Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Pam From Pawtucket Prepares Her Parachute.

I was on the market in 2008, the year that everything collapsed. Three times in one month (!) I was invited on campus interviews where, within a week of my scheduled visit, the search was canceled because the economy was suddenly fucked. In the end, maybe only a dozen t-t jobs went through in my field that year. And it’s not a tiny field.

So I was lucky that I got hired! It was a “rising star” private school, in a decent city (albeit in a part of the country in which I never thought I’d want to live), with great benefits and double the salary of my VAP position. I was lucky!

And, this spring, I resigned. It seems that a competitive job market, in this case, translates directly to “we will work you until you die.”

In part, I resigned due to the fact that the tenure publishing standards at my school were higher than those at the R1 at which I was a VAP. At the R1, I taught a 2/2/0, and tenure was a book. Here, I taught a 3/4, with at least 5 preps a year, and tenure was 10 - 12 articles (books didn’t count; yes, that’s a thing). The last person to get tenure in my department, incidentally, did so while ringing in the millennium.

In part, my resignation was due to a regime change that left our department with the most myopic, punitive, vengeful chair one could possibly imagine—and said chair had been signed on to a life term.

In part, it was due to the fact that the department itself was toxic, with more heated, closed-doors conversations between colleagues than friendly ones, and everyone constantly on guard.

In part, it was due to insane institutional policies, which simultaneously told us we should do everything in our power to make students happy, but also told us that grade inflation was something we needed to actively combat. So we needed to weed out, fail, and yet somehow retain more and more students every year.

In large part, though, it was the fact that keeping up with all the various layers of insanity drove me insane. It was an impossible prospect—doing that much research, while teaching 200+ students a semester in writing-intensive classes without TA support, while trying to keep everyone happy, while trying to gauge what was going to piss off the omnipotent chair on any given day.

I hated the feeling that none of the work I ever did would be good enough. I hated the fact that I was always working (did I mention that I taught 5 days a week?). Or if I wasn’t working, I should be working, and I was therefore a failure. Writing became anxiety. I’ve produced pretty much nothing since I came here. I started having panic attacks. I needed therapy for the first time in my life.

And now I’m done. My spouse and I are moving for his job this time, and I’ve opted not to look for another teaching position. I’ve just finished my last semester, which was easily one of the best terms I’ve ever had. My students were (overall) engaged, hard-working, and hilarious. My evaluations were overwhelmingly the most positive I’ve ever received in my 7+ years of teaching. I went out on a high note.

However, I’m not going to miss the job. My project this week is to finally beat Final Fantasy XIII-2. After that, it’s turning my CV into a resume and figuring out what color my parachute is. I’m pretty sure, whatever’s next, I will be happier.

The thing is, I’m going to miss those kids. My favorite part of this job has been the students. They weren’t all great, and a lot of them were much less than great, but they were fun. It was exciting to watch them learn and grow, however reluctantly. I feel like I’m letting them down, but, honestly, it’s the institution, the college, and the department that’s letting them down by treating junior faculty as interchangeable chattel.

My biggest regret is not my “career failure” (I’ll be fine, in the end). Rather, it’s the fact that the state of higher education at this point in time leads to a glut of job seekers who should feel “lucky” to land a crappy job in a toxic department where they work under unreasonable conditions…as long as there’s dental! There’s something wrong with this system. So I’m out; good luck and godspeed to the rest of you!


  1. Best of luck, Pam! That sounds like a very, very sane decision. I'm tempted to say "well, you've got those great evals.; maybe you could apply again if a job at a less-dysfunctional institution pops up in your new area," but that's probably just a sign that I'm way, way, too caught up in a false consciousness (to the point, in fact, of using terms like false consciousness -- actually, I don't do that very often, but the academic shorthand seems to fit in this case).

    Please keep us posted. I think we need to hear more from those who, like you and Wombat and I think AdjunctSlave(?), have made or are making the transition from academic careers to possibly greener pastures. It may, ultimately, be the sanest response to the Misery, and we need to hear more about it.

  2. Best wishes going forward.

    Things here at church-affiliated SLAC are far from perfect. But thank God they aren't anywhere near that bad.

  3. Yes, that's an incredibly brave move: congratulations on being able to take that step. I'm too afraid of what lies out there to leave my sandstone tower. How about a few posts letting us know what you've done and how....

  4. Ditto on the "incredibly brave" part, but--and no criticism is intended because I don't know all the details--did you find it impossible to try to get your colleagues, especially those with tenure, to try to review/amend the whole tenure process? Your teaching + publications load is impossible--and it will be equally impossible for whoever replaces you.

    At my unionized campus, even admin agrees that "attracting and retaining" productive faculty members is an interest that we share with management. Given the job market, "attracting" new people is easy. "Retaining" them at your former workplace isn't. Because it's been over a decade since anyone's gotten tenure, there's clearly a disconnect.

    If hiring new people, then requiring so much work from them that the possibility of getting tenured is zero is an unwritten policy at your campus, then there's a real issue to organize around. Organizing doesn't mean forming a union, either; your Academic Senate should be concerned. If, at some time in the future, there are no tenured faculty members left, then who's going to do the work of--to choose a single example--sitting on hiring committees? Untenured folks choosing their replacements?

    1. Without giving enough detail to out myself, the short answer is that it's the college, not the institution as a whole, that's the big problem. It's a clusterfuck here, but I've met people from other parts of campus who seem perfectly sane and happy. And also teach 2/3s.

      Getting my tenured colleagues to agree to be in the same room together, let alone designing a full overhaul of the tenure process, would be a miracle on the level of the Immaculate Conception. Who knows how this is going to play out in a few years, but the importance of the "retention" part of the equation seems largely lost here.

    2. Is it possible that the whole point of this is to make sure that no one ever gets tenure, and the administration is completely on board with that? Because if no one ever gets tenure, eventually all those with tenure will retire, and then they can run the institution entirely with skave labour, paid dirt wages, worked into the ground, and easily replaced when they drop, I mean, this might actually be their INTENTION.

    3. I never thought about it until now, but it's certainly possible. The only way to read the situation as *not* myopic is to read it as some larger master plan.

      Your theory definitely fits with the "turning the university into a corporation" movement we seem to be moving toward. It doesn't fit, though, with the "we now imagine ourselves to be an R1" (even though that's so far from the case it's ridiculous) rhetoric that comes from the chancellor's office.

    4. First, best of luck to you, Pam! Keep us posted.

      Also, thanks for emphasizing the difference between what "counts" for R1 tenure and what unreasonable demands are placed on faculty at non-R1 schools who think that publishing an insane number of articles will give their institution the keys to the kingdom. I also work at a place that has no idea how (or if) to count a book for promotion (unless, of course, we're talking about "promotion" in the sense of publicity and student/parent wooing--there, it's all about the books books books).

      I blame the international ranking systems.

  5. My college got rid of tenure 30 some odd years ago (way, WAY before my time). Of course, we cannot unionize being located in one of "those" 22 states. Good job, Faculty Senate!!

    1. We don't have tenure either. We have 'continuous appointment,' but all this guarantees is that people will get a contract the next year IF the financial viability of the college allows it (we have an asterisk at the bottom of our contracts stating that if we don't have enough money, this contract is void).

  6. It sounds like a sane decision, and one I hope to be making if i can figure out how to support my family in life beyond academia.

    I'm curious: would you be resigning if your spouse hadn't procured a job elsewhere?

    1. That's a good question. I can say 100% that I would have resigned this year no matter what, but the decision came down to "go back on the market" vs "let him take his dream job which is really cool even though it pays like crap." We went with the latter, and we're both much happier for it.

    2. It sounds like happiness wins, all around.

  7. Bravo! Fuck 'em. I have a sense we're seeing more and more of this - people leaving. Good! I'll post my "good bye" later this year or early next.


    I would like to see your letter of resignation. Of course those things are supposed to be positive. You don't want to go out in a blaze and piss more people off. But maybe it would help if someone spoke up and called the department out on how dysfunctional it is. Everyone probably knows it, but is anyone saying it? Amazing how people can have the best job in the world and actively work to ruin it. Someone should point it out if they haven't noticed already.

  8. You're right!! I felt lucky to land a crappy job in a dysfunctional department where colleagues do not speak to each other! As they say in this part of the country, "praise Jesus for dental!"

    It's too late for me. Save yourself! May the force be with you! Good luck to you!!

  9. Adding to the chorus of bravos, too.

    I'm not ruling out leaving either -- for some reasons purely personal and familial, but also because the direction my formerly amazing public system is going is just horrifying to behold. I expect my (tenured, R1) job will become something like 3-3-3 teaching comp to engineers within a decade. Either that, or I'll be middle management in a corporation masquerading as a university.

  10. My SO quit the day job to pursue starting a business, so I'm the one with the "praise Jesus dental" and medical for us and our kids, and a 4/4 load teaching mostly comp for crap money.

    I started applying for private sector jobs a week ago, out of this state. We'll see how it goes. Also, hoping that Fucktardo the Craptacular (our governor) getting recalled on June 5th might make things easier to bear if I do stay.

    I wish you the best of luck.


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