Monday, June 06, 2005


I well remember reading Donald Hall’s original article in Professions back in 1999 and then the responses to it—the exchange that became the genesis for this book—and I read through the entire book in the week after graduation this year and found it very interesting. I’m really looking forward to this discussion; Mel, thanks so much for setting up this forum.

My introduction: I’m an assistant professor of English at a Catholic college I call (mostly affectionately) St. Martyr’s. I’m going up for tenure this fall, and my prospects look good (but one doesn’t want to count one’s chickens prematurely). I have found Hall’s book particularly interesting because some of the demands of his job sound a lot like mine. I teach a 3/4 course load and do a significant amount of service, none of which earns me a course release. It’s a very collegial school, which makes it a great place to work (although, as Michael Drout pointed out recently, it also adds to the workload in some ways). Because we’re mostly a teaching college, my department’s scholarship requirement for tenure is only three articles in peer-reviewed journals, a requirement I’ve more than fulfilled, and I’m now at work on a book, which is the scholarship expectation for full professor (not that this is my motivation for the book, but it doesn't hurt to look ahead!).

I’ll have more to say about the chapters in Hall's book, but for now let me respond personally to the Introduction by noting that I’ve felt a lot of bitterness in my time at St. Martyr’s, mostly because of the ways in which my professional life wasn’t living up to my grad school conception of what it would be. I knew that it was beyond unreasonable for me to be snarking about my job, given that I was lucky enough to have a job, but I found three years on the job market to be a very scarring experience, and I kept comparing myself to the friends who got R1 jobs in their first year out, had pre-tenure year-long sabbaticals, and enjoyed institutional prestige out the wazoo. The last year of knowing other academics through the blogosphere—people with whom I don’t have leftover grad school competition!—has helped enormously, in helping me to see both the realities of life at other schools (which I think I’d been romanticizing) and the real benefits of my own position, for which I am very grateful. So I think I read The Academic Self at a time in my life when I could actually hear what Hall has to say, when I’ve let go of enough defensiveness and paranoid anxiety so that I might be at the point to accept that “what is in the past cannot be altered, that lingering grudges only hinder our work in the present if we fail to recognize and then let go of them” (xii) and that it’s worth rethinking our definitions of “success.”