Thursday, March 13, 2008

Rant: do-gooder do-nothings

i don't know what it is about professors -- "my people" -- but they just love to hate their jobs. nothing gets us more exercised than bitching about how much we work, under what terrible conditions, for inadequate pay, under such stupid administrators. nothing, that is, except how bad someone else's job is.

i'm on this list, a cultural studies list, where everybody is up in arms over a tenure case at the university of michigan. seems a progressive activist has been denied tenure. sweet jesus above, keep your eyes peeled for horsemen, for the apocalypse must be upon us.

actually, it appears on closer inspection that the tenure decision has not yet been finalized, nor has it been made public. nor has anyone on the cacs list been privy to the full set of documents involved in this case. nonetheless, professors, postdocs and graduate students are all dutifully writing to the provost at michigan to express their outrage at this miscarriage of academic justice. i guess they've never heard the old peter cook and dudley moore sketch on the second world war. "i was against the war," says dud, self-righteously, "i wrote a letter!" i can just see it now, the u-michigan provost calling a special meeting of the tenure and promotion committee: "i know this group has reviewed the materials in the tenure file and has read carefully the letters of experts in the field, and has put this candidate's qualifications against those of other recently tenured professors. but i'd like to draw your attention to a letter i received this morning from an assistant professor at brock university which clearly states -- what? oh, brock university: that's in canada."

people on the cacs list must get less email than i do.

while i'm no pollyanna (yeah, sure i'd like to make more money, work fewer hours, have a bigger office and a faster computer, handpick my students, teach only when inspired, write for fame and glory), and while i don't for a second believe that universities are perfect, i'm normally so busy with issues in my own school and city that i don't have time to involve myself in the obscure, private matters at another. and, yes, they are obscure -- the full facts are not known, and probably never will be, given the confidential nature of tenure cases -- and they are private, for the same reasons of confidentiality.

here's an idea. if you want a better system of tenure, promotion, reward, activism, community service, or collegiality, why not take up an administrative position in your own university? say "yes" the next time someone asks you to serve as an external reviewer. nominate leonard pelletier (or, for that matter, andrea smith) for an honorary doctorate. or help organize the next local/provincial/national election. or tutor a student at an inner-city high school.

you'll have less time to fret on the multi-national listservs, but you might actually make a difference.


Anonymous said...

Oh, thank God. I've also been reading/skimming the MANY emails regarding the tenure (in)decision, and I've been feeling guilty for, frankly, NOT caring.

(I'm also annoyed by the continual anti-American stuff that keeps popping up. I'm not all "rah rah America!" but... it seems a little strange that people on a cultural studies listserv can essentialize an entire NATION of academics...)

But that's just me. And I'm sure the four horsemen are about to gallop right over me.

P.S. Great blog!

Mimi said...

snork. good one. i just try to blot all these stories out, frankly, because i DON'T have tenure yet, and freaking out isn't going to help me focus ...