That’s a lot of words; or, scholarly editing by the numbers

As I have mentioned here before, I have co-edited an anthology of medieval literary texts and am currently working on an offshoot of that anthology, a stand-alone edition of one of the major works associated with that body of texts. And I have reached a milestone in the work of that stand-alone edition: I have finished the main body of the text! Woo hoo! All I have left are some contextual documents to go in an appendix.

If you’ve ever had a modern edition of Shakespeare in your hands, what I did is similar to what Shakespeare editors do — especially for those plays only in the First Folio, since my play survives in only one manuscript text. The product is similar, too: a student-friendly text that presents the text in modern spelling, glosses obsolete or difficult words and phrases, adds stage directions where there are embedded cues in the dialogue, and provides historical or contextual information in footnotes for tricky bits, allusions, etc. I also wrote a general introduction. And since my play is a collection of shorter episodes, they each got their own headnote, too.

Anyway, I decided for some reason to quantify the work I’ve done on this edition. I thought it might be useful to have such numbers for future reference in our increasingly (and irritatingly) quantified world of reports and justifications. Plus people outside of the literary disciplines have NO idea what goes into an edition (and even some *inside* don’t), and students certainly don’t. So next time you’re using a scholarly or critical edition in your classroom, say something about the editor and the work of editing to your students.

So, here’s what I’ve been doing over the last three and half years to produce this edition, at least according to the Word word-count function and some judicious selection of text. I have produced:

  • 70,443 words of modernized-spelling Middle English words (modernized by me, word by word), their glosses, their explanatory footnotes, and their rubrics (speech headings, stage directions, etc.) for 20 individual plays that are part of a larger collection or cycle of plays. (They were perceived as one play in their day.)
    • The nerd in me wishes I could separate out categories for Middle English words I modernized, Latin and French I translated, glosses I added, and word count for the footnotes and the rubrics I added, but who has time for that?! This number comes from adding up the total word-counts of the complete, edited text without headnotes.
  • 10,400 words of original headnotes for individual plays in this cycle of plays
  • 5,757 words of original general introduction
  • plus revisions of 9 previously published plays and related documents (from the anthology that I co-edited)

In comparison, my first monograph was just under 90,000 words, including bibliography and notes. So in terms of sheer interaction with and creation of text, the two tasks are equivalent.

I’ve written about the issue of how to value/count scholarly editing before (somewhere on this blog, but I’ll be damned if I can find it now!), and this makes me think about that issue again. Why is it that at some of the fancier institutions, editions don’t count as much as “original” work?  (My department, I’m pleased to say, gives them the weight they deserve — at least they have so far.) Note that above I referred to my headnotes and introduction as original, because they are — that’s how *I* would teach/introduce the text to anyone new to it. Yes, that includes a kind of synthesis of the scholarship under-girding what I say, but doesn’t all of our work do that? And yeah, the truly original part is only just over 16,000 words (“only” — that’s a journal article and a half!), but the modernizing, glossing, and noting was also an act of close-reading and interpretation. Then there’s the sheer labor-intensiveness that goes into something that’s meant to be really useful to the field. And finally, editions probably bring our names — and therefore our departments’ and institutions’ names — into more notice by more people than our other scholarly work does.

In short: scholarly editions are a buttload of work. You’re welcome!

How to Signal That You’re a Bully

Some nightmarish stuff went down in the medieval studies world in the last few days, and this time it was directed at someone I know personally, have known for about 20 years now, and count as one of my good friends as well as professional colleagues (not to mention a really important voice in medieval studies). On this blog she’s affectionately known as The General, a nickname we gave her in graduate school because she was good at effectively directing people in what otherwise might seem a chaotic situation. (The nickname especially arose from the giant Thanksgiving dinners she used to throw, where we’d all pitch in and about 20 people would be in the kitchen at once.)  Despite the nickname, she is emphatically NOT the bully of this post, but the bullied. But I’m going to stick to pseudonyms, largely because that’s always been the style of this blog. You’ll soon be able to put real names to the pseudonyms — I’m not really hiding anything here.

What I am doing is giving a narrative form of what went down as I experienced it. I hope it doesn’t come across as some “hot white take” on what happened (as if we need that), but more of a record, a narrative of support for the General, and a condemnation of her bully’s tactics.

So, last month, in the wake of the white supremacist march on Charlottesville, The General wrote a guest post at In the Middle called “Teaching Medieval Studies in a Time of White Supremacy.” She opened it by writing:

Today, medievalists have to understand that the public and our students will see us as potential white supremacists or white supremacist sympathizers because we are medievalists. The medieval western European Christian past is being weaponized by white supremacist/white nationalist/KKK/nazi extremist groups who also frequently happen to be college students. … If the medieval past (globally) is being weaponized for the aims of extreme, violent supremacist groups, what are you doing, medievalists, in your classrooms? Because you are the authorities teaching medieval subjects in the classroom, you are, in fact, ideological arms dealers. So, are you going to be apathetic weapons dealers not caring how your material and tools will be used? Do you care who your buyers are in the classroom? Choose a side.

I read that and said, “Yes!” It galvanized me because I’d been worrying about exactly this, that “our students will see us as potential white supremacists or white supremacist sympathizers because we are medievalists,” because the Middle Ages were “being weaponized by white supremacist/white nationalist/KKK/nazi extremist groups,” including on college campuses. I’d especially been worrying about this in the wake of Charlottesville, where white supremacist marchers were carrying medieval cosplay shields, wearing the insignia of the Knights Templar, shouting “Deus Vult!” (“God wills it!” — the cry of the First Crusade), and so forth. (Public medievalist David Perry has been writing and talking about this a lot. Here’s one of his articles, and here’s a link to a recording of his interview on NPR’s On the Media.) I was worried, too, because I’m on sabbatical and I’m concerned that in my absence, potential students are going to be turned off by anything medieval, automatically associating it with white supremacy, and therefore avoiding my classes when I get back. (I’m still concerned about that, since I can’t combat that head on in the classroom this year.) In short, the post spoke to me, and I recognized it as calling on *all* medievalists to address this in the classroom, because “our students will see us as potential white supremacists.” (I’m going to come back to that.)

But somebody else — let’s call her Ursa — read that post and thought that the General was calling the field of medieval studies a white supremacist field, and that we white people needed to “cleanse ourselves and our academic subject of this stain.” Huh? Yeah, I was confused, too.

I’m not going to link to Ursa’s blog because I don’t want to give it traffic, but luckily, I don’t have to. JJC (I don’t have a nickname here, so I’ll stick to initials), who founded In the Middle, made this PDF and made it available for all. If you haven’t already read it, take a look at it. It begins by giving us a picture of the General, and her affiliation. Why? Why is that necessary to the argument? Is that something we do when arguing with other academics? It’s not, but it’s a tool for Ursa’s purposes. Yes, in the original post, the General mentioned her race and that students would likely not assume she’s a *white* supremacist (but then she mentions that Asians are not free from anti-black racism), but Ursa could have easily said, “As she points out, she’s Asian.” Posting her picture and other identifying information is a form of “doxing” and makes the doxed person a target for trolling and harassment. To dox someone is to release personal or private information (from documents — hence dox — or elsewhere) with malicious intent. That picture was originally published openly and can be found in a Google search, yes, but it was not necessary to the argument. (It was also copyrighted, btw.) Its only purpose then must be a rhetorical, “Look at her,” to make it about her person and not her argument. And then Ursa compounds it by the utterly superfluous use of another medievalist person of color’s picture to say, “See, we’re not all white.” (Also, it seems Ursa doesn’t get statistics. If only .5-.75% of medievalists are people of color, posting the pictures of two doesn’t counter that fact!) Anyway, that’s a move akin to “But I have black friends.” What Ursa is doing here is using the race of two people of color as a rhetorical move, as tools in her argument, and it’s vile, especially given the snarky sarcasm it’s laced with. That vileness comes back at the end, too — I’ll turn to that in a moment.

And then things get all sorts of muddled from there. The actual “content” of Ursa’s argument — such as it is — is confusing because it utterly misrepresents the General’s original argument. The General was arguing that things of the Middle Ages were being misappropriated by white supremacists such as those at Charlottesville, and we need to fight that and signal to our students that the Middle Ages isn’t the pure-white/pure-Christian fantasy that the white supremacists want to make it, that they don’t own it. Ursa seems to think that the General was saying the Middle Ages itself is white supremacist and people who study it therefore are, too, and then tries to argue that it’s not because…because of one line in the Bible and one Black Madonna? It really wasn’t clear. But it’s not really worth teasing out anyway, because she clearly intends to obfuscate and misrepresent. The whole point was to attack the General’s knowledge, expertise, and authority, and her very right to be a medievalist. She even makes a snide dig about how she’s never seen the General at a Medieval Academy meeting, to signal that the General doesn’t have the right stuff. (In truth, followers of this blog may remember that the General has actively boycotted the MAA since the Arizona debacle. She wrote a guest post about that back then right here.) As if it’s not clear enough that Ursa doesn’t think the General has the goods, she closes the piece with this: “How should you signal that you are not a white supremacist if you teach the ‘medieval western European Christian past’? Learn some f*cking medieval western European Christian history, including the history of our field.” Yeah, that’s right, she’s saying that the General doesn’t know shit about medieval studies. The whole damn thing is just a hit job.

But wait, it gets worse. Ursa is a big fan of a certain alt-right asshole provocateur that I’ll call…I dunno…Creepo (yeah, not very good, but I’m out of ideas). Anyway, Creepo is such a cretinous piece of work that he managed to get himself banned from Twitter for harassing people. You have to work hard to get banned from Twitter; they hardly ban anyone. And he has a rabid following of millions of alt-right trolls, racists, misogynists, and harassers. So Ursa thought it was a SUPER idea to tag him on Facebook when she linked to her blog post. Now you kind of see where the doxing/targeting of the General was going. “Have at her!” Ursa was clearly saying to Creepo. And Creepo did. His media outlet–you know the one; the one most associated with the alt-right these days–did a piece on it, spreading the word that a “fake scholar” (that would be the General) was defaming the Holy Land of the Middle Ages, but brave Lady Ursa was there to hold back the horde. Or something. (I can share a PDF of that, too: here.) Also, Creepo et al. don’t know what a sword is; that’s not a sword in that picture.

Ursa being an asshole on her own, and arguing in bad faith, is bad enough, but calling out the alt-right stormtroopers is something else entirely. It’s unconscionable. It’s a pure attack. There can be no other reason for it. It’s an attempt to make someone’s life miserable. And to do it to someone who’s as yet untenured (the General is an assistant professor) is to put their whole career and life’s work in jeopardy.

THAT’S how you signal you’re a bully.

And it got even worse from there. More happened. I’m going to skip over some of the details of it — which included anti-Semitic dog-whistles claiming JJC was really behind all this; claiming that the General was too “young” to know better and couldn’t have written anything herself; and all sorts of obviously offensive bigotry, sexism, and racism — in part because I don’t have links for you all and the conversation was happening all over the place. But also, I want to get to Ursa’s latest volleys and point out something important about the timeline and about Ursa’s motivations (which she revealed in the latest volley).

Ursa’s original blog post in response to the In the Middle piece was on Sept. 14. The In the Middle Piece was published on August 28. Ursa’s response is a little slow in internet time, so it kind of seemed like it came out of the blue. Combined with its misreading/misrepresentation and the personal tone it took, the whole thing rather puzzled me. Why? Why did it even exist? Or more colloquially: WTF?

Well, on Sept. 17, Ursa published another blog post, which you can see here (again in PDF). Take a look at that title in the upper left. Yeah, she thinks it’s personal. Wait, what’s personal? you might ask. I was wondering the same thing. It turns out that over a year and a half ago, the General criticized a piece of Ursa’s public writing in defense of white men. Note: she criticized the *content* of the writing. And then Ursa decided she had a nemesis out to get her, I guess. Look at all those screen shots she collected and put in that post, some of them sent to her by other people from closed Facebook groups. (That’s all very weird. It seems to me like you have to be kind of obsessed to ask someone to spy for you. Or to collect all of those screen shots.) And look closer at them — most of them are not clearly even about Ursa or her writing! But she thinks they’re all about her.

And that’s the real kicker here. Look at how she closes this latest piece: “I took this [i.e., the “Teaching…in the Time of White Supremacy” post] as a direct attack on me.”  What?!?! She read a piece in response to the white supremacist march on Charlottesville and thought it was ALL ABOUT HER. You know, the one that says, “our students will see us as potential white supremacists.” And she thought this because the General criticized her arguments a year and a half earlier. I can’t even.

The medievalist community, by and large, responded in outrage at Ursa’s Sept. 14 post, so now she’s childishly claiming, “But she started it!” And what the General supposedly started happened a year and a half ago, so the General’s recent post in reaction to actual current events MUST be a personal attack on Ursa.

You’ve got to be kidding me. That is also how you signal that you are a bully — you blame the victim.

Anyway, some people are coming to all of these posts at once and totally buying Ursa’s claim that the General started it. But look carefully at the timestamps of everything (not to mention their content) and think about what it means that Ursa’s been collecting screen shots, and that she thought an obviously general call to all medievalists was all about her.

Finally, on a related note, I’m sick and tired of white people who think “racist” and “white supremacist” are epithets or slurs on the level of actual racial epithets and slurs. If your words, actions, or inactions cause harm to people of color and uphold white power, privilege, or benefits at the cost of people of color, they are racist and/or white supremacist. And you can change your words, actions, or inactions. Criticizing those things is not criticizing your personhood. Get over yourself.

Mid-career rut

One of the reasons why I haven’t been writing on the blog is that I’ve been in kind of a rut — a foggy state of Blah — for some time now, which doesn’t make for very interesting writing. The Blahs have especially hit my research work, but even teaching was getting kind of routine (until this semester — more on what shook things up in another post).
And no one wants to read about that, right? But then I thought about how Dr. Crazy uses her blog to get started in the morning — a big problem area for me — and so I thought maybe I might try that and see if it worked. And then I also thought that maybe it would be useful for people to read about a mid-career rut (or is it quarter-career? perhaps it’s more one-third-career), just like posts about being on the market or writing the first book and all those other proffie experiences are useful to current and prospective profs at or anticipating those stages. (Thank god for RSS readers, so that I know I have *some* audience still out there.)

Part of what I’m experiencing is related to the low morale at my university, but I don’t think I can chalk it *all* up to that. I bet if I had my dream job at a place full of unicorns and rainbows, I’d still be feeling stuck in my work right now. In fact, at Rainbow Unicorn University, I think it would be even worse because I’d be stuck *and* freaked out about becoming the dreaded deadwood because I hadn’t produce ten gazillion books every five years. At least here, a slower pace of research productivity is cool (and frankly, more humane, but that’s also a topic for another post). No, I think what I’m experiencing is a little more widespread and common and non-idiosyncratic.

OK, here’s where I am and how I feel about it right now. My first book was a modest success in my subfield of Middle English literature, and so the last few years were spent doing a lot of invited and necessary work — co-editing a new anthology of the genre of my sub-field, writing handbook chapters and articles on the state of the field, that sort of thing. And I’m running for election to a scholarly society in said field, and organizing a panel at a big upcoming conference of another society, both activities with the goal of opening up the subfield to non-specialists, because it’s a little too isolated — people outside it don’t read us and we’re frustrated by that, but part of that is because we’re off doing our own thing too much. So there’s a way in which I’m active in the area that got me the job, got me tenure, and so forth. But I haven’t really produced anything new in it in some time, and I’m frustrated by that. I have something in progress (an article), but I keep dithering about whether to do the relatively fast and easier version of it and get it *out* there in one of the subfield journals, or keep working on the more theoretically ambitious version of it, which involves me learning (or continuing to learn) all sorts of new stuff and would be sexier for the broader medieval and medieval-renaissance journals. The learning part is attractive, but it’s also slow. And I have been sitting on this thing for a long time now because it keeps getting shunted aside.

And the thing is, whichever version of that smaller work in progress I do, I kind of feel like that’s the last contribution I have to make to that particular subfield (unless my co-organizer of the above panel and I decide to do an edited collection, in which case I have a kind of meta-critical essay brewing — and if we don’t do the collection, there might be a place for it elsewhere). Once upon a time I had other ideas, but I feel like they’re methodologically and theoretically dull now. I feel a little like medieval literary studies has moved on without me while I was tinkering with my works in progress. So that’s part of my rut.

The other part of my rut is a similar “what now?” issue, but on a different topic. After and during a lot of the above, I also had a sabbatical in which I *started* on my new, big research project, but other than a few talks, including an invited one, on the work in progress, it hasn’t gotten much farther since that sabbatical (which was 2010-2011). And that new work isn’t at all related to the old work (except maybe it might involve the same class of readers and producers/patrons) — it’s a totally different genre. And I’m finding with this project, I’m having to learn and teach myself yet *more* bodies of knowledge — traditional methods and theories — which, again, is cool and interesting, but verrrrrry slow. And what’s especially frustrating with this project is that I don’t know where on earth it’s going or what it’s going to be. I have this body of texts — which I’m still sorting through; I’m still doing the “data collection,” so to speak — and I have about an article’s-length stuff to say about them, but is that it? Or is there a bigger picture? And if there’s a bigger picture, how should I be framing it? In what scholarly or theoretical conversation (or should I say gallery, to keep the picture-framing metaphor) does it fit? I feel like all my reading and thinking about it is totally scattershot, an effect not helped by fitting it in around teaching, etc.

At this point, you’re probably thinking that this doesn’t sound like a rut at all, that I’ve got all sorts of engaging projects. Yeah, but I feel like I’m dabbling. I feel unfocused and  amateurish. And, because of the slowness and lack of clear contours, I feel frustrated. Half the time I just want to throw my hands up and say, “Fuck it, I’d rather be teaching. Maybe I should move to a 4/4 load and give up research.” Except that wouldn’t make me happy, either. In fact, part of the problem is that I’m isolated in my work and don’t have the stimulation of other people in my field or advanced students working on dissertations to teach me new things and keep me current. Giving up on research entirely would exacerbate that feeling and make my rut deeper (even if I keep reinventing my courses, which I always do). And it wouldn’t be good for the students, because one of things that keeps my teaching from being in a rut is bringing in new ideas from my research and others’ (that often includes new-to-me primary texts — there’s a lot of stuff out there that I don’t know and research of various kinds introduces me to it).

Another part of this Blah feeling, this rut, is the isolation. Remember when we used to think romantically how digital communications would solve the problem of the isolation of the single scholar who’s the only one in her field at her institution?  Yeah. Right. Frankly, social media and other digital outlets just make me feel *more* isolated. All I see are the cool collaborations and energetic conversations of colleagues who get to talk face-to-face as well as online, and I feel shut out. I do have a collaboration with another scholar who lives in a totally different part of the country, but it’s not the same. Conferences help, but eventually you have to go home.

And the final piece of this is that I feel a little bit out of date and a bit left behind by various developments in literary studies, but especially by the confluence of digital humanities and manuscript studies and by the “new materialism,” all of which I’m really super interested in, but don’t quite feel capable of doing on my own. You know what would be really cool? If there were “mid-career post-docs” to retrain people like me. There’s a whole slew of cool digital humanities/mansucript post-docs out there right now, but you have to be within three years of your PhD to be eligible. When I win the lottery, I’m funding a series of mid-career post-doc sabbatical thingies, I promise. I think that’s what getting to me, too — I feel old before my time. I’m not really *mid* career; I’ve been in it for 10 years, starting at age 34, so if I retire at, say, 65, I’m not even a third through my career yet. Sheesh, that in itself is a little daunting. I have to do this for another 21 years? Will I always feel like this, this sense of Blah?

What say you, oh wise people of the internet? How do I shake off the doldrums? Do you ever feel like this? What do you do to shake off the Blahs and get out of the rut?

>Guest Post: On the Medieval Academy’s meeting in Tempe, Arizona

>Now that I’m back from my brief Midwestern vacation, it’s time to get serious again. And for starters, I have a guest post from my friend The General on why she won’t be going to the Medieval Academy of America’s annual meeting in Tempe, Arizona, in April, and why she’s not renewing her membership.

But first, let me give a little background for my non-medievalist/non-academic readers who might want or need it. In May, Jeffrey Cohen at In the Middle started the discussion of whether or not the MAA should move the meeting out of Arizona. That post garnered 74 comments and ultimately led to an open letter to the MAA urging them to cancel or move the meeting, signed by 170 people. That letter, plus discussions elsewhere, spurred the MAA to poll its members by e-mail and a web-based poll. On August 3, the MAA executive committee came to its final decision to keep the meeting in Tempe, and sent to the membership an e-mail letter announcing that decision. Karl Steel at In the Middle posted the letter here. And Inside Higher Ed followed up with a story.

That’s the background. In response, The General wrote a letter to the Medieval Academy which she also posted as a note on Facebook and asked me to post here. It’s still in the form of an address to the Medieval Academy, but it’s been slightly edited since she sent it off to them. And although she’s happy to have her name attached to it, I decided to keep in the spirit of this blog and use her pseudonym.

So, without further ado, below is what The General had to say to the Medieval Academy.


Dear Medieval Academy,

I just read your recent announcement about your decision to proceed with the 2011 meeting in Arizona. I am deeply disappointed and rather stunned at your decision. As one of the few medievalists of color in the profession and on your membership roster, your decision means that anyone of color (or any shade other than white) will be under surveillance, put in the category of second-class citizen, and generally thought of as a person of suspicion if they even attend the Arizona meeting. As someone who has served for several years on a board of directors that managed a revenue stream of 70 million dollars, I understand the directive of fiduciary responsibility quite well. But I also would like to point out that your choice means that you have chosen monetary gain over human value for your organization. You have decided that diversity and encouraging students and faculty of color to go into Medieval Studies is not a core value of the Academy. Rather, the fiduciary bottom line of the endowment is more important.

Your letter states that you feel that you were not in a position to make a “collective political statement” for the entire group, but yet you have. Your decision means that a minority of your membership will be excluded, treated as alien others, and asked to constantly carry “papers” during their trip. You are asking me and every other member with a skin shade not deemed “American” or an accent not considered “standard” to accept this treatment and see it as just another political issue. When were basic civil rights a partisan political issue rather than an ethical and moral one? It would be one thing if you wanted not to hold a meeting in a state or location because it had voted Democrat or Republican; that would be a partisan “collective political statement.” But you are asking me and any person of color to walk into a state and pretend that being a second-class citizen is fine. When did basic civil rights become a partisan political statement? I was under the impression that all the members of the Medieval Academy believed in civil rights. Or had I and other members been wrong? Is the Medieval Academy still an ivory tower institution that excludes, women, people of color, and the disabled? Is the Academy not interested in supporting their members and equity? For me, these were the issues at stake in your decision. And your answer to these questions were shattering.

Your decision and letter tells me that I should find it acceptable to come to a professional academic meeting and wear a figurative star on my lapel and have my papers potentially checked at every turn. What you are saying to me and every scholar (domestic and international) of color is that discrimination is fine, that equitable treatment in our field is not a priority or an inalienable right. This is the very opposite of community building. You say in your letter that it is about the work that people have done, yet the meeting’s presence in Arizona is going to overshadow the work. I would be queasy discussing Lateran IV’s restrictions and injunctions against Jews and Saracens in a state that is enacting their own version of these laws. The conference will not be an exercise in political free speech; rather it will condone the behaviors that put members of the academy under scrutiny.

Several blog comments discussing this decision have said it would be OK to have the meeting and just organize for political action. I completely disagree because this is not “just” a political issue; you are asking people to be comfortable with other members of the Academy being stopped, asked for papers, possibly arrested, and held for questioning. You are asking that our personal rights be assaulted, abused, and trampled on all to attend a professional meeting.

You are asking too much and therefore I plan to boycott the Medieval Academy and encourage anyone else to do likewise. I do not want to be part of an organization that feels it is acceptable for me to be discriminated against.

The General

>What counts?

>I’m on my department’s personnel committee (DPC), which is the committee responsible, among other things, for evaluating our colleagues’ annual merit in the big three areas of professorial activity: teaching (which also includes advising, directing theses, and that sort of thing); professional activity (a huge category and a large part of the subject of this post); and service to the department, the college, the university, the profession, and, at our public university, the community (this is anything from doing things like serving on the DPC to being on faculty senate to organizing a professional conference to serving as a peer reviewer for a press or journal to judging a public speaking contest for the region).

If find that my students, even my graduate students whom I’ve beaten over the head with lessons in ‘how the profession works’ in my research methods class, are often surprised to learn that we’re “graded.” They shouldn’t be, because of course all professionals have some sort of review practice, but I think the surprise comes in part from that myth of the professorial life, that we all get to do our own thing with little oversight. While it’s true that on a day to day basis, we manage most of our own time (we generally don’t pick the time slots and classrooms for our courses, though) and pursue the professional activity we want (ideally, but the limits on that are part of the topic of this post), and request (note: *request*) the courses we’d like to teach and pursue that teaching in the ways we see fit, at least once a year the chickens come home to roost and we have to show what we’ve been up to. And then we get graded for it. In my institution, we get graded on a scale of 1-5, 5 being the highest, in the three categories mentioned above, and then those scores are weighted by a set of percentages that we determined in consultation with the department chair a whole year before, and voila — we get a final score that determines what tiny merit raise we’ll get, *if* there is a merit raise in the current contract. (And in case you’re wondering, my percentages are 40% teaching, 40% professional activity, and 20% service, so when someone tells me my “job” is to teach, I can accurately say, “No, that’s only 40% of it,” though in reality it takes more time.)

Anyway, having been on the DPC for the past two years, I find that the question of what counts for each of the big three categories is a contentious and vexed question. It matters only slightly in terms of the monetary rewards for it (though those tiny raises do have exponential value since they add to one’s base pay for subsequent raises), but I think it matters a great deal in terms of how one defines a department, an institution, and a field or discipline. Our department, like those at a lot of smaller institutions, includes people in a variety of fields and disciplines. We have literary scholars of all kinds, creative writers, linguists (including applied linguists who work on issues of second language acquisition), and rhetoric and composition specialists. Even on this level the kinds of “professional activity” that counts has to differ. Poets don’t necessarily do peer-reviewed scholarship (unless they are also literary scholars, which of course, can be the case), and some of the linguists and rhet-comp people are in fields where journal articles are the norm of scholarship, and rarely books. Meanwhile, the rhet-comp people and the applied linguists work in fields where their “professional activity” and their “teaching” and sometimes also their “service” overlap in substantial ways because often the subject of their expertise is the classroom and the way people learn to write or learn a language there. So when they give a talk to new faculty about pedagogy, is that teaching or service? If they get a grant for revising the composition curriculum, is that teaching or professional activity? For that matter, I have a hard time separating my graduate student advising from my graduate director administrative service — what activities go under what categories?? To some extent, debate over these issues can be resolved by simply going with how the person in question listed the activity on their annual report, where we have to account for the last year’s activity in those distinct categories. But then what happens when two different people list similar activity in different ways and it affects their scores significantly?

Oy. It’s enough to make your head spin, and that’s before you get to some of the thornier issues. There’s long been debate in our department over what counts for professional activity and how much it counts, particularly when someone starts publishing in a new field, a field that was not part of the advertisement for the job they were hired for, or that was not part of their letter of offer (no matter how long ago that may have been). Say, for example, we hired a Romanticist 15 years ago and now that Romanticist has been publishing quality poetry in serious places, and that poetry was part of the reason why he was a Romanticist in the first place and informs his approach to Romantic poetry? Or say that he still teaches all the Romantic lit classes, but publishes poetry exclusively and has let scholarship in Romantic lit slide. Or say I decide I’m more interested in popular culture medievalism and start publishing on that. Or my interested in gender studies and masculinity leads me to write about post-medieval masculinity. Or heck, let’s take a more likely example from my own work — what if I start publishing on 16th century texts (traditionally that’s the Renaissance/early modern period)? Now I know that some of the texts that I’ve already published on are technically or arguably or theoretically part of the early modern period as well as the medieval period, and so such a move would be a pretty logical outgrowth of my scholarship and expertise. But would my colleagues see it that way? Should any of these above hypothetical examples count for professional activity?

Some of my colleagues would adamantly say no. In fact, they find such professional turns deeply vexing and troubling. I don’t agree and see such objections as being serious breaches of academic freedom. Now, on some practical level I can see why this would be a problem in a Ph.D. granting department, where you need experts in a given field to teach and advise the students admitted in that field on the assumption that yes, you do have a specialist in that field. But if said specialist starts devoting all her research time to another field, she’s not really keeping up with the first field and so really isn’t the best adviser for students who are themselves supposed to be becoming experts in that field. But we’re not a Ph.D. granting department; we’re an M.A. granting department, and our M.A.s don’t come here to work with a given person, and they usually have a wider range of academic interests. Breadth suits their needs and their level better. And it’s not a problem of a field-switch leaving us with a gap. We have some serious gaps in our faculty even without someone moving from one field to another; really, someone doing that is just shifting the gap, not creating one. Someone who seriously shifts fields has a wider range of teaching possibilities, and that’s a good thing for us. And if they’re doing serious work in their new field, then that’s a measure of their expertise in it. Some of our colleagues keep going on about whether or not someone has “training” in something, but if you’re “training” in your original field was 30 years ago, that training doesn’t matter. It’s all about being current in a field, and if you can get peer-reviewed publications in the top journals and presses your new field, or if serious creative writing outlets are publishing your poetry or fiction, then I say that’s a measure of your “training.” I have a bigger problem with faculty who think they can teach, especially at the senior or MA level, in any damn field they want. I think any of us can do the intro-level courses, but I think our students benefit from expertise in upper-level classes, and that’s especially true for those students who we want to “Master” the field. I also think we endanger our chances of being able to hire someone in a field if we let someone not in it teach its courses. But then, as I’ve suggested, publications in that field are, for me, a sign of that expertise. Finally, we’re not a high visibility institution, and in my view, anyone producing quality professional work (whether scholarly or creative) in quality outlets of professional standard in that sub-field, is bringing our department and university visibility, and so it’s all good.

Frankly, I just can’t see the big deal about this field switching in our context. And I also think it demarcates arbitrary divisions in the discipline that could potentially be harmful. I think as a larger discipline of modern language and literature we’ve too forcibly and artificially divorced the serious study of literature from creative writing, the study of language from literature, and the study of rhetoric and writing from traditionally defined “literature.” I see the effects on our students when they can’t tell me what’s odd about the opening sentence of Jane Eyre, an otherwise first-person narrative that was originally published as an “autobiography” “edited” by Currer Bell: “There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.” I see it when I do the whole “what is literature? what is literary study?” song and dance in my grad research class, and despite all my moves to the contrary, they conclude by insisting that they can say this is literature and that is not and that it’s an objective quality held in the thing itself. Or heck, such a stark claim for what is literature and what is not threatened to derail a whole day’s discussion in an NEH Institute I attended, as at least one of my occasional readers will no doubt remember, so it’s not limited to first year graduate students anxious to define what they “have” to know.

I also think that such bounded thinking in evaluating professional work — this counts for your professional activity; that does not — replicates a behavior that drives me nuts across the profession: it’s all about acting just like the elite R1s do. If they do it, it must be good, so we should act that way, too. Arrrgggghhh. I hate that. We have different missions, different student bodies, different constitutive faculty, even, so why should we be doing things exactly the same when it comes to evaluating our faculty members? And along with that comes mission creep, expectations creep and so on and so on.

And in talking about this with Bullock, he brought up the problems of interdisciplinary work, or of fields that have disappeared or have so changed how they work that it might seem that someone has shifted fields when it’s really the field that shifted around them. Take, for instance the field of the history of the book. In some places that subject is taught and faculty are housed in the history department. But there are certainly English faculty who work in that area, and they might reasonably publish and present in a variety of disciplinary outlets, as would the historians. (In a recent forum on this topic in PMLA, one of the articles recounted a scholar getting his Ph.D. in English who was almost denied because his dissertation on manuscripts and book history wasn’t properly a subject of literary studies.) And drama and theater studies cross back and forth between literature scholars and scholars and professionals working in theater departments. If a literary drama scholar were to direct a production, would that count for her professional activity the way it would for someone hired to teach directing and production classes? What then? How do you determine what “counts” in their professional activity? Why shouldn’t we be more flexible in determining that?

But, having rather forcefully stated where I stand, I’m willing to be convinced otherwise. What do you think? What counts?

>Thank you!

>I wanted to thank everyone who commented on the last post, and since I’m a little late in commenting myself (sigh), I thought it was best to elevate it to a post. So, thank you! Yes, it does help to know that what I’m experiencing is common or even “normal.” And it’s even better to know that with a bit of effort I’ll get past this stage.

This is just one of the many ways that blogs are a big help to the academic community. I think there’s perhaps one person in my department who I *might* have been able to talk to about this, and I’m not sure she would have offered any positive advice. In fact, she might have made me feel even more doomed. And I vaguely recall an Inside Higher Ed piece on the same topic getting a lot of those IHE trolls who said, more or less, ‘boo hoo, so get a different job.’

And can I just say that I’m touched that I got 15 comments right away, despite my spotty blogging this semester? (Yay for RSS readers, I assume!)

So thanks, everyone.

>Post-tenure blues. Ennui. Depression. Melancholy. Or something like that

>This is what it’s like after tenure for some of us.

And these are the reasons (or collectively, the single reason) I haven’t been blogging this semester. See, it’s like this: I have no enthusiasm for anything I do right now, whether research, teaching, service, or blogging. I keep putting things off and then feeling them hang over my head. And what do I do instead? I Facebook. Why? Some might say it’s for the instant gratification, and they’re probably right. But it’s also for the sheer mindless, time-wasting, numbness-inducing state it puts me in. Time slips away effortlessly when I piddle around on FB (or, my second favorite online place to be, the realtor in Neighboring State that lists all the 10+ acre estates and is searchable by county). And then, after the time has slipped away, I berate myself and work at a frantic pace to get a half-assed job done of my grading or reading or whatever. Or I work all weekend to punish myself, which is particularly stupid, because if I had a better handle on my time, I’d have weekends off for the first time in forever this semester, and I’d be able to enjoy my life and the unexpectedly large raise that came with tenure because of a newly negotiated contract that raised the tenure bumps. And have I mentioned that I haven’t run since November? And that I’ve gained 20 pounds as a result?

I’ve rarely been in a state this bad for this long. It has pretty much lasted the entire semester (perhaps minus the first month and a half, when I had the euphoria of wining and dining job candidates to sustain me). I occassionaly experience brief bouts of this kind of inertia in my dissertating years, but not since having become a professor. I’m sure it doesn’t help that our university is an annoyingly wacko place these days, but really, I think I’d be going through this just about anywhere.

You see, we push and push and push to reach certain goals, tenure being just about the biggest of them, but after tenure, the goals are less clear. There’s a sense of deflation. All of a sudden you realize your job has some of the qualities of routine that any other job has. And it’s — gasp! — a job. This is especially true if, like me, you teach a certain range of courses over and over and over. By now you’ve got them down, a little too down, and they start to feel stale.

Some smart people arrange for sabbatical for the year after they’re tenured, and if I were on sabbatical I might find some rejuvenation. I’d actually like to work on my research, but I’ve been so poorly managing my time, that of course it’s the thing that has really fallen by the wayside. But I went up for tenure a year early, and I’m also putting off sabbatical for yet another year because of a wonderful teaching opportunity that I’m seizing with a colleague in theater. And maybe doing that ununusual team-taught course will energize both my teaching and my research, since seeing someone else do it half the time will give me ideas and a fresh insight into the subject matter, which also happens to be an area part of my research interests are in.

None of this is to say that the life of a professor is hard. But there’s a burden that’s unique and peculiar to it and that can lead to the kind of inertia I’m talking about. Right now it’s going to take every atom of will power in my body to make it through the semester (and to write my Kzoo paper — ack!), and then it will take additional will to start my work up again in the summer (thank god there’s a 10 day vacation — not research! — trip to the UK in a little over a month). I’ll get there. Writing this helped.

In the meantime, if you’ve ever been in such a funk, especially as a faculty member, what got you out of it? How did you rejuvenate interest in your research and teaching?

>When dissertation directors have too much power

>Sorry for the long silence. Crazy holiday travel schedule + frantically getting ready for the semester + stupidly becoming addicted to TimeWasteBook = a blogger’s absence.

Anyway, I’m back in Rust Belt, enjoying the peace and quiet caused by a snowy weekend before the semester begins. So while Bullock makes us a new TV/Entertainment stand in his workshop, I’m catching up with all things electronic. Heck, even Pippi’s quiet and mellow. She’s dozing on the window seat that Bullock made for, occasionally looking up to watch the snow fall. Soon we’ll be out there shoveling again, but for now I have time to write a SUBSTANTIVE post. Really!

So while I was at MLA, having a good time on my part since I was neither being interviewed nor giving a paper, I was also feeling great sympathy for all those people on the market — including the 14 we were interviewing — and picking up on the crazy-stress vibe in the main conference hotels. (Btw, do you ever get the feeling that *everyone* is staring at you when you walk into those lobbies? Maybe they are, since everyone is looking for the people they’re meeting, but it makes me feel really weird.) I was also hearing everyone’s stories — successes, disappointments, frustrations, and triumphs — as well as the stories they’d heard. And one of those is what inspired the title of this post.

A friend and I were talking about whether our respective hiring committees were afraid of ABDs not finishing in time, and if we tended to prefer people with the PhD in hand or a set defense date, or whatever. And that brought up a story of a friend of this friend, whose dissertation director wouldn’t let the person file his dissertation, year after year, for about three years running. And so the person kept going out on the market as an ABD and not getting many bites and not getting a job. When the director finally let the person file, he got an embarrassment of riches in the interview department, more than one campus visit, and a job. (There were, of course, a couple of articles published in there, too.)

According to my friend — or according to her friend, the one who was prevented from filing — the reason the director wouldn’t let his student file wasn’t because the diss wasn’t finished or wasn’t good enough to be a diss. Rather, it was because it wasn’t good enough to be a book. He thought he was doing his student a favor, getting him to shape it into a book while still a student, rather than once the tenure clock started running. I have to say that when I was a grad student, I kind of thought that way, too, and so did some of my friends, especially those of us who had one or more years of dissertation fellowship. But now I think that’s messed up.

Here’s why. A graduate student on fellowship or working an assistantship makes peanuts. An assistant professor, even at the most poorly paying school, makes a lot more. But it’s not just about a couple of years of higher salary. A graduate student making peanuts isn’t paying off her credit card bills; she’s accruing interest on them. A graduate student isn’t contributing to her retirement account, and so is not only losing that year’s contributions, but also the earnings it accrues (okay, okay, let’s leave aside the tens of thousands of dollars my TIAA-CREF account lost this particular year). Add just those two things together and the financial difference is exponentially greater than just the amount of salary difference. Then there’s the fact that if you’re a professor getting any kind of raise or merit pay or cost of living adjustment — or even summer school pay — it’s likely based on your base pay. A graduate student is losing out on years of having that base pay and having it increase each year. The graduate student is likely also not saving for a down-payment on a house, saving for her kid’s college fund, or, for that matter, saving at all. Such investments and savings also (ideally) accrue value over time (again, let’s leave aside the current financial and real estate markets for the moment).

But it’s not just about money. There’s social and professional status and general self respect involved, too. I can’t begin to explain what a difference it made to my sense of authority in the classroom just to be a lecturer with a Ph.D. versus a grad student in my own grad program. Faculty treated me differently — I got invited to the secret faculty party! — and so did the students. Teaching upper division courses rather than lower div ones also went a long way to making me feel like I had some real expertise and authority in my subject. And even before I got the tenure track job, my family felt like they could stop worrying about me for once — I was finally no longer a student. It even influenced my personal life; you get a better reaction from strangers when you say “I teach at such and such a place” than you do when you say “I’m a Ph.D. student at such and such a place.”

And there’s still more that’s problematic about the dissertation director who expects a finished book rather than a dissertation, and its a problem that affects more than his individual student. First of all, a circumstance like this is an abuse of power. While it’s different in degree from the spouse who won’t let his partner have her own life, it’s not that different in kind. And the student in such cases likely acts like the abused spoused: she internalizes the “it’s for your own good” justification; she can’t bring herself to leave and start all over again (whether that means something as drastic as leaving academia or just switching advisors); and she probably tells herself that she’s partly/mostly to blame – if only she’d just write a better book. I’ve seen people who had such directors still have doubts about themselves and their work years later and it affects their productivity.

But more troubling — or perhaps just troubling on a greater scale — is the impact such expectations have on the discipline and academia in general. If dissertaton directors keep expecting more of the dissertation, hiring committees can expect more of applicants — perhaps a book contract from an ABD. And if hiring committees are expecting more, T&P committees will expect yet more — it’s two books for tenure at some places now. It’s utter madness. I know some of the directors doing this are probably justifying by thinking that they’re only preparing their charges for these increasing expectations. But isn’t it a mutually supporting system? If those of us on hiring committees see these superhuman grad students with book deals, aren’t we going to expect more of our applicants, consciously or unconsciously? So it doesn’t stop only with those of us on that end of things — the dissertation directors have to stop having such high expectations, too. I don’t think a dissertation that’s just a dissertation and one article is too much to ask of a student, or too little to make them look ready for the profession (and, in fact, I think the craft of the journal article is one that needs to be taught more explicitly in graduate school — but that’s a post for another day). But keeping your student from graduating because his dissertation isn’t yet a book is damaging to both the student and the profession.

Let me close with two quick case studies. One is me. The other is someone who graduated from college at the same time I did — indeed, from the very same college. I took three years off from school before going back for the Ph.D., and she went straight to grad school, so you’d think that this other person and I would be about 3 years apart in our “academic age,” wouldn’t you? But no, I just got tenure last year and she’s a full professor now. I think she may even have an endowed chair. Of course, there are a lot of differences between the two of us that accounts for part of this (for one, she’s a workaholic, which she herself admits). But a big chunk of that difference is that she actually finished the Ph.D. in 5 years — even doing field work for part of it — because she had a director who thought of a dissertation as a dissertation. My once-peer wrote a 150 page dissertation (in a “wordy” field – not a math or hard science). I wrote a 450 page behemoth for a director who didn’t exactly expect a finished book — and certainly didn’t keep me from graduating (I did a lot of that myself) — but did have pretty high expectations, and often referred to the thing as a book. Though to be fair, he often said things like “this is something you’ll want to think about more when you turn this into a book.” So I didn’t have the kind of director I’m troubled by in this post. But I also didn’t have the kind that my one time peer did. And I think that’s made a lot of difference in our career and life trajectories.

The profession as a whole — and especially those fields where we write books — needs actively to rethink what we expect of Ph.D. students, because the state of the market right now and in the future is likely to drive us all into more insane expectations if we don’t start setting some reasonable limits now.