Work-Life Balance: Some New Rules

In case it wasn’t clear from my last post, our family has been having some work-life balance issues. I was incredible moved by how the post seemed to resonate with many other academic couples/parents. It’s a constant process of negotiation, re-evaluation, and compromise for many of us. I’m not sure if it reassures me to know that our family is not alone in our struggles or saddens and angers me to know that there so many of us sacrificing so much for an academic job. 

The point of this post is to outline some of the ways I am trying to achieve some sort of a balance in my professional life and family. It’s especially challenging because I am not on the tenure-track while my husband is. His conference trips are fully funded, mine are not. He has a list a mile long of administrative responsibilities, I don’t. How can you achieve balance, when one member of the academic couple clearly has a number of advantages (funding) and disadvantages (administrative responsibilities)?
The first thing I did was to jump on the first chance I had to increase my amount of travel/professional development funds. I agreed to mentor high school English teachers who are teaching in our dual-credit program in exchange for a generous amount of money for professional development. There is obviously a trade-off – the increased responsibilities add to my workload, but now I can go to a conference and not worry about if we can afford it or now. Last year, I had to cancel going to a THATcamp that I was really looking forward to because we couldn’t afford it. This year, I have my own funds to tap into. 
And, I am not rushing home anymore if I don’t have to. I’m not showing up the day of my presentation and leaving as soon as I can after it’s over. I’m staying until the bitter end. I’m reconnecting with old colleagues and classmates, and hopefully meeting and creating new connections with people I only know virtually (or not at all). My kids are old enough (and my husband more than capable) of running this household for five days while I’m gone. If we are serious about one day finding a tenure-track job for me, then I have to do these things.
But that’s my professional life. At home, I am almost forcibly scheduling time for all of us to spend together. We have a four-day weekend this weekend (Fall Break!) and while both my husband and I have a pile of grading to do in order to get our mid-term grades in on time, I’m making sure we take a day-trip together, without work intruding on us. Plus, more date nights for me and my husband. 
I’m trying to focus on the things I can change, including my own behavior and reactions. I know this sounds all very zen (and painfully obvious), but I have to give myself a break and give my husband a break. I have to remember to make the most of the time we do all have together, and the time we have apart. I’m going to keep blogging, because it’s something I do for me. I guess I’m frustrated because I began this semester hoping we’d do better this time achieving a sort of a balance. 
It’s always a work in progress. 

Our Two-Headed Problem: A Letter to my Daughter

“Mommy, why does Daddy always have to go back to work after dinner and miss my bedtime? I want him to have a different job so he can be home.”

This week, my husband, who is also an academic but who, unlike me, is on the tenure-track, was besieged by professional responsibilities: candidate dinners, night grad classes, faculty senate meetings, social gatherings that represent important opportunities to network and appear like a good member of the “community.” To make up for the lost time, he woke up earlier than usual to go into work and prepare for class. Many weekends every semester, he is also away at conferences.

My daughter, who is four, was getting fed up, which lead to the quote above.

I want to tell her how lucky she is that her daddy has the job that he has, given the academic job market, heck the general job market. That not being an academic does not guarantee better hours; one of her classmate’s dad is always on the road for his non-academic job. Another one of our friends is overseas in Afghanistan, leaving behind a wife and son only a little younger that she is. That daddy is home more nights than he is away is a gift we can give to her.
I want to tell her that all of the extra work that he does is, in part, because he has won external funding, increasing his work-load, but also increasing our take-home pay. That mommy and daddy are up to our eyeballs in debt because of all of the extra schooling we did to get where we are, and those bills have come due. All of our small luxuries (like going to McDonald’s) come from mommy and daddy working hard to make sure he gets tenure and I get renewed year after year. 
I also want to tell her that her father and I have made every decision we could to try and maximize the amount of time we can spend together. I gave up a tenure-track job so our family could stay together. We live a block from campus so we don’t waste time in the car driving to and from work. We could move to a bigger city, but we would sacrifice at least two hours a day in drive time. I know many, many other academics (and non-academics) who sacrifice even more than that. 
But I also want to tell her that, in that moment, I wished we both had different jobs. Jobs that didn’t pay my husband twice as much as I am making, even though we have the same qualifications and essentially the same job. I wished we didn’t have a job that requires us to work 60-80 hours a week just to fulfill the minimum requirements. I wish that my work wasn’t what is pushed aside in the name of the quest for tenure. I wish I wasn’t stuck with the entirety of the “second shift” of cooking and cleaning. I wish I wasn’t also left all alone all those nights (and mornings) that my husband has to go back to work. I wish weekends could be weekends rather than a negotiation of who gets to go to their office to catch up and which four hours we’ll get to spend all together as a family. 
But I also want to be a good role model for her, show that I don’t resent my situation, or that I am settling. I don’t want to raise the proverbial “snowflake” and shelter her from the harsh realities (which really aren’t that harsh). But, I also need her, at that moment, to go to bed and get some much-needed sleep. I am overwhelmed in that moment by anger, shame, and fear, none of it directed at her, but all of it so powerful that I almost start to cry in front of her. 
“I know you miss your Daddy. I miss him, too. And every night isn’t like this, you know that. And, you know that Mommy and Daddy work hard to make sure you and your brother have everything that you need. We both love you very much. Daddy will come up and give you a kiss goodnight when he comes home.”
I come up later to find her curled up with a picture of her and her father, asleep. I go back downstairs to try and work on my own teaching prep, my own grading, my own research, alone. I am grateful for everything we have: our health, our house, our jobs, our family and friends. I just wish I had a little more time to enjoy it, together.

Addendum: After I finished writing this, I was completely emotionally drained. My two-year-old son woke up early from his nap and we were able to spend an hour together, snuggling in his bed, reading together. Sometimes all it takes is just an hour. I still stand by this post, but today I feel a lot better than yesterday. 

Efficiency =/= Innovation =/= Quality

I’m going off my blogging schedule. This might turn into a longer, more developed post for uvenus or elsewhere, but I need to write this and put this out there right now. While I’m angry. And reeling. 

Today on Inside Higher Ed, there was yet another post about disrupting higher education. Earlier today, I ran into a colleague who had spent the morning in another department, collaborating. “It’s the theme of my semester” she exclaimed excitedly. I sighed. I would love to be more collaborative, more innovative in my teaching. But, I don’t have the time. 
Professors are currently being (excuse my language) shit on for being luddites, inefficient, and unwilling to change. I represent the most “efficient” part of higher education; the non-TT instructor who teaches a lot of sections of a large course (not as large as some, but still pretty big considering I’m supposed to be teaching writing). I have limited professional development opportunities/funding (which is better than none at all, which is what many people in my position have access to). I teach five classes. 
I’m efficient. I’ve figured out how to efficiently grade 100-150 papers, multiple times a semester. That also means that I have to sacrifice quality. This is, obviously, a dangerous thing to admit. We’re told we need to be more collaborative. But, when? All the free time that I have when I’m not teaching, preparing to teach, or grading? I’ve innovated one of my classes this semester, and I have to admit, my other classes have suffered as a result; they are more standard, more “canned” than I would like. Why? Because I don’t have as much time to devote to them. But I’m efficient (even if the technology isn’t). I’m just not very innovative and I know the quality isn’t what it could be.
I want to use technology, but when I do, I find that it fails because the institution doesn’t invest in the support needed to help me and my students. Pens and paper never fail. Last week, I couldn’t do an activity with the students because the computers in the lab didn’t have FlashPlayer (seriously) and wouldn’t let anyone install it. “Innovation” is thrown about as a buzz word, and there are software packages being purchased and then “introduced” to us every day. But when do we have the time to learn about them and integrate them into our classes? For example, we upgraded to a new Blackboard version this year. When was it available? A week before the semester started. 
This semester, I haven’t had time to breathe. If this semester has taught me anything, it’s don’t try to change what works because it’s exhausting, thankless, and ultimately difficult to measure (which is of course what everyone wants). The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. But, what if you decide to change what works? I was a good teacher before, why am I reinventing the wheel? There are few incentives, but also few rewards for changing how we teach. There’s no time to slow down and think. 
I want to cry. I’m the model that apparently everyone in higher education wants to recreated: large classes, lots of section, canned delivery. Why? Why do we want to do that? I don’t even want to do that. I don’t want to be the model that higher education re-creates en masse, like McDonald’s. Trillions served the same unhealthy meal, the same way. Sure, we all get to eat for cheap, but at what cost? 
What the hell are education reformers thinking? Innovation is expensive and time consuming. You fail more often than you succeed. But in this world, there is no room for failure. Efficiency is only good if quality doesn’t decline. But what if the quality isn’t where it could be? We’re stuck in a death spiral when it comes to talking about education reform. I’m sick of it. So should you. 

Peer-Driven Learning: I’m No Cathy Davidson

I received an interesting set of questions in the comments on my last peer-learning post: 

I’ve read Cathy’s piece in the Chronicle of HE. I hate to be a bit of a wet blanket but having had some experience of designing, leading and being part of peer driven teaching and having been an early member of the so-called ‘anti-university’ set up in London in the late ’60s– I have a few questions that I’d need to know in order to determine if this is an idea that can be realistically applied and allow students to graduate with some kind of marketable qualification (however and whoever determines the ‘market’).The type of class isn’t clear. Are they postgrads/post-experience/mature/straight from secondary school? Are they doing an elective or is it a compulsory class?Will their grade make a difference to their degree and does the degree have to meet any institutional or external (eg professional/regulatory body accreditation criteria)?In fact, what does the grade signify? Is it simply a metaphorical ‘fig leaf’ to cover your back or is it a rigorous measure of the learning and self-instruction?

I’ve been wanting to do a post since the beginning outlining all of the ways my peer-driven class is different from Cathy Davidson’s classes.  I could point “anonymous” to my previous posts on my peer-driven classes that outline more carefully what the purpose of the class is, etc. But, just to reiterate, the class that I am reformulating as being peer-driven in ENG 200 or Writing II. This is a required course for all students, regardless of major. They have already taken ENG 100 or traditional freshman composition. Our student learning outcomes are essentially to have students read primary sources from across disciplines, discuss, and write about them. We have a choice of two almost identical textbooks to assign to them, and a list of required assignments, both large and small. At the end of the day, if the students are using the textbook as a guide, they will be fulfilling the requirements of the course. Most of my colleagues that I’ve told that I am letting the students decide what they want to read from the textbook have shrugged their shoulders; any readings from the book will be challenging and stimulating.

There are some very important differences, of course, between my course and Cathy Davidson’s course. While Cathy Davidson seems to have had a weekly schedule that students followed (more or less), my class has been shaped exclusively by my textbook, which we would never be able to get all the way through. Both my classes are completely different in terms of our assignments and week-to-week layout. One class is much more “traditional”; the students have picked the readings, but we are working on them together, as a class. The other class has broken off into groups and will be teaching their own two-class unit, complete with a project based on their readings/lesson. It’s early, but each class is having some good results.

My students didn’t “chose” to take me, specifically, for this course. Sure, there are a handful who had me last year, but most of the students selected my sections of ENG 200 because it fit their schedule. They certainly had no idea that I was going to turn the tables on them. I have a higher cap in my class (18 students sounds like a dream) and no TA. I don’t have tenure, and I am teaching three other classes on top of the two peer-driven courses. Our college has a high number of first-generation college students, as well as a poor graduation rate and low ACT scores for incoming freshmen. The majority come from our service area, which is largely poor and rural. If one of my classes is less ready to embrace peer-driven learning, I can’t say I’m terribly surprised. Actually, that one of the classes so readily embraced the format is perhaps more surprising.

I don’t have a ton of experience being an “innovative educator” nor does what I write about or do in my classroom cause our PR office to have palpitations. Thanks to Cathy Davidson, turning your class over to your students isn’t met with hang-wringing and fainting (seriously, read the first chapter of Now You See It to see how much negative national press Cathy Davidson has inspired). Or, thanks to the fact that I toil away at an out-of-the-way university insulates me from any notice. I’d say it’s a bit of both. I help create one of the most exciting and innovative (to me at least) academic programs/organizations (HASTAC), so I’m starting from behind, so to speak, compared to Cathy Davidson. I’m still learning to let go and embrace all of this.

My job, as I understand it, is to help students become better writers but also more independent learners. I want them to becomes 4-year-olds again, where the world was exciting and new and they wanted to learn about everything. I want them to learn how to create a community, to support one another in their education, and just think differently about anything I can. I want to help them think more critically about their world and how they fit into it. These are my goals regardless of how I teach, but I think teaching this way will be more successful. Even if the rest of their educations are “by the book” both literally and figuratively, I hope they will take what they have learning in my class beyond university.

Is it sustainable for every single program on campus? I don’t know. I’m not as optimistic as Cathy Davidson, although I’m getting there. I’ve said time and time again that it’s my own failure of imagination that I cannot think about how to do my class or university differently. But I know I am doing something right as my class buzzes with excitement and begin to come up with their own innovative and creative ways of looking at their readings and the issues they bring up. I can’t measure that.

I’m not sure if I want to.

Teaching Ain’t Easy (or, Duh)

I think I’ve finally over-done it. I’ve bitten off more than I can chew. After a summer of fabulous productivity in the writing department, I’m spent. I know I wrote basically the same thing exactly a week ago, but it seems that Thursdays, I hit a wall. Or, more accurately, Wednesday I hit a wall, but habit dictates that I face this reality on Thursdays when I try to write my Thursday night post for Friday.

Teaching, it seems, it taking everything out of me. I’m completely redoing all three of my classes (for a total of five sections) to various degrees. My peer-driven classroom is mentally draining; the uncertainty of what is going to happen in every class is unnerving and stressful, I’m not going to lie. My other classes are using texts and techniques that are more traditional but unfamiliar to me. I’m re-learning how to teach.
But I also think that I have never had a clear picture about just how physically and mentally taxing teaching really is. When I was a PhD student, I was young, unattached, and only had one class to teach (at noon, no less). I started my first adjunct position (four sections) when I was pregnant, so if I was tired, I “blamed” it on the pregnancy. When I went back to the adjunct position after having the baby, I just assumed I was tired because I had a small baby who was still nursing and not sleeping through the night. And then, my tenure track job was an even split between being pregnant and having a newborn. 
And then last year, when I started teaching full time after a year off, I was also taking care of my son part-time, trading off with my husband. In other words, I’ve never been in a situation where teaching can and is the only source of my complete and utter exhaustion at the end of the day. But now, I think that I’ve been getting it all wrong; motherhood is easy, teaching is the hard part. 
This semester, I have no excuse for not being able to find some balance in my life. I know that one of the reasons my energy levels are down is because I’m not taking care of myself. Because the kids are back in school, I just assumed I’d be able to maintain my manic writing pace I set for myself over the summer. But, I apparently can’t replace one set of kids with another with no impact. 
So, here’s what I’ve decided: I’m reducing the number of weekly posts here from three to two. One on Sunday night for Monday, another on Wednesday night for Thursday. Mondays will still be about my peer-driven classroom, while Thursdays will be whatever catches my fancy. I’ll still be doing my monthly posts for UVenus, as well as looking for other opportunities to guest-post (or even make some money!). And unless a call-for-submissions really catches my eye, I’m taking a break from academic writing, too. I mean, as soon as I get all of these essays I have left to write out of the way (seriously, there are two more). 
So thank you, loyal readers. My peer-driven class would not be nearly as successful as it has been if you had not been here for me, supporting me, offering advice, and just a sympathetic ear. I tell my students that this can have a ripple effect; I already know that I have inspired some of you to try this, and my students are also reaching out to their professors, introducing them to the idea that maybe they can handle having a voice their own educations. 
But, for tonight, I’m done. I’m going to bed.

What am I still doing here? More Thoughts on Now I See It

In the comments of my review of Higher Education?,  capandgown notes:

well said, it’s a completely pernicious system in which everyone higher up the pecking order is incentivised to exploit those below. at the end of your piece i was wondering though – why DO you do it? possibly you will say, because you love it. I’m wondering when the tipping point comes : when love of one’s job becomes the privilege of those who can afford it?

These are two questions that I have addressed in the past (why I came back to teaching and who will be our future professors). I wrote the former post almost exactly a year ago, when I was about to start teaching again, full-time, after a year of under/unemployment. Many reasons I outlined there haven’t changed; I still need the money and there are very few employment opportunities where I am currently living. Why not move? My husband and I decided, very early in our relationship, that if we were going to decide to be together “forever” that we were going to be together. So I am still place-bound and limited, therefore, in my employment opportunities.

But, and Worst Professor Ever is going to be mad at me for saying this, capandgown is right insofar as that I love what it is that I do. I am invigorated and excited to have the opportunity to completely reimagine and reformulate my classes. I have written elsewhere that it is liberating to “only” be an instructor, and I wonder if I would have had the courage or conviction to do what I am doing this semester if I was on the tenure-track. This job still has something to offer me (other than money), and me to it.

I can’t imagine myself doing anything else. And, that might be the problem. I’ve spoken before about my failure of imagination when it comes to how I see and understand my classes. I have the same problem when it comes to my career trajectory. For so long I could only see myself in front of the class, in higher education, eventually moving up the administrative ladder. Of course, that vision has shifted somewhat, but not much. Maybe it’s in part because of where I am living, with limited economic opportunities. Maybe it’s because I’ve never been particularly entrepreneurial. Or, and I think Cathy Davidson would agree, the vision I’ve had for my life has never really been seriously disrupted enough for me to take a step back and really rethink things.

When I say that my job still has something to offer me, I mean that it allows me to go outside of my comfort zone, even if it’s only in the relatively safe confines of the classroom, a place where I feel most at home. Maybe these small steps I am taking to change the way I look at the educational experience will help me build up the courage and the vision to look at my own career trajectory differently. Four short months ago, I was lamenting my inability to radically change the way I teach. Now, I’m making it happen.

Eight months from now, maybe I’ll see more things just a little bit differently as well. Until then, I’ll keep doing what I love and what challenges me. I’m pretty lucky that way.

Bad Female Academic: Not Interested in Passing

(See what I did there? That’s the second post in a row where I’ve come up with a clever title with two possible meanings, both in the traditional academic sense and in the socio-economic sense. Anyone? Anyone? Alright, I’ll get on with it.)

When Dr. Crazy was talking about gender and class, she brought up the concept of “passing”, or being able to move up and fit into a different socio-economic class. Women, especially, have been practicing this since, well, since there were marked differences between different groups of people implying an hierarchy.* I think if this Bad Female Academic series has shown anything, it’s that I am not very good at passing myself off as a “traditional” academic.
But writing this series has forced me to look back at my personal history both inside and outside academia, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I have never really been interested in passing, and in fact now seem to be actively seeking out situations where it would be impossible for me to pass. 
Let me explain, and bear with me if we take a short voyage into my non-academic past.
In elementary school, I was the only girl in my class who didn’t at least try to figure skate or do ballet. This was an offense punishable by being mean-girled for all of elementary school. I swam. I never hid the fact that I swam, nor was I interested in giving up swimming in order to “fit in.” In high school, too, I wore my hideous swimming jacket as a badge of pride, marking my difference from the rest of the group. It was also in high school when my parents got divorced and I was suddenly thrust into a different economic reality, a reality that was much different from that of my friends. Swimming, while a welcome escape for me, was also a place where I didn’t quite fit in, as I was one of the youngest and only girls. 
After a particularly difficult two years at a private CEGEP, where I decided that I couldn’t join the socio-economic elite I was going to school with, nor did I have any desire to beat them, so I wore sweatpants for two years, I left to go to a French university. I knew I wouldn’t, couldn’t pass as a French person, but I didn’t care. The impossibility of passing was liberating. 
After my PhD (where I probably tried too hard to pass, failed miserably, and was miserable), after getting married, after adjuncting while pregnant, I got my tenure-track job. At an HBCU. Once again, while pregnant. There was no hope of passing, in fact it would have been insulting and ignorant to even try. But I liked that. I had realized that letting go of the pressure, the desire, the desperation, to be something I wasn’t, I learned more, was more open, and a better teacher. I wasn’t wrapped up in whatever I needed or thought I needed to do, so I could focus on what my students needed me to be. 
Think about that for a second. If we just stopped worrying so much about what our colleagues or administrators or “the elite” want us to be, maybe we can be better teachers and researcher, actually attuned to what they need from us, and what we need from ourselves. 
Now, I am an instructor in the South. My accent marks me as different. And that’s perfectly fine by me. Maybe by being myself, I can teach my students (and my children) that it’s ok to be yourself and to be different. 
*I don’t use the term “passing” without realizing that it is a problematic term; I’ve worked at an HBCU and I study Black writers, so I am well aware of the history of “passing” for African-Americans in the US. And even the fact that I have the choice to be able to pass marks me as being a more privilege position. And my apparent rejection of that privilege is also not unproblematic. I don’t see what I do as “slumming it” but instead a conscious effort to do things differently. 

There are no words today, only action

I was all set to write a post about how we remain obsessed with the Ivies and those top, elite colleges, to our own detriment. And I’m not just talking about how families will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to get little Jimmy and Suzy into Yale or Duke, but how we, in academia and the media, keep pushing these colleges as the standard, for better or for worse. Three items:

Nothing from a regional state school (or community college). Nothing from a PhD from a less than elite program. Nothing about the variety of experiences that are found in higher education, from how English is taught to the experience of the workforce therein. 
And then, I read about an adjunct professor in community college who killed himself. 71 years old, history of depression, and all I can think is, did he not get help because he didn’t have health insurance? And I remember reading about another adjunct who worked through his cancer treatments because he couldn’t afford not to. He passed away from the cancer (sorry, no link; I saw it on facebook, in a private note, and I don’t have permission to share). And how some are trying to create an Adjunct Emergency Fund. And. And. And. And.
So, I’m sorry if your experience at Brown and with elite MBA students isn’t all that you imagined it would be; most of us are teaching our “mediocre” and “non-elite” students how to write quite well, thank you very much. And, I’m sorry I’m not the kind of role model you’re looking for in English. Or, maybe I am, but you can’t be bothered to meet me. Finally, I’m so, so happy that you’re academic fairy tale has come true. Doesn’t mean that it has for most people.
Ivory tower, indeed. 
For the rest of us, it’s real life, and it’s about time others started realizing that. Although, most people reading this blog already do realize it. Preaching to the choir. Now, it’s up to us to actually DO something about it. I wrote this. I’ll keep writing this. 
I need to figure out what else it is I can do. Because these words that I write, while reaching an audience, can only do so much. 

The Academic Elite: Who Are These People, Really?

So, class has been on everyone’s brain lately. Not the kind of class that is about to start in less then three weeks (I really need to get on that), but the kind of class that involves money, social mobility, and how to properly “fit” into higher education. I want to start with a little bit of a roundup of recent posts that are either explicitly or implicitly about class issues. If I’m missing any, please let us all know in the comment. 

Obviously, this isn’t all that has been written on class issues in higher education, but these seem to have all come to head, right now, online and in real life, at least for me. Thinking about my graduate and teaching career, I have one question that nags at me:

Who in the heck are these people who are forcing and enforcing a very clear and distinct set of class values on us? Seriously? Who are they?

Because it’s not the majority of people that I’ve met on my path to where I am right now. Maybe it’s because I’ve never attended an “elite” institution, either as a student or a professor. Maybe it’s because I self-selected the people I hang around with, naturally drawn to those with similar backgrounds to my own (my husband, for example, who is also an academic, is from the same socio-economic background as I am). Or maybe, like so much of what we believe about higher education, it’s all just a massive ruse that we’ve been blindly perpetuating.

I still remember being put in my place when I was an MA student by one of my professors. I was commenting on a novel we were reading, saying that it was written for “them” and not for ordinary people (or something like that). She took great offense to that, outlining all of the ways she was not one of them, in terms of her background. It was the first time I really took a step back and looked at the people in front of me and around me. Now, we did have a professor who was a stereotypical professor, in terms of both his class and attitude, but it was only one. And, I don’t remember one of my peers in the program who came from anything higher than lower-middle-class.

It was the same for my PhD. There was, again, one professor who was clearly “one of those professors” (he came from a very wealthy and influential family, apparently, and my colleague of mine was horrified when I revealed, no, sorry, never heard of them), but the rest of the professors were largely from working-class and immigrant families, as were my colleagues in the program. I’ve taught at four different universities in two countries and three states, and I have to say that the majority of my colleagues come form backgrounds similar to my own.

So why then does this obsession with class markers persist? Did we all get into higher education so we could be snobs? Really? And why do we keep requiring that aspiring academics perform tasks that we know they can’t afford? Go to conferences, work for peanuts, receive little institutional support both before and after the tenure-track job. Take on more and more debt, shop at the right stores, live in the right neighborhood, go to the right shows, the right conferences, etc.

We’re suffering in semi-silence. I can’t believe that, despite all of these voices speaking out, we can’t change higher education, if not structurally, then at least culturally. I refuse to meet certain cultural markers. I’m not good at “passing” (as Dr. Crazy writes about) and, judging by the comments and traffic my blog post has received, I’m not the only one who is either incapable, unwilling, or just plain burnt out about the whole thing.

I am serious, though. Where is this pressure coming from? Because, from where I’m sitting, there are more of “us” than there are of “them.”

Bad Female Academic: Am I In the Wrong Class?

Throughout my examination of the pressures female academics face to conform in order to “make it”, and how I (attempt to) resist or break, or simply just don’t fit those expectations, it’s become increasingly clear that a lot of the issues surrounding being a Bad Female Academic isn’t just about policing gender, but it is about class (socio-economic) expectations. When I admit that I am loud or that I like to get dirty, I am essentially signaling a lower-class upbringing.
This is important when discussing the ever-nebulous issue of “fit” when it comes to hiring and tenure decisions. During one of my on-campus interviews, one of the faculty who was taking me around campus revealed that she had attended school in Southern California near where I was currently living. We got talking about living in SoCal; the traffic, the weather, our favorite beaches, local news, going to the Getty Museum, and the like. I made the mistake, however, of revealing that I listened to KROQ, a rock-alternative station. Their morning show, in particular, isn’t known to be very progressive when it comes to issues of sexism (they have an annual Miss Double-D-cember contest), racism, and homophobia. But, to me, they are hysterical, don’t take themselves too seriously, and often take-down the self-importance of Hollywood/L.A. And, I really like the music.
Obviously, the correct answer was that I listen to NPR or a classical music station. Even if I had lied and said that, it would soon become clear that I didn’t, in fact, listen to these stations when I would be unable to offer comment on that morning’s feature story. Honestly, I hate talk radio. I appreciate classical music, but need something a little more…invigorating to start my day. I grew up in a house filled with popular and rock music. We listened to music in the mornings, peppered through with the news (sports scores were essential) and funny bits done by the DJs. I’m not sure how much of it has to do with class, but there are certainly assumptions to be made because of my favorite kind of music and what I like to listen to on the radio.
But it’s not just what kind of radio I enjoy listening to. These expectations start to permeate every decision I make, especially as a mother.  I let my kids watch TV, even indulging in my daughter’s love of Disney Princesses.  I don’t have a nanny, but instead send them to preschool, and not one that is a Montessori. These are all revelations that slowly by surely leak out as I become more and more integrated in the community. Where one shops, what kind of food or clothes one buys, it all reflects a certain class expectation.
For example, I shop at Wal-Mart. This, in many academic circles, is a sin punishable by death, or at least a good shunning. But here’s the problem. I can’t afford not to shop at Wal-Mart. For groceries and basic necessities for the kids, it’s the most affordable option available. I would love to be able to afford to drive an hour to shop at Whole Foods, or the organic co-op, but I can’t. The student loan debts my husband and I have from our educations are taking huge chunks from our income.
Here is where class really comes into play. Those of us who had to go into a great deal of debt to get their PhDs often can’t afford to play the game of being a good “fit” or embodying the non-academic values of higher education. I want to take my kids to the symphony or the ballet, I want to sign them up for culturally enriching opportunities, and not just because of the societal pressure of my job, but I can’t afford to. And that inability to pay can be interpreted as refusing to teach my own children the proper “values,” thus calling into question my “fit” in an academic setting.  We are also often the same people who came from a lower class to begin with, meaning that all of those “free” symbols of class that come naturally to some aren’t obvious, comfortable, or authentic for us.
When we talk about diversity in academia and what it means to be a “good” academic, we can’t forget the economic privilege that exists for those who have long set the rules as to what it means to be a Good Academic.
(Worst Professor Ever and I must share a brain, or at least be on the same wavelength; while I was writing this post, she published “You Stay Classy, Ivory Tower!” I encourage you to read her very similar reactions to the class expectations of higher education. I think the more voices we have talking about this very real issue, the better.)