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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