So I blew my wad on the “hostility to research” post a week or two ago, and I responded to exactly none of the comments, even though I did read them – I did! – but I was too busy to respond, and then I thought, “Oh, hell, I’ll just write a follow-up post,” except days went by, and I hadn’t done that post….
But anyway, so here it is.
I suppose I’ll begin with a follow-up on the announcement of my thingie, the lukewarm reception from my department to which was part inspiration to the first tirade. So my mentor in the department (have I noted exactly how awesome he is? I believe I have, but it’s worth mentioning over and over how great he is to me) insisted that my chair send the announcement to the university PR people (something that hadn’t occurred to my chair on his own because why would we go the extra mile to publicize something that is awesome?) and upon my chair’s doing so, well, the result was that this week a thing about it has been featured front and center on the front page of my university’s website. The response to my accomplishment from across the university (students and colleagues) could not have been more different from the response of my colleagues in my home department. “Oh, Crazy, that’s so wonderful! So exciting!” said my non-departmental colleagues. “Dr. Crazy, that’s like the coolest thing ever! You get to do stuff like that? When you’re a professor?” said my students. Apparently there was even a blurb about it in the local newspaper (reported to me from my mentor) Hell, I got a nice email congratulating me from a staff person in the dean’s office.
So I suppose the thing is, it’s not that there is hostility to research, or to me, from outside my department. No, I’m only regarded with hostility by my colleagues within my department. The problem is one primarily of department culture. Luckily, it’s not a problem of institutional culture, or of all of the people who work or attend my institution, or I would feel utterly despondent. At any rate. All of this response this week about this thing – and can I just note at this point that my first impulse is to downplay this thingie because I feel like I’m ridiculous to have such a big deal made out of it? – has made me think more about the hostility to research business, and about those comments from the first post.
So, here’s what I’m going to do. The first part of this post is going to be a sort of Q and A format – in which I’ll respond to some comments from the last post. I apologize that I’m not going to link/attribute the comments. All you need to do if you want to know to whom I’m responding is to look at that comment thread. I’m lazy, and it’s Friday, and I spent today in meetings, so this is the only way I can be motivated to write this post, is to give myself permission not to do careful linky linkage. The big finish will be my own concluding thoughts on this issue, how I’ve synthesized it all for myself in the past couple of weeks. Special note to Comrade Physioproffe: this post will be ass long, and will cause you burn-out 🙂
” How do you manage when your research interests are not remotely represented in your assigned teaching load? I am curious.”
I don’t entirely know how to answer this, as I do see a connection between my research work and the work I do in the classes that I teach. However, it’s worth noting that in most semesters, 3/4 of my load is not directly related to my research (3/4 of my load is gen ed or service courses in my dept) and in those semesters in which that’s not the case, none of my load is directly related to my research. I guess what I would say is that even in those classes that are furthest from my research (comp, for me), I find something about process that is related, even if the content of the course has nothing to do with my specialized interests. So I find a link through assignments, or I find a link through an approach. Basically, I find a way to connect the work that I need to do in my research to the work that I am paid to do in my teaching, if that makes sense. This is not to say that I never feel torn – of course I feel torn. But I don’t work at a research university. I can’t only teach the 4 novels on which I’m currently working, or I wouldn’t be doing my job. So the trick is to find links that aren’t obvious. Create a proposal assignment that mimics what I have to do in writing a conference abstract that semester. Assign an annotated bibliography when I’m doing preliminary research for an article. Stuff like that. (I get that this can’t work perfectly in all disciplines, but I think it is an approach that is viable in many.)
” I think one thing that is going on with the “I don’t do research because I’m such an awesome teacher that I couldn’t possibly do both” crowd is (among others)that many people finish their dissertation and hate it, and if they land at a place like yours, they say, “I never have to do that again”. I have people who resent teaching, because “we’re an R-1, we have to do research”, but we also have to teach.”
I think you’re absolutely right about the “hating” the dissertation thing as a driving factor. I think I’ll go out a limb here and make a suggestion, though: I have never encountered a single person who didn’t hate their dissertation at the end of it. I surely did. BUT. If you end up at a place like mine, I think people are under the impression that they never have to move beyond that hate. If you end up at a research place, you can’t live in the hate or you won’t get tenure. As for the inverse, I can see how that would happen, too – if research is the major part of your job, I can see where you would slack on teaching. But. All of us have to do some combination of both! That’s the job! And whatever situation we’re in, our lives are going to suck if we choose to suck at one or the other part! (Am I the only person who thinks that? I mean, I would hate giving up on research just because of where I work! If I were at a research place, I would hate my life if I were a shitty teacher! It seems to me that the people who choose the “hate the part that is less valued” road end up fairly unhappy people. Am I alone in seeing this?)
Comrade Physioproffe says all the things I think in my head but typically don’t say.
Anastasia noted that the binary between teaching and research is a lot like the binary between being an academic and having a family. I think that was an astute comparison to make, and I think in part it’s a gendered one – i.e., teaching as “feminine” nurturing work, like mothering, vs. research as masculine “rational” and “objective” work. You can’t write a good dissertation if you’re a mom. You can’t teach well if you’re a researcher. It’s all on a continuum of lame oppositions. And it’s all a version of Charles Tansley’s “Women can’t write, women can’t paint” from Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. Anastasia’s right in that it would be ideal if one could choose one’s tenure path according to strengths, but my institution refuses to institute such a plan (called “differential workload,” and a dean (now deposed) tried and failed to institute that recently).
I also find it interesting that you discuss the culture of mediocrity. A quick glance at academic blogs will yield a number of complaints/diatribes on the mediocrity of today’s college students, and yet few talk about the culture of “just enough” among faculty at so many institutions. Don’t these people know that if we tolerate…nay, encourage mediocrity that we can’t expect much more from our own students?
This is precisely the reason that this shit makes me so angry. Seriously. It’s not that I think faculty need to do more and more, but I do think that what we do should model what we expect from our students. If we’re going to bitch about our students only doing “just enough” then we can’t think it’s ok for us to do “just enough.” Also, what kind of life is a “just enough” life? That is not what I got a Ph.D. to have.
Perpetua discusses the sympathy she feels toward those who succumb to the binary, and I totally get where she’s coming from. But. I will say that in my situation the issue is less that people have specific circumstances that lower their productivity for a period of time and then they recover than that the culture actively punishes people who are productive and does not exact any consequences on people who are unproductive for long stretches of time. As I said earlier, not everyone has to do all things in the same proportion, or needs to do them the way that I do. But I am going to go out on a limb and say that a person who takes a sabbatical and who doesn’t fulfill the university’s requirement to do some sort of presentation at the university on what they accomplished during that time is a douche, as just one example. In my department, we’re so concerned about not wanting to make people feel bad or look bad, that nothing happens to those people who don’t fulfill that requirement. That is a culture of mediocrity. And that is an administration that is failing to manage a culture of excellence. In my humble opinion. And, frankly, if you’ve just gotten off sabbatical? I don’t give a shit if you have 10 kids, you’re a single mother, and your father is dying, you should be able to throw 15 minutes of crap that you did during your sabbatical together to present in a brown-bag luncheon or similar. If you can’t do that, then I’m convinced that you just stole from the university.
” It sounds like she’s on a faculty who were hired mostly in the 1980s up to the early 1990s–and sometimes faculties are dominated generationally by a cohort with ossified expectations.”
This actually isn’t the case. The problem is, those ideas about what our university is or should be have trickled down to the current makeup of the department, which now has mostly been hired since the late 90s. The problem is not one of dead wood or of old-fashioned ideas from full proffies with power (they’ve retired or died), so much as it is one of low morale and new hires buying the party line in the department about the culture of the university. Other departments have changed. We, however, cling to a past long dead. And it’s hurting us in terms of how we are viewed in the university and in terms of our power to shape the conversation. A lot.
In other words, yes, the humanities market is horrible. It means that just to get a job you have to be exceptional. But the culture in my department is such that it makes little to no difference. We hire exceptional people and they come here to stagnate. As you’d say , H’Ann, AWESOME!
” Recently my division began hosting a reception when a colleague publishes a monograph.”
I’ve suggested this. Crickets. But I think this would, at least, go a long way to improving my morale!
“And if your dept. is anything like the department I am at, you have a lot of people who are their own graduates, who were high school teachers before going back for an MA, who were hired from the not-nationally-recognized PhD department right down the road back when little places did local searches and only the really big-name research places were part of the “national market,” or who defended their PhD back before Kennedy was shot. “
Actually, NO! We’ve got people from top-ranked publics and from ivies. Seriously. We have made good, solid hires. The problem really and truly is department culture. These people didn’t come to us like this. They learned this shit here.
“At the same time, the union has been vigilant in policing how those standards develop in the context of a school where faculty typically teach 3/3/3 (or 4/4/4 depending on credit hours) and where support for research is limited.”
This is another issue: no unions here. And unionization isn’t likely to happen in my lifetime.
So, what are my concluding thoughts? Because I feel like my responses to y’all were really freaking cynical. To be honest, I am cynical. I don’t actually think that I can do much overtly that’s going to change all of this. The most that I think I can do is to mentor my junior colleagues as much as is possible (ahem, the writing group I brought together even though I hate sharing my writing) and to get my own ass to full professor (even though the only advice I’ve gotten about that is that I’ll “just know” and “have a feeling that it’s right” when it’s time to go up for full, much like finding one’s “soul mate”?) so that I can be even more of a player.
Seriously, my feeling on the “hostility to research” business within my department is to tell my department to go to hell. Because by caring about research and being active I’m making sure that I am taking care of my professional future: I’m keeping myself viable on the market should I ever want to go on the market again, and I’m keeping myself in the conversation in the field, which matters to me even if I stay here until I retire. At a certain point, I can’t imagine that things will be able to stay as lame as they are, but by getting myself to full, I’ll be able to tell people to fuck off directly without a care in the world if they themselves remain lame. Maybe that’s not nice, but it does produce a warm and fuzzy feeling inside my cold and cynical heart.
Maybe I can’t make things change into my ideal thing. I probably can’t. But I can teach my students in such a way that they recognize mediocrity when they see it and they avoid instructors who are mediocre. But I can do the best scholarship that I can do with this workload. But I can shape the direction of the curriculum of my university. But I can shape the future of my college within the university. But I can refuse to be mediocre myself. But I can refuse to become hostile to ideas myself. But I can refuse to feel threatened by others’ accomplishments. But I can celebrate others’ accomplishments, because they don’t threaten me but rather they reflect well on me and on my department and on my institution.
And I can put myself into a position where I can call others out on their mediocrity and where I can call others out on their hostile and uncollegial behavior. I can put myself into a position where I can shut down the hostility that I myself have experienced. And that’s better than nothing, even if it’s not perfect.