Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The Quotation Game!

Inspired by Overread's lyrics quiz, I've decided to do a Western-Civ-Survey quote version. Who can name the authors of the following statements? Readysetgo!

1. O highest and most marvelous felicity of man! To him it is granted to have whatever he chooses, to be whatever he wills.

2. King of England, render account to the King of Heaven of your royal blood. Return the keys of all the good cities which you have seized… you must render justice, and pay back all that you have taken. King of England, if you do not do these things, I am the commander of the military; and in whatever place I shall find your men, I will make them flee the country, whether they wish to or not; and if they will not obey, [I] will have them all killed.

3. The same citizens among us will be found devoted both to their homes and to the state, and others who are immersed in business are still fair judges of public matters. We are the only people to regard the man who takes no interest in politics not as careless, but as useless. Instead of looking on discussion as a stumbling-block in the way of action, we think it an indispensable preliminary to any wise action at all.

4. Some things I have said of which I am not altogether confident. But that we shall be better and braver and less helpless if we think that we ought to enquire, than we should have been if we indulged in the idle fancy that there was no knowing and no use in seeking to know what we do not know; that is a theme upon which I am ready to fight, in word and deed, to the utmost of my power.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Post from the Other Side

New Kid asked me a week or so ago to write on what it’s like to have survived the tenure process. This is a great suggestion, and indeed there is an implicit promise made by those of us who venture across the Great Divide to report back if we make it intact.

So here I am on the Other Side, and let me start off by saying that I haven’t had a chance to post to the blog at all this week because I’ve been buried in grading and class prep and meetings; indeed, three days out of the last week I stayed on campus nearly twelve hours a day. Do you get where this is going? Yeah, tenure isn’t the big holiday on the beach I was hoping it would be. I do get a kick out of seeing my new title on my business cards, and on noticing they updated the department website as well. And the raise was nice! (It may even keep us up with cost-of-living increases.) But the sky is still blue, campus still looks the same, my daily routine is exactly what it was before the Change.

To be fair, I didn’t expect things to be much different. There’s nothing controversial enough about me to make the job security seem more comforting. And my motivations are largely internal more than external; I didn’t spend my time over the past few years writing comments on student papers and helping to design a capstone course for the department because it would help get me tenure. I did these things because they matter to me. They’re an important part of how I perceive my role at a university, and they’re rewarding in that I can see the effects in student performance and the progress of the department. Now that I have tenure, I’ll continue to do these things in pretty much the same way and for the same reasons.

The only thing I did do differently because of being on the tenure track was to push the book through, and I have mixed feelings about that. Had I stayed in my previous position at Small Liberal Arts College, I wouldn’t have needed the book for tenure. I like to believe that I would have finished it anyway, more carefully and at my own pace, rather than scrambling to get it out and cutting every corner along the way. I like to believe that my internal motivation would have been enough to maintain my research agenda. But I also face the reality that academics have a notoriously hard time finishing projects even when they are under deadline, so it may be too much in the realm of fantasy to think that I would have done this without the maddening tick of the tenure clock. How the book is received will probably have a great deal to do with how I look back on the tenure process: if it gets much criticism, especially for the weak spots I know it has, I’m likely to feel fairly resentful that I had to forego some revisions and additions in the interest of meeting a hoop-jumping deadline. If it gets rave reviews, I’ll be relieved and grateful that I took a position that made me crank the thing out in record time.

Now here’s an interesting twist: what I’ll miss about being on the tenure track. I’m increasingly convinced that tenure is a stupid, stupid system (see any number of Dean Dad’s latest posts for evidence of this), and I was frequently frustrated by the meaningless and even counterproductive aspects of the tenure process. But I have to confess, I was drawn to academia in the first place because I’m a talented hoop-jumper, and I’ve always been pleased by the applause for my performances on standardized tests and getting-along-well-with-others. I gained a fair amount of smug satisfaction from preparing my annual reports each year and checking off all the things I’d done that I was supposed to do, and then some. Now those things don’t count for so much, at least in the sense that the hoop-keepers don’t particularly need to keep track anymore. I should feel freedom and relief at the fact that I ought to be able to progress towards full professor as long as I keep up my publications and don’t kill anyone, but really, those standards are a little low to be satisfying. Plus there aren’t any penalties for not making full professor, so there’s not even that sword hanging over my head.

My experience of the last twenty years has trained me to think in terms of measurable stages of work and aiming at the next goal: college degree, MA program, thesis, PhD program, prelims, dissertation, job search, tenure-track treadmill. It’s a little odd to think that of all the progressive steps built into an academic career, at the stage of associate professor I’ve completed all of them but one, and I’ve got a good thirty years of career still ahead of me. I’m back to relying on my internal motivations, which is fine, but the applause was nice too. There won’t be as much of that from here on out, so I’d better figure out how to generate my own.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Pilgrim needs...

The "needs" meme, as seen at Wolfangel and Badger's. This was entirely too entertaining, but to avoid providing phrases that would make my name googleable, I did the search with my pseudonym.

Aside from the usual sorts of phrases you'd expect from a "pilgrim" search, like "pilgrim needs a good map," I discovered the following:

Pilgrim needs to back off he ain’t got no street cred
Pilgrim needs at least a DirectX8.1 compatible graphics card (that explains a lot)
Pilgrim needs fencing for his turkey coop
Pilgrim needs a pure heart and lawfully earned money
Pilgrim needs eggs
Pilgrim needs experienced hands, She is a fine ship, and fast!
Pilgrim needs an infusion of some $225 million (that, indeed, would be helpful)
Pilgrim needs to lay that burden down
Pilgrim needs a listening place
Pilgrim needs to really trust you
Pilgrim needs practice in skipping and hopping (my favorite!)

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

My Right Foot

I’ve been having fits of nostalgia lately, looking back with great fondness at old trips and old loves and old hangouts. In part this is due to the season, because fall always makes me nostalgic; in part it’s just because dwelling on these is a lot more fun than grading, and the farther I fall behind, the more I like to bury my head in the sand of fantasy and memory. And since Rana was kind enough to humor my shameless bid for storytelling, I’ll share one of these memories before I go back to those pesky blue books.

Many, many years ago, in my braver and more foolish days, I spent a summer backpacking through Thailand with a friend. We took a train up to the north, and traveled by foot and canoe and elephant to a series of small villages where there had never been any substantial incursion of cars or electricity or white people. We ate simple meals of rice, fish, and fruit, slept in small bamboo huts, and spent the evenings listening to the village families singing by the river. It was remarkably calming to look out over the hills in the twilight and not be able to see a single road, building, or electric light as far as the horizon.

One day we arrived in a slightly larger village (with a paved road!) and it turned out that this village was on the border with Burma. There was no customs office, no passport checking, just a simple banner over the road, and dozens of little wizened Thai and Burmese villagers paid it absolutely no attention as they passed back and forth with their baskets and water buffalo, going about their daily routines. I couldn’t resist the temptation: surely it wouldn’t be wise to wander very far into Burma, but wouldn’t it be fun just to step across the border, to be able to say I was there? Who would mind?

As I tried to stroll nonchalantly down the road and blend in with the villagers (ha!), I looked out of the corner of my eye into the shadows at the side of the road. There, one on either side of the road, silent and immobile and nearly hidden in the brush, were two men with machine guns. Rats. They looked like statues, completely unconcerned about the flow of people crossing back and forth. But as I approached the magic invisible line that separated the two countries and began to take a step past the banner, one of them met my cautious glance, and with the faintest of smiles, merely shook his head “no.” Sorry, farang girl, you don’t want to go there. Disappointed but unsurprised, I turned to go back to the Thai side of the village, but not before my right foot had edged just across the line.

I have no passport stamp to prove it, but that’s the story of how my foot has been to one more country than the rest of me.