Tuesday, January 7, 2014

That Moment the Milk Turns Sour

Happy new year, gentle reader. May all the mistakes and missed opportunities of 2013 be forgotten as we move forward into a brave new digital space. Well - wait -perhaps mistakes not forgotten, for those will surely be repeated, but accepted with a bit of grace. So let's take a quick look at the messy, crazy conflation of higher education, technology and social media that landed in our laps in the last few weeks and see if grace is anywhere to be found.

Dec 20: Rebecca Schuman (aka Pan Kisses Kafka), the beloved defender of adjuncts and all things post-privilege, writes a blog post,  "Naming and Shaming" a program that gave interview candidates 5 days to arrange trips to the MLA conference. In her forthright style, she gave the program hell for being so inconsiderate of cost and stress to applicants chosen so late and with so little chance of the interview making a difference. She was right, speaking truth to power, but it's very hard for good, privileged, last-gen people to hear that we are now an abusive, corrupt, dishonest institution feeding off adjunct labor and churning out new PhDs who mostly have not a chance in hell of ever finding professional work. 

So what happens when the Academy is called out to face our own demons in the new, digital world of blogs, commentary, social media, and shifting netiquette? Bad things. 

Dec 23: A well-respected, FEMINIST, pridefully-tenured professor (aka Tenured Radical/Claire Potter) who blogs at the Chronicle, posts the next day with Job Market Rage Redux, accusing Schuman of being a drama queen, of chronic rage, and of "on line hissy fits." Hissy fits? Let's ignore the fact she'd never make these sexist language charges against a man, and that she instantly lost years of work building up "digital street cred" as a radical thinker in higher education. Let's note here that a good person in a position of power used it not just to protect the status quo, but to attack a young voice defending the not-privileged. Let's note that Potter is not unique and the Academy has protected itself from criticism, change, and adaptation since the industrial age died. Radical no more, Tenured Radical spent days defending her attacks and responding to horrified comments from the community with attacks on them too. 

The whole topic of the need to CHANGE, long simmering in higher education, seemed to come to a boil in moments, centered around abuse, privilege and adjunctification. Maybe that's how it happens. The milk seems fine until that moment you open, sniff and gag. The topic took on a life of its own with many other blogs, tweets, comments and new bloggers hopping into the fray (see this from Dec 27, and this from FB Jan 1, and this from Jan 5, and this from Jan 5...).

My fave post, although she took much heat later for the analogy, was done by Karen Kelsky (aka The Professor Is In)  in her response "How the Tenured are to the Job Market as White People are to Racism" (Jan 1). Kelsky's analyis is reasoned, thoughtful, and distressing. It's all distressing. No one wants to be on what Schuman calls "a sinking ship," especially when your whole career was on that boat. 

So, dammit. I had a therapist once who told me that "We only change when the pain of change is less than the pain of staying the same." Maybe the Academy is at that tipping point?

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