Today I’m attempting to inject the “energy” into Energized Academic. Yesterday, as I followed the news about Charlottesville, VA and the white-supremacist, Nazi march and ensuing violence around the removal of a statue commemorating Confederate General Robert E. Lee, my desire to work or think or write plummeted. Sorrow and rage can be paralyzing (1) and they certainly feel that way to me. But I talk to academics about building meaningful lives that honour their values both inside and outside their jobs, so paralysis is not an option.
When paralysis hits, I like lists. A place to start, a progression of sorts, a selection of options.
1. Know your values.
Ok; Nazis and white supremacists are bad. Duh. But explaining that they are bad in a way that, say, antifa and religious and social justice groups on the other side, are not is going to be necessary for some.
Students and student groups may have questions and be forgiven for having them, given that the president of the US (gack) baldly stated that groups on the left were equally to blame for the outbreak of violence in Charlottesville over the weekend.
So, we make clear: Nazis and white supremacists believe in a hierarchy of race, religion, and ethnicity that puts them at the top of the cultural evolutionary ladder and brown, black, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, &c, &c, at the bottom. This is neither democratic nor humane.
Because it is not humane, because these ideologies literally DEHUMANIZE others, they do not deserve to be discussed and debated on equal footing in any intellectually serious or rigorous environment.
2. Establish ground rules
I don’t think Nazi vs. anti-Nazi is legitimate turf on which to debate whether liberal voices have “too much authority” on university and college campuses. If people are suggesting that we need to listen to arguments “from all sides,” where “all sides” doesn’t mean (fiscally, socially, scientifically, &c) conservative and cautious, but rather blatantly dehumanizing, racist, sexist, and violent, then they are enabling the rise and legitimization of Nazi hatred on campuses.
Trying to parse the line between conservative and Nazi shouldn’t be difficult. However, the revolting human being who is the president of the US has made drawing that line between the GOP, conservatism writ large, and the horror show of white supremacist rage and violence increasingly visible in the nation incredibly difficult.
So, while engaging debates between conservatism, liberalism, libertarianism, socialism, and so on in legitimate discussion about policies and values and such should be encouraged in civil society and on campuses, we obviously have to proceed with caution once we acknowledge that white supremacy and Nazism have been creeping up on us (me?) under the cloak of the GOP and electoral politics.
Free speech means the government can’t persecute you for saying something it disagrees with. If government funding only makes up 24% of your institution’s budget, maybe they don’t get to make all the rules, eh? To my mind and I hope to the mind of any morally whole human being, establishing that people are not permitted to spout dehumanizing, violence-inciting, hate-filled speech at their fellows should not be controversial.
Humane is the key word.
3. Form coalitions.
Nazis on campus. Guns on campus. Senior administrations cowed by claims of First and Second Amendment rights.
This puts faculty and staff and junior administration in tenuous and precarious positions, from which it is difficult to claim truth or speak truth to power. So don’t go it alone. Find your allies.
4. Become an ally.
If you’re an outraged white person, activate that outrage in productive venues, working together with POC activists who have been on the ground doing this hard work for ages. If the town you live in is too small to support its own Black Lives Matter group, you can find virtual communities of allies and resources for anti-racism work all here:
(1) I realize that paralysis contains within it the acknowledgment of my privilege as a cis, hetero, middle-class, educated white woman. My inaction would not harm me or my chances of success in this world. But I also know that inaction from paralysis—which means confusion and frustration and suggests some sort of surprise shock to the system—would damage my soul and not in any way contribute to the healing of the world that I hold as my highest ideal.
I love lists. I have a few different digital list-making apps on my phone (Wunderlist and Google Keep, for example) but nothing beats a notebook or twelve in which to write down lists of all sorts. I start most days with some sort of to-do list. If I play my cards and make my list right, I can start each day with a new one. Some days, though, yesterdays to-do list becomes today's to-do list and maybe next week's or next month's to-do list, as well.
What has gone wrong when your to-do list gets out of hand? Check out this list for some likely causes.
1. The "ick" factor.
There is an item on your to-do list that you just don't want to do. Maybe it's unpleasant or onerous (cleaning the bathroom), or maybe it simply is easy to put off because you just don't see the value for yourself in getting it done.
While most grown ups can't really get rid of every single onerous task on their to-do lists, we do have some creative leeway in what we assign ourselves.
If you hate cleaning, can you afford to hire someone to do it for you? Or can you enlist a friend to share the time and duties, so that you can have a little fun and get some tasks done at the same time.
If you are avoiding a work-related task, is it because it's something you don't need to be doing in order to do you job? If you have duties that crop up regularly but seem inessential, take a strategic look at how these unpleasant tasks fit into your job and the expectations of your manager or workplace (or department head or chair) and see if there is someone else better suited to the work or whether it's really essential at all. If you can make a good argument for certain tasks being obsolete, you'll encourage a culture of people taking responsibility for contributing their best work to the most valuable projects.
2. Time management failure
One of my clients uses sticky notes in her agenda for short- to medium-range tasks. As she moves the task on its sticky note from day to day, she realizes how long she's been (not) working at it and a pang of guilt sets in. Follow up that pang of guilt by setting aside a time block for dedicated work on that lagging project.
3. Boundary failure
Did Past-you write a check that Today-you has to cash? I hate it when Past-me says in July "oh sure, I'd love to do XYZ in October," leaving Future-me holding the bag for something that Past-me didn't want to take care of right then and there. The rule of thumb in protecting yourself from overpromising and overcommitting (which frequently results in under-delivering) is to not say no to a future opportunity or commitment that you wouldn't want to take on TOMORROW. Why assume that Future-you is going to be any less busy or more excited about the opportunity than you are right now?
A huge storm erupted last week over the University of Illinois, Chicago’s posting of an open position for a Language Program Director. The posting indicated that it was a 67% job, meaning no more than 27 hours of work per week, with a salary of $28,000/year and “prorated benefits,” which most of us took to mean 67% of standard staff benefits at UIC.
This first showed up in a friend’s Facebook feed, garnering lots of angry faces and too many swear words (a lot of them mine) to repeat here. Then Rebecca Schuman sunk her teeth into it (which you can, and should, read here: https://pankisseskafka.com/2017/07/16/rate-my-jil-2018-this-is-what-a-dead-discipline-looks-like/), followed, a day later, by Dean Dad, who presented a slightly more charitable account of how such a total travesty of a job might have come into being (which you can, and should, find here: http://suburbdad.blogspot.ca/2017/07/a-speculative-postmortem.html)
I’m taking this opportunity to articulate more clearly (or at least in more words) what I said in at least two Facebook threads dedicated to this job, variously described as a “shit show,” a “big ole serving of NOPE,” and “poison.” There are many, many reasons to look at this particular job posting—and the dearth of quality jobs in the humanities and social sciences that it represents—and get your panties all into a twist. I’m sorry for the people at UIC who now have the misfortune of seeing their German program held up as the epitome of bad professional form. I’m sure they mean nothing personal by suggesting that someone should be willing—or even happy—to take on a job that, done well, would easily surpass the allotted 27 hours per week and provides an income that will require food bank supplementation to subsist on in the Chicagoland area.
If you detected a bit of snark in that last bit, I’ll cop to that. It’s hard to self manage the outrage here. And I know I’m not alone. I think that moment when I heard a dozen or so of my former Germanist colleagues collectively spew their coffee all over their keyboards as they read the posting indicates that this one hits really close to home. We’ve become accustomed to there being NO jobs. We’ve become accustomed to there being only temporary, contract jobs. To see a job that is both temporary AND profoundly shitty and exploitative was just the straw that broke whatever backs were still unbowed and unbent.
From what I gathered on Facebook and in the comments on Schuman and Dean Dad’s posts, the responses to the UIC job fall into roughly two categories. There are those who immediately see that this is a structural problem that can’t be fixed except by large-scale measures aimed to redress inequality in hiring practices, adjunctification writ large, and crappy job prospects for PhDs in the humanities. Proponents of the structural interpretation rightly bring up issues like:
These are all totally valid issues and their complexity and inter-relation with one another point out how challenging it is to lay the blame for the dumpster fire of the UIC job on any one person or department or administrator’s doorstep. These all also rightly point out the neoliberal business practices engaged in by higher education and decry the turning of expert scholars into nothing more than the semester-long equivalent of an Uber driver for your Introduction to Great Books by Dead White European Males lecture course.
The other set of responses focuses in a little more closely on the individuals involved in this and other unappetizing labour arrangements. This group asks what they, as individuals with stable jobs perhaps, can do in response to disastrous jobs such as this one. The comments here tend to include the awareness that the tenured (privileged) have a moral obligation to protect the untenured and contingent (underprivileged) by:
This second group is also the one more likely to suggest that sweeping changes need to be made to graduate education in order to make it less of a vocational degree that prepares students only for jobs in the professoriat. They call for career exploration programs and portfolios for graduate students and support from faculty members for their grad students’ pursuit of non-academic job opportunities.
As an academic life and career coach, my views coincide with those of this second group of outraged scholars. I’m not in a position to expound on whether it is worthwhile to continue to train people in German literature and culture in PhD programs when it is abundantly clear to anyone with eyeballs that there are currently enough German PhDs in circulation to staff the available jobs/programs for the next generation. Personally—and sentimentally—I think that graduate education in the humanities has a lot to offer the world, but my attachment to what I learned and what it did for me does not take into account the realities of the graduate school-to-job market pipeline of today.
In my coaching practice, I work with individuals in the academy to help them visualize and create careers that fulfill them. It is against this backdrop that I read the debate surrounding the UIC job-of-the-doomed. Fulfillment is, of course, a tricky term and not one-size-fits-all. But in my experience, it arises out of a combination of being clear on what you think your purpose is (in this job, in this life) and making sure that your values and goals align with that purpose to every possible extent. Most people settle on a vision that follows a pattern something like this: I am here and do this job because I want to introduce the next generation to this body of knowledge/this kind of experience/these habits of mind, so that they, in turn can XYZ. In order to do this job successfully I need an office, a computer, access to research materials, adequate classroom space, well-prepared students, supportive colleagues and managers, and A LIVING WAGE. In the right conditions, I can expect to have an impact (fill in the blank with your impact of choice.) For me, the UIC job ad describes a crappy job because—AMONG OTHER REASONS—of the disconnect between scope of duties and experience and education required on the one hand, and remuneration and autonomy and room for impact and professional development on the other.
This job was, I imagine, created to fill a dire need in the department and took only the department’s needs into account. Although a professor in this department went to some lengths in semi-private venues to indicate that there might be some personal career benefits accruing to this position, those potentialities are fuzzy enough not to have made it into the posting and are nothing I would bet the price of a Starbucks coffee on. In short, this job seeks only to churn through someone with enough desperation and energy to apply for it, giving them nothing in return. The kind of professional or personal impact this Language Director is supposed to have is inconsequential. It is as if the only need to which supplicants job applicants are entitled is the gratification of having a job, any job, in the first place.
How did an entire cohort—more than a generation, really—of PhD recipients find themselves in situations where it might make sense to believe that their time, expertise, and dedication are worth no more than someone working a full-time food service job in Chicago could expect to make? What does that say about both the profession of professor and the education of graduate students in general? What does graduate education teach students about their potential impact on either their discipline or the world?
This situation, to me, calls out the loudest for reform of humanities graduate education. Arguably, graduate school in humanities and social sciences trains people SOLELY to conduct and write up one very large research project. Most programs offer minimal to no pedagogical training, so claiming that graduate students are taught to teach is inflationary, and I can’t think of a program I’ve encountered or heard of that specifically “trains” people to be professors. Without acknowledging the vocational nature of the PhD (as in: here is the job you’re preparing for; here is how you do it well), programs churn out graduates who are smart as hell, capable as anything, and yet feel themselves completely under-qualified for work in the world. I suggest that even minor curriculum and culture revisions that cast graduate education in terms of project management, leadership abilities, supervision experience, etc. might contribute to PhD program graduates seeing themselves as something other than beggars who cannot, indeed, be choosers.
At this point, I hear people hollering about the further neo-liberalization of the academy and the wholesale capitulation of the university enterprise to business speak and MBA mumbo-jumbo. Someone on the original Facebook thread I participated in put this in terms of not “trusting” the free market economy to succeed in employing graduates of PhD programs where the academy had failed. That commenter has a point, in that NO ONE is guaranteed a job in our capitalist system. However, they also implied that the university and “the free market economy” were separate things. To my eye, one of the reasons we find ourselves in a situation where the UIC dumpster fire job can exist in the first place is because universities LONG AGO adapted to and adopted the neo-liberal model of expecting everything from the individual and nothing from the collective. Adjunctification IS the gig economy of academia. There is NO separation between academia and “the real world.” The Ivory Tower just has different names, and arguably worse compensation, for the same kind of shitty jobs that BA graduates take to make ends meet when they can’t get their career started.
So, if the gig economy and temporary employment is our new normal, (and Canada’s Finance Minister, Bill Morneau said to expect just that in a speech in October 2016), then I really worry about the efficacy of coalition building, solidarity, and—essentially—theorizing precarity so that we understand it. Whether you’re looking and Marx or Ahmed or Weber, you can find a framework to help you understand the current crisis. But knowing how it came to be and what fuels it does not pay the rent. I think that, instead of looking internally to sources of theoretical/historical knowledge and, or looking internally to individuals who might have the power to temporarily change a situation, we as participants in an industry need to look closely at what our industry currently looks like and think of innovative ways to survive in it by adapting—or leave.
Academia is not immune from the disruptions that have faced other industries. Many women and people of colour in my generation of academics got their shot to impact scholarship and get a job because the tweed-and-pipe patriarchal culture of the humanities academy had come under attack. Now the model to which we are attached is being eroded. Maybe for good; maybe both the Dead White Dudes content and our critical theory are all going to vanish forever, victims of the stupification of the West under toxic parochialism. That would be a damn shame. Equally shameful to me, though, would be to be the last person to sacrifice their own promise for fulfillment and impact on the altar of a crappy, exploitative job.
I am excited to share with you my course catalogue of energized courses and workshops for the upcoming academic year! Call or email me to talk about coming to your campus.
I bring nearly two decade’s worth of experience in higher education and extensive experience in one-on-one academic life and career coaching to my role as facilitator. By blending my knowledge of academia with established business and entrepreneurial coaching methodology and tools for personal growth, my courses provide an excellent starting point for the development of innovative, committed, energized academics!
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F O R F A C U L T Y M E M B E R S
ENAC 1001 NEW FACULTY ORIENTATION
ENAC 1002 PROFESSIONAL VISION AT MID-CAREER
F O R G R A D U A T E S T U D E N T S
ENAC 2001 PRESENT TENSE, FUTURE PERFECT: PREPARING FOR THE POST-ACADEMIC JOB MARKET
ENAC 2002 SKILLS FOR GRADS
D E P A R T M E N T S , C E N T R E S , S C H O O L S
ENAC 3001 RETREAT AND REFINE
**Each of these courses can be offered as a 2-hour, half-day, or full-day workshop.**
This week’s #bigpicture prompt gives us an opportunity to take last week’s prompt and change direction on it:
How would I evaluate my own performance?
Last week, we tried to look at ourselves through someone else’s eyes. This time around, I’m asking you to take the opportunity to think of how you would conduct an evaluation of yourself.
Of course, in order to evaluate yourself, you need a yardstick, a job description. You can, of course, stick with the job description that came with your work contract. You’ll know whether you are engaged in the duties necessary to your position or working toward the goals set by your team or organization. But you can also expand on that and add to it the qualifications and criteria that are important to you. If you know that spending time with family and time outdoors are important to your overall health, happiness, and productivity, how are you meeting that criterion? If your goal this year is to publish more, have you taken the necessary steps to reach that goal? If your goal is to leave your current job for something more fulfilling, more interesting, better paying, etc., do you really know what you what next, or are you spinning your wheels and waiting for a sign written in the heavens?
Conducting an honest evaluation of yourself requires a long and deliberate look at what you know to be real and true and important. Instead of relying on a boss or an institution or a teacher to evaluate us, this requires being truthful to ourselves. Are you living a life that reflects and honours your values and expresses (at least a piece of) who you are? Or are you dishonest about your role at work, in your relationships, with where you live, or how you spend your time and money?
Whether you’re on Pinterest or reading self-improvement books, you’ll come across the phrase “living my best life.” It sounds trite, of course, and it frequently is. Plus, in connection with bullet journal layout spreads or recipes for the best margarita, it smacks of privilege and first-world problems. I can customize that phrase for myself, though, and think about what, exactly, my “best life” would contain. I’ve done a lot of that mental and emotional work in both coach training and in working with a coach, and I know that my “best life” involves plenty of autonomy, plenty of books and learning and growing, time outside with the dog, and knowing that the work I do has an impact on lives or organizations. Using those criteria as my yardstick, I would conduct a very different self-evaluation than one focused entirely on performance outcomes at work.
Knowing where I measure up against these goals and criteria is just as important to me as knowing that my business is growing and that my clients are satisfied with the work we do together. One of the ironies of leaving academia for self-employment has been that I left a profession where it feels as though you should always be working for another profession where . . . it feels like you should always be working. Knowing what aspects of my work and my life are most important to me and making time for those is an essential part of evaluating where I stand with my career.