That old expression “dead wood” appears in a number of the commentaries, and commenters either dismiss it as a figment of the imagination or wield it like a truncheon. You all know what side of this I’m on–for a reminder, see my post about “dead wood” from two years ago. I’ll just reiterate my suspicion that “dead wood” is mostly a political tool for those who don’t want to fully fund higher education and adequately staff academic departments. (Why buy a tenure-track faculty member when you can get three adjuncts for the same price?)
I’ve been mulling our current conundrum lately since my last (not entirely articulate) post about the academic life and the three-legged stool of research, teaching, and service that’s supposed to be the foundation of our careers. I think commenter Perpetua expresses my thoughts (and perhaps yours, too) very well here:
But as to the question of service – it’s interesting because on one hand we have the fact that service is totally unrewarded and uncompensated, feminized as Historiann rightly says. Try getting a promotion to associate professor on the strength of your SERVICE RECORD! Ha ha ha ha. Even the provost would deny your case. I say “even” here because the university administration itself devalues service, while simultaneously expecting faculty to engage in more and more of it. . . . And while research is the #1 road to success at the majority of our universities, these same universities don’t seem to believe that research is real work. Or rather they seem to think that this chunk of our job is something we should do *on our own time*, whereas the 50 hr work week should be full of teaching and service responsibilities. They seem to think that they don’t *benefit* from our research. And it’s true there isn’t the more obvious correlation between effort and reward as one finds in teaching (each seat filled = $$) or service (running the university for administrators for free). I don’t mind service work generally, but I am more and more troubled by the trend I see among administrators that research *doesn’t count* somehow – unless of course we’re talking about denying someone tenure or a full professorship, then everyone’s shrieking about publications. It’s a weird tangle.
I’m with you, Perpetua. I don’t mean to be such a Debbie Downer this morning, but I’ve concluded that that three-legged stool (research, teaching, and service) isn’t a foundation for our careers so much as three useful sticks with which to beat us. Whatever we’re doing, it’s the wrong thing. The general public doesn’t understand the value of our research (either intrinsically or to our teaching), so they think we’re moochers on the public dime if we’re not in front of a classroom 40 hours a week. University administrators want more “innovation overtime” from us, as well as research and publications without giving us research or even travel budgets. Is there any other learned profession that’s subject to so much second-guessing, condescention, and public contempt these days? (Or at least in the pages of the New York Times?)
So in these trying times, friends, I’m not calling for a big pity party. I’m here to say just nous devons cultiver nos jardins. (That’s Voltaire, y’know. Cultivate your own garden. Do your own thing.) Do what you want to do. You can’t please everyone all the time, but you can probably please yourself most of the time. And no, I won’t promise to retire at 67 as TR has done today, in public, on the New York Times website. I’m only 10 years younger than the Radical, but I don’t know what’s down the road for me 25 years hence (if I’m lucky enough to have 25 more years.) My husband might drop dead, or dump me, which would jeopardize my economic future. My joy in professing might totally desert me, but I might also win the National Book award, or at least a blue ribbon at the Weld County Fair. My students might hate me and stop enrolling in my classes. (Not a bad bet, actually.)
But the manufactured academic job crisis isn’t going to end because I or any of the rest of you bow to the demands that you retire before you want to. Remember–the people making those demands have an agenda of their own, and my bet is that it’s not just to help the poor, struggling scholars of the younger generation.