A Manifesto on Leaving Academia


Some of you have already seen this wonderful piece, which was first published in Paraphernalian, and later in  Inside Higher Education, where it received some predictably arrogant and conceited responses from some of the small-minded people who make academia a miserable place.  I resonate with everything that this writer states.

Because: a Manifesto

January 5, 2011

Because the failures of a flawed system are not my personal failures.

Because I am tired of being made to feel like a failure because I have been failed by a flawed system.

Because doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is stupidity.

Because participating in a system that degrades, demeans, and disempowers you is masochism.

Because productivity for productivity’s sake is futility.

Because stupidity, masochism, and futility should not be rewarded.

Because obfuscation, elitism, arrogance, and self-righteousness should not be rewarded.

Because my talents, accomplishments, experiences, and hard work are not acknowledged or rewarded in this system.

Because I am not not nurtured, encouraged, or valued in this system.

Because those in a position to change the system do not.

Because I refuse to believe that a system that does not value me is the only one in which I can have worth.

Because I am enduring personal, financial, and professional hardship to no perceivable purpose.

Because I am being limited personally, financially, professionally, and creatively.

Because I already got what I came for — three advanced degrees and immersion in a subject I love.

Because I want to continue to love it.

Because life is short.

Because sometimes I consider how my light is spent.

Because I don’t want to live here.

Because I am prevented from doing the work I was trained and prepared to do.

Because there are other places where that training and preparation will be rewarded, respected, and used.

Because I am capable of more than I can do here.

Because leaving the system is a reclamation of the dignity and agency it has attempted to take from me…

I am leaving the academy.



Being with


I woke up a lot earlier than I had meant to this morning and was driven out of bed by remorse and anxiety.  I knew that I had not quite gotten out what I had meant to say in my previous post, and wanted to address it.  It took me all day to figure out how to do it.

I simply deleted everything that I didn’t want to say, or, rather, that I didn’t want to be recorded as having written.

This must be a disease peculiar to writers and politicians and members of the clergy: the compulsion to pontificate and the equally powerful anxiety about being held to one’s utterances.   This is a desire to be seen and heard that ceaselessly fights with the worry that they will see you and know your flaws.  And then they will stop listening to, or reading you, and you will no longer be able to pay the bills, and then they will think bad thoughts about you.   They might, for example, think that you are not a nice person.  Or they might think that you are rude, or unkind, or uncouth, or clumsy, or left-handed, or insane.  But the worst thing that they could possibly think about you is that you are not smart.  For two reasons:

Either: because smart is what you are selling in this business.  Smart characterizes the commodity. And certain of your colleagues in this business will no longer associate with you because your lack of smartness might make them look less smart.  Smart defined,  of course, not as “really well turned out” or “put together,” but rather as “hyper-intelligent,” “brilliant.”

Or: because you yourself are really invested in being perceived as smart due to some terrible insecurity.  I think it is called imposter syndrome.  It is the fear that they will see through the pose, the mask, the pretence of knowledge, scientia, truth,  revelation, salvation.  You don’t actually know what salvation or sapientia, sophia, wisdom, is, and you have a sneaking suspicion that you have been faking it all this time and they will find you out at last.  And then they will stop liking you.  And then you will be alone.

And then? And then you will have to find different friends, and these friends could be human or animal or plant or mineral.

I don’t know why I always end up careening in this direction of saccharine preachiness in the pedagogical mode.  I’m not really that comfortable with it.  I doubt myself all the time, and wish that I were more certain about things than I am.

Like most people, I want to come to a quick conclusion, a moral of the story, because I  am attached to binary oppositions: dumb and smart, black and white, male and female, right and wrong, sane and crazy, rational and emotional, right and left, conservatives and radicals, acred and  profane, sight and blindness, sun and moon, light and darkness, up and down, west and east, north and south, climbing and falling, dry and wet, hot and cold, salty and sweet, outside and inside.  These are the coordinates with which we map our universe, our experience of reality.  I know in my heart that they are both against and for one another, that they are together, not really separate.  The truth is far more complicated, far muddier.

I know this because I feel it but can’t quite articulate what It is.

Well, some of us can, or pretend do.  I think the job, the duty that one takes on when one signs up to be a minister of the word in either a church or a university, is to pretend to know the truth.  Popular preachers and professors are good at explaining everything they know, and how it all hangs together, and passing this off as CORRECT.  For they know as well as I do that we need to make a profit in order to survive in this particular economic system, and that therefore it pays to be a charlatan who can deliver the package, THE TRUTH,  in easily digestible chunks.

Sometimes I don’t know what the fuck I’m thinking or doing.  I don’t always take responsibility for my mistakes, and I should.  Look.  I’m trying.  Seriously.  But it is not clear to me than an apology is what is needed here, but rather something more like a tirade.  But I can’t really work myself up into the lather of it all, because I never quite believe what I’m saying. And, yes,  I find this smug posture of ambivalence and fascination with ambiguity and “greyness” and fuzziness incredibly annoying, too.

So, fine! Grand denial, radical refusal to get carried away, big deal.  Haven’t we seen this all before in Hamlet?  And he’s an idiot.  And so is Romeo, and lots of the handsome, dashing types in Shakespeare.   The handsome, dashing type is usually such an asshole, so pleased with himself.  But you can find the exact same attitude of superior put-upon-ness in the working classes, or in among any oppressed group.  They can display the same dramatic self-indulgence and refusal to take responsibility for the mess that we have all, together, gotten into. All this posturing, by women, by men, by blacks, by whites….

I’m starting to pontificate again, and so it’s best to stop.

Writing


Well, this is a relief.  I’ve had two good days in touch with my so-called real self: the scholar-writer person. I’ve been wondering about this particular persona for a while, since she’s been so out of touch.  Did she still live, after all this time?  Could we still talk, hang out?  Would it feel the way it used to? And what about her dearest companions, our books? Would they  still reassure me, communicate their serious love?  Would I still feel serious love for them?

It was, I am happy to say, very much a good experience.  I love to be in the library, especially when it is empty, as it is during spring break and summer.   The elevator always comes promptly, and I don’t have to wade through the hordes of students draped all over the the place like seals on the way to my blissfully set-apart study.  And there I find these things, bound in cloth or, lately, plastic and string and god-knows-what kind of glue, that have carried me through these years.  My friends.  There is that one, who, like the other dear ones, has been with me through the whole terrible broken-from-the-start love-affair with X, and then after that through the heartache of Y, and then my father’s death, and the strange eye-in-the-storm calm that followed, when I was so busy with the estate, and felt, for a change, important, respected, needed.

I’m tempted to go into some inquiry about what precisely it is that makes teaching so horrible these days, so impersonal, so mechanical.  Not that I feel like a machine.  No, that’s the problem.  It’s not just the institution, but the students, who want me to be like a machine.  They want me to be like a tv program, or, better yet, like a music video, that fascinates and manipulates them, that robs them of their subjectivity.  They only seem to experience their subjectivity these days when they are feeling outraged over having been denied some service that they are convinced they have already paid for.

Having to read, discuss and write thoughtfully about feminism is definitely not what they signed up for.  And I’m not quite as trim as I used to be.  I no longer wear those killer tight miniskirts and high heels.  No, these days I’m more likely to show up in the only pair of jeans that still fits, a ski vest I’ve had for 12 years (Patagonia), and a long t-shirt.  I think my ratings used to be higher.

Okay, so it’s true, Peter Weddle, this workplace has been making me sick for a long time now.  And I certainly have been guilty of not taking care of myself by forgetting that it is up to me to care for the fitness of my career–not my academic department or mentor.

Why has it taken me so long to “stop drinking the koolaid,” as Sabine Hikel so wisely advises? There have always been a few, wonderful students who have made it all worth while.  They are usually women, gay men, and black men, but there have also ben some fantastically alert and open-minded  heterosexual white men in my women’s studies classes.  There’s no reason to trash the entire genus.  As I as saying, there are the few students who make it all good, who not only do the reading and follow what I’m saying but who for some totally inexplicable reason seem to live on the same planet as I do, and who, like the few people left who seem to be willing to declare themselves feminists, grasp how important it is to understand how we all participate in a world of predictable gendered patterns, and that we step outside of the normative patterns at our peril.

Not just the people who don’t fit into the heteronormative paradigm, the resolutely heterosexual people in the J. Crew catalog, are hurt by sexism, by narrow conceptions, rigidly enforced, of gender.  No, even the pretend-people’s earthly representatives, the really, really, really, you-can’t-even-imagine-how-rich rich people, who benefit from these crude stereotypes, are limited and depressed by them and the system that they perpetuate.   Okay so the pretend-people in the J.Crew catalog are better off than the women in Snoop Dogg music videos, and the men in those videos.  At least the crude stereotype that they are personifying do not depict women as universally nymphomaniac, narcissistic slaves or black men as thugs. (On this, see the entire brilliant documentary Dreamworlds 3)

Ja, even the guys at the various apex points of the multi-dimensional power-grid that we all inhabit, unequally, are damaged by these narrow visions of sexual identity.  Because these are so incredibly limiting.  Men have so much more to offer than they are represented as offering in the media.  And so do women.  Obviously.

Right.

Yep.  Think that’s where I’m gonna end this one.