Ending 24/7 Finals Culture

Finals time is here again and with it, at many schools, comes 24/7 study culture. Student lounges and campus buildings give up the late regular semester hours and throw the doors open to a 24/7 study atmosphere. The apparatus of the university goes into overdrive as food courts and libraries are kept open. All the while students scramble for space at the various tables across campus.

The 24/7 mode of finals has to stop because it isn’t healthy. And we, of all people, should know better.

As educators, scholars, and researchers we should know that the 24/7 finals culture isn’t good for students. Read Inside Higher Ed and The Chronicle of Higher Education with enough regularity and you’ll see plenty of content focused on work and life balance. As educators in higher education we know that letting our work overrule us is bad for our work, our health (both mental and physical), our relationships, and myriad of other individual factors.

Throughout the semester many of us extol the virtues of working and researching in chunks. Many of us teach writing as a process. Our bible of graduate school was Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day. We subscribe to the slow and steady wins the race pace of Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks with its methodical chipping away at an article over a period of time. (Side note: Wendy Laura Belcher deserves props for including a section on mental and physical wellbeing in her book.)

Still, we are complicit in the 24/7 finals culture just as much as the midnight-make-your-own-waffle-bars and 24/7 library hours that normalize such a culture. Our courses cram everything into the syllabus. Massive projects, papers, and exams on the last day of class that are then followed by final exams. For some students the message of accepting 24/7 final culture isn’t only codified in the syllabus, but it is made clear in messages that students should work every day of Thanksgiving break, except for the day of the actual day of Thanksgiving. The messaging is the same for fall breaks, Easter Breaks, spring breaks, and so on.

And why shouldn’t they receive that message about working all the time? For every column in an academic newspaper about work and life balance there are pieces extolling the virtues of working on a day off or a holiday. And let’s not even say anything about the comments to such pieces. As humans we should know better and as educators we should know even better. Cramming isn’t learning. The diminishing returns on learning that occur when students cram is steep. All-nighters to finish a paper or a project don’t represent true learning or intellectual pursuit.

While students are bombarded with the messaging of 24/7 finals culture there are voices on many campuses trying to push back. Student health centers, mental health centers, and wellbeing centers share messages of rest, extol the virtues of self-care, and showcase the diminishing returns of cramming. With the increased focus on the role mental and physical health on campuses, we should be mindful of these messages. This is especially the case given the large number of academics that have struggled with depression and mental health issues in graduate school or in their current positions. The connection between physical and health and depression is well known. Sleep deprivation, not eating right, not socializing, and not exercising are triggers to bouts of depression. The 24/7 finals culture is a perfect cocktail to exacerbate the triggers for depression.

As educators we have a great deal of power to shape the approach to work that students develop and within our small circle of control our own syllabi represent a great place to start. We can choose to not have projects due on the last day of class. We can make the decision not to have an exam on the last day of class and a final exam a few days later. We can schedule and stagger heavy reading loads during the semester. We can make substantial changes to our approach and still maintain the academic rigor we desire. We do not have to be beholden to the academic calendar of midterm exam weeks and where school breaks fall. And, at a smaller scale, we don’t have to assign due dates for submission of assignments that cap at 11:59 PM.

In many cases we have little control of shaping the culture of our campus, but when it comes to modeling healthy modes of academic work we do have an opportunity to do so. And we should certainly make use of that opportunity.

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Reading and Rereading Charlotte Temple

Looking back there are only a few very vivid times that I can remember starting or ending a book. I remember during one Christmas break, after a very trying time as a sophomore, picking up On the Road and starting to read it in the den of the family manse. I tried to read On the Road during high school, but it really wasn’t my thing. This time, however, was very different.

I remember during my junior year of college the moment that I finished reading Charlotte Temple. It was assigned out of the Norton Anthology. That was no small feat reading such a tiny book out of a massive anthology.

But read Charlotte Temple I did.

Wow, did I hate reading Charlotte Temple. All that damn crying. And Charlotte certainly did nothing to help herself out of the situations that she found herself confronting.

I was a good student, not great, but I did my reading and generally I read ahead when I could. I knew that Charlotte Temple was a longish work compared to what we had read so far that semester. I started to read it and I finished it in the early evening.

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Title page from an 1814 printing of Charlotte Temple, by Susanna Rowson. Public domain. Source: Wikimedia Commons

 

When I finished reading Charlotte Temple, the phone rang. A family friend was calling to suggest that I come home because my mom wasn’t feeling great. So I did. My new school was not far from home. It wouldn’t be trouble to come home for the evening and the next day.

Over the next few days my mom’s condition worsened. She was taken to the hospital. She was in septic shock due to an infection in her hip. She was in grave condition and needed immediate emergency surgery. Everything eventually turned out fine. The surgery was successful. She convalesced in the hospital and was eventually moved to a short-term care facility and made a full recovery after many months.

At some point I must have emailed my professors early on during this experience. I was an okay student, like I said. I was probably home for a week or more. Given the circumstances, I didn’t keep up with email, not there was any, and I didn’t keep up with my reading.

Good thing I read Charlotte Temple, right? I would have less reading to catch up with when I returned to school.

When I returned to class I complained to a friend about the injustice of reading Charlotte Temple and missing the class periods devoted to such a wretched book.

It was then, in those moments before class, that I learned my reading Charlotte Temple was all for naught. Alas, poor, Charlotte, was cut from the readings. The announcement was made in class during the early part of my absence.

The first time I read Charlotte Temple, gentle reader, and it turns out that I wasn’t required to read Charlotte Temple.

Six years would pass until a moment arrived when I actually needed to read Charlotte Temple. It was for a book history seminar in early American literature. I knew a lot more about sentimentality and early American literature when I read Charlotte Temple for the second time. It was, of course, a different reading experience.

I thought a lot about Charlotte Temple in the years between my first and second reading of the novel. I do not have anything profound to say about the years between my readings of Charlotte Temple. No deep thoughts in the style of an Umberto Eco or an Alberto Manguel. I cannot say my reading of Charlotte Temple was the germ of what became my interest in American women writers. Charlotte Temple was the bad book I read, but ended up not having to read.

However, I was excited to see an early edition of Charlotte Temple at some point during the semester in which I reread the novel. It was such a tiny thing. It seemed even smaller than the Oxford Press edition we used in class. Of course, that first edition was smaller than the anthology version that I motored through as an undergraduate. It was odd to me that something so tiny took up so much of my thoughts for many years.

I remember vividly another moment of reading Charlotte Temple. I was on the couch in my partner’s apartment. I was, again, rereading Charlotte Temple, but this time it was for my first literature class. Yes, Charlotte Temple was the first novel I assigned in my very first literature class. While I was sitting on the couch, I was trying to figure out the number of times that I read Charlotte Temple. It would be my third reading of the novel. Granted, Charlotte Temple is short, and lends itself to multiple readings, but for someone that really never reread novels, this was a big deal.

Charlotte Temple remains the novel I’ve read the most. I think I’ve read it five or six times now. I will be reading Charlotte Temple again since I’ve assigned the novel for the spring semester.

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Susanna Rowson. Public domain. Source: Wikimedia Commons

I don’t have anything profound to say about my experience with Charlotte Temple. Maybe my early and longstanding disdain of the novel makes me better prepared to teach it. I am tuned into the challenges students will face and can be prepared to guide them through it. That, on the surface, seems a positive takeaway, but it is actually negative. It assumes that students will not like it.

I would prefer to believe students have the opportunity, not to be shepherded through a book, but to be challenged and even surprised. Perhaps it will occur over the course of the semester, but maybe it will be delayed, like in my case, for a few years.

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A Novel Approach to Marginal Notes

As an undergraduate when I was given a free choice to write about a work I often wrote about poetry. Writing about poetry was an easy thing because in a time-crunched-world poetry’s brevity allowed for rereading. When it came to novels I often felt I didn’t notice patterns until well into a book and I wasn’t about to reread an entire novel for a five page paper.

I’ve become a better reader over the years. I’ve also figured out my interests and those interests pop a lot more when I read. The rise of searchable online texts also makes the search for evidence a lot easier. What a time to be alive!

While in graduate school I developed a model of reading and note taking that relied heavily on a system of abbreviated tagging. This was a response to the time crunch, reading for specific class themes, reading for comps, and reading for teaching. I eventually codified many of my abbreviations into a handy chart. As my classes changed each semester and my research interests evolved, so too would the chart evolve.

Abbr Chart Sample

Behold! The Chart! Well, one version of the chart from many years ago.

As you can see, it is made up of a lot of scholarly buzzwords and an abbreviation for the words. As I read, I tagged things I see in the text with an abbreviation in the margins. If what I read in the text was an outstanding example, bizarre, or noteworthy in some other way, then I also tagged it with an exclamation point. Regarding characters or plot, I used the blank space on my chart to record page numbers of note corresponding to those folks and/or plot points. If I was inspired to add additional tag to the chart, then I’d also record that, too.

 

After I was done reading, or as a break from

Portion of the chart filled out

A filled out version of the chart.

reading, I’d go through my book’s tags and fill out the chart with the corresponding page numbers. I recommend filling in the chart as you go and not waiting to do an entire novel!

I can see the time crunch and exhaustion of the spring coming down the pike. My thoughts turn to my chart. I’m not one to meticulously plan out every detail of my classes, which are discussion based since I try to keep lecture to a minimum. The chart helps as a reference point in class when it comes to discussing specific topics. If I want an example, then I consult my chart, and refer to the tagged section of the book. No searching through minuscule notes or bookmarks. It saves time in the classroom.

One positive about the chart is that it allows for a safety net when students want to lead discussion to unlikely directions. Like I said, I don’t like planning out my classes in excruciating detail. I’ve had far too many experiences where students became animated about an aspect of the text and want to go in a different direction. The notetaking system I’ve developed, in most cases, allows me to follow my students and have a stable of examples or instances from the text that fit their thrust of discussion.

One notable abbreviation is the “T.” That stands for teaching. Those include passages that offer significant opportunities for the classroom. Those might be substantial moments in the text. They might be unusual. They might fit with the theme. You know these moments when you see them. The nice thing about the chart is that the “T” moments can be easily cross-referenced with other parts of the list since everything is recorded in numerical order.

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Sample pages with abbreviated notes.

Using abbreviations in my reading has many practical aspects beyond the ease of notetaking. First, my handwriting is not very good. It is large and sloppy. The abbreviations can be small and neat. The ease of writing helps with the arthritis in my hands. Additionally, when we read we often read through a particular lens geared towards our class or research interests. The abbreviated note taking allows for a marking of the text that isn’t obtrusive. Because the notes are scant there will be plenty of space remaining for future rereading from different perspectives that geared towards other themes.

Over my scant semester break I’m planning to reread the texts for my classes. I’ll be breaking in new versions of texts I’ve read before for other classes. I want to have good notes and references on these works. This model of note taking may not work for you, but I wanted to offer it since many of us will be pressed for time and will reread works over the break—works we might not get to teach until well into the spring semester. Over the break, I’ll be using my chart to take and organize my notes. I’ll also try working with my phone’s native dictation feature to save some time on notetaking. For a more traditional take on notetaking, but with a technological twist, I recommend reading about the dictation/research/notetaking approach used by Kevin Gannon.

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Some thoughts on my time teaching at #Mizzou

In light of the events happening at the University of Missouri over the past few weeks, and especially this past week, I’ve been thinking a lot about my time there, especially in the classroom.

As many of you know, from the Fall of 2011 until my last teaching semester at Mizzou in Spring of 2014, I taught a composition course themed around the American Civil War. Over that span, I had the opportunity to speak with my students about a variety of issues that related to the legacy of the Civil War. Since we read Tony Horwitz’s Confederates in the Attic and spent much of our time focused on the legacy of the Civil War, we spent much of our time in class discussing contemporary issues affecting the state of Missouri, the city of Columbia, and the University of Missouri campus itself. We talked about incidents of racism on campus, Confederate Rock, race relations on campus, and the advocacy of African American students on campus over the past 50 years. You can find a few reflections on my time teaching the Civil War course here.

Often such discussions were difficult. Often they were wide-ranging.

I wonder if these class discussions mattered. Did they stick? I’m thinking about those discussions now, but are the students that took my classes thinking about those discussions? The first sets of students enrolled in my classes have likely graduated by now. Those that remain are juniors and seniors. How do they process that experience now in the context of what is happening on campus right now?

Prior to my class on the Civil War I taught composition classes themed around campus and places on campus. Students wrote about a variety of locations from the Rec Center to the Art Museum to the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center. Students discussed campus places, decorations, and how Mizzou represented the history of the student body. Students talked about the people included and the people left out. The students in these classes on campus places are likely long-gone and hopefully have graduated. Do they think about those times in class? Does how they think about the places that they saw everyday and discussed in class change now that these are also scenes of protest and struggles for recognition?

In addition to teaching composition at Missouri, I taught several introductions to American literature. I’ve been thinking a lot about those courses, too. I think especially about a curious and frequent comment in my course evaluations. I often received comments that my courses were depressing. They were depressing because of the works we read dealing with slavery and the African American experience. I received other comments that my class focused too much on race and African American authors. Now I wonder if those students think back on those classes. Does the story we tried to tell in those classes make sense to them now? I don’t know.

I hope I did the right things in all of my classes. By saying I hope I did the right things I think I mean I’m hopeful that I did things that mattered. We write in our job letters and teaching philosophies about the transformative experiences of our classrooms. We depict our classrooms as places of change and as locations for difficult discussions. In our classes we like to think we are grappling with important issues. Am I really doing that? Are the students doing that? I think we did many of those things in the moment of an individual class. But do those moments come back now?

How much did the experiences of students in my classes matter? Did the conversations matter and did they linger long after the semester ended? Do those conversations awaken now in light of everything that has happened the past few weeks?

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Not your typical University Commerical

The genre conventions for a 30 second TV spot used by major colleges and universities, especial R1 institutions with bigtime sports, are rather conventional. Nondescript inspiring music accompanies well-known images of the campus, vague highlights of award-winning research faculty (often in science and technology), and students often enjoying life far from the classroom. And there are sports.

Last night I saw a university commercial that exploded nearly all of these well-known higher education advertising conventions. This commercial for the University of Minnesota aired during their game against the University of Michigan:

The Minnesota commercial features Keith Mayes, a scholar of 20C African American history, at Minnesota. It is clear from the opening words that this commercial is going to do something different. The commercial opens right up with a big, bold claim. It is certainly a claim familiar to many scholars of American history and life, but it lays a foundation for an argument largely unfamiliar to the general public. This is not going to be your typical university commercial. It is going to have substance. It is going to have an argument. It is going to keep going on this line. And it is going to pack a punch in 30 seconds.

Given my usual audience I’m not going to go into detail with this advertisement. Watch it yourself.

This particular ad from the University of Minnesota is from a series of similar ads. Many of them feature tough issues ranging from global warming and the environment to medical research. However, for me at least, this one stands out for how it focuses attention on teaching while it also highlights race, social justice issues, and the achievement gap. And, of course, the humanities, especially our relationship to history, has a prominent role.

I think this commercial will resonate with many of you.

The University of Minnesota did a good thing for all of us, especially humanities scholars at bigtime research and sports institutions. The ad provides an example to help ask the question to departments, school divisions, and administration of why the PR department doesn’t create advertisements like this.

I think the ad also raises a larger question. The work done by Mayes represents a nexus of history and curriculum development designed to ensure the long-term academic success of minority students. We often advocate for the ability of the humanities to do relevant cultural work that matters today.

I am not a fan of “the humanities matter argument” because it rings as a rather vapid platitude. I think the best way to defend or justify the humanities is to not talk about it, but do it. But how many of us in the humanities do scholarship that could be featured in a commercial like this one? I think that is question we need to grapple with and not rely simply on the claim that humanities matter.
PS: I watched last night’s game on my Xbox via the ESPN ap. The world of commercials works differently in that context. I do not know if this commercial was broadcast on cable or satellite feeds. However, millions of people have cut the cable and watch ESPN online. I still imagine a significant population saw this advertisement.

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The Possible End of #FollowWomenWednesday

Last week, Megan Kate Nelson published a great piece on her blog about the limitations of Follow Women Wednesday going forward. One of the stunning revelations by Nelson’s post was her own blunt statement that #FollowWomenWednesday cannot keep going.

I skimmed the piece last week before class and that night went home to read it in-depth. My initial reaction to the downturn in the return of the Follow Women Wednesday imitative was the start of the semester caused the precipitous decline in tweets, retweets, and additional follows. I had a few other ideas after my initial reading that I wanted to share, but they are rather redundant because Nelson’s piece addresses nearly all of them and with some awesome data visualizations.

However, I am somewhat relieved that there is now some really useful data backing up what was merely a gut feeling on my part. If you are interested in the circulation of ideas or any form of communications networks, then I highly recommend reading Nelson’s piece. The evidence that Nelson provides a concrete sense of how limited a network academic Twitter is. The limitations of academic Twitter is something that many of us recognized, but it is helpful to data backing up that feeling.

Without any data, my impression of Follow Women Wednesday was that it was getting harder to do it. In the early days, following and retweeting was easy. I was introduced to the voices of many women that I hadn’t encountered before Nelson kicked off Follow Women Wednesday. Also, I had the chance to share accounts with many of my followers. It was great.

However, Follow Women Wednesday is getting harder and as Nelson’s data shows that has a lot to do with communications network in which it exists. My initial reaction is that I need to plan what to share on Wednesdays. That takes time. On Tuesdays I’m thinking ahead to the next Follow Women Wednesday and that I need to plan what I’m going to share. However, it is very hard because Tuesdays are some of my hectic days of the week. It is hard because I’m seeing many of the same accounts, many accounts I already follow, many accounts that I’ve shared and retweeted. I want to amplifying different voices.

I think a lot about Twitter and social media because of my own accounts and having made use of Twitter in several of my classes. Currently, I’m affiliated with four Twitter accounts. An account for 2 scholarly initiatives I’m collaborating on with others, my main account, and an account for my composition classes. That is a lot to deal with on a weekly basis. I’ve learned a lot about the limitations of Twitter and social media by working on those accounts. I’ve become more strategic about amplifying the accounts that I am affiliated with and that has spilled over to my thinking for Follow Women Wednesday.

I’d like to publicize Follow Women Wednesday on at least 3 of the accounts I have a hand in & amplify many more voices, but the planning that would take is daunting. As Liz Covart has shared in recent posts on her blog, social media, especially Twitter is hard. Social media is even harder when trying to break out to other audiences. Honestly, I might never have thought about these strategic issues of using social media without following Covart’s work. Covart has been very open & honest about the difficulties that she faces in sharing her content online. In addition to providing great historical content, Covart has been sharing a lot about how social media works, and doesn’t work, especially as a tool to engage with and build a larger audience. My circle of folks on Twitter knows that Covart’s work is great, especially Ben Franklin’s World, but to make Covart’s public history initiatives work, sustain themselves, they need to move beyond the academic Twitter audience.

However, as Nelson’s post points out, Follow Women Wednesday isn’t moving beyond academic Twitter. Follow Women Wednesday had that initial movement beyond a predominately humanities Twitter academic audience. I was happy to see Follow Women Wednesday picked up by science blogs and members of the science community, however, I was shocked by the inability of Follow Women Wednesday to move beyond an academic Twitter. Nelson addressed this inability of Follow Women Wednesday to move beyond academic networks. One of the most interesting points was the fact that an unwillingness of accounts to “pay it forward,” especially those that could amplify voices to many, many followers. I’m still shocked by this fact. I’m not sure what to make of it. Nelson describes this phenomenon in more detail:

No Stars

In a world in which one tweet from Miley Cyrus can get a television show renewed, going viral necessitates the participation of at least one Twitter “star” – someone who has followers in the six-figure range, and who actively tweets.

Despite the fact that many participants in #FollowWomenWednesday have tweeted the handles of high-profile public intellectuals, women in media, and actors – none of these women have paid it forward. Also, a significant number of high-profile public intellectuals (like, say, Jill Lepore) are either not on Twitter, or tweet so infrequently (ex: Doris Kearns Goodwin) that they do not have much of a Twitter presence at all.

Follow Women Wednesday started out as an organic solution to a very important problem on Twitter, not jut academic Twitter. The sad feeling that I have, and Nelson’s data, I think, backs this up, is that very inorganic solutions are need to keep amplifying Follow Women Wednesday. The information that Covart has shared about her attempts to publicize her content shows that venues like Twitter, as spontaneous as they appear, aren’t as organic as we hoped or thought or wished.

It is sad that I think of Follow Women Wednesday as a #Brand that needs to be promoted. To maximize these new voices I encounter I don’t want to retweet a tweet I just saw. I want to wait a few hours when more people might see it. But I forget. I want to amplify voices others might not be familiar with from online. But it takes planning. I feel like I need metrics. I feel like I’m making judgments. I feel like I’m dealing with brand messaging and not the problem that Follow Women Wednesday seeks to address.

Maybe I’m doing it wrong. Maybe I am overthinking it. Maybe the visualized data is on the wall for Follow Women Wednesday, but I don’t want that to be the case. I want it to keep going.

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There is No Hope of Tenure

If you follow me on Twitter, than you know that I’ve recently started a VAP position. It is renewable for up to three years. That is good, especially after adjuncting for the past year. The pay is better. The benefits are better. The resources are better. The creature comforts are good. However, at the end of the day, it is still a contractual position. Yes, it is for the year and I don’t have to worry about receiving a contract for the spring. I’ll be paid during the summer, too. But things happen way above our pay grades. Multi-year jobs used to come with the sense that they were an assured longer-term position. Short of disasters in the classroom, one could expect to reach that full allotment of the multiple years, but now so much is in flux with higher education. I would never count on anything in higher education anymore.

I’ll be going on the job market for the fall. It has nothing to do with the position that I currently hold. It is all about the system. I can’t afford not to do go on the market again. There is no longer the luxury of taking a year off in a multi-year position and focusing on publications and other professionalization activities. Time is running out and we can’t bank on much in higher education anymore. However, I can bank on getting older. I can bank on my PhD getting stale. I can bank on having only limited opportunities to solve the two-body problem. I can bank on continued economic strain.

The silly season of hiring, though small in numbers, is already here. It has been here since the summer. We don’t have to wait for the MLA Job List to come out. We run by the fiscal year now, not the academic calendar. However, there is an uptick in listings on various sites now that the academic year has started. More will come. That more is, of course, relative since there really aren’t that many jobs to be had. We all know that.

In academic job postings for this week, I saw an advertisement for a tenure-track position in the University of Wisconsin system. I think it is clear based on the reaction of faculty in the University of Wisconsin system and commentators on higher education that tenure in Wisconsin is dead. If not dead, then tenure in Wisconsin is certainly dying. It isn’t just the loss of tenure in Wisconsin that matters. The real danger of Wisconsin is that Scott Walker has provided a model for reducing public universities and tenure than can be adopted in all 50 states.

I can’t read that job ad for the tenure-track position in the University of Wisconsin system and believe it. Even though the ad claims this is a tenure-track position, there is no tenure. If there is no tenure in Wisconsin, then there certainly can be no tenure anywhere. If there is tenure now, then there is no guarantee that it will exist by the time a person is at a 1 or 3 year review, let alone the 6 or so years to come up for tenure. Do you want to bet on any of that happening? I certainly don’t.

Having recently moved, I have no cable or internet in my apartment. I packed lightly and didn’t even take my trusty radio that I bought when I was in high school. I did bring my Xbox. But DRM is a pain without the internet. On a whim, just as I was going to hop in the car, I grabbed my DVD of Band of Brothers. I’ve been watching that as I’ve unpacked and set up my apartment. I was struck by the dialogue between two characters in one of the early episodes, Lieutenant Speirs and Albert Blithe. The conversation between Speirs and Blithe occurs in the days after the D-Day. Speirs is the soldier that is unafraid; Blithe is experiencing the emotional effects of combat and is frightened. The dialogue between the two, I think, has a lot to add to our feelings about tenure, the lack of it, and what can be done about it.

Capt. Ronald Speirs: What’s your name, trooper?

Pvt. Albert Blithe: Blithe, sir. Albert Blithe.

Capt. Ronald Speirs: You know why you hid in that ditch, Blithe?

Pvt. Albert Blithe: I was scared.

Capt. Ronald Speirs: We’re all scared. You hid in that ditch because you think there’s still hope. But Blithe, the only hope you have is to accept the fact that you’re already dead, and the sooner you accept that, the sooner you’ll be able to function as a soldier’s supposed to function. Without mercy, without compassion, without remorse. All war depends on it.

For Speirs “accept[ing] that you’re already dead” is tied directly to “function[ing] as a soldier is supposed to function.” Albert Blithe is afraid, just like many early career academics. The argument early on in academia is to put your head down, don’t make any waves and survive until you get tenure. I think what Speirs offers is a viable alternative to that line of thinking. Give up that hope of tenure and one can function not only better, but actually survive. Given the circumstances facing higher education, putting one’s head down to survive is clearly not working and it isn’t going to work. The early career academic thinks there is still hope of tenure. What if there is no hope, specifically of tenure and we operate under the assumption? If we overlay what Speirs has to say about being a functioning soldier on to higher education, then I think we can get somewhere. Instead of hope and death, think about what Speirs says if we swap out those words for tenure.

Of course, it is problematic to make this comparison between tenure and war, especially when Speirs observes that a well-functioning solider does so “without mercy, without compassion, and without remorse.” One of the arguments for the benefits of tenure is that people can than advocate and stick their necks out for other people, for causes, and for ideals. If we act with no hope of tenure, then can’t we, maybe, act now with mercy and compassion to others, our values, and our ideals? And, more importantly, act with the mercy and compassion that our fields and students need right now?

If you aren’t into Band of Brothers, and are troubled by the war metaphor, I think the same line of thinking about acting like there is no tenure can be achieved by thinking that “there is no spoon.” I imagine I could have written about the Matrix, but I’ve never seen it and I’m more familiar with Band of Brothers. What I know about the Matrix and the spoon is largely second-hand from memes and the internet, but it seems the idea could fit, too.

I am still thinking about my “no hope” comparison and one thing in the back of my mind as I parse through these ideas is the issue of publication, especially after reading Megan Kate Nelson’s two recent (and excellent and awesome) posts about leaving academia. I recommend that you read them: here and here. They are honest and sincere and we need those voices that are willing to share such stories. I’m unsure about how to balance my ideas from Band of Brothers with Nelson’s recommendation here:

And fourth, if you are a graduate student or an adjunct, Do Not Publish Too Much. One article, maybe two. If you’ve already written a book, keep the manuscript in your desk drawer until you have a tenure-track job. Then pull it out, polish it, and send it to presses.

Under my Band of Brother’s metaphor this doesn’t matter because we are acting like tenure doesn’t exist and that there is no hope. However, Nelson’s point is about being hired in the first place, let alone getting tenure. As she notes:

I was an adjunct with two books. In the rigid world of academic hiring, I didn’t make sense to any search committee out there. I was too experienced for assistant professorships, and there was no way any dean would approve hiring an adjunct with tenure. I had published too much, and I had made myself unhireable.

Clearly my Band of Brothers comparison only goes so far and needs more fleshing out. Maybe there is an asterisk for the publishing issue that Nelson raises. Clearly, I need to think more about these intersections. However, I think my comparison holds up on a host of other issues related to academia. There is no reason to be fearful and not function as an ally, an advocate, or an innovative teacher or public scholar / intellectual. The only hope you have is to accept the fact that you’re not getting tenure, and the sooner you accept that, the sooner you’ll be able to function as a teacher, scholar, or a public intellectual’s supposed to function: With mercy, with compassion, without regret. All of higher education depends on it.

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