Wednesday, October 31, 2007

POW: "Bright Gumdrop Unicorns in the Center of the Universe." Junior Faculty On the Move.

While I admit RYS is my favorite blog, I do read a number of other academic blogs, and had occasion to let loose on some selfishness I saw among a group of junior faculty who were spending a good deal of time congratulating one another on working in tenure track jobs while slaving like mules to get better jobs in more attractive situations - close to Mommy, warmer weather, a place where their own peculiar preciousness will be admired by all.

Nobody seemed to understand what happens to a department when a junior faculty announces his/her departure, almost always late in the Spring semester, when suddenly the department must engage in high-speed job searches for another junior faculty member probably also looking elsewhere.

They also were unapologetic about being eager to go to what they imagine will be a "better situation," saying among other things that they while they understood that their institutions would be saddled with the difficulty of replacing them (the funding, the job search, the interviews, the entire new dynamic of the department and the college), that it just "wasn't their fault."

Most of the writers also wanted to make it clear that their teaching job was really "just a job," and not their whole life. There was a certain haughtiness to this, as if they themselves were the first group to discover joy in family, friends, and pinochle. I wonder if they're comfortable with their students seeing them as "just some guy who taught me Math"? Or would they be satisfied if their colleagues saw them as "just the lady who worked on the budget"? I hope not. Of course if they're only staying in their jobs for a couple of years, maybe that's all they are. Maybe they are easily replaceable. I know it's not true in my own department, where we do everything we can to nurture the life and work of our junior colleagues.

On this other blog - which has the requisite pictures of a mangy cat, as referenced so beautifully earlier by one of your readers - I said, in part:

I can't believe not a one of you has been a senior enough member of a faculty to know the damage that this "casting around for a better gig" does to a department.The junior faculty of present day academe is made up of people like you, uncaring and selfish, not giving a shit about the students and colleagues you leave in the lurch with your pretty "look at me, love me, and miss me" announcement of departure in April of each year.

I've even offered support in the past to jumpy and nervous junior faculty so sure that there's a world of demand out there for their particular preciousness, because what else can we do? We have an endowment, trustees, the work of the university, the rest of the department, the students.

These all remain once you put your shit in boxes and go off to be unfulfilled in another institution that just will never love you as much as Mommy and Daddy. Oh, yes, it's "just" a job to us, too, but we're adults and we take it seriously. We're not children with overblown egos; we've long ago recognized that we're pieces of a larger puzzle, not a big bright gumdrop unicorn that rests in the center of the universe.

I wanted to check in with the readers and writers of RYS - because you all have saved my sanity with your own posts over the past year - to see if I'm right on this. Or, if maybe the years of sniffing whiteboard markers has turned my brain into mush.