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Clarissa's Blog

An academic's opinions on feminism, politics, literature, philosophy, teaching, academia, and a lot more.

Is Bashing Academia Brave?

Blogger Z wrote a post suggesting that the latest anti-academia darling Rebecca Schuman “has taken a certain amount of abuse lately” and that Schuman’s assault on academia is “brave.”

Z is one of my favorite bloggers but this is a position I find very confusing. I have written about the disgust Schuman’s position makes me feel but, unlike Schuman’s excretions, my pro-academia pieces have never been picked up by CHE, Slate, or anywhere else. Still, Schuman’s Douthat-like rants are “brave” while my defense of how I make my living is “abusive.”

So here is a response I wrote:

What abuse has she taken exactly? Her piece is being published in places where neither you nor I will ever be invited and the absolute majority of comments is 100% positive. A couple of people dared to express disagreement on blogs with the readership which is a fraction of those in the places where she is cheered and celebrated. Is that abuse? Are we just supposed to shut up and meekly accept really offensive accusations? She insults an entire profession and then she is the one abused just because a few people try to defend themselves?

Her point of view – which is that the academia is a place of worthless suckups who do nothing of value and just spout incomprehensible verbiage – is completely mainstream. I see it expressed in the media at least once a week. She is only the most recent contributor to the meme that academia is a cult. We constantly hear this position expressed by people who warn Americans against sending their wholesome kids to this den of Derrida-spouting latte-chugging Marxist-worshipping brainwashers.

Since Schuman has obviously decided to leave academia, she is now trying to make a career in a different field. I suspect these publications are part of her career-switching move. I’m sure she will be very successful because she is hitting the sweetest spots of the very conservative mainstream media. If Murdoch hears of her, he will be in love.

Schuman will now move on to make good money bashing academics, while we will sit here, hearing about our jobs being denigrated and ridiculed, and with no single mainstream publication willing to publish what we have to say in self-defense.

By the way, when was the last time you saw articles praising the work of college profs anywhere but on obscure little blogs like mine?

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45 thoughts on “Is Bashing Academia Brave?

  1. Stringer Bell on said:

    I agree with you.

    On an unrelated note, I read the blog post that Z referred to and it’s riddled with grammatical mistakes. She’s usually quite sloppy in her writing but this seems too much, even for her. I understand that english is not Spanish Professor’s first language, but do you think it’s acceptable for a language professor to make these mistakes? Not making any judgement here, just asking if a certain amount of english language competency is expected from you even if you’re not hired to teach english. What has been your experience?

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  2. Anonymous on said:

    If being a professor is still her career goal, then it’s brave. But if, as you say and as is probably the case, she is on her way out, then it’s just self-serving.

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    • The thing is, she will make a lot more friends in academia and garner a lot more favor than I ever will with my pro-academia writings. Her point of view is hugely fashionable in academia while mine isn’t. The really brave thing is to say, “I really love this job!” Doing that makes you an outcast, especially if you don’t have tenure. I have had to learn to fake misery with senior colleagues because I don’t want them to hate me and undermine me when I go up for tenure.

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  3. That’s slang. http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=hate%20on and written in an informal venue.

    I really think that since you are all so concerned about attacks on academia you should be writing in the national press on the way defunding happens, etc., etc., writing some good refutations of some of the worst pundits, etc. — and there is also activist work to be done.

    Getting this upset about the pain / disappointment of someone who, in a field far more competitive than ours, didn’t end up with a job *when* it is considered one is letting so many people down if one cannot control the market, is odd. She, and the large contingent and post-ac crowd she is speaking to, did not create the situation.

    Abuse, has taken a lot of heat for talking about these issues including in this thread. Brave to speak, yes, be the one willing to speak publicly about failure and pain, it takes real guts and she is speaking for and to many who have this situation and also the senior faculty who insist that not getting a job, whatever the market, is tantamount to not being a real person.

    I’ve hired in German. I had someone write offering to work below official salary, trying to improve their chances via that as well as all the usual ways.

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    • I know this will come as a shock, but the national press has no interest in publishing me but every interest in the world in publishing Schuman. CHE has linked to a couple of my posts. I will let you guess whether they were pro or anti-academia.

      As for anybody’s slang, what I found ridiculous is that an adult woman would take the infantile position of “whah, whah, whah, Mommy, why are they being so mean to me?” And then she claims she is not being hired because everybody else is to blame.

      Are you really dying to work with a colleague who responds with “Hate on me all you want” when somebody disagrees with her arguments? Do you really think this form of drama-queenish petulance is in demand? Is it too much to expect from an adult that she realize that disagreement is not a sign of a personal hatred for (or on) her?

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      • And talking about failure is brave? Seriously? In a culture that celebrates damsels in distress and persecutes strong, successful women? Are we living in the same US?

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      • I notice that you did not address what I said. The “hate on me” was a joke. So, you responded to the only part of that comment that was a joke. This is a trend–for the only part of the Slate article you are responding to was also a joke.

        The real thing I’m upset about is the market, and the institutional mentality that encourages people like me to keep going back out on it. I assure you I am not a petulant drama queen. I am a kind, sensitive, dedicated person. And, yes, I am brave.

        What I meant is–please, you’re welcome ridicule me for ridiculing the job market. Defend the job market! Tell me it’s a meritocracy and I’m just not good enough. That’s totally in-bounds because it responds to a real argument I made. Ridicule me for ridiculing the cult mentality that allows the job market to continue apace. That’s what I’m doing. But please stop ridiculing me for being an “academia hater” when I am not one.

        You are mischaracterizing me, and pointing out that fact is not the same as whining to my mom. I already know what my mom would say–“stop paying attention to h8rs. Don’t even read it.” But I am trying to engage with my most vocal detractors because I feel like I’ve been mischaracterized and that there is no reason to attack things I did not actually say.

        From what I can tell, you are an incredible superpolyglot, and speak far more languages than I do, far better than I do (with the possible exception of German, but about that I’m not even so sure)–but, and this is not to denigrate you at all, because again I have nothing but respect for your command of (at least!) six languages, my sense of humor is very, *very American*, and many non-Americans and non-native speakers honestly have no idea what I’m on about half the time, despite being 100% near-natively fluent in English.

        This is a communicative failure on my part, but I am trying to rectify it–so jumping on another winking use of an idiom (“hate on me”) is not helping in this discourse at all. If you truly see yourself as disagreeing with my actual stance (that the job market is a farce, that adjuncts are exploited, that tenure-track professors work harder than average undergrads think they do, that French Theory has alienated the humanities from the rest of the Academy even though it’s not even that dominant anymore), rather than just wanting to metaphorically explode me into the stratosphere, then I hope you will respond to the actual content of this comment, rather than whatever slang I may inadvertently have used.

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        • The statements I disagreed with are the following:

          “Getting a literature Ph.D. will turn you into an emotional trainwreck, not a professor.”
          “Who wouldn’t want a job where you only have to work five hours a week, you get summers off, your whole job is reading and talking about books, and you can never be fired? Such is the enviable life of the tenured college literature professor.”
          “Well, what if I told you that by “five hours” I mean “80 hours, and by “summers off” I mean “two months of unpaid research sequestration and curriculum planning”
          “What if you’ll never have time to read books, and when you talk about them, you’ll mostly be using made-up words like “deterritorialization” and “Othering””
          “And I can’t even tell you what kind of ass you have to kiss these days to get tenure—largely because, like most professors, I’m not on the tenure track, so I don’t know.”
          “No, I now realize graduate school was a terrible idea because the full-time, tenure-track literature professorship is extinct.”
          “Everyone has a book contract, peer-reviewed publications, and stellar teaching evaluations. This was not the case when today’s associate professors were hired in the boom of the late 1990s. But don’t resent them for insisting that it has “always been hard out there”—just let them buy you lunch. You may also be tempted to resent the generation of full professors teetering ever precariously toward retirement, and thus cleaving ever more resolutely to their positions.”
          “But with academia, you don’t need to put yourself through five to 10 years of the hardest work you will ever do. . .”

          And here is the post where I disagreed with them: https://clarissasblog.com/2013/04/06/another-hysterical-outburst-from-an-academia-hater/

          As you can notice, the quoted statements are not about the job market at all. I don’t see the point of responding to your retelling of what you wanted to say when there is an original text we can all refer to. Had you talked about the exploited adjuncts and the problems in the job market, I would have had no problem with that. God knows, I’ve talked about those issues a lot, too. But I take exception to every single one of the quoted sentences. They are not true, they are condescending, they are offensive.

          Saying “Yes, I peed on your head but it was all just in jest, go grow a sense of humor already” doesn’t really change what the original piece was about. This kind of writing about academia is ubiquitous and I am convinced that it serves to undermine the academia in the service of a socially conservative agenda. I’m sure you were not trying to participate in that. You just repeated the fashionable memes without analyzing where they came from.

          And just one thing that mystifies me. You say “The real thing I’m upset about is the market, and the institutional mentality that encourages people like me to keep going back out on it.” How can a mentality encourage?

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      • “Getting a literature Ph.D. will turn you into an emotional trainwreck, not a professor.” –I didn’t write that. Slate did. I was really upset about it and very vocal about how it left me feeling used.

        “Who wouldn’t want a job where you only have to work five hours a week, you get summers off, your whole job is reading and talking about books, and you can never be fired? Such is the enviable life of the tenured college literature professor.”
        –Satire. Making fun of your average schmo’s mistaken view of how professors work.

        “Well, what if I told you that by “five hours” I mean “80 hours, and by “summers off” I mean “two months of unpaid research sequestration and curriculum planning”
        “What if you’ll never have time to read books, and when you talk about them, you’ll mostly be using made-up words like “deterritorialization” and “Othering””
        –Satire. Hyperbole. And also, some truth to that: your average lit undergrad who just likes reading and doesn’t know any theory is going to have a rude awakening. It’s possible that I’m just dumb, but in my first year as a postdoc, teaching all new classes, I did work 80 hours a week, and did spend a lot of the summer beforehand (unpaid) putting together new courses. This was just to say: “look, profs work hard. I’m sick of people saying they don’t.” I don’t understand what’s wrong with it.

        “And I can’t even tell you what kind of ass you have to kiss these days to get tenure—largely because, like most professors, I’m not on the tenure track, so I don’t know.”
        –I know many people who were denied tenure because they dared speak out about an injustice at their institution, especially sexual harassment. I can see why you disagree, though, and I hope you get tenure without having to self-censor!

        “No, I now realize graduate school was a terrible idea because the full-time, tenure-track literature professorship is extinct.”
        –in my field, this is largely true. It is very upsetting, but largely true. I should have said “on its way to extinction” instead.

        “Everyone has a book contract, peer-reviewed publications, and stellar teaching evaluations. This was not the case when today’s associate professors were hired in the boom of the late 1990s. But don’t resent them for insisting that it has “always been hard out there”—just let them buy you lunch. You may also be tempted to resent the generation of full professors teetering ever precariously toward retirement, and thus cleaving ever more resolutely to their positions.”
        –I have a book contract, I have multiple peer-reviewed articles in top journals, and I have stellar teaching evals. It did not matter. I have already been taken to task for mischaracterizing the late 90s. I agree with the task-takers. And I’m sorry, and I’ve apologized to them. My Full Prof friends and colleagues thought that second part was hilarious and they DID buy me lunch.

        “But with academia, you don’t need to put yourself through five to 10 years of the hardest work you will ever do. . .”
        –that was a comment purely on the job market. And that market eviscerated me after four years on it.

        What do you think?

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        • ““Who wouldn’t want a job where you only have to work five hours a week, you get summers off, your whole job is reading and talking about books, and you can never be fired? Such is the enviable life of the tenured college literature professor.”
          –Satire. Making fun of your average schmo’s mistaken view of how professors work.”

          – This is how I work. Both as a TT and a VP. This is the job description that attracted me to the profession and the reality has been even better. So the schmo is not that mistaken.

          ““What if you’ll never have time to read books, and when you talk about them, you’ll mostly be using made-up words like “deterritorialization” and “Othering””
          –Satire. Hyperbole. And also, some truth to that: your average lit undergrad who just likes reading and doesn’t know any theory is going to have a rude awakening.”

          – This “satire” is brandished by academia-haters everywhere: “These profs don’t even know what they are talking about! They don’t even read books!” As for the theory, it’s better not to generalize. At both of my grad schools, any knowledge of theory was taboo.

          “but in my first year as a postdoc, teaching all new classes, I did work 80 hours a week, and did spend a lot of the summer beforehand (unpaid) putting together new courses.”

          – When that happened to me, my approach was, “OK, I really need to learn to organize myself better.” And I did. I am absolutely convinced that anybody who works 80 hours a week in any academic position simply chooses to do so for reasons of their own.

          “This was just to say: “look, profs work hard. I’m sick of people saying they don’t.” I don’t understand what’s wrong with it.”

          – Overdramatic generalization is what’s wrong. It makes your message worthless. I just heard a student tell another one how he was “totally raped” in a video game he had been playing. I’m sure the sentiment of being upset by losing was genuine. But the way it was expressed made the message offensive.

          ““And I can’t even tell you what kind of ass you have to kiss these days to get tenure—largely because, like most professors, I’m not on the tenure track, so I don’t know.”
          –I know many people who were denied tenure because they dared speak out about an injustice at their institution, especially sexual harassment. I can see why you disagree, though, and I hope you get tenure without having to self-censor!”

          – I’m sure you can see a difference between ass-kissing and not speaking against sexual harassment. There is no way one can be expected to read what you actually said as a reference to sexual harassment.

          “–I have a book contract, I have multiple peer-reviewed articles in top journals, and I have stellar teaching evals. It did not matter. I have already been taken to task for mischaracterizing the late 90s. I agree with the task-takers. And I’m sorry, and I’ve apologized to them. My Full Prof friends and colleagues thought that second part was hilarious and they DID buy me lunch.”

          – It’s the “you maybe tempted to resent” part that I dislike. Substitute “I” for “you”, and I have no problem with the sentence. However, when people attribute their own resentments to others, that’s problematic.

          ““But with academia, you don’t need to put yourself through five to 10 years of the hardest work you will ever do. . .”
          –that was a comment purely on the job market. And that market eviscerated me after four years on it.”

          – I’m an immigrant from a 3rd world country. To me, people who see American grad school as “hard work” are incredibly pampered and hugely spoiled. But yes, you are right, for most of your readers, this might just be the hardest work they ever do.

          I’m very sorry you didn’t get a job. I have a friend on the market in German, and the situation is really really bad. 😦

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      • Well, I’m really glad you’re engaging with me on this. It really helps me see what you’re saying with a little more clarity.

        It is very true that I only worked 80 hours a week for one year, but I am actually a very good time manager. That year was just nuts (and I almost died at the end of it, but that’s a different story…)

        I’m sorry I didn’t get a job too, but in the end it’s very true that I’m not cut out for it. The teaching part I’m great at, but I am just not committed enough to my own research to keep doing it. So in the end it’s a blessing in disguise. I was churning out all these articles and this book, but it was just to get a job. The pressure to professionalize and get a job completely eclipsed any enjoyment I ever had in the work itself. That is TOTALLY my thing, and I am really sorry I universalized it.

        My great-grandfather came here at the age of 8 on the run from the pogroms, and he would also scoff that graduate school was the hardest I’ve ever had to work (though it was his exploitative real-estate money that allowed me to have the cushy life I lived–ah Bumpa, if only you’d known). I definitely agree that that would be offensive to anyone who’d actually had to work *truly* hard–but your average American lit major is (alas) not one of those people.

        I thank you, again, for engaging with me, and I just want you to know that I am not an academia-hater. I am a job-market hater, and I am an adjunct-culture-hater, and I am a cult-mentality-that-makes-me-believe-I’m-worthless hater. But I loved being a professor. I did. And my students loved me, and I am really going to miss them. http://pankisseskafka.wordpress.com/2013/04/24/my-non-calamitous-last-day-of-class-surprise-party/

        Anyway, I’ll stop lurking on your blog now. I just wanted to make a couple of things a little clearer–especially that damn headline, which really did color the whole article.

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      • “I’m an immigrant from a 3rd world country. To me, people who see American grad school as “hard work” are incredibly pampered and hugely spoiled.”

        Hummm, in fact, you don’t even need to be an immigrant from a 3rd world country to find that assertion ludicrous. Grad school is no way a “hard work”. A difficult activity probably, but not “hard work”.

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      • Well, I’ve worked as a janitor cleaning toilets and doing other manual labor for $5/hour, and I still would rather do that than do my first year of grad school again. It’s possible that I’m just so dumb that reading 1000 pages a week in German was what I’d call “hard work,” but for me it was. But if you want not to like my writing, there is plenty in it not to like. I get it. I’m sorry.

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        • If reading is hard work, harder than cleaning toilets, then, honestly, what attracted you to this profession?

          I’ve been reading over 1,000 pages a week (and almost never in my own language) for as long as I can remember myself. It’s one of the greatest joys of my life. I don’t really get how it can be work for a grad student in literature.

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      • If you hate the grad school, don’t invade grad schools! You would be unhealthy to students.

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      • Well, look. You win. You have a TT job and you love it. I lose. I worked for ten years to enter a world that wants nothing to do with me. I hurt. It hurts. I’m not good enough to love reading 1000 pages a week. You’re right. Reading you makes me really, truly feel worthless and hated. I may seem like I’m getting a lot of positive attention to you, but all I see is stuff like this. And it keeps me up at night. And it hurts. Please try to have a little human compassion. My expression of my own pain is not going to harm your job. The anti humanities forces in this country are bigger and more powerful than some idiot who published a few articles. Fight them. Please just try to see my anguish with empathy and kindness as a Have to my Never Going to Have and take the high road. I am sorry you haven’t ever had anything published in Slate. It’s not all its cracked up to be. I’d rather have your job, even though I’d find it harder than you do. Even if I’m not good enough.

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        • Look, so you chose the profession that is wrong for you. It happens. I had chosen a profession that was wrong for me and suffered in it for years, too. And I chose the wrong husband. And after that about 52 wrong boyfriends. And the really really wrong grad school that made me suicidal. It’s normal to make wrong choices and then realize that.

          The important thing is that you did realize it and will now move on and be very very happy. You are not worthless and hated. You are a good, valuable person, and you will do great in life. And all this will seem funny and very distant.

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      • Oh, I chose the wrong husband too :). A long time ago. But I will indeed figure something out. It might involve subjecting the national press to more of my excretions, but this has definitely helped me to realize that I need to be more careful about the aspects of academia that I ridicule. The job market and the greater anti humanities bent of the corporate university deserve all the ridicule ever. I still reserve the right to make fun of Derrida since I went to the house his ass built. But I will definitely take a more measured approach to the prof life in general, which I believe is both worthy and usually grossly undervalued, monetarily or otherwise.

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    • The national press hates academia.

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  4. Pingback: A Select Few Regrets, or: The Last Jew in Academe? | pan kisses kafka

  5. NancyP on said:

    Reading is hard work. Thinking is hard work. Writing is hard work. So what? All of those activities are fun (with the exception of grant proposal writing).

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    • It’s not work when you read, think and write about something fun.

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    • I don’t like sweeping generalizations of this kind. When I’m reading a mystery novel on the beach, that isn’t hard work. When I’m writing blog posts, that isn’t hard work. When I’m thinking which dress to buy, that isn’t hard work.

      Let’s not overdramatize our existences.

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  6. Well, I am working on some work for my university, and on an article for Academe about the neoliberalization, and I have realized what my riposte to your and also Jonathan Mayhew’s posts on this post title would be: “Is bashing contingent faculty brave?”

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  7. Pingback: Please Stop Saying “Not Everyone is Suited for Academia” | pan kisses kafka

  8. News — another person uses the word brave to describe Schuman’s writing: http://pankisseskafka.com/2013/07/27/please-stop-saying-not-everyone-is-suited-for-academia/comment-page-1/#comment-975

    I would not have found out about her had it not been for you and Jonathan, and she is smart and interesting, so I am grateful to you both although also quite disappointed with both of your egocentrism…tone deafness…abusiveness.

    Why writing about self-alienation as one compromises further and further in life is courageous in the context of the academic ideology: because we are repeatedly told no sacrifice is too great to make for a TT job, and that if we have any doubts about that then we are not smart-dedicated. Actually describing that process, in which one realizes that one is paradoxically renouncing the career one wants in order to possibly get something that resembles it on paper, and that in the process one has already renounced large parts of oneself, takes guts — especially when, having written about pain, you get kicked in the guts again for having even felt it.

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