Apollinaire

I

It took me all afternoon to make a handout for a class. I have more to do than I can handle, and this handout is one of the things I could have not done, and those who say you must “cut corners on teaching” would surely say I put too much into it, but the students really need it and I had promised it. I learned amazing new things about Apollinaire, and Paris, and more, because of making it.

I decided I would do it and not read e-mail or do Service, and I have not read e-mail all day. I understand the book I am teaching better than I did before, and everything was so meditative and beautiful. I did like academic work before the academic advisers started telling us all that we had to rush through it, skim articles to cite them, skim student work to put grades on it, and always go faster, faster, faster.

(And, as I have pointed out before, I was never slow and did not actually need to speed up.)

II

Something I cannot describe even telegraphically now, but that I would like to develop to use as part of one of my articles on higher education in the neoliberal era, is the terrible struggle that is freshman textbook selection now. The nugget of my insight is this: we are besieged by sales representatives, and must weigh options, struggle, strain, suffer and fight, because there are no more language laboratories.

In the past the textbook could remain the same forever, because there were language laboratories that were equipped and staffed. Now budget cuts have eliminated those. Instead, students must buy an expensive computer and an expensive textbook, and work on an expensive website. And as these go to planned obsolescence, we must again strive to choose the most viable one.

III

On the question of #realacademicbios, I don’t think they are about “whining” or “feeling special.” I, too, have always noticed how a certain genre of book preface seems designed to project a certain kind of bourgeois life and certain kinds of powerful connections, that many who also write good books do not lead or have, and I have always wanted to write about it this strange genre. And I have long been a person who felt the real conditions of production in academia needed much more open discussion.

I will also say that despite having been very observant and active as an undergraduate and graduate student, and having seen a great deal before that as a member of an academic family, I had no idea how things were until I became a professor myself. I learned that it is not just that there are politics and not everything is fair — I learned that many of those in charge had absolute power and impunity, and no academic values whatsoever (or at least, not that they would ever put first). I think that what shocks many is not that professors have real lives but that academic workplaces (outside the public R1s, of course, that I grew up in and also worked at later in good conditions) are as … well, unacademic as they often are.

And that may be the point of view of an innocent, but I still say that #realacademicbios is not about romanticizing one’s individual, personal inferno but that they are about work, and that they are political.

Axé.

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5 Comments

Filed under What Is A Scholar?, Working

5 responses to “Apollinaire

  1. Hattie

    I’m sad to read this, because in spite of my cynicism I’ve always idealized what I think of as the real academic life.

    • Z

      So far as I know, Hattie, your college, Reed, is absolute hell for faculty but sells this Goodbye Mr. Chips idea of them to students. It does pay well, though, and there are people that like its kind of atmosphere.

      A lot of the general public has this idealized view of faculty which is why they are so resented — lives spent doing nice research and so on, leisure, trips to Europe. And I did in fact get into it for research and travel.

      But what is the real academic life according to you?

  2. You are so right about so much here, but ESPECIALLY about the freshman writing textbook problem.

  3. Z: The academic life I idealize is a fantasy. My experience was that it was at least 50% politics but still I had these starry eyed visions. Still do, can’t shake it. There were some transcendent moments for me, and I’m sure for you as well.

    Yes, Reed used to be hell for students, which is why the dropout rate was so high; now I guess it’s hell for faculty as they cater to the precious young (just a guess, as I’m completely out of touch except for the alumni magazine, which has puff piece articles about students and faculty.)

    And the drugs; well, I don’t know how that’s going. It was a scourge and the reason that blacks did not want to send their children there.

    It was great for me, though, as an older student in a special program. But I have got to say that I got more of the nitty-gritty and learned the important stuff at Portland State.

    • Z

      At least 50% politics, especially at places like Reed and Portland State. Reed because small private places are, and Portland State because it and not UO or OSU feel things like budget crunches first. I have worked at both these kinds of places and also at state R1s, places like where I studied, and those were the places that offered the life most like the fantasy — smart colleagues and students, big library, lots of people focused lots of the time on actual scholarship of various types.

      I worked at one of Reed’s peers and the drug problem was horrendous.

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