Category Archives: What Is A Scholar?

Steal this university!

The book seems dated now, but I did not pay enough attention when it came out in 2003, although I read the reviews. It is about how the for-profit ethos has crept into universities. I do not know whether I knew enough then to understand the book as I do now.

I learned a very great deal from the third chapter, about the inefficiency of merit raises, whose points are supported by this recent article on metrics. And I am fascinated with the poor behavior of some professors I know in the 1995 Yale strike.

The truly important insight I had while reading in this book, however, was that much of the academic advice I have received and been confused by came from professors dealing with the slow encroachment of this model. Either they were in a position to take advantage of it (e.g. had other people to grade for them and were otherwise in a position to say, don’t spend time on teaching), or were themselves struggling with it and saying things that did not make sense entirely, because they, too, were in a new world they did not fully recognize because it used (in another way) the vocabulary of the old, and were looking through a glass, darkly.

Axé.

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“Where you stand is where you sit”

Here is a book about how to be an academic administrator and it looks quite good.

It is from 2006 but glancing at it I thought it would be older, as it seems to come from an era so much kinder and gentler and humane. The university was already savage, of course, but it really seems to me that things took a hard turn for the worse with the 2008 economic crisis. Others may perceive the shift differently, or may not have perceived it yet.

Axé.

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More about the anxiety

I love co-working and dislike working in isolation, but I see now that I have a longstanding (although not evident) anxiety condition for which Boicean-style advice is a trigger. I am also so naturally organized, disciplined, and motivated that the Boicean-style admonishments feel demeaning, as I know that what I need is time to contemplate, not exhortations to rush.

Both of my parents have anxiety conditions. My father manages his rather well, and my mother allowed hers to disable her almost completely. I have always imitated my father, because it was clear where my mother’s choices led. In addition, when I was small my mother and brother would entertain themselves by imposing upon me, and imposition and needling have been anxiety triggers for me ever since.

I seem so calm, people do not realize I suffer from anxiety, but the calm is only my deeper nature, combined with my longstanding policy, because of the anxiety, of not participating in histrionics.

The first time I really felt the anxiety (the feeling I am identifying as anxiety now) was as a teenager, living with a family who liked to procrastinate and then hurry. In my family we take our time and are on time, but this family would insist upon waiting and then go into a frenzy about how we were about to miss the ferry. The frenzy would make me shake. Why are we even going to town, if we must create such suffering for ourselves around it? I would ask.

I am claustrophobic. My father talks about this openly: “I need space, light, and windows, and I will not work in a cubicle.” This is why I do not like living in small towns without easy access to a variety of hiking trails and views from different heights. A lot of my energy in fact goes to tolerating the feeling of enclosure in Maringouin. And any city will have a variety of paths and heights, and that is why I like cities better. If I am to take anxiety seriously, and treat it seriously now, I should structure in time spent in less claustrophobic environments. I should stop considering this a luxury or a guilty pleasure.

Most fundamentally I do not like to be needled or imposed upon, manipulated, pushed, or told to rush. It is a separate issue that I do not really need exhortation; the key issue is that the imposition, the needling, the poking, the attempts to distract and disorient, are all ancient. I used to have this happen to me all day and have to remain calm, because my mother was ill and my brother was younger, and I was still small and could not stop them from taunting me, and my mother would advise that the more imperturbable I could be, the sooner they would stop. So I am imperturbable, but it is also a fact that I can still look imperturbable when I am in fact at a breaking point.

I don’t actually disagree with Boice at all, it is just that I always worked that way. When I was over 30, people discovered Boice and started lecturing condescendingly at me about him, and my anger at them about that is unabated. I had a project I disagreed with, and I wanted to use Boicean time to work with that. But these new converts said, do not question what you are asked to say, just say it and reap the rewards of having said it. It was I, and not they, who knew how to write.

Axé.

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Slowly and with lots of sleep

I am now able to do some work I had thought impossible because I got lots of sleep and I am working slowly–or, at the speed I need to work.

The reason I have always wanted to leave academia is that we are supposed to work very quickly, do a poor job (anything else is “perfectionism”), get up before we are rested, schedule everything in a rigid way, never meditate and not “waste” a minute.

If I had never been lectured at about the need to use timers and alarm clocks, I would never have hated academia. If I had received that lecture while still a student, I would have quit.

The reason I hate the lecture so much is that it is so belittling. People imagine one has never had to be efficient before.

Axé. 

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Notes on language and power

This is important for my languishing article. It is hard to manage because it is about language, but wants to be about neoliberalism and educational policy. If I keep remembering it is about language, I may be able to finish it.

Axé.

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Survival mode

Now my problem is named, I spend too much time in survival mode.

I have learned there are the things you love, and the things you must do to support the things you love, and the things you should not do, or should not do too much of as they are not in your best interest. If you diagram these, you can learn a great deal.

Mayhew has three tiers but I would have a fourth, between the lowest and the middle tier, where I do the things I must do in order to enable myself to do the things I really must do. That additional tier is the survival mode tier. I am forced to spend some time in it, but I am also trained to see myself there, to think of myself as a person fighting for their life and not even thinking about rights … except to think, at a deep level, that the people who have and deserve rights are not those who are fighting for their lives.

I will see what all of these perceptions can do for me, and for us. How can we spend less time in survival mode, and off the bottom activity tier? Identifying them as we have done here is a good start.

Axé.

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Pour penser

I would not frame the discussion in terms of success and failure, instructions for success, but I think this post gets closer to a useful discussion of how to do an academic job than do most in the genre. The activities it discusses are, of course, the ones that interest me and also interested me in taking this direction.

In my case the question is complicated, of course, since I was not raised to think I would ever be able to do anything. And my father was a professor and said he was unhappy. He thought going into academia was a poor idea, and did not think I could survive in it. I, of course, did not think I could do anything at all, yet knew I could do academic work and was very interested in it. I was careful each year of graduate school to make sure the main reason I was continuing was that I was interested, not that I was trapped; and to make sure I was working to lessen the factors that had made graduate school my only option when I was twenty.

I always felt I should quit to please my father, and I always felt one could not commit fully, since one would probably not be let in. And I haven’t always had the best of luck, or made the best informed choices, but these things, no matter how serious (and they are serious), are secondary. The primary issue is the early and constant message: you must renounce now what you love because it will never love you.

My father loved this song. It seemed to express much of what he felt and to comfort him, but it terrified me. I already knew my parents were afraid of ending up on the streets themselves, and ambivalent about us. Would they put us on the streets if they could? Would we ever be able to hold onto anything we loved?

And these things are all true and must be acknowledged but at the same time, I am so tired of them. I would like to work as I did in graduate school, days of innocence, when the work itself was healing balm.

Axé.

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