Thursday, April 17, 2014

SAA Conversation

I asked some of the folks I know who teach at R1s about their PhD placements.  All but one assured me that all of their grads get jobs.  One of these folks said that their students get jobs because their PhD students are even willing to go to places such as the U of North Dakota.  Yep, in his mind, that's the worst thing possible.  My sort of school isn't even on his radar of horrors. 

The one who didn't assure me that all their grads get jobs talked about the ethical dilemma of teaching grad students who probably won't get jobs.  And yet, he teaches where he teaches because he took the best job offered in a tough market. 

Overall, though, the job market difficulty was passingly acknowledge in the presidential address, where Diana Henderson talked about how her connections helped her get a near Ivy job after she didn't get tenure at her first job.  It's good to have connections, no?

I know the folks involved would be horrified to realize this, but to me, SAA often feels like an insider crowd from all Ivies or near Ivies, and the rest of us who exist to buy their books and teach at places they don't really quite believe exist.

21 comments:

  1. I laughed sort of bitterly at that last line.

    And I also thought it was astounding to hear Diana Henderson's story about not getting tenure, and then getting a job at MIT. WTH? Was she bragging? "Look at me... I'm so awesome that I can F up my first job, but then land the next at MIT. You must all be a bunch of losers...Or not know ANYONE IMPORTANT." I mean, that happens, and I know that "connections" have gotten people jobs at my own school. However, it feels like a cheap way to get a job when there are so many people who work so hard and get nothing. Henderson's story was meant to inspire grad students, but I, for one, felt more like an academic outsider than usual. Lame. My friend sitting on my right also felt alienated by the speech. She leaned over to me and said, "Is this the weirdest, most self-indulgent speech ever or what?"

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    1. I'd be cautious in saying that Diana Henderson messed up at her first job. I don't know what happened at her first job, but I think there are lots of ways to not get tenure, and many of them have nothing to do with the candidate's qualifications.

      I know at my first job, when I was sexually harassed by a student, it was quite clear to me that there would be consequences should I make waves.

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  2. I am vigorously nodding. I'm at an R1 now, I suppose--a small state u whose mission statement used to aspire to being one of the best small research universities, but has recently been revised w/o fanfare to aspire to being one of the best research universities. And my degree is from a (big) R1. But I spent 16 years at a comprehensive urban university, and it was just the best place to work. An interesting institution, interesting students, really excellent initiatives to support teaching and learning....there is just so very much that is overlooked by people who look at the field as though big R1s are the only places that exist. That keynote sounds horrible.

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  3. I bet some of the grads even take jobs at community colleges. Gasp! The Horror! Community whateges?!? :)

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  4. A couple of years ago at the luncheon the president talked about how godforsaken the location of his first job was and how he & his wife got out of town (to New Orleans, the nearest "real city") every chance they got. It was appalling.

    Then I looked over at the friend sitting next to me, who was livid. And I realized it was her current employer he was sneering at from the podium.

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    1. As someone who's put my foot in my mouth more than once, this makes me cringe.

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  5. Saying something thoughtless one-on-one is one thing. Telling a looong anecdote as part of the presidential address about how crappy your first job was--to an audience that includes people at regional institutions and those who have been fruitlessly searching for jobs for years--is a special kind of oblivious privilege.

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  6. Wow. Talk about missing the beam in your own eye, people! And, yes, we're equally in the situation where other academics will say things along the lines of "that's not a real university, is it?"

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  7. This is all so depressing. My spousal equivalent loves to remind me that for all its thoughtfulness and diversity and leftiness, academia encourages behaviors that would not be tolerated for a minute in industry. Sometimes it seems like we're all beam and no eye.

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    1. I've worked in a variety of jobs, and I've seen and heard more egregious behavior in almost every one of them. We aren't as thoughtful as we should be in academia, but industry isn't a paradise for a whole lot of people either.

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    2. Yes. I've seen/know of some astonishing stuff beyond the academy proper.

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    3. Maybe I've just been in some especially dysfunctional departments.... the one where one professor broke into colleagues offices periodically... the one where two professors threw things (boxes of chalk, staplers) at one another... the one where the dept. chair made the admin empty the bathroom trash because it wasn't done often enough... the one where the coffee machine was for tenure-stream faculty only... None of those things would fly in most workplaces.

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    4. *colleagues'

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    5. They wouldn't fly in most academic dept either.

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  8. This is just bizarre. I knew (and gave some advice) to Diana Henderson when whe was denied tenure - it was the year after I'd been denied tenure, and for a few years I became an informal go-to person on the experience. Knowing her then, she was relieved to have landed on her feet with a job, so the story may have been about gratitude to the people who helped her, rather than look at me. My connections didn't get me an elite job, but I got a job, and like the other Susan, at this non-traditional place I flourished and learned a lot. But I would see people at conferences and they would be, "you teach where?" As if being in an odd place meant that I wasn't thinking.

    I think the real insult is that assumption that your intellectual life is over if you're not at an R1 or elite SLAC, that you can't matter. I have been astonished at the different way some things come my way now. And yes, academics are often really clueless about their levels of privilege. We are more likely to look up than down.

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    1. Susan, Yes, she very much sounded grateful, indeed. I agree with your second paragraph totally.

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  9. I'm finding it increasingly hard to sit through publishing and grant-getting panels at conferences because the participants seem so oblivious to the current situation: not only the paucity of entry-level tenure-track jobs anywhere, let alone R1s in places academics who've never left a coast and/or a big city want to live, but also the complete ignorance of alternatives to that career path (which include not only the 70%+ of us who are trying to make some sort of scholarly career off the tenure track, but also people at teaching-related institutions who may be contemplating their first book/other big project post-tenure). I won't lie; I'd be very happy to live the R1 lifestyle, publishing pressures and all (at this point, unlike when I was younger, I'd even happily deal with the junior-hire-to-ivy/don't-get-tenure/get-decent-job-elsewhere shuffle, though I have no chance whatsoever of doing it at this point). But higher ed as a whole needs only a very limited number of those positions at most, and it needs lots of teaching-intensive positions. We need a much more expansive definition of what a "good" job can look like (and a much better understanding of what relatively small, feasible changes might make the truly shitty ones better). We do *not* want a future in which a substantial number of entry-level TT professors are busy trying to "write their way out of" their present positions (as I was advised to do), *or* trying to make the places they've landed as much like the R1s from which they graduated as possible (which tends to lead to the over-proliferation of grad programs). That way madness (or, rather, even greater madness than we've already got) lies.

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  10. random grad student12:09 AM

    I'm now *really* wondering exactly who it is who uses that "But my students will go to U of North Dakota!" line. I've heard versions of it for years--not variations, but exact replicas: "Senior unnamed Shakespeare prof is so tone-deaf he says his students will go to North Dakota!" I'm now convinced it must be the same guy who has used that line for a good 5 years....or maybe just long enough that "going to U of North Dakota" has become a joke line, the academic equivalent of "Do you want fries with that?" Most of my fellow job marketees would be quite happy with North Dakota, even though some will admit in private regional prejudices (North Dakota being too cold for Southerners, for example). But I know no one who'd turn it down for not being prestigious enough.

    On another note, I met Diana Henderson for the first time later that day. There was a brief discussion of her speech, and it sounded like when she first went to MIT she wasn't tenure-track, so to offer up a generous reading of her speech, maybe that was a riskier situation than it sounded. Despite striking out on the job market myself this year, I didn't have the reaction most people on this thread did to her speech: the primary message I got out of it was about female/feminist solidarity in the academy. If anything, it actually was a little comforting to hear that even if your first job sucks and/or you get denied tenure, some people--no matter how few!--are able to get different jobs.

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    1. Welcome, Random Grad Student!
      I agree that she was trying to get across a message of solidarity, but I felt that the ways it assumed the Ivy/near Ivy network undermined that.

      The North Dakota thing was said to me; I didn't make it up. But I can't guarantee that the same person says the same thing; I think in some ways, northern (cold), midwestern, etc all speak the same way to a large percentage of the academic (and general) population.

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  11. I actually did go to North Dakota, for a VAP at a school that could not keep junior faculty (they didn't keep me either). It was a very insular, isolated place. I do think it's kind of a figure of speech, but as a native midwesterner (who couldn't handle North Dakota) I think it's a disservice to assume that all upper-Midwestern places are the same, and I think it makes sense to be open-minded... but also aware of what your own limitations might be.

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  12. richard11:08 AM

    I have heard North Dakota used as a sort of substitute for "wasteland" in my field (music) as well--but usually people are thinking of the University of Southern North Dakota at Hoople, invented by Peter Schickele as the center for research on his character P.D.Q Bach.

    Fun fact: when my mother was growing up in Florida in the '40s, kids would tell each other to go away by threatening to send them to Oshkosh. Imagine her surprise when, 20-some years later, she moved to Wisconsin....

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