“What Are You Doing Here?”

I was explaining the hypotheticals in my Advanced Spanish class. I love grammar, which is why my delivery of the material is always very passionate. In the midst of my fiery delivery of the rules governing the formation of unreal conditions, a student exclaimed, “What are you doing here?!?”

“Where?” I asked in complete confusion.

“Here, at this university,” the student insisted. “You are so brilliant, you should be at a more famous school.”

I hadn’t known one could be gratified and peeved at the same time, but at this moment I discovered that one definitely could. On the one hand, I’m glad that my students admire me. What else can a teacher want? But on the other hand, I feel like I’ve really had it with these suggestions that my dream should be working for a more prestigious university or, as a colleague recently put it in a very shocking way, “writing my way out” (meaning, out of this university). I know from sad personal experience that prestige does not equal intellectual rigor or fair treatment of employees.

As far as I’m concerned, I’m too old to chase prestige as a valid life goal. The very idea bores me. In high school, it mattered to be popular. By the age of 30, however, I had achieved a crucial milestone of my personal development which consisted in never allowing the value systems and priority lists of other people to have any influence on my life.

What really matters to me in terms of my workplace is (in this order):

  1. Whether I feel respected.
  2. Whether I respect the people I work with.
  3. Whether I feel exploited or treated unjustly. (And, believe me, it takes very very little for me to feel that.)
  4. Whether there is nepotism and corruption, or any sort of institutionalized unfairness. (A single spousal hire that I have to approve creates an intolerable working environment for me.)
  5. How much freedom I have to teach what, when, and how I want. (If I have to teach 3 days a week while a colleague teaches only 2 days a week and we never alternate, this is not a place where I want to work.)
  6. How much free time I get. (This semester, nobody saw me on campus outside of my 2 teaching days a week. And nobody minded. I got really good research done, too, while teaching a 3-course load. Jealous yet? 🙂 )
  7. Whether the place is adjunctifying at a rapid pace. (The suffering of adjuncts traumatizes me, so I can only be happy in a place that keeps hiring tenure-track people. Since I’ve come to my current department, we’ve hired one person with tenure and opened 1 tenure-track position. No new adjunct positions have been created.)
  8. How much I like the students. (It is easier for me to like students who have three part-time or one full-time job than those who keep asking, ‘So how do you say “trust fund” in Spanish?’)
  9. How well I get along with the colleagues. (I find working with gossipy, clique-promoting, intrigue-loving people to be very painful on every level.)
  10. Whether the remuneration for my work allows me to live decently while having a lot of free time.
  11. Whether my partner can get good employment in this geographic area.

My current university fulfills my expectations in all these categories. My previous three (hugely famous and super duper prestigious) schools failed in every single category. Now, please tell me, what kind of a hopeless idiot would I be if I entertained the hope of abandoning all of these great things in search of the dubious pre-adolescent joy of bragging that I work for a famous university?

Unless the administration of my university goes nuts and starts messing with the great things I listed above (as we say, a fish always starts rotting at the head), I’m SO staying put at my current great university.

10 thoughts on ““What Are You Doing Here?””

    1. This is an Advanced language class, so the students can easily chat and understand most of what I say. I just told them everything that is contained in this post but in Spanish. 🙂


  1. The “prestige is all” mentality that has infected American life really makes me angry. I didn’t see much of this until — and I’m sorry but this is true — Reagan was elected. It wasn’t his fault — he was only the president, not God — but the 80s in general were a very shallow, money-grubbing, greedy era and we still haven’t recovered from the damage done to and by every aspect of that era. The previous time period, the Seventies, is often blamed for being a selfish, self-involved, “Me Decade,” but most of the things people were preoccupied with didn’t involve stepping on the poor and powerless on their way to material wealth and shallow fame.

    I think it’s time to write my “shocking” post on my own website.


      1. Huh, I have to update my gravatar profile don’t I. Anyway, here it is: The Twisted Spinster. Note: it’s only the latest of many blogs I’ve had, so there aren’t a lot of posts yet. I’ve been blogging since 2001, but my personality has undergone many changes (I went from wishy-washy liberal to somewhat libertarian/conservative and now I find myself swinging back in the liberal direction, though hopefully less wishy-washy), and I need to go through all my blogs one day and cull the posts I think have any worth from among all the dreck.


  2. Someone actually asked one of my professors at UM this; she was a woman who did her undergrad at U Washington (and graduated #1 in her class) and then did her Master’s and PhD at Yale and Harvard. She laughed it off and said “Well, if I were somewhere else, I wouldn’t have students as wonderful as you guys, would I?”
    I wonder if she too was burned by her experiences at prestigious universities, but didn’t want to talk about it?


    1. Also, I admit, I always get great gratification when I read posts like this, since my sister is constantly mocking me for going to a less prestigious university than her, even though I feel I’m getting more out of my education. It’s always kind of tense at family gatherings when I gush about how I love my research into various fields here, and then she’ll butt in and talk about what she’s doing at UDUB (major emphasis on the name, almost shouting it) and how it’s one of the top 40 schools in the world.


      1. Hmm. That makes me wonder if she really is as happy at Important U as she claims to be. People that talk like her usually are overcompensating in order to suppress self-doubts.


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