I was tempted to title this blog post “Making a Way Out of No Way When No One in Your Department Gives A Damn,” but that title was too long to tweet. I could have titled this with that header or its runner-up, “Surviving in a Shitty-Ass, Resource-Fucked Department is Not For the Pusillanimous Professor.” However, I decided to reign in the cursing because:
- the title is too damn long, again #academicscantkeepthingsshort
- this is a SFW (suitable for work) blog. #sfw
- my mother and grandmother might read this and attempt to wash my mouth out with soap. #politicsofrespectability #respectyourelders
- I may be on the job market in the near future. #thenewacademicreality
I may curtail my swearing, but I will not mince words or cut corners. This is a blog post that’s been brewing for months, no years, for me. After
days months years of putting in valiant efforts to make significant (curricular, structural, and policy) changes in my area, I have come to realize that my efforts have been in vain. For six years, I’ve laid groundwork and pushed my agenda only to realize that it was futile.
I’m just here in a department that could be great at much but chooses to be mediocre in most things.
As a student told me recently, “You know everything but don’t give a darn about any thing.” That’s the recent truth of my life. At one time, I cared. I lamented and wailed. I sat in ashes and scribbled out plans to rebuild crumbling program. I conducted SWOT analyses to make arguments and decisions; I “boobytrapped my house [my university office] with corporate resources” such as SWOT analyses and scenario building tools. I interviewed students, surveyed students, analyzed and took over the social media channels, and asked my student groups to deliver solutions. I was a worker bee, intent on making the hive’s queen bee ecstatic that the program I was hired into was being of value.
That was then. This is now, and my now is full of resignation. My department is not going to change. Instead, it is going to charge stubbornly into the future. In fact, I wrote the following during a heated discussion about a theory class taught without context, clarity, or application to undergraduates:
“What will it take to change the PRcurriculum?” Me: An act of God, 5 retirements, the realization that PR isn’t journalism
Honest to goodness, this antiquated PR and journalism curriculum was probably chiseled into rocks when the dinosaurs roamed the earth.
[If you haven’t realized it already, I’m a hoot on the Twitter. Follow me.]
I am still waiting on the act of God to break out my area from journalism. I am still waiting on these retirements so the department could hire a tenure-track person in my area since 1/2 of the majors are PR focused. I’m cranky because I’m toiling away in a subpar department that lacks vision, resources, a clear idea of what public relations education is, and the true understanding of what a capstone course is.
This situation sucks, but I’ve held on because I believed that time and maturation could solve the problem. I believed that if I stayed here, things would get better.
Poppycock. Balderdash. Utter inanity and complete nonsense.
Let me offer some words of advice to those faculty who are in such departments where their time, talents, enthusiasm, and vigor have been ground out of them because they are intellectually isolated, academically misaligned, and/or politically outmanned:
- Read this piece by David D. Perlmutter and cogitate on this nugget below. Think about what signs you missed. Drink copious amounts of wine (or eat multiple pieces of chocolate). Listen to the new Adele song, weep for your past and present, and hug a pillow.
being on the tenure track somewhere is almost always better than being unemployed, but that doesn’t mean you should accept an offer impetuously. A tenure-track position is a potential lifetime commitment. Don’t walk into the relationship so giddy with relief that you neglect to be alert to any danger that may await you.
- Run as fast as you can. As Descartes said, “Perfect numbers like perfect men are very rare.” The same is true for academic units, but you can find one that aligns with your vision, your purpose, ACEJMC accrediting standards, and whatever guidelines you have. Interview and go beyond the surface level questions. Find your fit. (Again, re-read the David Perlmutter piece and be conscious of the warning signs.)
- If you have to stay in such a location, pick your hills. In academia, we give equal weight to all the dilemmas we face. Enrollment management gets fought with the same fervor and tenacity as discovering who keeps stealing the good coffee from the 9th floor kitchen. Rather than putting fruitless effort into the endless and sometimes tautological arguments, you have to analyze the field. Know the people in your department; understand the crux of this beef and how long this beef has been going on. If this fight has been cycling through the department when Fatty Arbuckle was still a popular comedian, then don’t get involved. My strategy has been asking the question “Is this the hill I am willing to die on?” For most matters, no. The argument over the coffee, yes.
- Get the hell out once you realize that the department is the academic, dystopian, evil, and bleak equivalents of the Island of Misfit Toys or the Island of Doctor Moreau.
- Stay in your lane and focus on the things you can control. The myth of the academic meritocracy destroys any belief that you “control” your academic life and that you have “freedom” and “flexibility.” You may not be able to control your class schedule or meeting schedule, but you can control how you work and what you are working on. Focus on the positive things within your power (if you have that).
- Find other people like you. If you are isolated in your department, find your tribe elsewhere. The beauty of this moment in time is that we have social media where we can find communities of refuge on Facebook, Twitter, Yammer, Academia.edu, etc. Go there and be renewed. Start collaborating with those people. Find your safe space and group where you can vent and share success stores. We all need our people and our community.
- Find other things to think about and do. After work, there’s no need to be depressed about the awful life choices you made when you signed that contract or get upset (again) about the snarling associate dean who throws academic grenades into your department just for fits and giggles. Leave the job at the job. Get a hobby. Get a life. Don’t talk about work outside of work.
- Seriously, dust off the CV and go looking for another job.
- Lay low. Don’t get too invested in people, places, or things. Do your work and practice strategic incompetence if you are privileged enough to do so.
- Don’t talk about the issues with people in the department. There are three types of people in this department: the unwashed, untenured masses who are furiously trying to get to the land of milk and honey and prefer to remain mute in all policy discussion; the bitter, jaded tenured professors who are squashed by the demands of the senior faculty to do more service and cannot commit to anything else; and the senior faculty who are heavily invested in an outdated curriculum. You can’t trust anyone in these groups to have an honest conversation with you. Your words may be used against you at another point in time, so watch what you say.
- Treat the politics and policies of the job the way you would treat a bad boyfriend. Read Amy Poehler’s chapter on this. Work hard at what you do–the teaching, the research, and “the service”, but don’t get caught up in the outcomes. Don’t expect people to be enamored with your ideas or your work ethic, especially if those are contradictory or noncompliant with the trajectory of your subpar, nonfunctioning department. As she wrote, “If your career is a bad boyfriend, it is healthy to remember you can always leave and go to sleep with somebody else.”
Remember Amy’s advice: “You can always leave and go to sleep with somebody else.” You can always leave. You don’t have to continue sleep(walking) though life in a subpar department.
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