Tuesday, June 14, 2005

ch 1: statements of self

Hall's discussion of the need for academics to thoughtfully and reflectively create statements of professional self-identity is, in at least 2 places in the text, put in the context of the job market: on pp. 2-3 he describes an interview question he asks job candidates, and on p19 he imagines a variety of contexts in which a Professional Statement might be used. Although Hall acknowledges that of course any answer given within the context of a job interview probably is created at least in part to suit what the candidate thinks the questioner wants to hear, he also suggests that one's answers to the questions "what goals are you setting for yourself as you embark on a career?" and "talk about the type of department or university setting that you imagine would be one in which you could thrive and meet those goals" (2) can reveal "the degree of professional flexibility, potential for equanimity, and commitment to collegiality of the candidate in question" (3).

I don't doubt that such conversations can be fruitful, and perhaps even useful in an interview setting. But the reality is that most of us find ourselves already located within departments, with only limited chances of mobility (particularly after tenure). So imagining the type of department seems more an exercise in discovering what one values (or thinks one values) in academe, rather than something externally focused. (I was initially going to dismiss that question altogether until I realised one useful aspect of it.)

I think Hall wants to move such conversations beyond the interview scenario to include the rest of us who aren't seeking new positions -- the self-reflection he recommends inevitably (it seems to me) comes up when you're writing job letters. It happens less obviously when you're busy with the day-to-day of the academic position.

But somehow his call for us all to write statements of professional identity wasn't very compelling for me. Maybe the documents I wrote for the tenure file aren't far enough behind me yet. Maybe I'm too cynical about such documents -- just as a job candidate would tailor her/his remarks, so too does a tenure candidate. What would such a statement without an audience look like? No text exists without at least an implied audience (says the rhetorician in me). So, what would my statement to myself look like? I don't know yet. (Hall's own professional statement is in an appendix at the end of the book, if you haven't looked yet.)