When Good Work Doesn't 'Count'
I've lost one of my favorite teaching resources to archaic notions of scholarship.
Those of us interested in creative writing pedagogy woke up to some bad news Monday morning. Cathy Day, writer and professor at Ball State University, announced that she is suspending her blog focused on teaching creative writing, “The Big Thing.”
I was first an admirer of Day the writer, having fallen hard for her collection of linked short stories, The Circus in Winter, not long after its release in 2004. It’s a brilliant book about a traveling circus that winters in Indiana, written in the Midwestern tradition of clear-eyed melancholy of Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio.
But thanks to the miracle of the internet, I’ve spent more time with Day the teacher, as her blog has become a kind of clearinghouse of ideas – many her own, but also others’ – about the teaching of creative writing, a field still in its relative infancy in terms of pedagogy.
As a teacher of creative writing who often chafes against some our discipline’s traditions like the heavy reliance on “workshop” that employs a “gag rule,” it’s hard to overestimate how important it’s been to be privy to these other, experienced voices with the same concerns sharing insights into this work that I am both fascinated by and value.
The title of Prof. Day’s post announcing her hiatus is “This Blog Is a Waste of My Time.” Reading the post reveals that she thinks it’s anything but, except as a tenured associate professor subject to productivity measurements that “count” – refereed publications or books – the 200 blog posts gathering more than 160,000 pageviews have no place.
Like a lot of faculty in the age of austerity, she’s been feeling the squeeze of more and more work responsibilities, and at some point, something has to give. One of her posts from earlier this year on the “math” of her work flow makes this clear.
In this case, she’s making the only sensible choice.
Please know that Cathy Day is not complaining about these things. As the post makes clear, she accepts her own situation with great grace and understanding. She loves writing, teaching, and talking to other teachers about teaching writing, but she can’t do all of these things simultaneously. No one could.
But I am complaining. I am pointing out the hypocrisy of a system that claims to value the role of faculty scholarship, but makes the actual public sharing of that scholarship something that doesn’t “count.”
In some ways, as contingent faculty whose job is not predicated on scholarly production, I feel fortunate that I don’t have to worry about which parts of my writing work “count.” Inspired by Day’s accounting of her own “production,” I realized that between this blog and my column for the Chicago Tribune’s Printers Row Journal, I published over 100,000 words last year. If I was pursuing tenure, I’d probably have to stop writing one or both of them and concentrate on the work that “counts” even though the work that counts reaches audiences in the 100’s and low thousands and pays considerably less to boot.
The notion that I should have more freedom when it comes to this part of academia than a person as accomplished as Cathy Day boggles the mind.
Cathy Day has been a model for our profession, a writer and teacher creating and curating a public dialog that ultimately benefits our students. Unfortunately, we have a system that actively discourages these practices.
I don’t have any power to affect change in this case. All I can offer is a lament on behalf of those who will miss this forum of ideas and wish Professor Day well and be grateful that this decision likely means we’ll see her next novel sooner, rather than later.
I've already complained about this on Twitter.
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