The CHE is less interesting than New Orleans, and is egocentric. They see commitment to a place and call it elitism and lack of flexibility — I call them milquetoasts without backbone or personality.

Da whitemen keep going on about how one must be ready to move anywhere, but they are also saying your primary goals should be suburban. Note how they keep going on about the value of being “a big fish in a small pond,” having “affordable real estate,” and if I remember right, parking. And while they harp on location, they never discuss type of institution or institutional culture. That is the more important issue by far and they evade it by talking about the virtues of the Midwest, upon which they assume you look down.


I like all of the Midwest very much except Indiana and Ohio, so I tend to be insulted by these professors’ thinly veiled disdain, “I, too, disliked it…”. I like the Plains states, too, and I do not like New England. I am so tired of being lectured about how I should like New England, yet be willing to sacrifice for academia by not living there. I have lost patience with professors who preach in this vein.


On “making sacrifices” for academia, why is one expected to do this? And is one expected to give plasma, or a kidney, in addition to financial and other compromises? I had graduate students selling ova in Houston to pay off student loans and would have done it myself had I not been over 30 and thus not allowed, but I would not give up an organ or a limb for any academic job.

I am surprised that people are so morally outraged at those who go into nonacademic or para-academic work so that they can enjoy life more. Why do they say the author of this response to the above piece should have been more willing to sacrifice more, or should have “tried harder” to pretend to like a life in which she had little interest, when a life very close to her ideal was in fact available?


My theory about people who rage at graduate students for being too “elitist” and not willing enough to live in the sticks is that they are having a hard time hiring. They lecture their own students on elitism, but the people they really want to scold are the candidates they tried to hire and who went elsewhere.

They claim it is about geography so as not to have to consider the possibility that they are actually being turned down because their institutional culture sucks and it shows.


Here is another view on these pieces.


7 thoughts on “The CHE is less interesting than New Orleans, and is egocentric. They see commitment to a place and call it elitism and lack of flexibility — I call them milquetoasts without backbone or personality.

  1. Yes, the bit about “affordable real estate” really got to me; I don’t aspire to own a house particularly (though I would like to have access to a yard). And there is a connected assumption that we will all be looking for a good place to raise kids (and that we all agree on what makes a place good for raising kids).

    I also think you’re right on target about the issue of institutional culture. I know from my own pre-PhD experience that I can live anywhere, as long as the institutional culture is positive.

  2. I claim that a good place to raise kids is somewhere like New Orleans, where they can go to real cafés on the way home from school, via the St. Charles streetcar. This attitude makes that split level ranch 3/2 home with a 2 car garage extra pointless.

    I am glad someone agrees with me about institutional culture. I really think this is under discussed.

  3. Also, there is something about the penchant of senior professors for recommending pursuit of delusion and also for living a pretend life — claiming you want to be a suburbanite until in fact you do want it, etc.

    I just read something in Kant, Critique of Pure Reason: “[Illusion] engages [the seafarer/seeker] in enterprises he can never abandon, and is yet unable to carry to completion.”

  4. I think there are two issues here: (1), yes, it may be necessary to live somewhere you haven’t thought of living if you want an academic job, but (2) to do so doesn’t make you morally superior, nor does it make you morally superior to take a nonacademic job and stay where you are. It’s the moral superiority on both sides that’s so galling in this debate.

  5. Yes, there is that, but I insist: the penchant for discussing geography is a feint designed to evade the more difficult discussion, of institutional culture.

    (I do remember being constantly warned in graduate school that I would have to work at Madison, WI, Ann Arbor, MI, or Harvard, Princeton, and Yale where they do not give tenure, so you end up back at Madison or Ann Arbor anyway. I am still waiting for those allegedly horrible jobs at Michigan and Wisconsin I was threatened with.)

  6. Here is one of my favorite recent responses to Perelmutter’s tired, old advice:

    “David: I’m in IC too. And if I could, I’d leave. I’m tethered here for a while. And yes, it’s pleasant for a while. But you know what? I’d like very much to live in a more vital place. I go to cities and am reminded that along with all the aggravation, there’s energy, ambition, people on the make in all kinds of ways, most of them unrelated to university life, hierarchies, strictures. I’d like to go to a serious symphony without driving four hours. I’d like to live among people who are at ease with directness. I’d like anonymity. I count down the years, I note sadly that my house, once sold, won’t buy much house anywhere I’d like to go, and I’ll say who cares, I’ll take a studio.

    “I don’t belong here. I’ve lived here long enough to know that. I’m more than ready to go. Yes, when I first got here, I thought it was some kind of nirvana. Truth was I didn’t have to engage much with the local culture; truth was also it was a more pleasant and safer town at the time, and the university in better shape. A decade of cuts is not nothing. Now? I really have to engage with Iowa. It’s not for me, I’m not for them. Iowa’s been admirably hospitable, but as soon as I’m free, I’m gone.

    “Many of your colleagues feel the same way, and escape whenever they can. They’re not free to say so — as one of your colleagues demonstrated amply just last year. But atsa truth.

    “There’s also the question of what you’ll do if you and/or your spouse really aren’t happy there, or the department turns dysfunctional. What if you have kids? Are you going to uproot them so that you can try your luck elsewhere? Because odds are you’ll have to move; you won’t find something nearby.

    “It’s worth knowing what you want beyond a career. I agree with Alexandra Lord when she says it can be impossible to know, when you’re young. But I’d recommend that any academic considering a job in a small town or rural area read one of the zillions of academic novels concerned with just how small a department in a small town can be. They’re not making this stuff up.”

  7. But, my absolute favorite comment:

    “Obviously, the solution for all those American PhDs that are doing an endless series of postdocs, adjunctships or are flipping burgers or unemployed, is to look for work in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, where they could very probably get a full professorship for the asking. What, are you prejudiced against places with an astronomically high crime rate*?

    “Yes, this is admittedly an extreme case, but my point is that saying “I won’t consider [somewhere]” isn’t necessarily out of prejudice or trivial preferences. It’s not just violent crime, either – what if there are no jobs for your spouse or there are no good schools for the kids? It’s not stupid, as the article condescendingly implies, to factor in one’s expected quality of life according to location (provided such expectations are realistic and not based on prejudice) when job-hunting and not just the job’s terms and conditions. This smug, condescending attitude that anyone who does factor in location can’t possibly be making a rational, legitimate choice in my view reflects how inhumane and wasteful academia can be.

    “*The murder rate in Ciudad Juarez has topped that of Baghdad and it’s widely regarded as the most dangerous city in the Western Hemisphere. But yes, there actually are academic jobs available.”

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