “die in an accident” stage, that academia cramped my style—well, I’m still a professor, so watch it. I think like a literature professor about everything; I bring my ability to scrutinize texts and take apart issues to everything I do. I may not act like Avital Ronell (shudder), but, to paraphrase the great scholar Young MC:

I had to go to college because I’m an intellectual
I only sleep with men because I am heterosexual

I’ve called myself the “intellectual’s anti-intellectual” as a joke, largely in reference to my equal proclivity to enjoy Bertolt Brecht and The Bachelorette, but I am a goddamned intellectual, so don’t tell me that such things don’t “suit” me, because they “suit me” just fine—my way.

I sew most of my own clothes to fit my body just-so. Because if this, I don’t know what size I am. I’m 36-28-40: me-sized. I’m exactly the right size to fill out the clothes I make to suit me:

[Bridesmaid dress for my partner’s sister’s wedding, the Sultry Sheath from Gertie‘s New Book for Better Sewing. This wedding was on the day “Thesis Hatement” came out. Can you see the shellshock? And no, I didn’t walk the aisle in the Mickey Mouse flip-flops.]

I have done this with academia as well: I have taken the parts that “suit me”—teaching, reading critically, thinking philosophically, participating in critiques about the present and future of higher ed—and tailored them to fit my personality. And I have done away, for now at least, with the parts that don’t “suit me”:

Research, for example, doesn’t suit me right now. But not because I wasn’t good at it. I mean, I guess, like the hundreds of commenters on my op-eds who either didn’t read my CV or don’t know how to read a CV, you could say I wasn’t good at it, but that would be news to the editors at Modern Austrian Literature, The German Quarterly, and Northwestern University Press; to the Internationales Forschungszentrum Kulturwissenschaften and the Austrian Fulbright Commission; to the DAAD and the American Council for Learned Societies; and to every department where I’ve ever been interviewed—and even some where I didn’t make the cut, but scrawled in handwriting below the form rejection was a missive insisting my writing sample was “nothing short of amazing” (I love positive academic hyperbole on the rare occasions I get it!).

I’m taking a hiatus from academic writing for one reason only: I am sick of spending years of my life squeezing out meticulously researched and difficult academic prose—which I then have to manipulate, sometimes four times over, to placate the needs of meanie-pants anonymous peer reviewers—that maybe, maybe, seventeen people on Earth will ever read, for the grand sum of $0. I’m not saying I don’t Believe In My Ideas, your Royal Highness FULLPROF Mayhew, I’m saying I want to write things that appeal to a wider audience.

You know what else doesn’t suit me? Going on the job market. Spending months crafting individual 70-page dossiers for each school because every search committee demands something different: a three-page teaching philosophy! A one-page teaching philosophy that pertains specifically to the courses taught by that department (but not THOSE courses you like, those are the purview of Mean Senior Prof Everyone Hates, and even displaying the slightest interest in them is enough to make the committee go nuclear on you)! A five-page research statement! A twenty-page writing sample (even though all of your articles are twenty-five)! A six-page abstract of the dissertation you finished four years ago! Your three most recent evaluations and your three least recent! Your ten most negative evaluations! And then pretending not to check that goddamned baby-killing Wiki, but then checking it anyway and watching as the interviews start piling in for everyone, it seems, but you. x4! x12! xEveryoneButSchuman! And do not get me started on conference interviews, because I have such exquisite bile for them that I think someone will pay me to share it. And the waiting. And the searing, wrenching rejection that “isn’t personal, so move on.” After four years, you know what? Don’t mind if I do.

And you know what else doesn’t suit me? Politicking, preening, ass-kissing; servility, sycophantism, cowardice. I’m not saying that every department ever is filled with, or requires, these things, nor that other industries don’t run on them. I’m saying that there is enough of this bullshit in academia that I’ve had my fill, and I would rather hang out with people who don’t treat a coffee date like a comprehensive exam.

And you know what else? Getting sneered at every time I let slip that I have any hobbies besides alcoholism. “How do you have the time to sew or watch TV?” I get, over and over, from people who spend three nights a week belligerently drunk. I have time, in part, because I write very fast, and in part because I don’t drink. I spend all day, every day, 100% sober, so I lose no time to either drunkenness or hangovers. But the thing is, for a lot of academics (not ALL OF THEM, Vim, so lay off), drinking somehow counts as scholarship, as long as you’re yelling about Kant and Kleist when you do it.

I am fully, painfully aware of the ways in which academia doesn’t suit me—but that doesn’t mean that I like it when FULLPROFS and others say this, because it smacks of that heartbreaking dismissal so many disillusioned PhDs get when they fail to become adequate replicants of their mentors: “Well, not everyone is suited for academia.”

What they mean is this, and this only: you weren’t good enough. You weren’t cut out for it because you aren’t smart enough. You failed. Academia’s only for winners like me, and you’re a loser. Academia is only for the best—like me. This is an unbelievably cruel thing to say to someone who already feels like a failure. It is inexcusably, searingly cruel, and I really wish that people would stop.

If I had been willing to squelch my natural “pluck” and remain servile, to lose my wonderful relationship while I moved, alone, from one Midwestern town where I didn’t know a single goddamned person to the next, to withstand (or even enjoy) departmental politics and conferencing, then academia would have “suited” me fine. I am coming to terms with the fact that those sacrifices weren’t worth it—but that is my journey to take, and my conclusion to reach.