Life

Essay offers guide to those who review journal submissions

Everyone gets rejected. And it never stops being painful not matter how successful or how long you have been in the business. Some of this is inevitable; not everyone is above average. But some of it isn't. I thought that I would offer some dos and don’ts for reviewers out there to improve the process and save some hurt feelings, when possible. Some are drawn from personal experience; others, more vicariously. I have done some of the "don’ts" myself, but I feel bad about it. Learn from my mistakes.

(Author's note: I'd like people to focus on the ideas in this piece, not the strong language, so I've substituted a new version with all the same points, but a few different words.)

First, and I can’t stress this enough, READ THE PAPER. It is considered impolite by authors to reject a paper by falsely accusing it of doing THE EXACT OPPOSITE of what it does. Granted, some people have less of a way with words than others and are not exactly clear in their argumentation. But if you are illiterate, you owe it to the author to tell the editors when they solicit your review. It is O.K. – there are very successful remedial programs they can recommend. Don’t be ashamed.

Second, and related to the first, remember the stakes for the author. Let us consider this hypothetical scenario. In a safe estimate, an article in a really top journal will probably merit a 2-3 percent raise for the author. Say that is somewhere around $2,000. Given that salaries (except in the University of California System) tend to either stay the same or increase, for an author who has, say, 20 years left in his/her career, getting that article accepted is worth about $40,000 dollars. And that is conservative. So you owe it more than a quick scan while you are on the can. It might not be good, but make sure. Do your job or don’t accept the assignment in the first place. (Sorry, I don’t usually like scatological humor but I think this is literally the case sometimes.)

Third, the author gets to choose what he/she writes about. Not you. He/she is a big boy/girl. Do not reject papers because they should have been on a different topic, in your estimation. Find fault with the the paper actually under review to justify your rejection.

Fourth, don’t be petty and whiny. Articles should be rejected based on faulty theory or fatally flawed empirics, not a collection of little cuts. Bitchy grounds include but are not limited to – not citing you, using methods you do not understand but do not bother to learn, lack of generalizability when theory and empirics are otherwise sound. The bitchiness of reviews should be inversely related to the audacity and originality of the manuscript. People trying to do big, new things should be given more leeway to make their case than those reinventing the wheel.

Fifth, don’t be a jerk. Keep your sarcasm to yourself. Someone worked very hard on this paper, even if he/she might not be very bright. Writing “What a surprise!”, facetiously, is not a cool move. Rejections are painful enough. You don’t have to pour salt on the wound. Show some respect.

Sixth, remember that to say anything remotely interesting in 12,000 words is ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE. Therefore the reviewer needs to be sympathetic that the author might be able to fix certain problems when he/she is given more space to do so. Not including a counterargument from your 1986 journal article might not be a fatal oversight; it might have just been an economic decision. If you have other things that you would need to see to accept an otherwise interesting paper, the proper decision is an R&R, not a reject. Save these complaints for your reviews of full-length book manuscripts where they are more justifiable.

Seventh, you are not a film critic. Rejections must be accompanied by something with more intellectual merit than "the paper did not grab me" or "I do not consider this to be of sufficient importance to merit publication in a journal of this quality." This must be JUSTIFIED. You should explain your judgment, even if it is something to the effect of, "Micronesia is an extremely small place and its military reforms are not of much consequence to the fate of world politics." Even if it is that obvious, and it never is, you owe an explanation.

Brian C. Rathbun is associate professor in the School of International Relations at the University of Southern California. This essay is adapted from a blog post by Rathbun at The Duck of Minerva.

Essay imagines the future of academe

Imagine this scenario, set 15 years hence, as one possible future for higher education in the United States.

The Great Recession never entered a "double dip," as many had predicted. However, it never rebounded. The effective unemployment rate remained stubbornly at 16 percent (one in every six Americans underemployed) for over a decade. This group of disaffected Americans included hundreds of thousands of talented academics. They pieced together an existence by teaching, tutoring, and anything else to pay the bills.

Higher education struggled to find a new business model, but tuition continued to increase at 6 percent a year, as it had historically. The discounted tuition at private institutions rose to far exceed annual median family income, even as net tuition revenue didn’t increase enough to balance budgets for the institutions. At the same time, the weak market continued to devalue college savings. Parents who had been diligently saving since their child was born had accumulated too few resources to support that child’s first (or even second or third) choice of college. The availability and cost of loans grew ever more challenging, as did the ability to service loans after graduation.

Entrepreneurial organizations, like Versatile Ph.D., had arrived on the scene, offering to help "humanities and social science Ph.D.s and graduate students identify and prepare for possible non-academic careers." Students continued to qualify for admission to college but most were leery of the crushing debt they would incur.

Small colleges that had suffered losses for decades closed in ever-increasing numbers. Public universities dealt simultaneously with a lack of state support and an overabundance of state oversight. For community colleges, the standard outcome of bond issue votes was rejection. Adjunct faculty members, exhausted and humiliated by decades of massive course loads, pitiful pay, and no health insurance, found new company in faculty members from defunded and downsized institutions. These wanderers joined the ranks of disaffected students everywhere who could no longer afford traditional institutions, who had been run through the industrial grinder of for-profit higher education, and who still longed for the global competitive advantage that increasingly vocational training could not provide.

Success in the flat-world economy required training to think, communicate, strategize, and lead. It also depended on a mastery of the collective knowledge of humanity, an understanding of diverse cultures, and a desire to enter into the diaspora of global commerce.

Enter the rōnin, a new class in academe modeled after the roving teachers of 18th-century feudal Japan. Like those disenfranchised samurai — or rōnin — who had been compelled to reinvent themselves, 21st-century itinerant academics were highly motivated to re-architect their role in higher education. As the Great Recession rolled on and on, they found no permanent home in the academy, just as hopeful students were effectively shut out of the college classroom.

Thus the rise of the rōnin coincided with an emerging new market of students and their families, open to alternative educational opportunities. Nurtured in a hyper-networked world where the crumbling economies of European nations could immediately (and negatively) impact their lives, these potential students were painfully aware of the need for strategic understanding of global economies and cultures. They were eager to learn, to actively demonstrate their abilities, and ultimately become engaged participants in the global marketplace of opportunity. Employers, thoroughly numbed by candidates with "desirable" college credentials, were also open to change.  

Rōnin, credentialed yet denied access to tenure-track positions, began to imagine and then to engineer alternative careers. Despite the sputtering of the 21st-century higher-ed machine, the desire to learn and the passion to teach persisted. Exclusion from the academy was a powerful motivator. Unburdened by the overhead of that old model, rōnin tutors endeavored to create high-touch communities of practice. They attracted cadres of committed students connected via social networks, digital resources, and shared discourse. Guilds of rōnin took form, offering an affordable education with a variety of talented teachers. The guilds offered a flexible and affordable model to students who had no hope of participating in the old academy. Freed from the strictures of the fraying academic model, disaffected 21st-century academics began to build a future that accommodated their skills, knowledge, commitment, and drive.  

The open education movement had started as a trickle at the turn of the 21st century. The trickle grew into a flood of free learning resources, ranging from tutorials to textbooks. A generation of students had grown up relying as much on the Khan Academy as on their teachers. These students had never known a world without universal access to world-class lectures, Wikipedia, and Google Books. Of course, they had also grown up with a torrent of pirated resources available to anyone who cared to search for them. Learning resources, free or pilfered, had always been ubiquitously available on whatever gadget they happened to carry. Like them, rōnin took these things for granted. No one worried anymore about library acquisitions and access.

Distance was also different for this generation. They could not recall a time when social networks had not brought them together. These students had grown up learning languages from native speakers via Skype rather than from their high school Spanish teacher. Whether sitting in a classroom or on a plane to China, friends, teachers, and (alas) parents always had access to them. They had never studied without their vast networks at the ready. Indeed, they had never studied "offline." Therefore, they were perfectly comfortable forming cohorts on their own as they studied with a variety of rōnin.

The fractured past was replaced with a coherent collective of independent educators. The rōnin’s independence from the institution fueled an increase in academic freedom. Beholden to no one but their student cohorts, their respected peers, and their pursuit of scholarship, this new collective was emboldened to research, write, and publish with a freedom not seen for centuries. Availing themselves of cheap or free information resources and burgeoning digital publication alternatives, the rōnin were free to pursue their work unfettered by tenure and promotion policies or antiquated accreditation boards. Rather than sinking into self-indulgent solitary research, as some had predicted, they flourished in dynamic collaborations with similarly motivated colleagues.  

Students also were free to craft their education. They created curriculums relevant to their ambitions, delivered by scholars of their choice. Cohorts of students with complementary curricular needs meshed with collectives of rōnin tutors. Both were free to craft their own futures and take responsibility for the outcomes. No one entered into guilds or cohorts unless they were motivated to take responsibility for their education and their work. Indeed, this facet of the process began to attract those students whose superior abilities afforded them more opportunities within the existing academy.  

Back in 2011, the U.S. Secretary of Education had thrown down the gauntlet regarding credentialing. He had recognized that traditional accreditation and degree requirements were being outpaced by the realities of the "technology-enabled, information-rich, deeply interconnected world." In a prescient speech, he had argued, "Badges can help speed the shift from credentials that simply measure seat time, to ones that more accurately measure competency…. We must accelerate that transition…. Badges offer an important way to recognize non-traditional ways of learning. They're a way to give credence — and ultimately, credit — for the skills learners and teachers acquire in a broader set of learning environments, and a wider range of content."

Rōnin were quick to seize upon badges, but they also revived the classical portfolio of knowledge. They insisted that their students produce not only theses, but performances, readings, stories, games, debates, and other forms of scholarly work. All of these were available online, worldwide. A given student’s accomplishments were more than a set of credentials on a resume; they were a growing portfolio. A human resource manager in Singapore could get a feeling for a candidate’s skills and personality without leaving her desk. It turned out that employers quite liked these portfolios.

The guilds of rōnin continued to grow and prosper. Meanwhile, higher education institutions struggled with a growing sense that their bubble had burst. Perhaps there was no new business model that could save them.

Coda: “Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again.” – Cormac McCarthy

 W. Joseph King is executive director and Michael Nanfito is associate director for strategy of the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education.

Essay on the gaming of citation index measures

Recently I received an e-mail that prompted me to think once again about commensuration -- the social process of providing meaning to measurement.  The study of commensuration involves analyzing the form and circulation of information and how counting changes the way that people attend to it, as discussed in articles by Wendy Espeland and Mitchell L. Stevens and Espeland and Michael Sauder.

The e-mail came from the editor of a special issue of an American journal in my field, concerned my contribution to the issue, and contained a recommendation based in current metrics governing the worth of ideas: "There is one thing I want to encourage you to consider doing, namely have a look at a couple of preliminary and relevant articles from other contributors to the special issue. If you acknowledge each other’s work it will clearly add to the feeling of having a special issue that is relatively well-integrated, plus add to the impact factor of each other’s work."  He had dared to request out loud that we game the system, a practice generally discussed in whispers.

The editor is a particularly ambitious young man, who is bright, works hard, and wants to scale the rungs to the top of academe. There are lots of young academics who fit that description, but other non-tenured full-time faculty to whom I mentioned the e-mail were appalled. "You’re kidding," one said, as a look of disgust took over his face. A young woman to whom I forwarded the quote replied promptly: "That impact factor comment in the letter is a little depressing -- are we academics really that pathetic?"

Perhaps because I am a sociologist, that e-mail got me to thinking about the measurement of value in academe. (I had contemplated the politics of self-promotion previously, when another untenured researcher had asked me to "like" his work on Facebook.)  Certainly the practice of measuring human value is not a new thing. Economists have long conflated wages with the measurement of human value, as writers from Karl Marx and Adam Smith to today’s neoliberals have clearly shown. (Smith was for conflation; Marx was against; the neoliberals don’t even know that such conflation can be challenged.)

When I was a kid in the 1950s, someone had calculated the worth of the chemicals in the human body -- $1.78.  I remember being surprised that a body was worth so little instead of being shocked that someone had even performed the calculation.  Today I’m not taken aback to learn on a website that someone has calculated “the lucrative uses for the roughly 130 pieces of body tissue that are extracted, sterilized, cut up, and put on the market” -- $80,000. As I age, I am becoming harder to shock. After all, there is a cadaver industry. At least three television dramas, "Law and Order: Special Victims Unit," "The Closer" and "The Mentalist" have reminded me that evildoers will plot to obtain body parts and will kill to make their way up the list of people awaiting transplants.

I don’t think I am naïve.  I have heard discussions of impact factors before, mostly when people evaluate their colleagues’  scholarly contributions to decide whether they deserve promotion or tenure. Usually, the term refers to a metric that supposedly summarizes the worth of a journal, calculated by the number of citations per article that it has received either in other journals (as given by either the ISI Web of Knowledge or Scopus) or in books and journals (Google Scholar). There is some variation in how a journal scores, depending on which company is reporting. Scopus emphasizes science journals; ISI includes humanities and social science journals; Google Scholar adds books. The meaning of the metric is simple: the higher the score, the better the journal. It follows that the higher the impact factor of the journals in which a candidate publishes, the worthier the candidate. Thus, a candidate for tenure whose publications are all in journals with high impact is worthier than a candidate who publishes is lesser journals, all else being equal (though of course, it never is). I once heard a biologist praise a candidate for tenure, because he had published in a journal with an impact score of 4.5, which is quite good in most branches of biology and off the charts in the social sciences.

Impact scores affect subfields. Just as the top molecular biology journals have higher scores than the top environmental biology journals, so too within any one discipline, some specialties score higher than others. The more people work in a subfield or a specialty within that subfield, the higher the potential impact factor. Last year when Gender & Society, the journal of Sociologists for Women in Society, had the fourth highest score of the 132 journals in sociology, the organization’s list-serv celebrated. Several people looked forward to telling the news to colleagues who had poo-pooed the study of gender so that they could eat their words.

Impact scores also affect whole universities. Several years ago, top administrators at the University of Chile advised some professors to help improve the institution’s international ranking by publishing in “ISI journals.” (This is also an instruction to publish in English, since the Web of Knowledge is more likely to include English-language journals in their calculations than journals in other languages.) Already one of the top ten institutions of higher education in Latin America, this public university is locked in competition with the private Pontifical Catholic University of Chile.

And, of course, impact scores affect the journals being rated. Supposedly, given the choice of two journals that might accept her work, the canny professor will submit to the journal with the higher impact score. The more articles submitted, the more rejected, the better the articles published – or so the theory goes. Editors keep track of their journal’s score and publishers list the scores on their websites. Last year, like other members of one editorial board, I received a joyous e-mail announcing that journal’s impact factor and celebrating its relative achievement. By its fourth year, it had risen to the middle of the pack in its subfield.

To me, an agreement to cite one another’s work accepts the proposition that citations indicate the quality of an individual’s research. That theory receives concrete validation every time that the members of a promotion and tenure committee check how many citations a candidate has received.  I’ve seen cases where committee members were so wedded to the measure that they could not hear that the candidate had received few citations because he was in an emerging field and also could not accept that members of such fields don’t score so well on impact measures.  When enough people can attend a convention to discuss a supposedly nascent idea, Marshall McLuhan once said, that idea is no longer innovative.  McLuhan might well have been discussing the circulation and impact factor of journals.

I find it worrisome that all of these uses of impact factors may shape a field. I've heard tell that after preparing a self-evaluation for a quintennial review of his department, one social science chair urged his colleagues to publish articles rather than books. Articles garner citations more quickly. If everyone published articles, he thought, the department would collect citations more quickly and so would zoom up the national rankings of the quality of departments in its field. The chair forgot to mention that in his discipline, journals tended to publish one kind of research and books, another.  Perhaps he didn’t realize that he was essentially telling his colleagues what sort of scholarship they ought to do.

Unhappily, as I think about all of this measurement, I am forced to examine my own practices. It's just too easy to audit oneself and to confuse the resulting number with some form of self-worth. When Google Scholar announced that intellectuals could have access to their citation count, as well as their scores on the h and i10 indices, I first Googled the indices. (I found, "an h-index is the largest number h such that h publications have at least h citations." An "i10-index is the number of publications with at least 10 citations.") Google Scholar was also good enough to tell me the scores of a newly promoted professor and of a potential Noble laureate. Then I looked myself up. After several weeks I realized that by auditing my citation and indices much as I might check my weight, I had commodified myself – my worth to both my department and my university -- every bit as much as the cadaver industry has calculated the worth of my body parts.

I like to tell myself that checking my citation count is only a symbolic exercise in commensuration. After all, no one knows the exact financial worth of each citation of each scholar working at each research university, let alone for scholars in my discipline and subfields. In contrast, the cadaver industry is dealing in concrete dollars and cents. I find the discrepancy between these calculations comforting. I advise myself: since it is only symbolic, my self-audit does not yet qualify as commodification. As Marx might have put it, I have not yet paid so much attention to my product (published research) that I have confused the value of the product with the dignity of the maker. I care about that; I’m discussing my dignity.

But then I think again. My self-audit of my own citation count expresses obeisance to the accountability regime that increasingly governs higher education. (An accountability regime is a politics of surveillance, control and market management that disguises itself as value-neutral and scientific administration.) Sure, the young scholar who had sent me that e-mail advocating mutual citation felt he was advancing his career and protecting himself from failure. But I, too, have been speeding the transformation of higher education from an institution that stresses ideas to one that emphasizes measurement and marketability.  I am ashamed to say that in this job market, I would feel hard-pressed to tell the young man to ignore his citations and just do his work. 

Gaye Tuchman, professor emerita of sociology at the University of Connecticut, is author of Wannabe U: Inside the Corporate University and Making News: A Study in the Construction of Reality.

Essay calling for faculty offices to no longer be grouped by discipline

A number of years ago, at a reception for chairs in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I  struck up a conversation with a guy I'd seen around campus for  a long time, but had never really met. Tongues loosened by drink, we had a nice chat. As it turned out, he was a highly distinguished scholar, who at the time was chairing the department of political science, housed in the same building as my own department, history, but a floor down. We found that we had a lot to talk about — including some common intellectual interests — and joked about the fact that though we had both been at UNC for a long time, working in close proximity, we had never really crossed paths.

Before leaving the get-together, we effected the hail-fellow-well-met routine, and promised to keep in touch. We even made noises about touching base with the chair of sociology, also housed in our building -- on the two floors beneath political science -- to see if he might be interested  in co-hosting a building-wide party of some sort so that faculty from our three departments could get to know each other a bit better.

Unfortunately, that was the last time I had a sustained conversation with that political scientist. His term as chair ended the following spring, and he went on leave. Chairing a large department kept me busy, and neither of us ever got around to talking to the chair of sociology about a building-wide get -together.

Whenever I’ve thought about this -- admittedly only sporadically, since I’ve moved on to other administrative posts -- I've sensed lost opportunities. All three of the departments housed in our building are highly ranked in the social sciences, and a quick look at faculty CVs suggests that many members in the units share research interests. Alas, there is little contact between and among units, a kind of vertical segregation informing Hamilton Hall.

The lack of interaction among excellent scholars with similar interests raises some organizational  questions with important implications: Why cluster faculty members into departmental ghettos any longer? Why not allow voluntary mixing and matching -- especially in cognate disciplines? Electronic communications via departmental listservs can provide the unit-specific information needed to keep the trains running on time, and the idea of promoting casual, often spontaneous interaction among scholars with similar research interests, but different methods is at once liberating and exhilarating.

Moreover, because scholars from different disciplines possess different strengths and different forms of proprietary knowledge, chances for the kind of intellectual arbitrage and cross-disciplinary collaborations that make for innovative breakthroughs would be enhanced. Few of the world’s major problems are best approached from a single disciplinary perspective, yet research universities generally sequester their best talent along departmental lines.

In this regard, it is telling that of all the academic conferences I regularly attend, the annual meeting of the Social Science History Association is the one that most gets my creative juices flowing. Why? Because that meeting -- at its best -- represents a true cross-disciplinary conversation, with panels comprising members from mixes of the social sciences approaching common problems via different research protocols and formal methodologies. One panel may feature a geographer, a criminologist, a sociologist, and an economist looking at crime in early modern Europe, while another may consist of a historian, an anthropologist, a demographer, and a political scientist dealing with changes in fertility levels in sub-Saharan African since World War II. 

While panelists sometimes talk past one another, they more frequently open up everyone’s eyes and expand people’s brains. In either case, the panels are almost always better than listening to four overly specialized historians drone on about one or another obscure topic at a dreary panel at a meeting of a historical association. With this in mind, why not encourage cross-disciplinary commingling by situating faculty members from different disciplines in the same corridor?

To be sure, there are other ways to accomplish the same cross-disciplinary ends. GE has long tasked research teams in various parts of the world with the same engineering problems, periodically bringing together the disparate groups -- each from a different research culture and each with a different M.O. — to share ideas and learn from one another. Stanford’s highly acclaimed Bio-X complex, which brought together into one setting chemists, physicists, engineers, and medical doctors to work on complex interdisciplinary problems, famously sacrificed laboratories rather than a shared cafeteria during a funding shortfall in order to make sure that possibilities for intellectual trespassing and boundary crossing — the whole idea behind Bio-X — would be facilitated.

And, of course, one can take up the ideas of people such as Michael Crow and Mark Taylor and radically reconfigure departmental units, but I’m not willing to go that far. Traditional departments -- and disciplinary cultures -- still have their virtues. By mixing up the offices of smart people at large, complex research universities -- by changing institutional arrangements  in other words — we can at the margin help nudge faculty members into creative realms they might otherwise not know to explore.

The faculty locker room at the university gym -- where lockers are assigned randomly -- shouldn’t be the only place at a research university to converse regularly with a colleague from another discipline.

Peter A. Coclanis is Albert R. Newsome Distinguished Professor of History and director of the Global Research Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Essay: Segal on leaving tenured position and advice for faculty considering such jobs

According to the chair of the department who called 16 years ago to say that I’d been hired as a faculty member, I would be “a good fit” for the college. It seemed like high praise at the time; in fact, it was academic code -- and proved quite complicated, somewhat insidious, and ultimately heartbreaking.

The most recent issue of the college’s publication for alumnae and friends (the latter, like “fit,” a code word) described one of the newest faculty members as an “excellent fit.” And even though I am now retired, I felt, for just a moment, a reflexive stab of envy — why was she considered excellent, when I had been only -- merely -- good? But then I just as quickly recalled that this competitive response is part of the mystery and trap of being -- or not being -- a good fit.

Several pages later in that same issue, a current trustee and former acting president of the college (and graduate of the school) was commended for being a good fit. These pronouncements would perhaps be more meaningful if it were not for a story that had run just a few weeks earlier in the local paper, about the abrupt resignation of the college’s most recent provost. The reporter quoted the president as saying that the provost was not a good fit; the article also included the president’s comments when the provost started at the college 16 months earlier, proclaiming that she was “a perfect fit.”

As for the current acting provost? Well, she’s a very good fit. At least for now.

It might be best to counter any proclamations of one’s being a good fit for a particular college or position with Marx’s (Groucho, not Karl) famous dictum that he wouldn’t want to be a member of any club that would have him. Like other academic buzzwords, “fit” sounds decisive and straightforward.

But, like other masking terms, such as innovation and efficiency (and its even more ominous form, efficiencies), fit can be stretched to suit almost any argument. It’s ironic that in this age of assessment, in which we cannot use words like “understanding” or “appreciation” in our lists of outcomes, goals, and grading measures for our students, we allow ourselves as academicians to answer to the subjective, shifting, and arbitrary “fit.”  To help you determine if you’re a good faculty fit for a small, formerly-known-as-liberal-arts college, consider the following:
 

Are you willing to teach four or five different courses each semester?

Are you willing to teach up to three writing classes each semester?

Are you willing to teach evenings, weekends, summers, and holiday breaks?

Do you understand that you will spend more time on service commitments than on prepping for your classes?

Are you willing to serve on multiple committees whose meeting times will add up to as many as eight hours per work -- the equivalent of a full business day?

Are you willing to serve on multiple committees after repeated evidence that there is no such thing as faculty governance?

Are you willing to serve on ad hoc committees that do not publish minutes?

Are you willing to vote yes on whatever the administration sends down to committees?

Do you understand that, even if you are on sabbatical or furlough, you may be called in for meetings?

Are you willing to create new assessment forms each fall?

Are you willing to work on new versions of the liberal-arts core curriculum every 2-3 years?

Are you willing to approve a transfer policy that does not require either adult or traditional transfer students to complete the college’s liberal arts curriculum?

Are you willing to create a new two-year rotation for course offerings every two to three months?

Are you willing to endorse a strategic plan based on an academic program review that you do not recognize even though you served on the review committee?

Are you willing not only to read the handbook but also to participate in its ceaseless revision?

Are you willing — and this is a question that appears on the new course evaluation at my college — to take a personal interest in all your students?

Having expressed a personal interest in your students, are you then willing, per the college’s request, to report any indications or confidences that particular students may be considering leaving?

Are you willing to attend prospective student days, knowing that by the time these prospects enroll the college will have undergone sea changes?

Are you willing to welcome with applause each person hired to fill a new administrative position?

Have you carved out two hours per week to devote to scholarship and writing? These hours will most likely fall after midnight or on weekends.

Are you willing to hear repeatedly from the administration that you can be replaced?

Do you understand that your liberal-arts major may be downsized to a concentration or eliminated?

Do you understand that you may feel some or all of the following emotions: shame, fear, self-loathing?

Do you have, or have you ever had, an aversion to any of the following academic buzz words or phrases: transition, strategic plan, tactical plan, assessment, sharing, governance, seamless, collaboration, allocation, reallocation, vision, mission, collegiality (a synonym, as a friend of mine recently pointed out, for “fit”)?

And yet I tried, until, at the end of fifteen years -- the minimum requirement for retirement -- I submitted my letter of intent. I recognized, with a good deal of guilt, that I was fortunate to have a full-time position. How could I complain? How could I just walk away from a (tenured) dream job?  After a spring semester in which I went back and forth -- incessantly, it seemed -- I sent my letter in June, announcing my intention to leave at the end of December. My ambivalence continued through the summer and the first days of the fall semester -- right up to the point of the first full faculty meeting, when all my doubts ended. The college was no longer a good fit for me.

Here is what I miss: the view from the porch of my building, seeing certain fellow faculty members on a regular basis, spending time with my students. It is working with my students -- traditional and adult -- that I will miss the most. Still, on one crisp December morning, just before the new year, I told them good-bye, reassuring them that they would be my advisees for life; handed in my keys; and loaded several boxes filled with papers and books into my car, which happens to be a Honda Fit, and moved on.

Carolyn Foster Segal will be an adjunct professor of English at Muhlenberg College.

Essay on the attitudes of academics who look down on some locations

Category: 
Tyro Tracts

Nate Kreuter writes about his frustrations with academics who look down on the communities where they teach.

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Ryan Gosling pick-up line meme reaches academe

Section: 
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Satirical blogs explore whether a Hollywood sex symbol can make academic pick-up lines seem smooth.

Essay on challenges of balancing academic duties when personal crises arise

Terri E. Givens considers how she and other academics cope when personal challenges become overwhelming.

 

New book on aging and the academic

Smart Title: 

New book takes a tragicomic look at aging in literature and academe.

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