Wednesday, April 30, 2008

"Take Your Perfect School and Perfect Self and Shove It." Silverback Stan Runs Into Things-Are-Rough Thandie.

Dear Stan,

Just because you landed in some sort of otherworldly academic paradise doesn't mean that the rest of us don't have to deal with the cards we've been dealt. Your institution doesn't exploit its employees or discriminate against underrepresented groups? Congratulations, we are so happy for you.

Let me tell you a little secret, though: not every institution is just like yours. You see, here on RYS, we exchange stories about our various experiences in academia. Surprisingly, they are not all the same! Some of us work at perfect, unblemished institutions like yours and some of us work at institutions that could rather use some improvement here and there. So, it is just a smidge unfair for you to suggest that Rachel's list of warning signs is invalid simply because your institution does not experience these sorts of difficulties. As I tell my students constantly: it's not all about you. Just because you came upon a post that doesn't apply to you, however, doesn't mean that it doesn't apply to many of your colleagues at other institutions.

For starters, where I come from (public R1), t-t assistant professors who attempt to negotiate their teaching assignments and decline new committee assignments are routinely denied tenure. Is this the case everywhere? Probably not, but just because you don’t have to deal with it doesn’t make it less of a reality.

But what really kills me is your treatment of discrimination. The suggestion that discrimination is only such when it is overt and deliberate is exactly the reason why the academy is such a hostile space for women and people of color. Oh, you mean there aren’t meetings to decide how to screw over underrepresented groups? You’re right; this must be a perfectly egalitarian environment then. Sarcasm aside: Women and minorities remain ridiculously underrepresented in my department, but I’m supposed to believe, since no one is openly plotting to prevent women and people of color from being hired, that there is no problem? For the last three hires, we received more applications from women than men, but white males scored all three positions. I could tell stories that would make you sick (well, maybe not you), but I am genuinely afraid of retribution myself! Again, just because you don’t see or experience discrimination doesn’t mean that it isn’t there.

Finally, just because you, as an individual, do not fit the description of a silverbacked good old boy does not mean that such pricks do not grace our hallowed halls. No less than a week ago, I heard one such asset to the department bemoan that there are no longer cute little secretaries to type up manuscripts and that the grad students are harder on the eyes. This is the same gentleman that announced in a faculty meeting that the female faculty would be taken more seriously if they would just dress like professors, which presumably means that they borrow one of his sweater vests (and possibly also grow a penis). Other charmers include the Department Star who calls his female RAs sweetheart, the grouch who has voted to deny tenure for every female in the last fifteen years (he gives a different justification every time, but the pattern is clear), and the inimitable asshole who has been teaching since the 1950s and truly believes that there is his way or the highway.

So take your perfect school and your perfect self and shove it. This was not a post about you, your school, or your life. If it was, it would have been the warning signs that your institution is perfect but nevertheless filled with self-centered blowhards who are unable to understand anything they do not directly experience. We’ll save that one for another day.