fast feminism · generational mentorship · intolerant shrew · slow academy · teaching

The unbearable privilege of cynicism

Ron Srigley is doing it again. Last fall, he was in the LA Review of Books bemoaning the unrelenting vapidity of today’s university students, the soul-crushing inanity of teaching, the hollow commercialism of pedagogy, riven with “fads” like student-centred learning and the flipped classroom. And now again in the Walrus. Students are stupid and lazy. Teaching is meaningless. The university is hollow. “Pedagogy” is a farce. It’s a race to the bottom.

Only Srigley knows better, has standards, cares.

Much of the press has lapped it up. He is a truth teller, bravely thumbing his nose at power! He is leaping over the wall of the ivory tower to share its dirty secrets with parents! He says difficult things that need saying! Even if we don’t want to hear them! (Except everyone seems to want to hear them and say them, at least people who are not actually university professors, or university students, or pedagogy scholars). He’s the Donald Drumpf of higher ed.

Many reasonable people have produced thoughtful responses to the substance of what he’s written, some from a collegial perspective, others simply on formal logical grounds.

That’s not what I’m thinking about today. I’m thinking about how ready the world is to hear such things from Srigley, and why. Of course, conservative publications love him: he confirms their dim view of the university as a kooky liberal bastion of anything-goes hedonism. But why Srigley? I suspect it’s because he looks like many people expect a professor to: male, fluffy white hair, dark thick-rimmed glasses, a serious look. You go Google image search him. Then click on this: if you dare.

“Everybody is stupid, except me!”

What I’m saying, first is this: Srigley walks into the discussion with view that people are primed to want to hear. And he walks into the discussion with this tremendous amount of identity privilege. He is a living, breathing confirmation bias for everyone who only knows about university from watching movies.

How powerful is this privilege? Powerful. I’m going to say this advisedly and carefully: you will see Srigley described over and over as “professor of philosophy.” He is a career adjunct, touring North Bay and Sudbury, Ontario, and on annual contract at the University of Prince Edward Island. Powerful and conferring high status this career is not. His CV proudly lists a book published with the Edwin Mellen Press–you know, the one most famous for suing Dale Askey, for naming them as a vanity press of the first order. But no one links Srigley to adjunct employment conditions (dire) or the question of status among institutions (barbaric) or the notion of maintaining a research profile in an itinerant and no doubt heavy teaching career (an impossible bind). Nope. He’s just Professor. Expert. Authority. Because he says things that confirm people’s authoritarian biases and distaste for youth, and because he looks the way he does: white, male, cranky.

I am going to guess that hell would have to freeze over before Srigley self-identified as “adjunct” or even “teaching-track”. I’m going to guess he knows, implicitly and calculatingly, that he would lose status through this identification. And status is something he can fabricate out of thin air. Or out of privilege.

So Srigley becomes famous, basically, for complaining. And he’s a hero. For complaining. For calling his students and his colleagues stupid and shallow. For this he’s called brave.

Contemplate for a moment how far up the ladder of prestige and esteem such a strategy would get you, dear Hook & Eye readers, you marvellous and hard-working women teaching your hearts out as graduate students, as tenure-track faculty, as teaching track faculty, as Associates, as sessionals. Is the world ready to boost your voice when you decry classroom overcrowding? When you lament you have no office? When you suggest you are not sufficiently trained to do the main part of your job, and you want help? When structural constraints push you into Scantron multiple-choice exams when you would prefer essays? When you note that students don’t want Friday classes because they’re working at jobs for 20 hours a week to pay for tuition? And perhaps that’s why they’re not so perky in class? Probably not.

In fact, a key status-building activity for Srigley and his ilk lies precisely in the sort of move he makes in his op-eds: call everyone else stupid, and disavow, especially, teaching–the dirty work of the academy, the care work, the feminized labour.

The Srigley Manoeuvre(tm) is, thus, really only available to conservative white dudes, and the glory of it is you get plaudits for not doing a damn thing at all. (See also: I’m a liberal professor and my liberal students terrify me). Me (and you, I imagine), I hold a tiny bit of my soul in my hands every class I walk in to. If today’s group work didn’t work, then I’m going to redo next-day’s lesson plan to try it a different way. If the writing on the final paper is poor one year, I’m going to rejig the whole course so it’s writing-focused from day 1. If my students don’t know something I think they should know I try to teach it to them. And I sit in committees on curriculum. And I attend teaching workshops. And I engage my students every day as if they were human beings who mattered, who have stories.

Could this sound any more like care work? Could I feminize this description any more, make it sound less like what many expect to be “the life of the mind” and any more like exactly the sort of “handholding” Srigley stakes his whole career against? Probably not. It’s exhausting but it’s my job and I’m actually doing it and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t but it is my duty and my vocation to teach my discipline to the students who enrol in my courses and by God, I’m going to try.

So are you. Srigley is not: he’s climbed on his high horse and mistaken throwing insults for revolution, hot air for hard work, his rejection of 2016 for a principled stance for classical values.

And that he gets so much attention for it should remind us all how far you can go on pure privilege, and bashing those less powerful than you, how far you can go by slipping into the easy stream of gendering and deprecating care work and marking as manly and principled the act of saying “no” to anyone who needs your help.

advice · from the archives · grad school · ideas for change · new year new plan · slow academy

Going Rogue

Hallo from London, Canada! So happy to be back with you for my third year of writing for H&E. In September, we think about new beginnings, setting new academic and personal goals. Melissa has already shared about the benefits and challenges of transitioning into the new AY on the #altac path (no shame hangover!), and Erin has given a big high five to the blog and offered some thoughts about slow academe. Since I happen currently to be in England for a bit ‘o manuscripts research, I want to share a little bit about my history with the archives, and my love of libraries, and hopefully use some of my story to inspire you, dear readers, to take a few more risks in your own research paths.

I first registered as a British Library Reader when I was 23, a young Masters’ student sent over to the UK by myself for three months of research. It was a strange trip: I spent much of it sequestered in my tiny flat in Leeds, a city where I knew no one, though I met once with an advisor, a major scholar in a different field, who seemed visibly concerned about my ability to function in this new country. I  rifled through boxes of loose seventeenth-century papers at the Brotherton Library, knowing I was supposed to be looking for something, but never quite grasping what it was. I didn’t know how to differentiate between which materials were important and relevant for the large research project I was part of, and which were just *cool* because they were old and rare. So I would amass long catalogues of books and papers, complete with photographs and descriptions and scribal analyses and research questions, which I would then send back to my advisors back in Calgary, letting them be the ones to identify whether something was interesting, or supposed to be finding and reporting back on.

 My time in London was different: I needed a personal topic for my Masters thesis, separate from the larger collaborative research project which sent me over in the first place. Somehow I was both more unmoored and more focused in this quest–I would search manuscripts catalogues for medieval devotional manuscripts that seemed remotely interesting and understudied, and then call them up willy-nilly, energized by the now-faded mystique surrounding handling materials hundreds of years old (the rustic smell, the withered parchment, the stains and fingerprints and signs of love). My excitable bouncing around between manuscripts proved lucrative, and I found a small illustrated volume that had only been touched upon by scholars in a couple articles and books which then formed the basis of my MA thesis and my first published essay.

This trip taught me the value of taking risks in my research–of taking time to make mistakes and search around through unfamiliar and unknown material, and of doing so independently, without express guidance from one’s advisors or higher-ups. My MA advisors trusted me, and gave me much more intellectual license than I’ve found to be the norm for MA supervision, especially in the States. Maybe they trusted me too much, but I think it worked out.

Occasionally throughout my career, I have been told that I have a roguish attitude toward the established program, and need to stick to normal procedures and rely upon official consultation before planning any major trips. This is true in general, of course–we can’t just do whatever we want within an academic institution. But I’m back here now, in the British Library, having planned yet another (albeit short) trip before telling my advisors (they’re okay with it this time), and I’m more hopeful at this late stage in my dissertation. I work better in the BL, feel safer and more academically secure here, than anywhere else in the world. Even when the research itself proves frustrating and hard, I love the transactional exchange of materials, old books for seat number and Reader’s card. I love (if occasionally resent) the fastidiousness of detail here, how the primary materials are treated with such respect and proprietorship. I love how conversations overheard in the local Peyton & Byrne cafes are consistently interesting, engaging, smart. And I love the familiar faces–librarians whom I recognize from over the years, who never seem to change hairstyles or fleece vests, as well as strange patrons of the library who seem by all appearances simply to live here. I love that sometimes, when you peer over a noted academic’s shoulder, you see that while they have a stack of valuable materials sitting next to them, in reality they are covertly poking around on Facebook or Twitter like the rest of us.

I guess what I’m trying to say with this post is: figure out the work environments that make you happy, that motivate you to think your best thoughts and do your best work, and do whatever is in your power to make those environments happen (not everyone has the resources to take overseas research trips on a regular basis, I understand). And while this is not a post promoting pure individualism–ie. a neoliberal bootstraps narrative about setting out on your own and taking hold of your own future–I would encourage you to take some risks this year, to do things for yourselves that (perhaps?) your superiors might disapprove of, because they don’t know you as well as you do. Try to absent yourself from the usual, and you might be surprised at what happens.

In fact, why not grab a pen right now and jot down two out-of-the-ordinary things you plan to do in the next week?

faculty evaluation · grad school · job market · PhD · slow academy · teaching

Rate My Gender: On Student Course Evaluations

Wanna know one of the things that worries me right now, as I draw ever closer to the end of my PhD? This.

You probably saw the article circulating a couple months ago, oh feminists. Slate recaps a recent study of an online course in a large public university in North Carolina that found that women are evaluated more harshly than men in student evaluations. 43 students were divided into four online discussion groups led by two professors, a male and a female–but the woman led one of her two groups to believe she was male, and the man led one of his two groups to believe he was female. The students never saw the face of their instructors, so had no reason not to believe them, and the instructors endeavoured to keep all variables as consistent as possible, submitting feedback concurrently and providing similar biographical information.

And guess whose ratings, ultimately, were the highest? Why, the perceived male, of course, irrespective of the instructor’s actual gender. Even in such non-personality-related issues as promptness of feedback. Their official report, “What’s in a Name: Exposing Gender Bias in Student Ratings of Teaching” (Innovative Higher Education (Dec. 2014)), details how, for example, the perceived male received 4.35 out of 5 for promptness, but “when the same two instructors posted grades at the same time as a female, it was considered to be a 3.55 out of 5 level of promptness. In each case the same instructor, grading under two different identities, was given lower ratings half the time with the only difference being the perceived gender of the instructor” (10). Same went for the category of fairness, even though both instructors used the same grading rubrics and there was no major difference in grades across the groups. Overall “[t]hese findings support the argument that male instructors are often afforded an automatic credibility in terms of their professionalism, expertise, and effectiveness as instructors” (10).

Sigh. Okay. Cool. Other (older) research has shown that women sometimes receive higher ratings than men when they fulfill feminine stereotypes of being nurturing, accessible, available, warm,, welcoming, personable; while, at the same time, exhibiting ‘masculine’ characteristics, like being distant, unavailable, and authoritative, can cause ratings to drop (and students are more forgiving if the same characteristics are displayed by men. Y’know, because men are more serious and shit). And if you’re still not convinced, see also this study, which shows that female instructors face bias in larger courses, exacerbating the gender gap in academia as larger lectures send to result in more opportunities for promotion, hiring, and awards (I have no doubt that some of my fellow bloggers and readers have some stories in this regard). 

Of course, I have personal reasons for feeling embittered by this problem in this moment. You ready? Fall 2014 semester course evals!! (insert string of confetti and horn emojis) Yeah, those happened in the last couple weeks. Okay…can I just say that for my age and level of experience, I am a good professor? I know I am. I am very, perhaps overly, devoted. It is possible that my exceeding availability to students in terms of office hours, email response, and individual attention fulfills the feminine nurturing stereotype, but I also know that this approach suits my personality: I love people, I love getting to know people, I love interacting with students and feeling I can build into their lives on a personal level (and I also have the luxury of personal interaction due to small class sizes). But I am also very awaaaaare that I am a thin, young well-dressed, myhusbandthinksImpretty female from Canada who gives off a “cool” and nice vibe, so I tend to combat the possible perception that I’m a softy by maintaining strict standards of grading, especially at the beginning of the semester, when I want to push students to take my class seriously and strive for improvement. Consequently, I receive some backlash, both immediate and longer term. As an example of immediate backlash, I present to you this bogus Rate My Professor rating, mostly because it is JUST. SO. FUNNY. (posted mid-sem; and yeah, I’m pretty sure I know who this was):

 Although I am ultimately perfectly happy to distribute As where As are deserved (and so grade for improvement throughout the course), and although I ran two great Composition I classes last semester, with bright and engaged students who demonstrated measurable improvement in their writing and with whom I had some fun, important, memorable, rigorous discussions about relevant topics like racism and feminism and social media and the TV series Scandalthe official evaluations are not that great. I mean, they’re fine. But 50% of the students did not respond (aaaarrrghhhh), which of course, based on the Golden Rule of Yelp, means that the more disgruntled ones were more likely to respond in the first place, let alone provide detailed feedback. My courses were not perfect, obviously, and my pedagogical strategies have ample room for growth as I progress as a professor (fingers crossed), but there is a world of a disconnect between these mechanical numbers and scant comments, and the actual lived experience of being in the classroom.

Admittedly, a large factor at play may just be the response rate, as I received quite a bit of positive informal feedback (a number of students asked if I was teaching Comp II this semester so they could take me again, and I received a healthy smattering of lovely thank-you emails post-course, bless them). If I’ve learned one thing from this experience, it’s that at the end of this semester, as I teach my first lit course, I am hella gonna sit those students in the classroom and make them fill out the evals in front of me, because it is clear they do not quite understand their import and can’t be trusted to fill them out on their own.

But I have some reason to believe that some of my struggles with authority and with managing this masculinized “touch tough grader” perception relate to a gender bias in the academy. And hey, I’m going on the job market next year, so this isn’t just about hurt feelings.


Do you have any stories about gendered student feedback that you’d be comfortable sharing in the comments? Or, what can be done about all this? Is there some way we can share such findings with our students without coming across as pandering? Or are the structural problems just rooted too deep?

fast feminism · politics · slow academy · social media · solidarity

Queer Feminism?

We on this blog don’t often discuss LGBTQ issues (perhaps because we all happen to present as straight), and today I’d like to think about some of the implications of conscientiously adopting a more “queer” feminism: one that is, perhaps, more explicitly open to alternative lifestyles, more open-ended, less harmonious, more agonistic. Feminists who remain silent on LGBTQ issues risk reinforcing a perceived divide between feminism and queer studies that limits our possibilities for collective change. The rift, however simplistically conceived, between “frumpy, sex-phobic feminists” and their “kinky, stylish queer cousins” (6) is an issue that Lynne Huffer addresses and in some ironic sense attempts to ‘resolve’ in her 2013 book Are Our Lips a Grave?: A Queer Feminist on the Ethics of Sex.  While she acknowledges that the opposition is clearly facile, it is the case that some amongst the queer community perceive feminists disparagingly as “convergentist,” attempting to “coalesce under one feminist umbrella an array of positions that complicate gender as a single category of analyses” (7); queer activists, on the other hand, tend toward “divergentism,” dedicated to rupture, to discontinuity, to the antisocial (even as I write this, these binary claims don’t ring entirely true). Huffer yearns for and endeavours to make possible through her book a feminism that is “only convergentist in a contestatory, rift-restoring sense,” a “ruptured convergence” that calls upon divergent positions to clash and clang together, to hang out together in shared spaces without necessarily coming to some sort of enforced consensus (8). Huffer wants women to tell stories that sit in uncomfortable relation to one another.

At least one of the things Huffer is enjoining us to remember, what queer feminism might bring to our feminisms and to our blog, is that although it is important to maintain common goals, this does not mean we always have to agree, always encourage each other, always enact the socialized impulse towards unconditional support and smiling and deference and happiness that is generally expected of us. I have to say I get a little sick at the nurturing impulse I witness (mostly between women) in academia–we have the tendency to tell each other things are okay, to hug, to support each other unconditionally, to celebrate with each other, and sometimes the whole goddamn lovefestness of it all gets to me. Maybe I’m just a hardened grumpycat New Yorker (impostering on a Canadian blog!). But I yearn for more disagreements, more stories that unsettle us and challenge us, more world-shaking opinions and perspectives that do not easily accord with our own received paradigms regarding what feminism is and can be.

Huffer locates this kind of “ruptured convergence” in close-reading and storytelling (72), which enable the emergence of specificity and disallow others from becoming versions of the same, mere reflections of ourselves: narrative performance becomes

an intersubjective model that, paradoxically, undoes the subject, [enlarging] the transformative potential of interpretation, where speaking subject, reader, and discursive traces themselves remain linked but porous, interdependent, and open to change. (72)

 Linked porosity. Collective undoing.  Huffer calls this an “ethics of bounded alterity” (72).

This week, after Rolling Stone published the horrifying UVA gang-rape story to which I am certainly not linking, Professor Bruce Holsinger (@bruceholsinger) began taking screenshots and tweeting some of the comments that appeared at the bottom of the article, raising more awareness of voices that might otherwise be overlooked. Although I’m not positive if this can be categorized as “queer feminism,” I think this is one possibility for the sort of activism we can practice.


// recent excellent example of speaking out and creating rifts in a possibly convergentist manner is Dorothy Kim’s post on sexual harrassment in the academy, which sprung from an extended conversation on the Facebook wall of well-known medievalist Alexandra Gillespie (University of Toronto). In her Facebook thread–which responds to the Ghomeshi case and is still public if you are interested in spending an hour feeling increasingly hopeless about the state of the academy–dozens of female academics described instances of harassment involving (more) senior male scholars, speaking to “a long and persistent history of sexual harassment in medieval studies spaces,” as Kim puts it. And of course there’s #beenrapedneverreported and all of Erin’s understandable questioning of the appropriateness of social media for issues of restorative justice.

a long, persistent history of sexual harassment in medieval studies spaces – See more at:,

Is this queer feminism? What does queer feminism look like? Really, I don’t know, and to be honest, this post has been extremely hard to write. I guess I’m mostly just opening up questions, as many of our blogs in this limited realm of the digital universe tend to do. Challenges to my [underdeveloped] reading of Huffer or thoughts on queer feminism are welcome in the comment section below. How do we open spaces for more diverse and intersectional voices, more uncomfortably convergent stories and perspectives? Let’s keep trying. For my next post, I will describe my recent experience with an LGBT Ally training course at Fordham, which will hopefully provide more possible answers to such questions.

possibility · slow academy

Addicted to thinking

If you’re an academic, how often do you reminisce about what brought you to grad school? My story starts with a longing for the kind of deep, analytical thinking I was lucky to experience in some university seminars, which entailed sitting down for a few hours to discuss great literature–in English and in German–and the ideas around it. You know, things like what’s in there, but also where it was coming from historically, ideologically, and how it led to other places, other people, other times. Things like how Goethe’s Romantic young hero Werther initiated a string of copy-cats, in fashion and in action, in spite of his ghastly outfit and drastic denouement. I came back to school for more of that kind of thinking, which, in spite of having had sworn off school forever after undergrad, proved too enticing to renounce.

It’s kind of the same if you’ve ever had to be a caregiver for an infant. Even if you haven’t, you know adults in that situation crave less baby-talk and more adult conversation. To my mind, it comes back to the same issue: a desire to think more deeply about meaningful ideas, and thus surround yourself with a life of the mind that can enrich the repetitiveness of an infant’s routine. Not to mention drown out inevitable screaming matches, and possibly enliven the dull fuzziness of sleep deprivation.

As Aimée pointed out yesterday, carving out time for thinking can be a challenge in spite of the best planning and organization you can devise. However, a drearier situation takes shape when that plan is out of the scope of your activities altogether. So, here it is: I miss my research. I miss planning and making sure I carve out time for deep thinking about one focused issue. I miss looking for connections, sleuth-like, and I miss the thrill of identifying them. As much as I congratulated myself on being able to say no to going to a conference last week, I experienced the pain of withdrawal, of the inability of taking a couple of days to think through other people’s arguments, contentions, and discoveries. What a luxury!

Well, kick in the behind, meet the step forward! As my students have embarked on the path of their own research projects, which I will have the opportunity to immerse myself in a few weeks, I have come to face my old yearning again, and to understand that I need this type of labour as I need air to breathe (not to be dramatic or anything); that it’s not about love, but more about need. Just like with many other longings, we can debate whether it’s inborn or whether it has been drilled into me by my background–what else does grad school, or post-secondary education more generally, do than teach you how to think, in a way that is irreversible? Irrespective of its origins, this need for thinking is intrinsic, and its lack manifests with all the power of withdrawal. Conversely, it signals its presence with the same tingling sensation of the first sip of wine seemingly coursing through every single artery down to the farthest capillary.

At the end of the breather that has been Reading Week, this is my resolve: to make time and find space for thinking consciously and systematically. And here’s the clincher: unlike grad school days, when the aim was the writing, the dissertation, the end of the program, I have no other goal than allowing my mind to wander, and my thoughts to run wherever they would. I do not aim to be productive. I want to heed my visceral need for thinking without having to show anyone else the result. Hell, there might not be any. And that’s it: time and space for my mind to wander. Oops, did some of young Werther’s sorrows rub onto me, too?

ideas for change · pedagogy · slow academy · yoga

What the doctorate can learn from yoga teacher training

This weekend, I did so many down dogs for so long that today I can hardly lift my arms parallel to the floor and draw them to touch in front of my body. It was a yoga teacher training (YTT) weekend. It strikes me that YTT is both very much like, and very much unlike, the doctorate.

Many people join yoga teacher training programs for the same reason they start doctorates: they are skilled and enthusiastic students of the discipline in question, and want to “go deeper” or “take the next step.” They may admire their primary teachers and start to imagine what life at the front of the room might be like.

But the academy and the kula diverge at the point of advanced study. In my doctorate, I received a lot of training in how to be an even better student of my discipline: how to do advanced research, how to gain field coverage, what books to read and buy. And this is true of my YTT as well: my physical asana study has gained a new intensity and depth. However, in my YTT, I’m receiving explicit and sustained instruction in how to be a yoga teacher, and a yoga professional. I didn’t get either of those things, or in nearly such depth, in my doctorate.

For example, in my YTT, we learn what kind of language is most effective for helping beginners move their bodies into the shapes we want. How to modulate our voices to create a rhythm in class, how to use enthusiasm to create energy. How to create a safe and effective sequence and lesson plan. What it means to ask students to look at our bodies, about sexualization and transference and asking someone you trust to tell you if your pants are see through. How studios operate, how to market ourselves and get work as teachers, what the going rates are. What techniques can help students with injured bodies, with round bodies, with aged or otherwise non-normative bodies.

Here in the academy, we talk a lot, currently, about ‘professionalization’ of the PhD–by this we seem to mean, “teaching students skills they can use in jobs that are not professor jobs.” This implies that the doctorate is already teaching students the skills of being a professor, and professionalization means everything-but-professor training. But we’re not training people to be professors now, nor have we ever, really. Because as far as I can tell, the doctorate is just an advanced-practice workshop of studentship. Are we incorporating pedagogy training into the core of the degree? Training students how to craft a successful article submission, conference presentation, or job letter? Offering strategies for teaching non-majors, or non-native language speakers, or non-traditional students, or service courses? Outlining the political skills of grantsmanship, or curricular overhaul, or program review?

Mostly, no.

My YTT has advanced practice and pedagogy and ethics and business and see-through-pants-ness woven through it to tightly that there’s no real boundary between something purely “professional” and something purely, well, “pure.” Professionalization is still a dirty word, though, in the academy, and the boundary between the pure pursuits of studentship and the more prosaic or workaday labour or skills or economic aspects is rigidly, emphatically, sometimes even self-righteously enforced. We might ask ourselves why.

best laid plans · saving my sanity · slow academy

Late summer round-up

Dear Readers,

We can hardly believe it is mid-August! We will be back to our regular posting schedule right after Labour Day, but for now here is a round-up of what we have been doing and thinking about this summer.


We here at Hook & Eye

Boyda: My goals for the summer have been finding peace and focus in the midst of displacement and solo travel; while one would assume that seven weeks spent in Europe this past semester would have acclimatized me to research travel, in fact I’m feeling more anxious than ever now that it is about to happen again: I’ve  spent two more weeks in England and a week or so in Iceland for various conferences and research. Upon returning I plan to spend the following month in air-conditioned libraries and rooftop bars and yoga studios, though one glorious week in August will be spent in a South Carolinian seaside house celebrating the wedding of dear friends. My material goals are to revise my first chapter, finish a draft of my second chapter (based on feedback I receive from my Iceland conference) by the end of the summer.
While part of me would love to just stay put for a while, catch up on deadlines already missed, and enjoy all the marvelous summery things New York has to offer, I know I’m fortunate to have so many exciting travel locales on the horizon. Trying to stay positive, to feel thankful, to accept my life as it is now without worrying overmuch about the future. A significant wrench has been thrown into my normal work regime here in New York (the Rose Main Reading Room at NYPL will be closed for 6 months due to safety inspections), so I’ve already been feeling displaced; perhaps geographic displacement over the next few weeks will actually boost my productivity rather than decrease it. Wishing all of you and my fellow bloggers productive worktimes and carefree funtimes; until the Fall!
Jana:  My summer has had very little material requirements, and many immaterial ones. I’m not moving, I’ve finished the whirlwind of research- and conference-related travel, and I’m spending the rest of my summer puzzling through some of the problems created when I wrote the first couple chapters of my dissertation. So I’m revising one chapter of my dissertation for publication, at the same time working to give a stronger theoretical background to my introduction, and I’m writing a new article on the idea of the club newsletter as a network. Part of this involves what Adrienne Rich calls “re-vision”: looking again at what I’ve written, and seeing things with new eyes, approaching it from “a new critical direction”. But I’m also trying to establish new habits: like Erin, I’m working to develop a regular routine for thinking, reading, researching, and writing, one that facilitates this re-vision. And, of course, I’ve been enjoying the beautiful summer weather, walking and biking in my tree-canopied neighbourhood, playing baseball with my friends, and lounging around the yard with my partner and daughter!
Margrit: Remember the good ol’ times of grad school when summer meant slowing down and finally having unstructured time for writing? Nor do I actually. Definitely not as a reality, but as a pipe dream every academic invokes, but none admits to materializing by the end of summer. My summer has been all about materiality, and very little about dreaming. I’m a pragmatist, and I had decided, some time ago that 2013-2014 would be my last year on the academic job market. And that decision ended up breeding others and opening new ground where fertile possibilities started sprouting. So I took the major step of deciding I would no longer relinquish the meager modicum of control we can exert over our lives to the caprice of an austere job market intent on draining me of all self-esteem and balance. In short, my family is moving east across the country, to where we first landed, literally, ten years ago tomorrow. We figured if we made it over the pond once on a wing and a desire–we not being of the praying kind–we might try our luck again. Bit by bit–sometimes infinitesimally so–I’m taking back the power academia so easily seduced out of me with promises of intellectual fulfillment. My foray into alt-ac has reawakened me to my pre-academic-job-market confidence, and this time, I’m not giving it away. Not for love or money.

Erin: Like Margrit, I too spent the first part of my summer moving. My partner and I moved to Halifax. It is a return for both of us, though this time on very different terms. I returned to a city I already love, but this time I won’t be heading into a contract position and getting ready for a full slate of teaching. Instead, I will be rejigging why it is that I do with my time. I have decided to finish a few manuscript projects as I think through what is next, so I will be working to develop a regular writing routine. I have two books that need finishing and two articles to revise and resubmit. I’ll also be working to prepare my essay introducing CWILA’s new Count which will launch in mid-September.  Over the summer, however, my plans are to ride my bike, read, walk Marley the Dog, hang out with my partner and our friends, swim in the ocean, and generally try to get my feet back on solid ground. Oh yeah, and I’ll definitely spent a great week at/recovering from Sappyfest
Melissa: Summer came, but my schedule didn’t change. It still feels weird, but I relish the lack of pressure to write more, research more, do more. That lack has given me the clarity to begin figuring out what I need to say no to, and what I can say yes to. No to tutoring, and to going to DHSI this year. No to renovating our basement, and to taking a vacation that would be fun but exhausting. No to expecting myself to do real writing after a nine-hour work day, and to requests to review. Yes to writing and teaching only about what I care about, which is graduate reform and neglected poets, and to framing writing as self-care. Yes to enjoying our home as it is, and to a long lazy train ride to cities and people I adore. Yes to ice cream for dinner, and to picnic lunches. Yes to spending more time with the people and creatures I love, and to conquering the fear of putting my heart out in the world. And yes to fulfilling my vocation of helping those who academia disenfranchises, which I’m lucky to do at work and on H&E. 

sexist fail · slow academy · style matters

Let’s talk about outfits, and power, and authority: a fashion post omnibus

Have you seen the piece by Katrina Gulliver, on how she doesn’t like students calling her by her first name? She’s funny and self-deprecating, writing like she’s internalized the critical voice that will indeed soon enough tell her to lighten up, already. Gulliver’s take on the first name issue is about how she has to work hard to get respect in the classroom. Intriguingly, she calls out her white male colleagues for trying to be cool and wearing really casual clothing and inviting students to call them by their first names. She says these guys might be deflating a tiny bit of their own authority, but demolish hers.

Will Miller wrote an incredibly smug response, that mocks Gulliver in taking the very structure of her opening to turn it back on her, disavowing her claims: “If what students call me determines whether I am respected or not, I’m not deserving to be in a classroom.” Miller, unsurprisingly, seems completely at ease in his own prose, without the faintest whiff of self-reflexivity jarring his lightly sarcastic and righteous tone.

Ugh. This is making me tired. This is a feminist blog and you know our politics so I’ll just lay it out: this is the epitome of clueless (in this case white, male) privilege. It’s snotty, and silencing, and smug, and denies Gulliver’s experience. Will Miller: stahhhhhhp.

I don’t want to argue this. I want to start a grounded conversation about the how’s and why’s of managing one’s authority in teaching. Erin wrote about the first name issue. I did, too, in a post about email. And we’ve had a post about the politics of eyewear. And one on how people treat me nicer when I look pretty than when I don’t. Melissa has written about haircuts and so have I. And boots! All of these produced great, useful discussions: what’s great is hearing about other people’s experiences and strategies even if and especially when they differ from my own. Read the comments: they’re thoughtful and engaging and awesome!

I want to talk about my clothing choices and ask you to share yours, if you’d like.

My current positionality is this: mid-career tenured academic, coming into an administrative post in July, 41 and mostly look it, white, cis-gendered, not visibly disabled, normative height / weight range, conventionally pretty. Privileged also in the sense that I’m pretty fluent in the rhetoric of clothing, and adept at constructing (and having access to the tools to construct) grammatically correct utterances in this language.

Me, I’m all about blazers lately. Nothing connotes immediate authority like a blazer. Mine all feature rolled up sleeves, so it’s more fashion-forward than banker-bland, but there’s something very comforting to me about the work jacket. I’ll wear it over a dress, or with a skirt, or dress pants. I can even wear my beloved black yoga jeans and the jacket makes it work appropriate. I have blazers (with suits and not) in: rust/black herringbone wool, grey wool, grey cotton, black wool, navy wool, chartreuse cotton, blue suede (yes!). Most were on sale, some were full price, two were from consignment shops, but they read “expensive” and “tasteful.” I often take it off to teach, but put it back on for meetings of all sorts. I keep one in my office, in case I happen to be without, and I need one.

Sometimes I’m in situations where I’m the only person under 45, and the only woman who’s not an adminstrative assistant to some older man. Sometimes I’m teaching 17 year old. Sometimes I’m on TV. Blazer on / blazer off, like glasses / contacts are choices I can make fairly easily that allow me to manipulate others’ perceptions of me, and thus, manage my interaction with them, in some small way. Bear in mind that I have dramatically two-toned hair, and that I wear fashion-forward nailpolish (today nine fingers are mint green and one is sunshine yellow). The blazer is part of the whole package.

How about you? Maybe you are like Steve Jobs and hate to think about clothes and have a functional uniform. Maybe you are junior and trying to stay fashionable and a very limited budget. Maybe you are a little older and thinking about appropriateness. Or something else. Please share!

adjuncts · grad school · PhD · politics · slow academy

Adjunctivitis and the PhD

You guys (/girls!), things are bleak. As I tumbled down the rabbit hole of related articles for this post, I found myself variously in need of taking a shower, having a drink, listening to this song on repeat, something. This post was hard to write.

You may know that on January 24, the US House Education and the Workforce Democratic Staff released a report on contingent faculty in higher education in America entitled “The Just-In-Time Professor.” Colleen Flaherty of Inside Higher Ed observes that this report “marks the first time Congress has so formally acknowledged a situation that adjunct activists have long deemed exploitative.” It’s based on an eForum that Democrat Rep. George Miller of California initiated in November 2013, asking adjuncts to respond to an online survey, and 845 adjunct faculty in 41 states (some of whom have been working for over 30 years, and some only a semester) responded. Here’s what the report concludes, worth typing in full:

The eForum responses were consistent with news reports and other research that indicate contingent faculty earn low salaries with few or no benefits, are forced to carry on harried schedules to make ends meet, have no clear path for career growth, and enjoy little to no job security. The contingent faculty trend appears to mirror trends in the general labor market toward a flexible, ‘just-in-time’ workforce, with lower compensation and unpredictable schedules for what were once considered middle-class jobs. The trend should be of concern to policymakers both because of what it means for the living standards and work lives of those individuals we expect to educate the next generation of scientists, entrepreneurs, and other highly skilled workers, and what it may mean for the quality of higher education itself. (2)

Yikes (and AMEN). The numbers are shocking, or at least may be to those outside academia: as Flaherty’s article summarizes, in spite of claims that adjunct profs are better educators than tenured profs, 98 percent of respondents believed they were “missing opportunities to better serve their students because of the demands on their schedule.” Median respondent salary was $22 041, and on average, respondents had been adjuncting for 10 years. Most respondents (89 percent) teach at two or more institutions, and they often rely on family members and government assistance to make ends meet.  Further, 75 percent have no access to health insurance (you may also know that in response to the Affordable Care Act, which requires employers to provide full-time workers access to health insurance, many American institutions have cut maximum course loads for contingent workers). A whopping 49 percent of respondents stated that they teach between 8 and 10 classes a semester, though it’s important to note that this is based on those respondents who provided such information, which is difficult to measure given their constantly fluctuating workloads. Adjuncts often do not have offices or access to secretarial help, and must foot the bill for classroom books and handouts. In many cases they have staggering debt leftover from their own postsecondary education that they cannot afford to pay off.

Adjuncts are, on average, the highest educated and lowest paid group of workers in the country.

Here’s just a tiny sample of their stories:

 During this, we lost our home. We could no longer afford to make the payments on my poverty wages and my domestic partner’s wages from her job. We moved in with a friend and now had to commute an hour each way and a half hour between schools. I was driving three hours a day and teaching five days a week switching colleges during the day. I had no office space, so I often carried all of my work with me. Piles and piles of manilla [sic] folders in the back of my failing car. (8)

During the time I taught at the community college, I earned so little that I sold my plasma on Tuesdays and Thursdays to pay for her daycare costs. Seriously, my plasma paid for her daycare because I taught English as adjunct faculty. (8)

[W]ith two small children, living with food stamps in my mother-in-law’s house, I just can’t continue to subject my family to this. It is beyond embarrassing. (9)

During the Fall of 2013 I taught [a course at my school for three days a week] while working 40 hours night shift at Walmart to make ends meet. My take home remuneration for [the] course was $796 per month for the duration of the semester. I literally was paying the college to teach the course! (15)

I taught four course[s] in the fall, but was not told until the day before spring semester started that I wouldn’t have any classes for the spring. I was unemployed with no notice. (22)

Living with friends/family, selling one’s bodily fluids, subsisting off of food stamps, working at Walmart, dealing with sudden unemployment. This devastating report could signal the beginning of hope for institutional change, maybe, perhaps…or at least the issue is beginning to receive official state recognition. I was happy to see that PBS, who has labelled the issue “adjunctivitis,” is featuring adjunct faculty this week as part of their Making Sense series, and Paul Solman’s 8-minute video report is a succinct summary of the problems facing the contingent labour force today. (n.b. around 3:40, Terry Hartle of the American Council on Education blithely declares that “in some disciplines, particularly occupationally oriented fields, you may be ahead by having an adjunct faculty member who’s got extraordinary levels of real-world experience.” Wait, what? Who? Where?)

Along with the release of the report on Jan. 24, adjunct professor and unionization activist Arik Greenberg presented his story in Washington. After 11 years working as an adjunct, Greenberg is burdened with a tremendous amount of student debt and is in danger of losing his family home. “I’ve followed the rules to realize the American dream,” he says, “but I am now living the American nightmare.”

Given the urgent nature of these issues, I don’t find articles like this one, which was popping up in my social media feed this week, especially helpful. Written by an adjunct faculty member who seems unaware of the eForum report, and featuring an image of a youthful woman gazing hopefully off into the distance, sun shining on her face, this is the story of one adjunct professor who happens to be, like, okay in terms of prepwork, pay, commute, and institutional resources, despite being a precarious worker at two colleges with no guarantee of continued employment (and there is also no mention of how much time or support she has for her own research). The clincher: she has a husband in higher education who “makes a decent salary.” 

What’s the purpose of circulating articles like this? We need to address these problems, not just convince ourselves that we will be fine as long as we find a partner who makes more money than we do. I’m angry and frightened, and stories like Marshall’s only lessen my fears by a modicum, as they are clearly (as the author herself admits) the exception to the rule. My partner and I are both students. We have no job security, our families are not wealthy, we have leftover student loans from undergrad. The reality is that our dissertations may be academically original but professionally irrelevant, and by the time we finish–roughly two years from now–we will have been in graduate school (MA & PhD) for about eight years. What are we supposed to do?

There are no easy answers, of course, but I would love to hear from you. Adjuncts, what are your stories? Are they more like Greenberg’s or Marshall’s? Do you have any advice for us PhDs? Should we all prepare for #alt-ac and #post-ac careers? Is there anything you wish you had done differently? Please, let’s continue to generate a database of stories, outrage, and advice as we address the abysmal state of a profit-mongering institution that relies on contingent workers for, on average, 76 percent of American educational positions.

accomodation · administration · bad academics · race · slow academy · solidarity · structural solutions · turgid institution

Accomodation: Where We Waver

The Toronto Star reported the story late last week: in the fall term, Sociology professor Paul Grayson received a request for religious accomodation from a student in an online course. The student, referencing an unspecified religious tradition, expressed an unwillingness to do the one (collaborative) on-campus exercise where he would be placed in a group of other students, if that group included women. He asked to be allowed an alternative assignment. Grayson’s impulse was to say ‘no’, on the basis of gender equality. Sensing that this was likely to be a controversial request and decision, he forwarded it up the chain to his dean, and the dean to the in-house human rights committee.

Amazingly, the dean of arts, Martin Singer, while expressing “unwavering commitment to gender equality and sincere regret,” claims to have had “no choice” but to grant the accomodation, as reported in the Globe and Mail. York President Mamdouh Shoukri released a statement on the matter as well, after the matter drew public comment from Conservative MP Peter McKay, Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair of the NDP, and Liberal MPP and Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities Brad Duguid. Shoukri is struck by the “complexities” of such requests while asserting that “We must always safeguard rights such as gender equality, academic freedom and freedom of expression, which form the foundation of any secular post-secondary institution.”

Marina Nemat, an author and educator who fled Iran for Canada because her defense of women’s rights put her in danger, discusses the York issue in an op-ed entitled “I expected this back in Iran, not at York University.” Sheema Khan, a regular columnist at the Globe who served as chair of the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations in the early 2000s is similarly clear in her dismissal of the York decision, in a piece entitled “What York University Forgot: Gender Equality is Not Negotiable.”

I wanted to flag this controversy here, as well as the particular issues that resonate with me.

First, this is a case study in intersectionality and its supposed discontents. It comes out more like helpless postmodern relativism rather than a clear-eyed balancing of the needs of a diverse population. York’s administrators see competing but somehow equal interests here: various “minority” viewpoint that require “accomodation.” There seems to be as much risk-aversion as ignorance involved. Remember, the student’s particular religious requirements are unknown: it is not allowed to ask a student to identify his or her religion, so the request for accomodation remains vague. Grayson, unsure what to do, consulted researchers at York who worked on both Muslim and Orthodox Jewish questions of faith and practice, trying to guess at the student’s religion from his (redacted) last name: neither scholar could think of any doctrinal or scriptural basis for granting such a request.

York administrators seem to have consulted case law. They are acting in ignorance and fear, which is hardly the point of accomodation. A truly accepting and open (secular) institution could respect and understand its students, all of its students. This legislated accomodation seems more a knee-jerk lawsuit avoiding strategey–particularly since one of the reasons stated for granting it was that a student studying overseas was allowed to opt-out of the on-campus group work. Um, what?

Second, it seems pretty clear that Dean Singer’s commitment to gender equality is not at all unwavering. It wavered, and collapsed, at the very first challenge. If Singer imagines that the accomodation granted is not a significant erosion of women’s rights on campus he seems beyond help. I probably needn’t paint this picture in terrible detail for you: you live it. Women are tainted. Women are to be avoided. Women are a sinful distraction. Riiiiiiiight. How on earth can anyone not see this as an existential threat to women’s right to full participation in public life?

Third, there’s a kind of accomodation poker being played here, with the variously marginalized equity-seeking groups (women! “blacks”! “muslims”!) are each invoked to raise the stakes in the rhetorical game of chicken everyone is playing. The game goes something like this: the student doesn’t want to work with women … but what if it was blacks he requested to be apart from? What then? Or, religious accomodation is very important, but think of the women! Whose rights are paramount to us (this from the Conservative MPs). This game is disingenous. In human rights trump card bingo, only one player out of the marginalized participants can win a zero sum game whose moves are made by the powerful. In many comments I’m reading a strategic defense of women’s rights to demonize “Muslims” and their “beliefs” that makes me profoundly uncomfortable. I’m scare-quoting because, remember, we don’t know what the student’s religion is, or what beliefs the proposed group work contravenes. This rhetorical game pits every one against each other and when the powerful then throw up their hands in the face of its (rigged) unwinnable nature, they even try to accrue bonus points for caring so much to balance rights. Bullshit. You might have heard something about why we are constantly at war with religiously-defined organizations in various parts of Asia; they want to trample women’s rights, you know. The about face is stunning: both word-games are at least as dangerous as they are disingenous.

Fourth, this controversy points up the massive scale of my own ignorance. I know a fair bit about women’s rights. I know something about trauma, about mental health, about medical accomodation. I know very, very little at all about religions other than the one I was raised in. This is shameful. I’m trying to learn more about different faith traditions, different sacred days and sacred practices. Because if as student made a similar accomodation request from me, I might not be able to accurately assess it. Which makes me more like a York administrator than the intersectional feminist I aspire to be. Alas.

You know what? Grayson told the student his request was unreasonable. The student thanked him for his consideration of the request, and consented to participate, understanding the competing interests at play. There’s a lesson in that human-scale interaction, I think.