Resigning Women, or, should you tell them what you really think?

burning-bridge.jpgA great friend of Historiann’s in feminist studies has left academia for good.  While this was a huge loss to her students and her discipline, she was treated so poorly by her department and the institution she worked for that it’s been nothing but a tremendous relief to her.  In addition to resigning her academic position, she left the city that she has lived in for the past decade, moved 2,000 miles away, and has gone into a new line of work where she is succeeding admirably.  For the first time in nine years, she is respected, valued, and is getting positive feedback on her work.  She’s elated by the fact that her new colleagues are no longer abusing her, and she feels almost bewildered by the praise and generous reception she has received in her new position. 

Although (as Historiann says) living well is the best revenge, sometimes (in my friend’s words) “revenge is the best revenge.”  I resent the fact that when a department or institution succeeds in driving someone out, the institution then gets to tell the story about how the outcast really wasn’t fitting in, or wasn’t all that successful, or was really a very difficult person to work with, or was too big for her britches and who the hell did she think she was, or all of the above, and then some.  So, in the name of speaking truth to power, I’m supportive of my friend sending a letter to all of the people she worked with spelling out very clearly the circumstances she worked in for more than a year, and which ultimately forced her to resign.  It’s heavy on the facts, and rather light on the invective, all things considered.  Because she has left the profession and doesn’t need letters of recommendation from them, she is beyond their reach entirely (although because her major adversaries are not high-status people in academia, its unlikely that their opinion would be terribly meaningful anyway.)  This will embarass her former colleagues, although I’m sure they’ll just tout the letter as proof that she was just a crazy bee-yatch all along.  But, I also think that her story will ring true to many of its recipients.  And although I don’t think her former institution is going to snap-to and reform itself and its practices once it sees her letter, it’s the institution that wins if she doesn’t speak out.  Institutions count on untenured people to be poor, weak, driven by fear, and to remain silent when attacked.  (An observational aside:  why is it that most of the faculty I’ve known who were treated this way were single women, and therefore more economically vulnerable?  Is it just a coincidence?)

I want to hear what you think.  What advice would you give my friend?  Should she send the letter? 

The War Between the States (of employment)

Michael Bowen has an article up at Inside Higher Ed that argues that the American Historical Association (AHA)  should do better by graduate students.  He wants the organization to 1) stop touting an improved job market without taking into consideration the backlog of un- and underemployed Ph.D.’s from years past, and 2) to formulate uniform deadlines and standards of communication for search committees.  I think point #1 is reasonable (although I think if you read Robert B. Townsend’s reports, and not just the headlines, they are much more cautious), but I have some doubts about #2.  The discussion in the comment section, especially the comments by “Nimrod” and “AHA Veteran,” does a good job of explaining the limits of both the AHA and search committees themselves to control the hiring process.  (One exception:  I like Bowen’s deadline of offering interviews 30 days before the convention, although 3 weeks is usually early enough to get a decent non-refundable plane fare.  It’s horribly exploitative to invite graduate students and the underemployed interview at the AHA after mid-December.)  Bowen’s article is a fair shot, unlike some of the overheated discussions on the job wiki, but both this article and the job wiki are striking in that they suggest that job candidates feel very alienated from the faculties they want to join. 

Historiann has been thinking a lot recently about how technology has changed the job search process, and how it may have raised expectations that neither technology nor the search process can satisfy.  As recently as the mid-1990s, search committee correspondence took place entirely via Pony Express–just kidding!–I mean the U.S. Mail and telephone calls, and most departments didn’t have web pages, so job candidates had only the AHA Directory of History Departments and course catalogs on microfilm (!) to prepare for interviews.  E-mail has made getting and staying in touch with job candidates easier, and search committees who don’t take advantage of this to keep their applicants posted on major search developments are indeed neglectful.  But the ease of discovering information about a prospective employer via the web doesn’t seem to have improved job candidates’ preparation for interviews, especially on-campus interviews.  Nor have laptop computers and the ease of making revisions on the spot improved people’s job talks–things like practicing the talk 5 times in your hotel room and being able to think on your feet aren’t technology dependent. 

The main thing that technology has done–like “just in time” ordering and delivery of parts in the auto industry–is allow us to work up to deadlines.  It also allows both job candidates and hiring departments to vent in places like the wiki, so we’re more aware of the antagonism on the other side.  As a job candidate, I’ve been treated shabbily by hiring committees and prospective departments both before and after the technological divide, and I try to use those experiences to make the job interview process saner and fairer for others.  As a faculty member now, I believe that’s the way the majority of us approach the hiring season, but I know from experience that it only takes a few jerks (or a few jerky departments) to poison the well.  Sad to say, but I don’t really remember the kind, respectful people who took me out to dinner, or asked thoughtful questions on my job interviews for positions I wasn’t offered.  The jerks, however, are etched onto my brain in stark relief (and you know who you are!)

Feminist Waves, Feminist Generations

waves-generations.jpgThis post is a follow-up to the previous discussion of Nancy Hewitt’s AHA paper.  If you are interested in reading more about how universities have changed in the past thirty years as women, queer scholars, and scholars of color have integrated (or infiltrated?) the faculty, see Feminist Waves, Feminist Generations:  Life Stories From the Academy (University of Minnesota Press, 2007), edited by Hokulani K. Aikau, Karla A. Erickson, and Jennifer L. Pierce.  The contributors for the most part are or were UM faculty or graduate students, and span three generations of scholars.  See in particular Janet D. Spector’s essay on feminist archaeology, Toni McNaron’s description of gay and lesbian faculty life from the 1960s to the 1990s, Jennifer L. Pierce’s story of her abuse by one UM department, and her (successful) efforts to fight back, and Roderick A. Ferguson’s “Sissies at the Picnic:  The Subjugated Knowledges of a Black Rural Queer.”  (Sorry–I couldn’t shorten, let alone improve on that title!)  Finally, returning to the this blog’s preoccupation with the exploitation of women’s labor, don’t miss “Innovation is Overtime:  An Ethical Analysis of ‘Politically Committed’ Labor” by Lisa J. Disch and Jean M. O’Brien.  It explains how Corporate University (TM), despite giving politically committed faculty only resistance and no resources, nevertheless benefits from the uncompensated and unrewarded labor of many faculty members because of their commitments to change.  Those Women’s Studies programs and Ethnic Studies departments weren’t there fifty years ago, and you didn’t think they invented themselves out of thin air like the Invisible Village of Peace, Freedom, and Love, did you?

Nancy Hewitt dishes on "The Leaky Pipeline"

You’re probably like Historiann, in that you didn’t get to see the recent AHA panel called “The Leaky Pipeline:  Issues of Promotion, Retention, and Quality of Life Issues for Women in the Historical Profession,” chaired by Leo Spitzer, and starring Tiya Miles, Claire Potter, and Nancy Hewitt.  (Potter has posted a brief description at Tenured Radical, in which she reveals that the room this panel was assigned was in fact IN a garage, presumably with leaky pipes about to burst all over the assembled pilgrims.  Surely, it’s just a coincidence that the panel on women’s working conditions was given this room!)  The title of the panel appears to have been inspired by a 2005 Report on the Status of Women in the Profession by Liz Lunbeck, which argues that the “pipeline” from Ph.D. to full Professorship for women “is in fact quite leaky, with women dropping out at every step up the ladder.” 

The most senior of the three panelists, Nancy Hewitt, wrote to Historiann and very generously shared the full text of her comments with me, the title of which was “The Feminization of History, or the Disciplining of Women?  Women in the Historical Profession since the 1970s.”  It is a reflection on Hewitt’s own career, as well as her observations of changes in women’s status since she was the first woman hired by the History department at the University of South Florida in 1981, to full Professorships at Duke and now Rutgers.  As a historian of women activists and reformers (her books include Southern Discomfort:  Women’s Activism in Tampa, Florida, 1880s-1920sand Women’s Activism and Social Change:  Rochester, New York, 1822-1872) her thoughts are I think particularly compelling, and deserve some serious consideration, especially by those behind Hewitt in the “pipeline:”  graduate students, adjunct and junior faculty, and the newly tenured.

Hewitt’s analysis–as the title of her paper suggests–is that there are mixed results from the last 25 years of struggle by and for women in the profession.  She writes that today “nearly half of PhDs in History go to women, and the face of the discipline has changed dramatically. It is no longer a singular event when a history department hires or tenures a woman or when women historians are elected to the presidencies of professional associations or selected to serve as editors of major journals. There are many reasons to celebrate the new demographics within the historical profession, which include far more scholars of color as well as women than ever before. Yet these very changes-what some have called the feminization of history–have also created new burdens, highlighted long-term problems, and inspired in some departments a backlash against further change.”  In sum, “even as adding women to History and other disciplines has transformed the academy in numerous ways, universities have also sought to contain and discipline women.”  Lots more dish after the jump… Continue reading

Career Opportunity (the one that never knocked)


(Photo: the last candidate’s dinner Historiann attended.)

All of you who had interviews at the MLA and AHA are finding out about now if you’re still in the hunt. If you are preparing to go to on-campus interviews, Historiann wishes you good luck. Squadratomagico has a thorough post up about how to write and deliver a job talk, the most difficult to master genre of academic performance. Remember: table manners are very important in a bourgeois profession, so try not to drink so much this time, and don’t ask to borrow the department chair’s Chapstick at dinner. Or ever, for that matter.

Do you want to make tea for the BBC? That was a summer job Historiann once had, and it wasn’t that bad.

UPDATE, 1/15/08:  Check out this nonpareil advice for on-campus visits from Sivacracy

Workers of the Corporate University, Unite!

how-the-u-works.gif Inside Higher Ed has a lengthy article on a smokin’ hot new book by Santa Clara University English Professor Marc Bousquet called How the University Works: Higher Education and the Low-Wage Nation (New York University Press, 2008). Ever since he was a graduate student in the 1990s, Bousquet has worked to bring attention to the degradation of American higher education caused by the declining numbers of regular (tenured or tenure-track) faculty and its increasing reliance on ill-paid, easily exploitable graduate student and adjunct instructors. Quite cleverly, Bousquet has a blog now by the same name, and it looks like a rich source of information and commentary about faculty working conditions across the spectrum. The Inside Higher Ed article does a good job explaining the book, but you might throw the working man some coin and pick up a copy yourself, or at least order one for your university’s library.

Arise, ye prisoners of starvation, and click on over for a visit. Tell him Historiann sent you.