'Rushing' the Academic Job Market

September 9, 2016

Is applying for tenure-track jobs like rushing a series of exclusive sororities? That’s the idea behind a new web video performed and produced by Jillian Weise, an associate professor of creative writing at Clemson University who is currently an editor in residence at The Iowa Review. Throughout the video, Weise is in character as Tipsy Tullivan, a truth-talking, blond-wigged, fake-eyelashed Southern woman reminiscent of (though more verbal than) some of those featured in high-budget sorority recruitment videos.

“Rushing for a sorority is a whole lot like rushing the academic job market,” Tullivan coos. “It costs a lot of money …. So consider whether you are wealthy enough to rush the job market before you do it.”

Tullivan also warns applicants to keep some things “zipped up,” namely one’s disability status. “Just go get yourself into a closet underneath a box of shoes,” she says, since people are “confused” by disability.

The sorority-style video is just one in a series of YouTube videos Weise has created -- many of which center on the notion that disability is still somehow taboo in academe and society at large. Weise said via email that Tullivan is performance art, conceived after an academic conference rejected panels on disability. “The exclusion of disabled academics was absurd,” Weise said. “It required an absurd response. So I invented Tipsy. I was thinking of Emily Dickinson's line ‘Tell all the truth, but tell it slant.’”

“Ableism is bigger than one conference,” Weise added. “So Tipsy continues.”

Tipsy's message in the recruitment video, for example, is, “Come join us! You only need to have the right amount of money and the right identity for the market,” Weise said. “Obviously, something is wrong with that message.”

Tipsy advises that unlike disability status, scholars don’t need to hide their “queer” status. “I wrote the line to question why higher ed seems more at ease with queer theory than, say, critical disability theory,” Weise said, recalling the case of William J. Peace. The disability scholar’s controversial piece in a Northwestern University bioethics journal on his sexual awakening after paralysis was censored in 2014. Two faculty members resigned as a result.

“Why are we uncomfortable with disability in higher ed?” asked Weise, a poet who has written about sexuality vis-à-vis her own disability, including in The Amputee’s Guide to Sex. “Does the disabled academic have free speech?”

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