Ides of March

My featured post of the past for today is actually from March 13, 2006. Of interest in the post are the comments on authorship, anonymity, and voice. I feature it as part of my attempt to move all of my original blog to a more solid archive, and also in lieu of writing a new post, as I am attempting to work on my research blog, here.

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Since I am featuring posts elsewhere, I will also point to some stellar Advice to New Faculty from Center of Gravitas and to Reassigned Time‘s stellar response. My general advice would be a hybrid of the two — I do not have as many classes/students as Reassigned Time, and neither I nor the people I’ve hired have been so sheltered in graduate school as the people Center of Gravitas seems to hire.

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I remember being new faculty. By that time I had studied at five universities in three countries, and I thought I knew how to get used to institutions. In fact the opposite was true, because all of these schools were public R1s. They were all different, but at a fundamental level they had the same institutional culture, and I had never even heard the term at that point. I landed at a very different kind of institution and Proust describes the feeling best: Car je ne savais pas où j’étais, je ne savais pas qui j’étais — Because I did not know where I was, I did not know who I was.

I had also never worked full time in an office before. With days heavily scheduled from 8 to 5 or beyond I was amazed to find myself as tired as after a day at a factory or working retail. And there was course preparation and research on top of that, and there were office politics — a surprise.

I had been a student for so long it was hard to believe I was a professor. On the one hand, some of the courses I was teaching, I had not taught since before the M.A. On the other, I was teaching courses I had taken from faculty already world renowned. Space-time seemed to shift constantly throughout the day as I tried to channel past and future versions of a possible me.

I could say much more on all of these matters but this is supposed to be a post on advice to new faculty. These comments are not deep or comprehensive like Gayprof’s (Center of Gravitas) or Dr. Crazy’s (Reassigned Time) — or Undine‘s earlier one — or the one from Tenured Radical to which Undine refers and which I now cannot find. My suggestions are about being politic.

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1. Ask questions. As in, is there a reason why things are done as they are? You can get a lot of useful information this way. It is also an acceptable way to frame expressions of amazement or criticism.

2. Realize that institutional change takes place at glacial speed.

3. Remember that we, too, know how things are done elsewhere.

4. Believe me if I tell you that while I agree with you on a given issue, I am not in a position to act upon it at this time.

5. Understand that while we chose you over many others and are glad to have hired you, we have lived up until now without you and we could live with someone else.

6. Refrain from saying you do not like the institution/the town unless you really know who you are talking to.

7. Understand that I may be friends with people with whom I disagree on policy matters, and against whose motions I vote in favor of yours. Do not try to trash these people to me, including off campus. They are here to stay. You, I barely know.

Axé.


5 thoughts on “Ides of March

  1. And a kinder, more nuanced comment from me: take authority. The people I am describing in this post took authority — too much authority — over others, i.e. they were terribly authoritarian, tyrranical to students and to all faculty. But they, like me, did not take enough authority within themselves, and certainly did not take authority in their own work.

  2. And here is another REALLY good piece of advice: you are not a graduate student any more, but you are still not really a professor. If you don’t feel like one yet, don’t worry – that is why you have the word “assistant” before your name.

    The meaning of it is that, although you are now supposed to be professional and you are getting paid for your work, not paying to be allowed to do it, the institution does not know you and has no loyalty to you, and you do not owe it any. That does not mean you should not do service. It does mean that you are still practicing academic work … showing for the first time that you can teach upper level and graduate courses, publish when your professors are not present, and so on. It is worth thinking of yourself as a sort of hybrid at this point, or in a chrysalis stage, and taking care of yourself therefore, not sacrificing.

    This is advice I could not take because my undergraduate program was like graduate school and my graduate program took nine years (the average was ten, and I took a year off, so really I was fast, doing it in eight). I had been in school for so long that I really did feel finished. I did not feel like considering myself a graduate student any longer.

    However — if you consider yourself a super advanced, privileged graduate student (not the kind that are already being overused to teach and being destined for that lecturer / adjunct track, but the shiny kind), the kind of graduate student who is trusted to do their own work and is not considered to need lectures, condescension, or over direction, the kind of graduate student that is respected, then you may remember that you *do* still need to graduate (the Ph.D. is not graduation, the tenure/promotion are).

    Thinking of it that way is better than thinking that you must publish obediently so as not to be axed at tenure time, because you will be focusing on self care and self respect as opposed to fear and sacrifice … and you will be focused on developing yourself, not shrinking yourself (I always seem to have been told I need to shrink myself to fit into academia, and the effort to obey has not been good for my intellectual production, because you have to expand for that).

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