Memories of underdevelopment

Today I asked a Fulbright officer a question I wanted to ask over 20 years ago and got an even more positive answer than I had dreamed of getting then — had I dared to ask. I assumed that the problem I was having, that caused me to decline the Fulbright, was my problem, not their responsibility, so I should not even ask — but it turns out that what I wanted to know, I could have found out, and what I wanted to do, I could have done.

You should ask questions. This was when I also did not think I could ask the editor of my book certain questions, because you must produce the product as directed and do it in the time originally specified, regardless of your own opinions or the timelines that may be realistic for you. So I turned down the Fulbright, and tried to produce the undesired product on an unrealistic timeline.

In other words, accustomed not to receive answers to questions, and to be merely scolded for asking, I decided it was better to give up the profession than go through one more scolding for asking questions, that might disable me completely this time. I would not make tenure, and I would give up my field, but I would still be alive, and that would be worth it.

Asking the Fulbright officer this question today resolved certain doubts and threw that era into sharp relief. I should have asked questions. This is why I am against so much academic advice, in which platitudes about obedience, discipline and forbearance are repeated and questions are ignored. I do not think graduate students should be “broken down to be built up” and I do not think that, even if it “works” for some, in some way, as an educational enterprise, is an adequate justification for stonewalling and verbal abuse.

Mostly I think the atmosphere of terror, including the horror stories and collective anxiety on the job wiki, which I am not convinced is actually a way of “fighting back” and which I think may actually be a new way to contribute to the general malaise, is not good for scholarship. If I wrote an advice manual it would not take a punitive or condescending tone. At the same time it would not contribute to the idea that the senior faculty is the enemy for structural reasons, as I do not believe this to be true.

Meanwhile there is another point to be made about underdevelopment: you can take a Fulbright if you are unemployed and unencumbered, or if financially well enough set to do so, or if your institution will help support you in this. Otherwise you cannot, and this is only one of the myriad ways in which those who are in good shape are in a position to improve their situations, and those who are in less good shape, are not. In this way, inequality grows.





Filed under Banes, Da Whiteman, What Is A Scholar?

2 responses to “Memories of underdevelopment

  1. Rose

    Excellent post. Thank you.

    • Z

      Really? Thank you! I’d love to hear more about what is excellent here, from someone else’s point of view.

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