Watch your modern language roundup, yee haw!

I don’t think you’ve been able to tell, but since Saturday I’ve been blogging from an undisclosed location in the Rocky Mountains on a little mid-holiday vacation from my holiday vacation.  (Hint:  think vapor caves and hot springs, not snowboarding and skiing.)  There are a number of bloggers and academic opinionators out there writing about MLA, so herewith is a little roundup for y’all.  Enjoy, all you dudes and greenhorns!  Don’t say we didn’t warn ya.

  • Via Inside Higher Ed,  MLA will release a new survey of mid-career professionals, and it will report that women spend 1.5 hours per week more on grading, while men spend 2 hours more per week on research.  “Many women reported feeling hostility from many of their colleagues and a lack of support in research, even as many departments value it over teaching. This raises the potentially troubling question, she said, of whether women value teaching for the “magic” of the classroom or because “teaching can be a kind of refuge” in that the classroom is the place where women (and men) have the most control over their professional decisions.”  

Historiann respectfully disagrees.  At least in my experience, research is the only area in which I have near complete control–not in the classroom, where someone else designed the rooms, and someone else determines the number of students and the number of courses we teach.  Although I dig the gender politics here, I disagree with “Joycelyn K. Moody, the Sue E. Denman Distinguished Chair in American Literature at the University of Texas at San Antonio,” who “said that what most troubled her about the responses was that women reported feeling shame about their interest and success in teaching. Women should be feeling pride in their success as teachers, she said, but are ‘perceiving themselves as performing below expectations,’ because they aren’t doing more research.  It’s time to ‘dismantle those institutional values,’ Moody said, so that the shame disappears.”  At research universities, I think it’s A-OK to value research more than teaching.  It’s what makes our work qualitatively different from teaching high school or community college.  Research is part of the job.  It’s why we have lower teaching loads than people at CCs or secondary school teachers.  If you’re at a research university, find a way to turn those grading hours into research time, ladies!

  • RYS posts another report from the field from “Schenectady Skeptinautika,” who writes that she “plan[s] on making extensive use of the hot tub, anyway.  Can we say last-minute bikini purchase to combat the pre-interview jitters? I wonder if alcohol’s allowed in the pool area…”  I like her style!  She’s so right to complain about the lack of free wifi:  “And now for the obligatory hating on the hotel: I have to *pay* for wifi?!? SERIOUSLY?!? (I’m stealing a signal now.) You mean my $400 wasn’t enough to get me access to a weak-ass Internet signal? Lame, Marriott. LAME, forcing me to go off in search of unprotected signals to poach.”  Even deep in the snowy Rockies in a late nineteenth-century hotel near a giant steaming hot spring, we’ve got the free wifi, friends.
  • Bing McGhandi from Happy Jihad’s House of Pancakes reports on his first MLA job interview this year:  “The interview was touch-and-go. Some questions I knocked out of the park. Other ones haunt me still. The funny thing is that I hit it off with a cute waitress at the coffee stand while I waited, and while we were talking, I thought I recognized a couple of the faces of a few patrons. It turns out that they were the people who were going to interview me. Yikes! I thought that they were, but, you know, tried to play it cool. I don’t think that will have any influence on the outcome.”  It sounds like you’re overanalyzing it, Bing–if it’s meant to be, you’ll hear from that search committee again.  There is so much that’s not in a job candidate’s control–and the cute waitress probably took your mind off of the interview for a few of those anxiety-ridden minutes, right?  (You didn’t ask to borrow the search chair’s Chapstik, did you?)
  • Finally, Inside Higher Ed has a new blog strictly for reporting on the MLA, “Intellectual Affairs.”  (Do I hear a double-entendre?  Wev.  They liked my advice about not asking to borrow Chapstik during an interview.)

0 thoughts on “Watch your modern language roundup, yee haw!

  1. I love teaching because, unlike research, it doesn’t make me feel like an utter idiot. Teaching reinforces the fact that I do indeed know something; research, on the other hand, shows me just how ignorant I remain.

    Which reminds me: to work!


  2. I think you’re probably right, H., that at universities that are, explicitly, research universities that it makes more sense for research to rule the day for both male and female faculty. But I think there’s a wide swath of institutions in between R1 and CC/high school teaching – middle-of-the-road slacs and comprehensive 4-years – where the teaching/research equation is much more muddy. At a comprehensive with a 4/4, where some research is expected but where the service load is heavy, the “value” of research vs. teaching is a lot more complicated and more difficult to figure out. If I spend more time on teaching than research (and I definitely do), I’d say it’s less about feeling more in “control” of my teaching but rather because I see immediately that the work that I do there is appreciated, both by students and in terms of institutional support (what little there is). In that way, teaching is a refuge, not because it’s magical but because it takes me away from the fight that it takes for me to do research in an institutional context that on the surface claims to value research but in reality fails to support faculty who actually do it.

    Now, I’ll say that I don’t associate shame with my performance as and investment in being a good teacher – instead, I’ve felt that more in relation to my accomplishments in research (except for at conferences, where I encounter people from outside my institution, at which point the shame shifts to not producing enough as a researcher). I’m not sure what the answer to all of this is, and I may think about it some more and post over at my place about it. At the end of the day, though, at those mid-range institutions, I’d say that there is a real problem with how value is placed on teaching vs. research labor for female faculty, and it shows in disparity between salaries, rank, administrative opportunities, and the voice that female faculty ultimately can have in the overall running of and culture of a university/college.


  3. I enjoy teaching, but don’t get nearly as much satisfaction from it as research. There is nothing like finding a quote or bit of evidence that suddenly ties things together and makes your argument fall into place; or like realizing that a pattern is emerging from a bunch of texts that seemed jumbled up and chaotic just a few moments ago; or like suddenly intuiting a new way of framing and explaining one’s work. I also love writing and, even more, revising, in order to make sure my meaning is clear and my expression, elegant. Finally, for me there is no headier intoxicant than having a someone whose research and publications I respect cite my work.

    I think the reason many women are so dedicated to teaching is because it’s interpersonal: we are trained to respond to others’ expectations of while deferring our wholly independent interests and needs. Male profs., given cultural gender norms, may find it easier to set boundaries around their teaching and to limit their responsiveness to student demands/needs, thereby carving out more research time.

    Yet oddly, in my household the gender roles in this regard are completely reversed: SweetCliffie is the more dedicated teacher, and gets a high from it that I experience to a much milder degree. In terms of research, the engagement and satisfaction level is reversed.


  4. We coulda’ dropped a three pound bag of marshmallows within five feet of your breakfast table, Historiann, from here in Fort Schuylkill, anyway. We weren’t thinking Vail, or Snowmass, or anything like that. Those cowgirl pictures are getting better by the post. That guy whose name is on the fence surely didn’t insert an “MLA or Bust” sign in the background of the original, did he? Hows’shedothat?!? 🙂

    I agree with Notorious that teaching makes one feel smart and research….less so. But for me it’s an artificial smart. The holes are all there, they just don’t have the capacity to hit them. As long as I don’t commit an unforced error it’ll be o.k. And that’s not so much fun. With research, the ignorance is like appetite. The place where you’re going to put the next cool finding. And, vis-a-vis Squadro, I even like the finds that make your argument come undone. Because they usually lead to more interesting conclusions, while at the same time reminding you that the quarry out there is very elusive. I try to pack pretty light on the argument side in any case until the research is fairly well along, as it allows you to react more quickly to sudden moves or opportunities.

    The mid-scale comprehensives (like mine) are, as Dr. Crazy says, the very definition of ambiguity and in some ways, nihilation. And that’s not so much fun either.


  5. Chiming in again to agree with Dr. Crazy & Indyanna — I’m at a MA-Comprehensive with a 4/4 (though we can work our way down to a 3-3 if we prove we’re doing research), and the research expectations are muddy. This is especially stressful for someone like me going up for tenure. I’m never quite sure which basket to put how many eggs in, and I’ve only got so many eggs to go around.

    As Dr. Crazy points out, institutions like ours often make noises about wanting to weight faculty research more, and Grand Initiatives are devised to make this work. Then, funding falls through and people stop talking about Grand Initiatives… but the heightened research expectations somehow remain.

    Six weeks ago, I was fairly certain of my chances for tenure. Now I’m not so sure.


  6. I agree that we have *far* less control over our teaching than our research. It’s not just that someone else sets our teaching schedules, as you so rightly point out. Classroom discussion takes on its own dynamics. This looms larger for me now that I’m teaching women’s and gender studies rather than history; I spend less time teaching and more time leading discussion. Some days, though, it feels as though the discussion is leading *me.*

    The irony is, my continued employment depends very little on my research (which is slow, since I’m in a non-tenure-track teaching position) and not even very much on my teaching (though my students and I all seem to think I do a decent job). The only thing that matters, now, is the budget. Here in Ohio, Governor Strickland has been pretty merciful toward higher ed, even though the state is in horrible shape, fiscally. Still, we see the same pattern you describe, Notorious – and the same uncertainty for the future. Even tenured people in some of our smaller departments have cause to worry.


  7. I’m definitely overanalyzing it. I managed to not ask to borrow the chair’s chapstick, if only b/c of her teeth.

    I’m getting back into my zen space for this next interview, which I have in 2 hours. As I think back on the questions from yesterday’s interview, the admnistrative questions threw me for a loop. The pedagogical and research questions were fine. I am hoping that this next interview, for a without an adminstrative component, will be more conducive to my utter awesomeness.



  8. I think women spend more time grading partly because they are expected to, and punished more harshly in course evaluations for being uncaring if they don’t. I have never found that writing extensive comments on final versions of completed papers (as opposed to, say, workshopping drafts) is a particularly effective teaching tool, and it’s hugely time-consuming, but it does do a great job at showing students that one ‘cares.’


  9. Re: the MLA “intellectul affairs” double entendre…I heard once that sex workers in NYC were surveyed about which big conventions were profitable and that they looked forward to, and which weren’t. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the MLA came in dead last in the ratings…”cheap and demanding” were the frequent complaints.


  10. Rose–I heard that joke, only it was about the AHA and how one maid complained that she’d never seen a conference with so much drinking and so little boots-knocking. (But of course, if you’re familiar with what most professional historians look like, you be unsurprised and quite relieved to know that there was much more drinking and very little of the other activity happening.)

    Now, on to the subject at hand: I should have made it clear that my comments were on the subject of R1s, not “comprehensive” universities or any other work environment. Indeed, I used to work at a “comprehensive” university, and I think in most ways it’s the worst of all worlds for the faculty: they have heavy teaching and service expectations, so whatever you’re doing is never enough, and they’ve always got a stick to beat you with, because no one can excel at teaching, service, and research every year all the time. (What is this, Lake Woebegone? We all have to be above average in every category, all the time?)

    My comments were also more about resisting the gendering of research as a “male” career track, and teaching as a “female” career track, because I think this is a surefire way to further marginalize all women, whatever their particular career goals or strategies. I surely don’t want people feeling “shame” at spending time on teaching–indeed, at my so-called “research” university, teaching is supposed to consume 50% of my professional energies (which along with 35% research + 15% service = 100%) I just don’t buy the notion that women are all inherently more drawn to the classroom, or that research is a huge struggle for all women.

    Maybe some of you will see me as a defeatist or as a sellout, but I don’t see teaching ever being valued the way research is in universities (comprehensive or R1), at least not in my lifetime. And since research is the thing that makes university and college faculty different from other teachers, why should we be eager to give it up or discount it? (Male faculty won’t, that’s for sure.) Dr. Crazy writes, “At the end of the day, though, at those mid-range institutions, I’d say that there is a real problem with how value is placed on teaching vs. research labor for female faculty, and it shows in disparity between salaries, rank, administrative opportunities, and the voice that female faculty ultimately can have in the overall running of and culture of a university/college.” Agreed, absolutely–but how will tracking women as teachers primarily (or only) lead to more opportunities for women faculty, rather than fewer?


  11. Hey, Historiann,
    I just posted a big manifesto about all of this stuff over at my place. You and I basically agree about much of this. I think part of the problem with the framing is who the MLA has speaking about these issues, to be honest, which I talk about in my post. I think that you’re right that at research universities the way that research is valued probably will not change. What I wonder, though, is if at comprehensives a new model might emerge – not that raises up teaching to the level of research (which I agree is unlikely) but rather that throws out the binary opposition between the two categories. This is a long-shot, since many (most?) comprehensives are often trying to climb the ladder to get to research status, but what if some of them decided to do something different? That’s what I’d actually wish for at my university – not that we value research more, but that we value research and teaching differently and in a way that is integrated. How likely that is, well, is anybody’s guess, but I probably wouldn’t bet on it.


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