Bad Student: I Was an Undergrad Snowflake

(We’re finally watching Bad Teacher because it’s now available on PPV; it seems fitting that I write this particular post while Cameron Diaz plays a deplorable human being, let alone teacher, in the background.)

There was an interesting discussion over at Prof Hacker about venting about students using social media. Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows that I, from time to time, make negative observations about my students. They are general and they never discuss grades. What I often am looking for are some words of encouragement and support, as well as a place to sort through my often conflicted feelings about how things are going in my class. And, more often than not, these tweets (and the responses to them) turn into blog posts (like the most recent one on plagiarism). I don’t tweet anything that I wouldn’t tell my students in class. 
But, as I wrote in the comments of the Prof Hacker post, 

I think that when we express some of our frustration about our students online, for me on Twitter, I think it shows us as human, who get frustrated and discouraged, just like our students. I also think that an angry tweet about, say, catching a plagiarizer serves as an immediate reminder that a) yes we will catch you and b) it will not be good.

Our classes don’t always go as planned. Sometimes it can open up a conversation about what went wrong and why from both our perspective as well as the students. Also, I think some students need to know that certain behaviors are unacceptable from them, and that that is a “universal” sentiment, expressed through tweets and RT from lots and lots of professors on Twitter. 

I know that if I had seen behavior that I recognized as my own tweeted out by one of my profs, I’d have actually reconsidered my own attitude and actions. See, I was an undergraduate snowflake. In fact, I was probably the worst kind; the kind that still got really good grades, despite a) rarely attending class and b) putting little effort into the assignments. I left just about every single paper until the last minute, handing work in late, and just generally not caring about my classes very much.

(There were a few exceptions, of course.)

I kept behaving badly because I got away with it. No one called me out on my crap, at all. I know now that I must have driven my professors absolutely crazy. Either that, or they didn’t care (and really, maybe they didn’t). If there was a way that I could have known that they did, indeed, care and that my behavior (and, to be fair, the behavior of many of my classmates) was unacceptable, I probably would have changed it. It wasn’t until I realized myself, through a mixture of professional quasi-failures and hitting an academic wall during my MA, that really, being a snowflake may have been fun for me, but it was totally unfair to my professors.

(In writing this, I am beginning to totally understand Worst Professor Ever’s attitude towards teaching.)

My professors were human and professionals. They deserved better treatment than what I gave to them.

Peer-Driven Learning: Plagiarism, Motivation, and Acceptance

I’ve written already that I need to work on accepting the strengths and limitations of each of my peer-driven learning classes. But this week has really tested my patience, my resolve, and my faith that this change in approach is really a good thing. 

My…less-enthusiastic class has been struggling. Their first paper was due on Monday. I realized during the drafting process that one of the reasons this class hasn’t embraced the peer-driven concept is because they are insecure/unsure writers. The first day that they were supposed to have brought drafts to class for peer-review, only three did. And this was after I forced them to go to the library to do research for their paper. Instead of sending them away, I was able to quickly find an available computer lab and take them their to actually write their draft (those three who brought a draft did the peer-review work by themselves). Turns out, the majority of the students did in fact have a draft but were too afraid to let anyone read it. I was able to work with each of them through their various issues and they came away from the class with a bit more confidence and a workable draft (or at least a better sense of how to get there).
I am a little ashamed to admit that I was feeling pretty proud of myself after that class. I was able to help the students rather give the knee-jerk reaction of simply dismissing them and their apparent lack of motivation. Sometimes, a good teacher needs to discern what the students want or need, even in a peer-driven setting. And I also knew that the direction we had initially set in the class probably needed to change. On Monday, when the entire class was there to hand in their essays, I announced that on Wednesday we would re-evaluate how we approach the rest of the semester. Did we still want to all work on the same topic, or would individual groups like to work individual topics of their choice? Did we still want to do group work? Did we still want to do projects? Be here on Wednesday if you want a say in the direction of the second-half of the semester.
A little less than half the class bothered to show up.  Now, I will give the less-than-half of the class that did show up credit. They came full of ideas and prepared to defend them. We sat down in a small circle and came up with a second-half plan (which closely resembles what the other class is doing right now). But, we are going to waste Monday’s class forming groups for the other students who weren’t there. 
And then, today, when I was grading their papers, I came across one of the most blatant case of plagiarism of my career. The student found a conference presentation on poverty and education online. It was even a Word document, so all the student did was take the first few pages of the presentation, double-space it, and stick her name on the top. The language was so obviously beyond the student’s level, that it was the giveaway I needed. A simple Google search turned up the paper immediately. 
I don’t know what to do. I make the course peer-driven, empower the students to make their own decisions about the direction of the education, and I still can’t get better than 45% attendance. I told the students that if they didn’t show up that others would make the decision for them. This saddens me, not just for the success of the class, but for the future of democracy; the students don’t seem to care if someone else decides their future for them. And, I know all of the reasons why students plagiarize, but thought that I had managed to remove all of them. 
I don’t know what else to do but accept that some students aren’t motivated. Or that there are many, many factors that I can’t control. Then, why continue with peer-driven learning? Why put up with the stress and the added work if more than half the students don’t even care one way or the other what they learn or how? 
Even writing that, I know why. 
It’s just this week has been really, really hard. I’m still working on acceptance. 

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. 

Now You See It: Backward Thinking on Where Education Innovation Should Take Place

I’m in the process of re-reading Cathy Davidson’s excellent book, Now You See It (here’s my initial review). My Freshman Writing classes are done with Fahrenheit 451, and we’re moving on to a more optimistic view of the future. This is (obviously) the first time I’m teaching this book, and it’s going to be a challenge to come up with assignments both large and small to engage the students with the work. Not because it’s a difficult book to engage with, but because it’s new, and as Cathy Davidson points out, the new is hard.  

So much of the book resonates with me because I’ve actively sought jarring and unfamiliar experiences: I decided to not to attend an English university in my hometown on Montreal, instead choosing attend a smaller French university; I headed North and West to do my PhD; my first tenure-track job was at an HBCU (and as to why that’s “strange,” take a look at my picture). Even now, this Canadian city girl is in the middle of Appalachia. Every single one of these choices has forced me to confront my preconceptions and, as Cathy Davidson (and obviously others) points out, this disruption is essential to learning: “Learning is the constant disruption of an old pattern, a breakthrough that substitutes something new for something old. And then the process starts again” (5). 
(This, by the way, is going to be the “free write” discussion question I post to my students before we start any class discussion; how many of them have experienced that as a part of their education?)
I’ve always been restless. I need to feel like I’m moving forward, challenging myself, really learning. As much as I enjoyed my undergraduate experience, I knew that any job I took, any job that I was trained for, would bore me to tears, and that I hadn’t really been challenged intellectually. Grad school, it seemed, held the promise of greater intellectual stimulation. But I am forever grateful for the Universit√© de Sherbrooke for providing me with such a wonderful environment in which to learn. 
Sherbrooke started as a service city for a large and fertile farming area in south-eastern Quebec. The university itself, founded in 1954, in still one of the youngest free-standing universities in the province. All things considered, there was no reason why the university could or should evolve into one of the most innovative and dynamic universities in Canada. But it did. It’s medical school, in 1987, moved to Problem-Based Learning, and now is cited as an example for other schools to follow. It’s engineering school also works largely on a problem-based program. It always seemed strange to me that Sherbrooke was ranked in the “Medical-Doctoral” category (medical school notwithstanding) because the focus was so squarely on the undergraduate experience. 
My program was no exception. I was studying “professional writing” in English (yes, I went to a French university to study English). Our program was small, professionally oriented, but also one that responded not only to the needs of the job market, but also the needs of the students. We learned HTML and web design back in the mid-1990s. In an English program! I edited our small student newspaper, oversaw the birth of the online version (no longer available), and had lots of informal opportunities for translation. When a large group of students (from my year and others who were ahead of us) were voicing their displeasure about the program, I organized a meeting between the faculty and students to discuss the direction of the program. We were writing publicly in many of our classes before we even knew that’s what we were doing.
I was lucky. While I was being “trained” so to speak for a profession (to be fair, multiple professions: journalist-editor-translator-web writer-technical writer), it was in an environment where we were free, in fact, encouraged to create our own jobs, our own profession. It was never hidden from us that, while jobs were almost a guarantee (this was during the tech boom), self-employment and being a freelancer was an attractive option. We were connected with alumni who had successfully gone off on their own. We were, as a small English program in a large French university, a community who worked together, took care of one another, and helped each other succeed. I loved that. 
I compare my undergraduate institution with the one that I am currently teaching at. The experience for my students couldn’t be more different. And yet, this is a place where education should be on the cutting edge of innovation. The programs that most of our students major in (education, nursing, vet tech, engineering tech) are perfect for Problem-Based Learning and a more collaborative style. But, in a cruel irony, these are the programs that are most rigidly standardized and controlled by external (and internal) accrediting bodies. And in most of our other programs, we prepare students for urban, white collar jobs that just don’t exist in our region. 
One expects cities to be the centers of innovation, but I think we need to look to rural colleges and schools for new ways to teach and learn. Scratch that, we need to liberate rural colleges and schools in order for them to better serve their students, providing for them an education that they can use in their communities, to improve their communities. But, we don’t, in part because we assume that rural students are “less than” their urban (and urbane) counterparts. Those who can, leave. Those who stay…
This is, Cathy Davidson would say, an assumption that needs disrupting. Innovative, relevant, and enriching education can happen anywhere. Sherbrooke proves that. I want my students to prove that, too.

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. 

Bad Female Academic: Admitting I’m Wrong

As someone who writes about literature (and pop-culture!), I know the value of re-reading (and re-reading and re-reading again). I’ve always been this way; any book or tv episode or movie that I love are often revisited time and time again. Sometimes it’s because they provide comfort or familiarity during a time of crisis or volatility (hello, Muppet Movie, Star Wars, or Almost Famous!) or because they are so rich that they demand more than one kick at the can. But even now, I can still be surprised by what I have missed in works that I thought I was thoroughly familiar with.

I was re-reading (and re-reading) Nalo Hopkinson‘s short story collection Skin Folk for an essay I’m writing (the postcolonial body, in case anyone was interested). Anyway, in one story, “A Habit of Waste,” the protagonist (a young woman of Afro-Caribbean descent living in Toronto) is revealed to have bought a new body, a thin white one. I highly recommend this story for anyone interested in the intersection of race, gender, and postcoloniality, and the story became the central part of my analysis for the whole collection.

As I was writing the essay (after having read the story at least fifty times), I noticed something I hadn’t picked up before in all my other readings: the body that the protagonist buys is called a “Diana” type. Why had I not ever seen this before? Diana? Princess Diana? The remnants of the monarchy? The fairy-tale princess? In a story involving not one, but two Commonwealth countries in a postcolonial setting? Really? How did I not see this before? Suddenly, I was researching the image of Princess Di, how she is interpreted, etc (there was a Journal of British Studies issue devoted to her, among the hundreds of other peer-reviewed articles dealing with her image, legacy, etc). And now I had a whole new avenue to write about in this essay (which meant I had to sacrifice some of the other things I had planned to write about).

This week, in my FYC class, we are talking about the great dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451. I wrote my MA thesis on dystopias, so I’ve been reading (and rereading) this book for over ten years. I’ve taught it in various classes at least ten times. And this week, during our discussion about the book and why the world Bradbury creates I realized something I never had before; Bradbury wasn’t just making a point about books and education (the three things we need are things that have depth, time to think about them, and the right to act on what we’ve learned), but it is also about how society has fragmented, with people cut off from each other. Montag finds the strength to act when he connects first with Clarisse, then with Faber, and finally with Granger and the band of nomads. How had I not seen this before?

Of course, I didn’t call attention to my revelation, simply including it as part of the discussion. Maybe I should have. Anyone who teaches knows that it’s almost impossible to get students to read, let alone re-read anything we assign. The worst is when students ask me if they have to read something because they read it in high school already. I think I was afraid to say, hey, I just noticed this, because it might appear like I wasn’t prepared or I didn’t know what I was talking about. I could have let me students see my own learning process, a process that didn’t end…ever. So many students, heck, people now decide on something (for whatever reason) and desperately cling to those conclusions. I need to remember to show my students that I am open to noticing and learning new things, that I am often wrong and that’s ok.

As a young, non-tenure-track female faculty member, I often feel the pressure to make sure that my authority and expertise are unquestionable. But, they aren’t. I’m often wrong, and I am open to learning from my mistakes, open to sudden epiphanies, open to changing my mind. That I was afraid to share those moments with my students when they happen isn’t something I am proud of. This is one area where I need to work on being the baddest Bed Female Academic I can be. 

Bad Female Academic: My Bawdy Body

I’m currently working on an essay about how Nalo Hopkinson uses the (postcolonial, black, queer) body in her short story collection, Skin Folk. The female bodies in particular in her works, both short stories and novels, are very physical; they are pregnant, nursing, menstruating, eating, going though menopause, coming, and they come in all shapes and sizes, lovingly described. This element of her work has always resonated with me. In my research for my current paper, I came across the book Rites of Passage in Postcolonial Women’s Writing from Rodopi. One of the essays deals with the difference between “female” and femininity:

If femininity represents the socially acceptable, aesthetic side of ‘woman-ness’, then femaleness exposes its socially unacceptable, abject underside, the undesirable leftovers of existence. Thus, while abjection deals in the undeniably physical – the messiness of the body’s materiality – so aesthetics traditionally shuns the corporeal in favour of the polished, pretty veneer of femininity. (267)

The essay uses Kristeva and goes through the ways women’s (particularly girls on the cusp of or going through puberty) are policed. Good girls are sugar, spice, and all things nice (but, not allowed to be seen eating those sweet things). We smell good, we look good, we are clean and fresh.

I’ve never had a problem with being “female” so to speak. As a tomboy or growing up as “one of the boys,” I never felt ashamed of the messiness of being female; it was just something that happened, like the messiness of being a male. Growing up with the boys and their locker room talk just meant, to me, that bodies and bodily functions weren’t anything to hide.

Of course, I quickly learned how wrong I was and what the double standard was for me and my female body versus males and their bodies. But being feminine just didn’t fit with my personality or my body. I loved to eat, which I could do when I swam almost 30 hours a week. One might be tempted to discuss eating as a substitute for…something I was missing growing up, but for me eating was a simple pleasure that I would not give up simply because it was “un-lady-like” to stuff my face with the boys after a long practice.

Things got especially difficult once I hit puberty and it became clear that I was, despite my best efforts, not one of the boys. I didn’t and don’t possess a boyish, athletic body. My femaleness became obvious, in fact, it became hard to ignore. It is one thing to be pretty and feminine (think Betty Draper on Mad Men), it is another when your sexuality is on display (think Joan Holloway on Mad Men). I’m a Joan. As the show observes, it is difficult for “Joan” to be taken seriously, and I learned that many, many times over.

Joan Holloway
Betty Draper
I am and will be forever grateful for my best friend at university. She and I shared many similarities (tomboys, Joan-esque figures, former athletes, distaste/discomfort with being “feminine”). We spent five years together as friends and later roommates, figuring out the balance between our female bodies and the feminine expectations of the world around us. I can still remember the times we got “dressed up” when we went out, putting on skirts or dresses and make-up. We were lucky that we grew up in a time when the predominant style was grunge, and thus we could wear baggy cargo pants and oversized plaid shirts, hiding those parts of our messy female selves while still rejecting the feminine rules we didn’t want any part of. 
As we got older and moved on, we had to embrace at least some of the rules, particularly if we wanted to partially fit in at our chosen professions (she is a successful communications account manager). But we also figured out that we could be female and feminine, and largely true to ourselves. I miss her immensely because she was someone with whom I could be myself: messy, bawdy, crude, and honest. There was never any pressure to be anything other than who we were, no female pressure to conform, to be more feminine, less female. 
I still love crude, raunchy humor. I have to remember to watch myself, that I don’t say too much about bodily functions, because I know that it’s not “proper.” But I still eat ravenously and unapologetically. And I won’t hide the fact that I’m a Joan. I’m still more female than feminine. I hadn’t thought of that when choosing the title for this series, but I’m glad I did. 

It is (still) all about the Money: Another Review of Higher Education?

I reviewed the book Higher Education? by Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus last year (see here for the final review and a list of the other reviews; it was a six-part series). I recently received the updated paperback version that has some additional material, including a new afterward. Much of my criticisms of the original book still stand, but it hard for me not to recommend a book that says the following:

What do we think should happen in college? We want people to use their minds as they never have before, thinking about the realities and issues that strain their mental powers. They should be urged to be imaginative and inquiring, to take risks without having to worry about their transcripts or alienating their teachers. To quote a friend, colleges should be making their undergraduates more interesting people. Higher education is an ongoing conversation, created for students poised at adulthood, which can and will continue throughout their lives. (6-7)

These are some of the things I aspire to do in my classes, and so I think that while their hearts are in the right place, I still have some issues with the authors’ arguments. For one thing, everything that is wrong with higher education is a microcosm (or, if you’d like me to get all literary on you, a synecdoche) of what is wrong with society as a whole at the moment: greed, exponential growth, exploited underclass, bubbles about to burst, blind faith, etc. Our students (and their parents) come in not wanting an education but a job and the security that comes with it. So we provide it. The government keeps providing loans, so we take them, both students and institutions. There is a disconnect between those in administration, those who are professors, and those who are off the tenure-track. Perhaps disconnect is the wrong word: massive craters of empty space is a more apt metaphor.

But I want to get back to a question I asked the first time around: How Much is a Professor Worth? Comparing salaries of professors is really difficult to do; depending on where you live, what you study, and the nature of the institution, salaries will vary wildly. So to celebrate the professor living in rural Oregon and their (comparatively) paltry salaries is a bit unfair to those professors who have to try and make a living in New York City, San Francisco, Boston, or any other high-priced center. But it also doesn’t take into consideration the economic realities of professors today.

The authors rightly call for the end of adjunct exploitation, as well as the end of student loans as we know them. But, unfortunately, an entire generation of PhDs (and, one would think, the next generation coming through the ranks) have been punished economically by this system. Not only are we facing our loans (and the accrued interest), but we are also facing years of private debt accumulated over the years of low-paying adjunct work. To tell a new professor, you aren’t worth it, is a further insult, not to mention ignoring the very real fact that the (apparently) inflated salary is not enough to meet the student loan demands, career demands, and life demands.

We are not coming from schools where tuition could once be easily financed through summer jobs, nor from generous graduate programs that allowed you to live and work on your PhD. And most of us aren’t coming from economic circumstances where we have been supported financially by family. We come drowning in debt. And, as inflated as the salaries seem to the outside world, I’d like to introduce them to how much red ink is also peeking from behind.

I write this piece from experience. We are (thankfully, gratefully) a two-income household, both in higher education. My husband has a tenure-track position, while I am an instructor. Our combined salaries are really great-looking on paper. And yet, monthly, we wonder how we are going to make our student loan payments, our credit card payments, pay for our kids’ preschool, and have anything left over for savings. If something were to happen to one of us, like so many other families, we’d have nothing to fall back on, no cushion to catch us.

You might be tempted to throw an accusation at us that we lived beyond our means, and that this is all our own fault, but we believed in the myth of meritocracy and that all would be well once the Boomers retired. Student loans are the gateway drug to credit card debt as grad students: we take on these debt because we have been told over and over that it is “worth it” and will be rewarded with the job of our dreams at the end of it.

The authors call on all of us to see ourselves as public servants. And that’s fine, but more and more of the best and the brightest are leaving higher education because they can’t afford not to. Until the whole system is changed, this is a reality that just isn’t going to go away; it’s only going to get worse.

Bad Female Academic: Shameless Self-Promotion

My blog recently hit 50,000 pageviews:

And, I accumulated over 2,000 followers on Twitter:
Some of my followers on Twitter asked me how I got to these benchmarks, and I have one answer: Shameless Self-Promotion. Good Female Academics are mild and quiet and work away at their jobs, hoping to get noticed, but well aware that any attempt at blowing their own horn will be met with derision and dismissal. Bad Female Academics put themselves out there. Repeatedly and persistently.
Don’t believe me? Read the comments on this recent post on self-promotion for women in academia or this recent piece in the Times of Higher Education on self-promotion. It is unseemly and beneath academics to promote themselves in such a fashion, and even more so for a woman in academia. We might be mistaken as ambitious or loud. Or self-confident.
When I was about 12 or 13, I remember standing in the school’s bathroom with my best friend as she ran through the list of things she wanted to change about herself. Then she asked me what I wanted to change about myself, the things I didn’t like. I shrugged my shoulders and said that there wasn’t anything I wanted to change. She looked at me and spat out, “Well, that’s awfully arrogant, isn’t it?” 
This is the message we’re sent as girls and as women. To believe in ourselves is arrogant, unfounded, untrue. It takes an immense amount of confidence to put yourself out there, to promote yourself, to tweet your writing, to submit your name and your work for judgement and recognition. I believe that my work and my writing is good enough, maybe even great. And if it’s rejected, I take the critique, integrate it, and send it out again. I blog as myself because if I want the recognition and respect, it has to be as myself.

My advice for reaching these milestones is just simply to take chances, to put yourself out there. Follow those people who you admire, engage them in conversation, tweet and retweet your work and theirs. Bring it their attention. Post your work in the comments of relevant blogs or articles. Look for both traditional and non-traditional opportunities, from going to conference in your field to submitting more traditional op-eds to stuff that really out there (I’m applying to SXSW this year!).

To use an absolutely sexist and negative term, be willing to whore yourself. How is that for a loaded expression when it comes to self-promotion?

Above all, be patient and be persistent. Be relevant and be accessible. Be open and have thick skin. Don’t give up. Find a supportive network of people who will push you and encourage you and be honest with you. But above all, don’t let that voice inside of you win.

It’s my birthday today (August 14th). In the spirit of honestly, I’m 34. My world in nowhere near where I thought it would be, but I wouldn’t change it for anything. I took a lot of chances, none of them I regret. I put myself out there and I don’t regret it at all. I want to thank all of your for helping me be the best Bad Female Academic I can be.

No, a better one. Because shameless self-promotion isn’t about just you; it’s about being better because of the people you’ve reached.