Allow those flimsy quotes in the title to do their work. I know I'm about to generalize my ass off at times below.
I've taught for more than 25 years at 10 different institutions. Good ones, bad ones. I've been a part-timer and have had tenure. I spent seven years in charge of writing across the curriculum programs, and had the chance to talk about the teaching of writing (the most noble of all academic pursuits, if not the most well-paid) with faculty from every corner of a typical college.
I count mathematicians, scientists, business proffies, and engineers (along with all the rest) among the folks whose classes I've visited and into whose syllabi I've rummaged.
Every place I've been I have found an uneasy chasm between us, these folks who call the college campus our homes. I have been in the Humanities, of course, and I've been in those faculty rooms when the "damn scientists" across the way, in their gaudy new building "sneered down" on us, US, the only people teaching real critical thought.
And I've sat in a business professor's office as he said, "You people really suck too many nickels and dimes out of this place. If this were simply a business college, not a tear would be shed."
I had a Physics prof tell me once, "Really, if you didn't have me and my kind, all of the poets in the world would stumble around in darkness, too dull or slow to turn on a light."
And anyone who's spent some time in this job knows of similar tales.
Of course we love our own fields, disciplines.
At the end of this week, a funny post from Bubba garnered a handful of comments that got me thinking about the divides between proffies.
I've spent a bit of time tracking down some info from a couple of people, and used Leslie K to get some info, too. I beg forgiveness if bringing this up is uncomfortable, because it mostly passed quietly, these comments appearing rather down the list and after the post had shuffled to the bottom of the first page.
Hiram, who I've corresponded with, in response to Bubba's tale of lecturing for a whole class on the wrong topic, wrote, "You lecture?"
I read it as "You lecture?" which in and of itself could be a joke. That it wasn't at all what Hiram meant came clearer in a couple of hours, but not before Frod replied to Hiram: "I'm sorry, but mathematics and the checkable sciences are sufficiently rich in content that it's just not possible to learn much about them by sitting in a circle, holding hands, and singing 'Kumbaya.'"
Now, like most people here, I love Frod. I think he's wise and funny, and I love his toughness and I agree with nearly everything he says. I wish I were more like him most of the time.
But there was something in his comment that I'd heard before, in asides, in jokes, in faculty lounges in 5 different states. And that statement was: "The humanities are a joke."
Hiram replied shortly after with, "Wow, let your prejudices loose, Froderick. I lecture about half the time. My comment to Bubba was along the lines of YOU lecture. I can see how you could misunderstand my inflection, but I cannot believe how rude your own assumptions are about everything that's not a "checkable" discipline. It always disappoints me when someone I look up to reveals something as shallow as your bias about what HAS to be some of the disciplines where we sit in circles. Gross."
So, Hiram's first comment was not "You lecture?" but "You lecture?" which I'm guessing is some comic jab at Bubba. I have to admit Bubba does NOT seem like a lecturer to me, either, so the joke works on that level.
But regardless, the line Hiram fired off - and I know he intended it as a joke because I asked him via email - generated Frod's comment, which got me going.
Kimmie and Surly followed these comments with, in part: "Frodo, all the scientists at my college patronize me, so your remarks are not surprising. Disappointing to me, but not surprising," and "Extremely bad form, Frod. A cheap and disingenuous shot at the humanities is beneath you, and is not in keeping with the spirit of CM."
I'm not holding Frod out here for any other reason than it was his comment that sparked a number of dark experiences of my own about the nature of collegiality across disciplines.
But what we value in each other is important. Imagine sitting in your advising chair telling an undergrad that over in English they were sitting in a circle singing "Kumbaya." Imagine telling another undergrad that over in the Business building you check your ethics at the door. There are any number of insults that get flung around the academy about those "other" disciplines, but I don't quite get why, or quite understand how close minded we must be when we imagine that only our way is the right way, and that somehow other paths are clearly inferior.
Frod's comment made me want to blow a fucking telescope up; I tell the truth. You don't want to hear the one and only astronomer joke I know, the one about how many astronomers it takes the change a light bulb. (Okay, it takes three. One to actually change the bulb, one to tell the grad student how much harder it was in the old days, and another to write the grant proposal to pay for the bulb.)
But on a dreary Sunday morning, hours before the sun, I wanted to write this note to you all, to ask you this:
Q: Are there disciplinary divides at your college? Are they mild and humorous, or more complicated?
PS: Frod has sent the RGM a note asking that I delete his account. This is the second time he has left the blog.