Left: me, as Chair of English, on the threshold of my future office
Right: Sandra Oh, future Chair of English as seen in The Chronicle
(same difference, right?)
This week, we learned that there will be a flashy new mini-series starring my forever Asian Canadian Kween, Sandra Oh, as the Chair of English at a major university. Like all of you, I had a lot of thoughts. And feels.
As a former Chair of English at a major university, here are a few of mine.
The GoT Connection [with apologies to those who haven’t watched and don’t care]
Let’s get this one out of the way. Knowing that the show will be produced by the same people who gave us Game of Thrones, it is impossible to resist re-mapping university hierarchy with the landscape of the Seven Kingdoms even though I know this show will not be a David Lodge-George RR Martin mash-up. But still, I imagine:
- The Iron Throne is clearly the Dean’s Office (because the White Walkers have to be all the folks with the power of fast ice zombies — and I mean this with much respect since the Night King is one of my fave characters — the Provost, President, Board of Governors)
- The English Department is Winterfell (doomed but noble despite a few bad seeds); Casterly Rock is the School of Business (obvs)
- The Red Wedding in this series will be when the English department and Media/Film Studies celebrate a successful merger only to discover that both units will be swallowed by the Business School resulting in the majority of the English, Media, and Film faculty specialists re-purposed into teaching courses on Business Communication; a few English profs will survive the merger/massacre and will spend the rest of their careers trying to re-establish English as an independent department
If you like, please insert your variations on this theme in the comments. I might be totally wrong about Tywin Lannister and the Dean of your Business School.
Departmental minutes as plot lines
Read over the last set of minutes. Rewrite with Kween Oh talking about hiring and the crisis of adjunctification. Consider going to department meetings again.
This show will do for undergraduate enrollment in English what CSI did for Criminology
It’s a fantasy. Let me have it.
This show will make being a feminist academic look
good totally glamorous and real
It’s a fantasy. Let me have it.
But, seriously, my time as Chair (and especially a Chair who was also a woman of colour who was also the second-most junior faculty member in her dept at the time) taught me that chairing while feminist is an elaborate exercise of perceived power enmeshed with a surprising lack of structural power.
The real surprise: how often male colleagues who, by virtue of the accident of age and gender, were the most privileged people in the whole of academia, persistently insisted upon their victimization, powerlessness, and entitlement to more privilege at precisely the moment when more women are being promoted to academic leadership. The real drama/trauma: how many male colleagues were feminists until I made decisions they didn’t like.
I love that The Chronicle ran the story of this new show with an image of the future Chair in sequins and feathers. But I know that feminist chairs past, present, and future, have stood on the threshold of power with hard hats and steel-toed boots in hand because chairing while feminist is still work that is very much in progress.