"Dead wood," mandatory retirement, and advancement (oh my!) Plus the Isley Brothers.

Tenured Radical has a brief comment in a web feature at the New York Times called “The Professors Who Won’t Retire.”  (An entirely unjudgmental and impartial title if I ever saw one!)  Read through all of the comments–a virtual rogue’s gallery of faculty and (former) university administrators if ever I saw one.  (Click over there–you be the judge.)  Many of the commenters (TR included) push back against the notion that it’s the “professors who won’t retire” who have cause the (40 years and counting) job crisis in academe, and not the “universities who won’t hire tenure-track faculty and hire adjuncts instead.”

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: Continue reading

Profiles in Courage?

Seriously?  Because President Obama has read and can reasonably interpret the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution?  (You know–the one he swore to preserve, protect, and defend?)

As a citizen, and as President, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country. And that includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in Lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America. And our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable. The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country and that they will not be treated differently by their government is essential to who we are. The writ of the Founders must endure.

I’ve been traveling today so I haven’t kept up with all of the chatter, but I heard about this last night from the BBC World Service as I tried to fall sleep, and wondered at all of the play it was getting when Obama’s comments seem so obvious.  What was the big friggin’ deal?  The statement was made at a Ramadan observance at the White House last night, so it was an appropriate venue for the President to make his statement.  It’s a perfect issue on which Obama might express an opinion–since it’s really a local issue over which he has no real authority.  (Unlike say ending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, which he could do with the stroke of a pen, or a host of other campaign promises made that are still unfulfilled.)  So he can’t raise expectations here–he was just handing out a warm slanket to his guests, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  But there are people out there who think Obama’s statement is the awesomest, hopey-changiest thing they’ve heard for at least 18 months, apparently:  Continue reading

I didn't wake up angry about my six-hour per week job.

Over Ten Million Served:  Gendered Service in Lanugage and Literature Workplaces is a new book edited by Michelle A. Massé and Katie J. Hogan that raises two old questions:  1) Why don’t academic workplaces value service and honor it in career advancement to the degree it should be, and 2) How is this undervaluing of service implicated in the gendering of service as feminized (and therefore volunteer/underpaid/unrewarded) carework?  A brief interview with the editors is at Inside Higher Ed today.

These conversations about service are like conversations about the weather, in that everyone talks about it all of the time but no one does anything about it.  In our current state of crisis on university faculties–with the adjunctification of the profession in the past twenty years plus our soon-to-be double-dip recession–are we likely to finally do anything about it now?  Or are we even less likely, because of the state of overall economic crisis?  My sense is that few of us feel motivated to go that “extra mile” in the face of rescissions, cutbacks, salary freezes, and even furloughs.

For those of you interested in thinking about our state of crisis in American universities more generally should see the reviews by Tenured Radical and Jesse Lemisch at New Politics of Higher Education: How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids – And What We Can Do About It by Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus.  Apparently, liberal arts professors who make $100,000 and spend only 6 hours a week in the classroom, take sabbaticals, and conduct research (the nerve!!!) are as much of the problem as running farm clubs for the NBA and the NFL and CEO-sized salaries for university presidents and other administrators.  (Does anyone ever say that football coaches only work three hours on Saturdays in the fall, because that’s when their teams play?  I never hear that for some reason, yet here we have the familiar accusation that if professors aren’t leading a class every single minute of the day, then they’re not working.)  Continue reading

Random thoughts on Mad Men, season 4 (so far)

Well, now that I have an i-pod and i-tunes, there’s a way to get Mad Men without subscribing to some expensive, crappy cable TV package I neither want nor need.  i-tunes sells a season pass for $20 ($30 for HD), which seems like a total bargain.  The only downside is that I have to watch the show on my computer, so Fratguy and I snuggle up in bed and balance it on our laps together.  (Too bad it’s such a completely un-sexy show!) 

Here are my thoughts so far (3 episodes in).  As the fankids say on the internets–spoiler alert: Continue reading

It's Bennet v. Buck in Nov., plus no more McPlagiarist to kick around

Well, you’ve probably heard that “Senator” Wonderbread won his primary, which means that I can no longer refer to him as never having won a vote. And it wasn’t even close!  Andrew Romanoff called to offer his congratulations less than an hour after the polls closed.  Being able to outspend your opponent by nearly 4-1 has its advantages, kids!  Oh well–the guy who is liklier to beat him in November, GOP insurgent candidate Ken Buck, also won his primary narrowly against Jane Norton.  Possible lessons of the Colorado primary?  It looks like the GOPers are more likely to favor insurgencies, whereas there’s enough Dems satisfied with their incumbents (I know–go figure!) that they’re sticking with the status quo.  (Remember, the two sitting senators to lose their primaries were Republican Bob Bennett in Utah, and Democrat-turned-Republican-turned Democrat Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, so we’ll count him as a half-Republican who didn’t have the confidence of Penna. Dems, and for good reason.)  Continue reading

"My Life in Therapy"

Some of you easterners probably saw this on Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning already, but if you’ve got a spare 20 minutes and you’re so inclined, take a look at Daphne Merkin’s essay in the New York Times Sunday Magazine called “My Life in Therapy.”  She writes really thoughtfully about her experience of therapy, and wonders what (after 40 years) it’s done for her.  Part of the problem, she notes, is that psychoanalysis and its offshoots tends to be an end in itself without fixed goals or an endpoint, unlike a consultation with an allopath or a dentist to fix a specific problem.  You have a toothache, or a bodily pain?  The doctor will diagnose it and make you feel better.  The psychoanalyst’s approach isn’t always diagnostic, and even when a problem is identified, what a patient should do about it isn’t always clear.  Merkin writes about going to yet another therapist.  Would this one help her?  And how would she even know if his approach was helping?

And then there was my feeling that I better not get in too deep. I was wary by this point of the alacrity with which I attached to shrinks, each and every one of them, as if I suspended my usual vigilant powers of critical judgment in their presence merely because they wore the badge of their profession. The truth of the matter was that in more than 40 years of therapy (the only person I knew who may have been at it longer than me was Woody Allen, who once offered me his own analyst), I never developed a set of criteria by which to assess the skill of a given therapist, the way you would assess a dentist or a plumber.Other than a presentable degree of intelligence and an office that didn’t set off aesthetic alarms — I tended to prefer genteelly shabby interiors to overly well-appointed ones, although I was wary of therapists who exhibited a Collyer Brothers-like inability to throw anything away — I wasn’t sure what made for a good one. I never felt entitled to look at them as members of a service profession, which is what, underneath all the crisscrossing of need and wishfulness, they essentially were. The sense of urgency that generally took me into a new shrink’s office was more conducive to seeing myself as the one being evaluated rather than the evaluator. Was I a good-enough patient? Would this latest psychiatrist (I saw mostly M.D.’s) like me and want to take me on? Or would he/she write me off as impossibly disturbed under my cloak of normalcy?

I knew I wasn’t the most promising candidate — I was, in fact, a prime example of what is referred to within the profession as a “difficult” patient, what with my clamorous ways, disregard for boundaries and serial treatments — but perhaps this time, after so many disappointments, I would get lucky. Somewhere out there, sitting in a smaller or larger office on Central Park West or the Upper East Side, tucked behind a waiting area furnished with a suitably arty poster or two, a couple of chairs and old copies of The New Yorker and National Geographic Traveler, was a practitioner who would not only understand my lifelong sorrow and anger in an empathic (but not unduly soppy) fashion but also be able to relieve me of them. Just as some people believe in the idea of soul mates, I held fast to the conviction that my perfect therapeutic match was out there. If only I looked hard enough I would find this person, and then the demons that haunted me— my love/hate relationship with my difficult mother (who has been dead now for four years), my self-torturing and intransigently avoidant attitude toward my work, my abiding sense of aloneness and seeming inability to sustain a romantic relationship and, above all, my lapses into severe depression — would become, with my therapist’s help, easier to manage.

Merkin doesn’t address gender issues in her article, but throughout I couldn’t help but see her problem as a gendered one.  Why should she feel like her therapist was someone she needed to please, someone from whom she couldn’t demand results, however modestly or vaguely defined?  Continue reading

Monday round-up: we've got primary fever!

Anyone but Senator Wonderbread!

Well, friends:  what are the hot races in your political neighborhoods?  We here in Colorado are looking forward to the possibility of lame-duckitude on the part of our Never Elected Wonderbread “Senator” from JP Morgan Chase, although it will be a close race either way.  Here are some other news & views from blogworld you might be interested to read all about: