There is something of a firestorm going on in part of academe really close to that into which I once sought admission–close enough that I would have been expected to teach in it had I been able to secure the kind of tenure-line job I ultimately unsuccessfully tried to secure. I’ll not comment on specifics here; I do not need to, as the discussion is going on publicly and at great length online (and it might well be ended by the time this reaches public view). It will suffice that I acknowledge the “rebel” forces are correct and that the “traditional” parts of the “old guard” are wrong, though those in the right do not need my acknowledgement to know they are right and those in the wrong will likely look down upon me as a lapsed or apostate member of such church as they purport to be priests of.
The issues on which the fracas touches and into which it delves are well worth considering, well worth applying to the world outside the ivory tower, and I have been working to consider my own complicity in the problems cited, both in my lingering academic work and in the work I do to lead a small nonprofit agency to help people who struggle against substance abuse issues. But the fracas itself lays bare some of the problems of academe to audiences that might not previously have seen them, which is a good thing in itself, and it serves as a reminder that I am better off for not having to be embroiled in them at this point. Because I am not seeking full-time, continuing employment in academe, I am not facing the kinds of struggles that others are and that are being posed against them unfairly and unjustly. And because I have some distance from the pursuit of that kind of job now, I can acknowledge that I did not “deserve” the jobs I did not get. It may not be the case that they went in all or even most cases to people who do deserve to have them–if “deserving” has anything to do with it, really–but I know I damned well ought not to have gotten them. The folks who have them and are struggling as they are–again, unfairly and unjustly–are far better at the work of academe than I. Those who array against them are lucky and privileged and do poorly in acknowledging neither; they do less well to stand in opposition as they do.
It is not an easy thing to admit to being wrong, certainly, the more so when so much of the work that gets done and the idea of self that gets bound up in doing that work depends upon being right. I well understand the impulse to resist it. But that I understand it does not mean I condone it; the opposite is true. Those invested in being right need to be right, not to assert that they are right. That they refuse to do so (again, as I write this; it might have changed by the time this gets seen) is a disservice to all, and I am glad to have as little part in it as I still have.
But I have to confess to lingering complicity. I still accept teaching assignments, and I still work within predetermined curricula that continue to transmit ideas that are problematic. I do so because I still feel the need to bring in the money, and I do still manage to make some small connections to people who would otherwise not have any access to the ennobling parts of continued study. They are still there, and they may be worth preserving, but there’s a damned lot that isn’t, and I’m glad I’m more or less quit of it.