“I don’t fit in with the oafs.” Yes you do.

Posted on by TheLastPsychiatrist and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

In the Chronicle of Higher Education: I Don’t Fit In With The Oafs.

Question (from “Abel”): Ecstatic about landing a tenure-track job last year, my partner and I moved to a place where we’d rather not live. We figured that a few years here wouldn’t be bad and, anyway, the university would be something of an oasis. The plan was that I would write my book and some articles, put in my time at Good-Job-But-Don’t-Want-to-Get-Old-There University, and then move along somewhere where we’d be happy to settle.

The university has turned out not to be the oasis I had expected. The administration routinely belittles the professoriate and is rife with oafs who don’t know or care about how professors in the humanities work. The university does a poor job insulating itself from the local anti-intellectual climate, with many departments hiring underqualified locals to teach many classes, at starvation wages. There’s nepotism; there’s corruption.

Yet my department is full of nice people, and I am somewhat protected by a kindly and understanding department chair. I am seriously considering bolting this place for just about anywhere else I can get a job. But I wonder if this situation isn’t more common than it ought to be. Should I run screaming for any other place that will take me, or should I bide my time here until my book is out and I am truly competitive for a position somewhere I would rather be?

Narcissism in academia? I’m surprised.

Here’s the whole problem with the question (and the answer): the writer pretends to be complaining about other people, but what he is actually complaining about is that no one will recognize his intellect; he is not surrounded by people who will see him the way he wants to be seen.

It’s easy for him to avoid realizing this because I have no doubt that he is, in fact, unhappy and surrounded by oafs; but he wants a job at Columbia so he will be able to see himself, and identify himself, as “a professor at Columbia.”

The analogy is a guy who insists his girlfriend/wife dresses a certain way, wears a certain shoe. How much difference could that make to him? A lot, because he wants to be seen with the kind of woman who would be with the kind of man he wants other people to think he is. That shoe, or clothing, achieves fetishistic importance– “white high heel pumps” or “a blonde”–because it is a signal to other people.

That’s what “Columbia” is to this writer. “I’m at the kind of university that the kind of person I want people to think I am would be at.” A real “intellectual” would be focused on the product, on the work. Not him. Note that he doesn’t say he’s writing anything of huge importance or that he even seems to care about– “write some articles and a book”– the quality of his work is not the relevant factor. Where the entire focus lies is getting to a place which will brand him as an intellectual.

I suppose it is unnecessary for me to point out that this person, this soon to be Ivy-League academic in the humanities, is grading your essays. No, he doesn’t understand Kant either. A. 

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8 Responses to “I don’t fit in with the oafs.” Yes you do.

  1. robotslave says:

    To be fair, this young professor clearly wants to remain anonymous, which precludes any revealing detail about his or her work, or why it might be important.

    With that said, an Academic who bitches about nepotism, corruption, and admins who belittle the profs at Cow College is in for one hell of a rude surprise when that owl finally comes down the chimney with the invitation to Wizard University.

    • suicism says:

      No kidding. An administration that has no respect for the work of professors in the humanities? I have never heard of such and thing. And what’s this you’re saying? Nepotism? Corruption? In an institute of higher education?? It can’t be.

      Methinks the place might prove better practice for his future goals than he realizes.

      That, and I agree with your first point. Also, if my own experience is anything to go by, the letters that end up printed in such publications are often heavily edited; I wouldn’t be surprised at all if his actual piece was a little more compassionate. The Chronicle, like any other paper, needs its readers, and there’s no way “Abel” is going to write in to complain of misrepresentation.

  2. sunshinefiasco says:

    Personally, I have little patience for people who can’t suck it up and do something they’re not crazy about for a year or two, in order to get (or in hopes of getting) to where they want to be. Especially in a field that’s so competitive.

  3. Jerboa says:

    If you click on the link, I highly recommend not reading the columnist’s response. As always, she restates the problem, then offers a variety of obvious solutions. She’s basically incapable of writing anything but filler.

    • eqv says:

      Not to mention that s/he says stuff like this:
      You’d “write your way out”—getting a tenured spot at Ivy-or-Equivalent, where you could curl up in your research-oriented world for the rest of your career. Your colleagues would all be as brilliant and accomplished as you are. Your (few) undergraduate students at Ivy-or-Equivalent would be much more sophisticated and better-read than those at Soybean. They’d be the class you want.

      At first I thought it was meant to be tongue in cheek. Then I realised it wasn’t.

      • TheCoconutChef says:

        At first, I thaught the article would be about how a teacher that sees the university he’s at as only a mediocre stepping stone to higher things was, in fact, fitting perfectly with all the other hack he complained about since they probably had as much respect for the institution as s/he did.

        How does he not realize that everybody that works there might have thaught, at some point, that they were working at a Good-Job-But-Don’t-Want-to-Get-Old-There University?

        • sunshinefiasco says:

          Exactly. And perhaps the fact that they never paid attention to their job at Wherever State has impacted their ability to get work elsewhere.

          Whatever. He honestly seems like kind of a piece of shit. If he’s worth a good goddamn, he’ll get out of the job he doesn’t like. If he’s not, maybe he can wait tables.

  4. lorgalis says:

    This guy talks about his students and helping them to learn and achieve how many times? Zero. The University is there for him, not vice versa.

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