Why do we hate each other?

28 09 2010

Oh Lord, I just know I’m going to be reading about this essay for at least the next two weeks. I could probably write long posts on just about any of Benton’s many excellent points, but being a labor historian by training I feel like emphasizing this one:

Tenured professorships have become such a privilege, held by a small minority, for such seemingly arbitrary reasons, that anyone who holds such a position is quite naturally resented by someone who does not and probably never will. That is exacerbated by the tendency in our profession to think in terms of hierarchies—to look down on people—based on pedigree, academic rank, and institutional affiliation. We are unable to command respect for ourselves as a profession by working together across those divisions.

There are, of course, many other, less prominent reasons for the current anti-faculty climate. But perhaps it is enough to say that the reason we feel more “hated” than ever is that we deserve it. Instead of collaborating, we competed with each other. We focused on our research instead of on the needs of undergraduates. We even exploited our graduate students, using their labor to underwrite our privileges, and then we relegated most of them to marginal positions as adjuncts. We waited too long to institute reforms to our profession, and now—after 40 years of inaction—the reforms are going to be forced upon us.

Our own jobs are only as secure as those of the weakest of our colleagues. But what have most of us done to assist the weakest among us? Probably nothing. Seriously, can you even name all the non-tenure track instructors in your department? [I have an advantage since my department is so small, but then again this has been a special project of mine for some time now.]

Your tenure-track job was, is and always will be a job. Your working conditions are determined by factors outside your control. The security of your job – even if you have tenure – is determined by factors outside your control. As many of us have already found out, our vocation is not recession proof. Indeed, in this political environment, public universities are practically first in line on the chopping block.

Yet this is no excuse to forget about people who have it even worse than you do. What have you done lately in order to improve everyone’s working conditions on your campus? Are you just going to fiddle while Rome burns?

Here’s a little music to get you in the mood while you’re thinking:

Do you feel more empathetic yet? So what are you going to do about the injustice all around you? If you don’t have any better ideas, why not click here to at least get the ball rolling?


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