In yet another Response to Erin Bartram

On 8 July 2018, Erin Bartram’s “What It’s Like to Search for Jobs outside Academe” appeared in the online Chronicle of Higher Education. In the piece, Bartram continues to relate her experience of transitioning out of academe and to present her findings as advice for others. She notes that discussion of such transitions tend to focus on where, rather than how, to look for work and that the non-academic job market is not necessarily simpler to navigate than the academic. Part of the difficulty comes from unfamiliarity on the parts both of transitioning academics and those who have not been part of academe with what the others do. Bartram asserts that conversing across the traditional town/gown divide is important before and during non-academic job searches before explicating several of the differences between the job-search types. She also reminds transitioning academics that they do have work experience and should apply for jobs as if they have been in fields for the time spent pursuing their academic dreams. And she notes that the simple announcement on social media of being on a job hunt can yield excellent results–results which are not often visible without taking such steps. Bartram concludes with notes about her own employment and a commendation to readers to investigate non-academic hiring before working on moving out of the field.

It is no secret that I have followed Bartram’s writing with some interest (as witness here and here, if not others). I was happy to see more from her, therefore, and I wish her well in her ongoing transition–partly from solidarity and partly because her own success would offer a model for others who, as she is doing and I seem more or less to have done, are making their own ways out of a system that all too often makes promises it cannot keep and has no intention of trying to keep. Too, her piece makes several points my own motion away from academe bear out as worth doing. The basic bit for humanities scholars is to parse job ads for future searches and better optimized responses to them. Using social media to find jobs, too, is useful, and the comment about scheduling job-search time–and an end to it each day–is eminently helpful. (Indeed, I wish I had had the insight to do that last.)

But there are some things that do not align with what I have seen as I have found my own (good) place in the world outside the ivory tower. The thing that sticks out most for me is the notion that years of work in the academy register as comparable years of work outside it; my experience says that they don’t often, if at all. I applied for close to 200 jobs between my last full-time teaching gig and the job I have now. Many of them were, in fact, entry-level (and those I got, in fact, were). Many others, though, were mid-level jobs that asked for two to ten years of experience–and I had that in teaching. But for the larger companies to which I applied, the fact that my jobs listed as “professor” or “instructor” meant that they failed to trip the keyword-matching that I have come to understand is endemic in larger hiring systems. And for the smaller ones, that my job titles were what they were meant that I was someone who couldn’t, per (that ass-hat) Shaw. Hell, even in getting the jobs I was able to get, I got to field the question of why I wanted them–and if I’ve landed in a good place, I know it was a stroke of good fortune that let me do so.

The transition out is possible, and it pays to talk to people in person and online. But it is also the case that there are more barriers to doing it than are necessarily evident, and it pays to be aware of them.

Care to support my ongoing efforts to navigate my largely post-ac life?

A Rumination on an Online Course

I recently began taking some additional training to help me be better able to do the job I have and the job I look to have before too long. The training, related to emergency management and disaster mitigation, is available for free online–from the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA); I began taking it in response to one of the many demands made upon my place of employment. Being in the line of work it’s in, being in the line of work I’m in, obliges the agency for which I work to do a few things, and, since I am in the position I’m in, I’m the one who gets to attend to at least some of them–such as taking the emergency training.

Yes, I started at the beginning. It’s well outside my major.
Image taken from the FEMA website, used for reporting (and I’m pretty sure it’s public domain, anyway).

In taking the course, I fell back on practices I’d developed as a long-time student. That is, I looked at relevant texts–in this case, printed transcripts of the lessons–and annotated them before sitting for the actual lessons, and I followed along with the lessons as I could with the annotated texts in hand, making adjustments to my own notes along the way. Consequently, I had little difficulty in passing off the in-lesson assessments, and, when it came time to sit for the exam that would solemnize my completion of the course (and offer me continuing education units, which offer was not unwelcome), I passed it off with little difficulty.

That’s not the real point I want to make, though. (It might become so in another blog post, to be sure.) Instead, I want to focus on something I noticed in the course materials. Several of the sections–most of them, even–started out with narratives. Rather than always launching straight into the materials to be taught, the course started out with stories. It’s a course likely to be taken by those who have something direct and explicit to gain from doing so, not the kind of thing that is usually conceived of as admitting of “distraction.” More, the first lesson spends a fair bit of time discussing the history of institutionalized emergency management in the US, giving a story of a different sort as it lays out the legal underpinnings of FEMA and related agencies’ roles. I was surprised to see so much time and attention given to narrative amid a government-made training course–pleasantly, mind, but still surprised. And I find myself wondering at the purposes and effects of it; I know I am hardly a typical student, so my own thoughts are not like to be the most representative on the matter.

There are more courses for me to take, more continuing education units to earn. And I wonder if I will see more stories presented in those courses. If I do, there will be one set of implications to follow, to be certain–as will be the case if I do not, although I do not think I will like them nearly so much. But I look forward to seeing what the case will be.

Care to help underwrite more training for me?


Class Report: ENGL 062, 26 July 2018

Class was to open with treating questions from the previous class meeting before turning to concerns of writing as a process and of essay structures. Some time would have been allotted to work on student assignments. However, neither of the students enrolled attended.

Students are reminded of upcoming assignments:

  • Discussions (three posts per graded thread), due online before 0059 on 30 July 2018
  • Homework: Essay 1, Review Draft, due online as a Word document in APA format before 0059 on 30 July 2018
  • My Reading Lab: Outlining and Mapping Topic and Post-Test, due online before 0059 on 30 July 2018
  • My Reading Lab: My Reading Lab: Outlining and Mapping Topic and Post-Test Topic and Post-Test, due online before 0059 on 30 July 2018
  • One selection from My Reading Lab: Next Reading (in the Reading Level part of My Reading Lab; requires the Lexile Locator [which will be unscored]), due online before 0059 on 30 July 2018

Students, please keep in mind that the post-tests provide the grades for My Reading Lab assignments.


Another Rumination on Writing

I know I’ve spent a fair bit of space writing about my writing, as witness this piecethis piece, and this piece, among others that do not immediately present themselves to me. In the last of them, I make mention of returning to a practice of journal-writing, of putting an actual pen to actual pages to write words and help loosen some things in my mind. I was recently in mind of doing so, looking for things to write to keep my blog posts here going–as opposed to others I write on Ravings with a Dash of Lucid Prose or on the Tales after Tolkien Society blog–and I was reminded that the pages of my journals have often become the entries in my blogs.

Journal and Pen
One source among many for what I do.
The image is mine.

It’s not always the case, of course; I am often able to sit at my computer and hammer out some semblance of an essay, and there is much I write for the restricted audience of my journal (my wife has standing permission to read it, though she’s not availed herself of it that I’m aware, and Ms. 8 may someday look at the pages I’ve penned) that I do not want others’ eyes to see. But I do not seldom use the journal as a prewriting exercise, following patterns of behavior I’ve long commended to my students. I’m not as diligent in it as I ought to be, of course; while I’d like to write in it daily, I’ve not been able to maintain that schedule in the entire time I’ve tried to keep a journal. Even so, I often find the exercise a useful one, and I can hope that it has led to clearer, better writing for you to read.

And I’m aware of the archival value of such things as a physical journal. I’m not so arrogant as to think that there will be people study what all I do, of course; maybe, had I actually been able to be a regular academic and not the academic expatriate I have had to become, it might be the case that my notes and papers would be of value for a broader audience, but I entertain no such ideas at this point in my life. That said, I know that I might have like to have had some of the notes and such left behind by my forebears; I’m aware that my late grandmother kept a journal, for example, and I know that my great-grandmother kept a record of family events on the insides of her kitchen cabinets. The information that has been lost with the loss of those journals, those cabinets (because the family farm where the cabinets were was leveraged long ago, and it is lost to us), may have been incidental only, recording the mundane–but it would have offered me a connection to those who precede me that I am sometimes, as now, all too aware of lacking, having grown up where I did and not where they did.

My daughter has a better sense of her connection to her past, I think, or at least has it available to her. Her mother’s family still lives on the ranch they settled after immigrating to what is now central Texas–it was Mexico, then–and she is able to walk the lands her forefathers made their own. She will have to grapple with the problems of that making, admittedly, something that will be particularly fraught for her, given her heritage, but she will at least be able to see the land, to stand surrounded by it and to know it in her bones and blood. And she will not have to do as I have done, have meant to make some record of the stories of those who have preceded her and have neglected it time and again, thinking that there would always be another chance to do so–until, at last, there was not, and memory of what was fades or is shut away.

She is still too young to do it for herself. But I am not so old, yet, that I cannot do it for her. I can hope that, in addition to whatever other good it might do, and in mitigation of whatever harm it might do, that my keeping a journal, that my making some attempt to write what I know from day to day, will help her keep her connection to me when I am gone. And I can hope, as I think most parents must, that she will want to have that help.

Paper and ink cost money. Care to help me buy some more?

In Response to Paul T. Corrigan

On 8 June 2018, Paul T. Corrigan’s “Jobs Will Save the Humanities” appeared in the online Chronicle of Higher Education. The article opens with discussion of one contribution to a survey Corrigan offered, one that rehearses from experience many of the woes traditionally associated with the English major, before offering context from a Gallup and Strada survey and noting that the implications for humanistic studies are dire. Corrigan goes on to note that humanities departments typically do poorly at addressing issues of employability and calls for giving students better understandings of the working world in which they will likely be enmeshed. He then notes data from several sources that argue in favor of humanities students’ employability before asserting that matters still need to be improved for them. Several methods for improvement are outlined before Corrigan addresses a likely counterargument and concluding on an evidently hopeful note.

I admit there are days when I feel much the same as the pseudonymous respondent Corrigan describes. His “Casey” bemoans the yoking of her debt-load, seemingly dead-end job, and inability to get re-trained; I cannot help but look at the tens of thousands of dollars I owe after years of paying, as well as the fact that, despite a terminal degree, I am working as an administrative assistant, and feel some chagrin, as I have noted. At the same time, though, I know that a bad job is better than no job (and my job is not a bad one, let me reiterate)–and I know that, in the world I inhabit as an academic expatriate, there is actually the chance of promotion from a bad job to a less bad one, or even to a decent one. Part-time work in a coffee shop can become full-time, perhaps, or advancement from the floor into management. Secretarial work for a small non-profit can become administration of that non-profit, leveraging the skills developed in a humanistic curriculum into “practical” applications. And even if the job is stressful, it is hardly the case that the jobs for which humanistic study is typically regarded as offering training–teaching and academic research–are not.

I value the work I did to earn my degrees. But I also value the work I do now–certainly because it helps people, but in no small part because it allows me to meet my bills (usually), and I do sometimes chafe at the idea that I am not able to do so from my training, but as the result of luck. (Unlike many, I do not set aside the role of random chance in my circumstances. I know I got a break and had the good sense to take it–and not all people get the break.) Whoever “Casey” is, I hope she (and the article uses the pronoun, so I have to take it) is able to find something similar–as are the many who share her situation. For my part, when I am in position to do some hiring, I will be sure to keep those like her–like I was–in mind.

I also majored in English, and while I’m not making coffee, I could still use your support.

Class Report: ENGL 062, 19 July 2018

After treating questions from the previous class meeting, discussion turned to concerns of definition (prescriptive/descriptive, denotation/connotation), broad genres, paragraphing, and expected paper formatting. Some time was allotted to work on student assignments.

Students are reminded of upcoming assignments:

  • Discussions (three posts per graded thread), due online before 0059 on 23 July 2018
  • Homework: p162, #5 in the course textbook, a developed paragraph due online as a Word document in APA format before 0059 on 23 July 2018
  • My Reading Lab: Vocabulary Topic and Post-Test, due online before 0059 on 23 July 2018
  • My Reading Lab: Stated Main Ideas Topic and Post-Test, due online before 0059 on 23 July 2018

Students should note that My Reading Lab will be down overnight between 20 and 21 July. Submissions should be made accordingly.

Class met as scheduled, at 1800 in Room 107 of the San Antonio campus. The class roster listed two students enrolled, unchanged from last week; one attended, assessed informally. Student participation was good. No students attended the most recent office hour.

A Rumination on Vitamin Bottle Lids

My wife and I take vitamin supplements that are calculated to provide us with more energy; we are the parents of a precocious four-year-old, so we need all the help we can get in terms of energy to keep up with her. There are differences in the supplements we take, of course, some of which inhere in their compositions. In theory, at least, our bodies have different needs in generating the energy we both need, so supplements to help us in that regard will necessarily respond to those differences. But those are not the only ones evident; the differences extend to the packaging, not so much in coloring (although the colors do differ) or in printed imagery as in the lids on the bottles themselves. And those differences bespeak ongoing reinforcement of gender stereotyping.

Mine is left, hers right. And the picture is my own doing.

The cap on my supplement bottle–a product marketed explicitly towards men–has a flip-open lid; that on my wife’s–a product explicitly marketed toward women–is a child-resistant one. That is, our daughter could easily get at my supplements, all else being equal, and not my wife’s, despite my wife’s physiology being more similar to hers and supplements targeted toward that physiology being more likely to be appropriate for her than mine. And despite several issues that make me more able to open child-resistant bottles than my wife is, not least of which is the conceit that men are physically stronger, she is expected to open such a bottle more than I am.

Of course, this is not targeted at us, as such. We are buyers who could not have been predicted individually; we are members of groups whose purchases can be forecast in the aggregate, however. And it seems that members of the relevant group to which my wife belongs are expected to need energy because of their children, as members of the relevant group to which I belong are not. Or it is expected that her group will need to care for and protect children, while mine will not. Or it is expected that my group’s tasks away from children are what tax its members, rather than those that are done with and for the kids. And any of these have unpleasant implications for how matters are likely to continue.

I do not say in this that vitamin bottle lids are forcing people into patterns of behavior, into gender roles that 1) may well not reflect individuals’ lived reality and 2) are problematic even if they do thus reflect. That would be inaccurate in scope and in thrust. What they do, however, is reflect, in ways that are not often examined (How many will pay so close attention to their supplement bottles? And how many might read what I write here and think I do poorly to attend so closely to them?), environmental influences on people. I do not think the vitamin bottles are deliberately constructed to reinforce particular norms–although they are deliberately made as they are made, as any design choice is a choice–but things can happen without or despite intent. But they do seem to make some things easier than others, and when things are easy, they invite people, however subtly, to act in particular ways that may not be the best ways to act.

Vitamins cost money; help me buy them?

In Response to Andrew Seal

On 8 June 2018, Andrew Seal’s “How the University Became Neoliberal” appeared in the online Chronicle of Higher Education. Seal opens with a summary of historical critiques of corporatist education, emphasizing Mario Savio’s 1964 speech and its successors. It pivots thence into a treatment of the term “neoliberal” and its derivatives, spending a section on its appropriateness and the development of its concept from such notions as “corporate universities” and “late capitalism.” The emergence of the term in the work of David Harvey and its proliferation in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis and its ongoing aftereffects also receive attention, with the specific connections to adjunctification and institutional austerity being emphasized before an agreement with Harvey’s assertion that financial crises are inherent, system-desired features of capitalism. Efforts to unify among academics are detailed, demonstrating the idea that the ivory tower is now what the factory floor was in the late 19th and early 20th centuries–an inherently political locus of power that can be seized, control of which exerts outsize influence on current society. The article ends with an affirmation of the university’s pivotal role in struggles to come.

Some points of interest present themselves in the piece. One emerges near the end of the article; Seal writes that “Neoliberal politics aren’t coming from outside the ivory tower: The caller is in the house.” In a short phrase, Seal ties his article–and the phenomenon it describes–to horror film, which is entirely appropriate. While the current state of affairs in academe might well be described as dystopian (and not just from my academic expatriate perspective), any dystopia has at least elements of horror to it; if nothing else, the situations that give rise to dystopias are themselves horrific, not least because they seem to be so easily accomplished and so willingly entered into by the people who let and make them happen. (To follow the implication, though, I have to wonder who or what will be Clover’s final girl; there aren’t any innocents in all this, it seems. And the implied gendering has resonance that I’m not sure I’m qualified to untangle; it could just be my own iteration of internalized patriarchal-hegemonic institutional structures at work.)

Another is the discussion of the Edu-Factory Collective, something with which I had been wholly unfamiliar prior to reading the article (and with which I am still largely unfamiliar-but some understanding is a thing that can be built upon at need or at desire, so there is some improvement). The quote from that group that “We vindicate the university’s destruction…[we are] not merely immune to tears for the past but enemies of such a nostalgic disposition [sic]” rings strangely in my inward ear; that I remain as I do despite my experience suggests that I still see value in institutionalized higher education, that I recognize there are things that universities can do well, if allowed to do so–but I will admit that that may well be my own inherent biases at work, my own internalization of social mores and norms that serve only to restrict me in ways that benefit those in positions of power–not least by ensuring that my own access to power is limited.

It may also be from those biases that I find myself nodding along with Seal’s reminder that the educational enterprise has never not been political. The choice of curriculum is a political act; whether it is to work in a “Great Books” tradition of liberal arts instruction or to work to make every assignment in every course more or less explicit job training, a course of study emerges from and reinscribes an ideology. Even in such “real” and “unbiased” things as math and physics, such is the case–that things are taught as they are taught, whether in terms of  assignment sequence or course division, is always a result of and contributor to such decisions. To assert otherwise is ignorant at best, inaccurate in all cases, bullshit in most, and an outright lie in far too many–and of each, we ought to be wary, though we do less well in that than should be done.

Help support an #academicexpatriate?

Class Report: ENGL 062, 12 July 2018

For the first meeting of the July 2018 session, discussion focused on introductions to the class and to its participants. Attention was given to course structure and requirements, including how to access course materials. Basic reading and writing concepts received attention, and some time was afforded to work on student assignments.

Students were reminded of upcoming assignments:

  • Discussions (three posts per graded thread, plus contributions to the Introductions thread), due online before 0059 on 16 July 2018
  • My Reading Lab: Learning Path Diagnostic, due online before 0059 on 16 July 2018
  • My Reading Lab: Active Reading Strategies Topic and Post-Test, due online before 0059 on 16 July 2018

Class met as scheduled, at 1800 in Room 107 of the San Antonio campus. The class roster listed two students enrolled; one attended, assessed informally. Student participation was good. No students attended the most recent office hour.

In Response to Thomas Cogswell

On 20 May 2018, Thomas Cogswell’s “True Confessions of a Reluctant Administrator” appeared in the online Chronicle of Higher Education. In the piece, Cogswell glosses over his early-career experience shirking institutional service in favor of teaching–until he was confronted by an incoming dean who effectively forced him into committee work and assigned him administrative duties afterward. He afterwards comments about faculty governance and its joys before concluding with the note that his own experience has led him to make committee selections.

Cogswell’s piece reads as an attempt at humor, invoking long-known and well-worn tropes of 12-step programs (explicitly: the piece opens with an injunction to “Imagine this is a 12-step program and that I am standing before you, tearfully confessing my transgressions”). And there is some sense to framing a joke in such a way; life in academe, generally, has properties that are not unlike addiction. It starts out innocently enough, with people lured in through often-false promises of esoteric pleasures, and it quickly becomes compulsive, with people scrambling to put together larger sums of money than they can afford to continue to indulge it. Exit is difficult, occasioning no few psychological changes, as any amount of quit lit can attest. Too, as has been mentioned in connection with certain scholarly gatherings, there is a strong correlation of scholarly gatherings and heavy drinking–which has occasioned events designed to give those in recovery, who probably ought to be in recovery, and who simply want to spare their livers so much trauma places to gather.

That said, the joke falls flat for me. As I’ve noted on more than one occasion, I work for a substance abuse treatment facility, one that makes use of 12-step methodologies and which treats clients who are engaged in 12-step programs. They are not among the most privileged people; of those who have entered the facility’s outpatient treatment this calendar year, only nine percent have not been economically disadvantaged, and all are struggling to achieve and maintain sobriety, whether from marijuana (which remains illegal where I am), alcohol, methamphetamine, or some other substance. They are in pain, in trouble with the law, and, in many cases, struggling to keep their families intact. The joke Cogswell seems to be trying to make seems to be made at the expense of my facility’s clients and people like them–and that seems to me to be punching more than a bit down. And I would expect better from someone who would present himself as a fellow-sufferer.

Any help for my facility will be greatly appreciated. Please give.