Pulling Out the Savoy Truffle

Reflections on music, literature, politics, and pop culture from retired rock musician, writer, and college professor Jim Booth. Email comments to Jim at jim@jimbooth.org.

Location: Advance, North Carolina, United States

Friday, March 12, 2004

For What It's Worth

"Nobody's right, if everybody's wrong...."
Stephen Stills

I'm disenchanted with the academy these days.

I'm reminded of a story my first boss, a high school principal we'll call Mr. C for our purposes (a wise and thoughtful man whose guidance I miss), used to tell about a student who took a shotgun and blew a hole in his French book before he turned it in to his teacher at the end of the academic year.

"George grew disenchanted with French," Mr. C said in explanation of the student's action.

That's the sort of disenchanted I am with the academy right now. If the academy were a French book, I'd lean it against a tree, load up the old 20 gauge, and....

Let me tell you a bit about a friend of mine. He's in his 40's now. He got his undergrad degree from a prestigious institution in our home state, then did his master's degree at one the most prestigious universities in the country, then traversed this great nation and did his doctoral work at yet another of our country's most prestigious seats of higher learning. During this time he taught at the second of those schools, then at another highly prestigious school in the same state. He wrote his dissertation and received his advanced degree. He wrote and published articles. His students won awards for their writing and research.

He seemed primed for a distinguished career as a scholar and professor at one of our great universities.

Only one problem: he can't get a real professor's job. Despite his numerous merits as a person and as a scholar, he keeps coming up short in job interviews for tenure track positions - for real, salary paying, benefits providing, retirement building posts. He continues to subsist on post-doc fellowships and short term teaching assignments where he's treated like little better than a serf by already posted professors who couldn't hold his jock, to cite the old sports insult....

He is philosophical about this. As he explains, "'Lesser' schools see me as 'too qualified' and I'm not sufficiently, ah, 'diverse' for the top schools."

But he's also in pain: "But this wearies me. I should like some permanence, as well as retirement benefits and a real salary--that sort of small thing. Growing older without these things makes me feel older. Is it too much to hope, that one should grow rich in one's work, that one should enjoy something of the unhurried leisure of others in which to work?"

Here's part of my ranting reply:

"Something is badly, badly wrong when a man and scholar of your merits and achievements is left outside looking in by a system that seeks to pat itself on the back for being 'liberal' and 'diverse.' If they cut you, do you not bleed? If they lock you out of benefits and retirement, do you not end up homeless or managing a $#@#@ Denny's? (No, of course not, they feed you scraps like 1 or 2 year fellowships to keep you swimming in the wake of their great ship Academia in hopes you'll be brought aboard at some point.)

"Rare sons (and daughters) of bitches, indeed.

"It has to do with a generation of swine doing some of its members wrong so that it can feel that its pseudo liberal politically correct ego has 'coverage' with the other simpering tweedy Marxists at conferences.

"'To each according to need,' my ass. To each according to some preset notion of what a 'diverse' group should be as long as one's own bailiwick is well protected.

"And don't get me started on diversity in the academy. Forgive me, but I believe political correctness has done as much or more harm than all the right wing plotting and finagling and frothing at the mouth has done. If it's evil of Mel Gibson to blame the Jews in his film, The Passion..., why isn't it evil to blame you or me for the unfair treatment of people of color? Being a white male shouldn't be any more of a liability than being a woman of color. Isn't the idea and ideal fair and equitable treatment of everyone based on individual merits, not ethnic or cultural background? No, it isn't. The idea is to force 'diversity' (as patronizing as any other idea the 'radical chic' have had) down our throats, even at the cost of intellectual quality. And that is as unpalatable, at least to me, as forcing creationism down our throats in the name of religious freedom."

My friend remains philosophical, if disenchanted: "My own sense of 'diversity' is that its premise, 'multiculturalism,' vitiates its political content. If schools were serious about diversity then they would actually hire people whose political anger makes real diversity something more than a
comfortable affirmation of 'difference.'"

Hear, hear. A little righteous political anger from the academy over something besides pay raises for themselves might be a very good thing these days. We wouldn't seem quite so intellectually and spiritually bankrupt.

My feeling is that if schools were looking to be the best schools they could be, they'd be clamoring to hire my friend to help themselves achieve that goal....

None of this ranting of mine fixes the problem. None of it helps my friend.

But at least it lets the academy know that I'm disenchanted.

Disenchanted like old George referenced above...and I'm oiling up the verbal 20 gauge.....


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