Incompatible Qualities

N’s work evaluations say he “totally rocks” (this is the official formulation)  on research and needs to improve the sales aspect and interaction with customers.

What nobody seems to realize is that nobody can be both things at once. Good salespeople lack the personal qualities that make good researchers. And scholars don’t have the qualities needed to make good sales.

It’s the same in one’s personal life. If you want a romantic partner who is sensitive, gentle and kind, don’t expect this same person to make a packet of money and buy you a jet. If you want a sexually voracious, passionate partner, don’t expect this same person to be calm, quiet, meek and reasonable when discussing what to make for dinner or what political party to support.

Or, to put it more succinctly, if a person possesses a certain quality, this quality will make itself felt in a wide variety of circumstances.


Over the last 4 months, this fetus has made it crystal clear to me that it is opposed to meetings. It is fine with teaching, likes research, accepts service, but really really hates meetings.

First, it would make me nauseous and dizzy during every meeting and at no other time. And now that it has learned to flutter, it is fluttering. The fluttering is a preview of how it will kick me if I take it to meetings once it’s ready to kick.

And it’s crafty, too. It knows that I find these flutters very creepy. They make me feel like a human aquarium.

It is extremely weird to know that there is something growing inside you that will one day learn to roll its eyes and say, “Mama, you just don’t get this.”

Marriage Equality as a Conservative Plot

Reader Benoni sent me this article that argues that marriage equality is a conservative plot. According to its author, there has never been any progressive argument for the legalization of gay marriage:

There has never been a left case for gay marriage.  Nothing that the left, progressives, or liberals have stated in support of gay marriage has ever been anything but a profoundly conservative argument.  Gays and lesbians should be allowed to marry for healthcare?  That simply shores up the power of the neoliberal state, compelling people to marry and take on the burden for their own care, instead of creating, for instance, a system that grants life-saving benefits to everyone, regardless of marital status.  This is a matter of “simple equality?”  How is a system that systematically denies those same benefits to single people ever anything but fundamentally unequal?  Denying marriage to some is denying them their ability to love or to have their love affirmed?  If your love depends upon the recognition of the state, your relationship is in greater trouble than you think.  Poor people will somehow benefit from marriage by accessing healthcare through their partners?  Poor people’s problems don’t arise from their inability to get married and in a country without universal healthcare, marriage only compounds your poverty.  And, really, if you’re poor, neither you nor your partner is likely to have healthcare anyway; the last thing you want is to increase the burden on your household by increasing the number of people in it.

It is a well-known rhetorical trick when one ascribes really bizarre opinions to one’s opponents and then denounces them for holding such pig-headed beliefs. Every single person I know is in favor of marriage equality, including people who are passionately anti-marriage. These people are gay, straight, bisexual, asexual, pansexual, and they all support gay marriage for one simple reason: denying people rights on the basis of their sexual orientation is morally wrong.

So yes, I believe it’s a matter of simple equality and I’ve never heard of anybody denying single heterosexual people the right to get married. It was a matter of simple equality at the time when interracial marriage was made legal, it was a matter of simple equality when women won the right to vote, it was a matter of simple equality when slavery was abolished. And then, as now, there was a  chorus of voices claiming that the world would end if this simple equality were achieved. Many of those voices pretended to be progressive and practiced the rhetorical strategy of “yes, but. . .” Just like this article says, “Yes, but wouldn’t it be much more fun to dehumanize gay people and rob them of their rights in order to spite the mean, bad capitalists?”

The idea that the absence of universal healthcare somehow justifies preventing a gay couple from doing what any straight couple can do very easily is bizarre. But what can we expect from a blogger who claims Jezebel is a feminist website?

By all means, let’s fight for universal healthcare and against the discrimination of unmarried couples. But first let’s make sure that nobody is denied the right to organize their personal life the way they wish simply because they are gay.

Should We Waste Our Time on Teaching?

An article in the Chronicle of Higher Ed caused so much consternation at my university that there is now a lecture series based on it. This long and confusing piece can be summarized as “teaching is a worthless drain on your time, so don’t do it.” I find the suggestion appalling and the arguments used to support it bizarre.

Here is one of the very weird stories that the author shares to support his anti-teaching philosophy:

An undergraduate in a course for which I was a TA. . . came to me struggling with a particular assignment. I eagerly laid out an ambitious program for extra assistance, study, and readings that would, I promised him, if he fully applied himself, not only reveal the wonders of the course material but almost certainly guarantee him a great grade. His response shocked me: He was taking five classes, working 30 hours a week, his mother was in the hospital, and he was majoring in another subject. He was taking this course only for a distributional requirement.

In other words, as he put it, “I don’t have time for anything but a C.”

What should have shocked this person should have been a realization that his professional persona is not managing to evoke an ounce of respect in the students. If a student thinks it is appropriate to insult an instructor in this way, this means the instructor is in urgent need of taking classes in pedagogy.

The assistant professor sat back and reflected on the narrative of tragedy and frustration in which he had participated. A year before, he had joined a prestigious program at a research university. Within weeks, a doctoral student had come to him seeking an adviser and, their interests being similar, they had agreed on a match.

At a PRESTIGIOUS RESEARCH university, an assistant professor who has just been hired directs doctoral dissertations? Seriously? I never in my life heard of anything of the kind. Are there really weird students who take such an enormous gamble with their careers? And the departments allow that? This is nothing but an issue of idiocy feeding off more idiocy. Last semester I directed senior assignments of our graduating seniors, and I did not do a very good job (which I duly reported to the Chair and the personnel committee.) I’m trying to learn but it is taking time and effort. The idea that a recently hired Assistant Prof can direct doctoral research is simply bizarre.

There is a point when the perennially failing advisee, whom nothing or no one seems able to rescue, would be better helped by your being a kind, encouraging, nonjudgmental, and creative exit counselor than by your continually accepting one more missed deadline or badly written draft.

This sounds like the author of the piece sees no alternative to being the students’ Daddy (both constant acceptance and nonjudgmental counseling are parenting strategies, not a way of building a professional relationship among adults). The possibility of simply failing a student does not even seem to occur to him. It becomes even more obvious that the author of the article is incapable of seeing his students as adults when he says the following:

Take a typical case of a student who is struggling in your class. On the positive side, he comes to your office hours—always. He seeks extra help outside of office hours. He asks lots of questions in class. And you are doing good: The problem child is improving.

A student might be problematic but if s/he is in college, this means there is no way s/he can possibly be a child.

After reading this article, I remain deeply convinced that Chronicle of Higher Ed has a goal of presenting academics in the worst possible light. It invites writers who consistently represent the worst that the academia has to offer. If I had read this publication before deciding to become an academic, I probably would have made a different choice.