Thursday, May 12, 2005

Packing

Lucky me, I get to actually pack up my office. Some people in corporations just get their pink slips one morning and a box for the stuff in their desks. So now it's time to pull down the books from the shelves and guage how petty I feel about my office furniture. If I can think of a grad student with an actual office, even shared, I'd rather donate my Ikea rug and comfy Poang chair to them. But put stuff in the furniture pool for redistribution at the end of the month? No way.

Where do I leave this university? When I came, this was a school for first-generation college students from the city and older people going back for affordable degrees. Many of them couldn't write a five-page paper, even in advanced classes. Our graduate students were getting degrees in creative writing, high school certification, and rhet/comp. Department meetings were jolly, social things run by a benevolent patriarchy. Everyone got their say. We discussed curriculum, hiring needs, graduate oral exam formats. Nobody got paid very much, so everybody that could got into administration as soon as possible. The atmosphere was democratic, workmanlike, communal.

Where do I leave it? The department is full of ivy types bent on transforming the curriculum into Duke Lite, a program heavy on American Studies and Milton. These men--and with few exceptions, they are all men--fit a profile. They married their graduate or undergrad students and ratcheted their salaries up by flirting heavily with counter-offers. In some cases, they are so high-priced that they will never be able to find comparable jobs elsewhere. They in turn would rather hire a male ivy-league assistant professor than anyone anywhere else, though female ivys of any stripe are also desireable as hires. They create a climate heavy on testosterone and light on diversity. They run meetings by telling everyone else what is going on, with no desire or expectation of feedback. Faculty sit, mute, their opinions as welcome in these meetings as a genuine critique is welcome at a George Bush "Town Hall." Both are charades of self-governance; both are related in creepy ways.

After intimidating senior faculty with threats about resource scarcity and wage and hire freezes, our famous--or infamous--Dean is retiring, leaving his prison bitches to count the myriad ways they have prostituted their own ideals. There is no community here, unless you count all the men who are just like each other and therefore feel comfortable and affirmed as "community." Formal reviewers in the department fail to recognize queer sexual diversity as a thematic category of scholarship. Junior faculty canned at other institutions for exceptionally bad teaching boast in the copy room about the condos they have bought. Women who are some of the best teachers in the University are denied tenure despite extensive publication records and international reputations. Graduate students apply to work with these women on topics of class, sexuality, and international modernism, and are not told that they are no longer here--are not told that these women have most likely been driven out of academia's soft job market for good.

The students remain. They are smart and beaten down, but hopeful. They are tolerant and convivial. Their minds are hungry, and they fill me with hope. Some of them fail--too many, actually. Their family troubles or financial hardships eventually sabotage their chances for an education, and there is little institutional support for them. Others persevere, and they are proudly graduating right now. They don't care about prestige. They are triumphant because they have done a difficult thing, worked hard, and succeeded despite the politics of higher education. They should be saluted. They are the ones who quietly read during their shifts at the multiple jobs they work full time while they attend school. They are the ones who finish the whole novel because they couldn't put it down. They are the ones who bring their friends to class because the discussions interest them so much. They refuse to countenance intolerance of any kind, and they are incredibly fun to teach.

I will miss them a lot.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wow, that was poignant. UIC is losing someone special. And UIC sounds like a totally awful place, except, as you said, for the students.

Diva said...

above comment is NOT anonymous, it came from Diva....