Nope, No Election Is Happening, ‘Tis Just a Mundane Academic Rant

— Look, I know everyone is freaking out about the election. I have no words of wisdom, so I will:

a) Give you this handy link on what to do instead of screaming into the Void (McSweeney’s on point, as usual)

b) Rant/whine/moan/scream (but not into the Void; into the rest of the post) on academic issues, acute and chronic

— The semester is more than half over and we’re finalizing teaching schedules for the spring. I will be teaching in person, which will come with mandatory twice-weekly testing — an additional pain in the neck, even though there has been no in-class transmission among students or between students and faculty. It’s as if all the masking and sanitizing and social distancing works!

— The college powers that be cannot stop talking about revenue. Lost revenue, the need to generate more revenue. I hate this corporatization so much! I know it’s well underway, I know I can’t stop it, but why? Why? Why do we have to worry about revenue, other than bringing in research grants and making sure we deliver quality education? Why do faculty have to act as used-car salesmen? Most faculty in STEM are temperamentally unsuited for sales. And what are we selling, and who are we selling to? Bringing on more paying eyeballs (qualified or not) to our online classes, rather than properly teaching fewer but qualified students? Are we selling instructional videos and materials? None of these are to be sold lightly if a university wants to maintain prestige. Are we selling something to our alumni? Public at large? Seriously, does anyone know what we are to be selling to and to whom? Does the target demographic want our stuff? Can it afford it?

— I turned in my sabbatical report. You’d think they’d lay off of those us who’d clearly had our sabbaticals shat on by the COVID elephant with digestive problems. Accommodation for everyone, but not faculty. We need to be tightly reined in at all times.

— Some weeks ago, I videochatted with a male colleague. He said how some people’s productivity dropped during COVID, but other people’s didn’t at all. He not-so-subtly implied that his didn’t. This was one of the several instances where it was clear we are in the same storm, but are not in the same boat (related, but not faculty-specific, here). If you are a faculty member with significant caregiving obligations (let’s not pretend this doesn’t mean mostly women mostly taking care of children), and even if no one has fallen ill or died, your world has been drastically affected by COVID because you have to keep working and taking care of your children and their schooling full time.

You know all those studies that show that family leave is used by men to write more papers in peace, and used by women to actually recover from the toll of childbirth and to care for their newborns? With COVID-related tenure-clock extensions and similar, I think we will have yet another well-meant but in practice again fucking-over-women-because-equity-and-equality-aren’t-the-same initiative.

Every time I think of the worlds my similarly-aged male colleagues with a similar number of kids to mine and I live in, I realize and am somehow shocked anew that they are very, very different worlds. A vast majority of these male colleagues (even though they are not dinosaurs) have nonworking or part-time-working wives who tend to the house and the kids so the husband can become meritorious. Female faculty’s households tend to have, at best, an equitable division of labor between two spouses with careers; stay-at-home and part-timer husbands exist, but they are a tiny minority. Even if the female partner’s career is primary, in most households she still puts in a lion’s share of work into the children and the household. Nobody but her is bending over backwards to ensure she becomes  meritorious. 

— Then the topic of student mental health came up in the conversation between me and that male colleague. Since March, when the lockdown started, I’ve spent a lot of time and energy on making sure my group members are doing OK and coping well mentally. When they sound exhausted or otherwise unusually down, I urge them to take time off, and within a week or two they are back to their old selves. On average, the group has been OK for the most part, without anyone having major setbacks, either health-wise or in terms of research progress. When I mentioned how much effort I expend on making sure everyone is doing well mentally, the colleague just off-handedly remarked something like, “Oh, yeah, I probably should’ve, but didn’t really.”

This shit doesn’t even register for him. Can you imagine how much lighter a woman’s workload would be if she didn’t constantly have to gauge and manage everyone’s emotional states? These calls for accommodating students? Women tend to take that as a call to be even more attuned to what those around them need. Men, as usual, walk around blissfully oblivious to everyone’s needs but their own, and wait to be asked point blank for some specific accommodations. If no request is made, no crisis gets noticed, and the male PI (maybe not you, reader, but I assure you, this holds for most) remains light as a feather, unencumbered by the quiet despair emanating from those around him.

No wonder my fiction is full of unbridled rage. 

How are you holding up, blogosphere? 

4 comments

  1. Regarding revenue and corporatization, back when the lockdown started, our provost opened a meeting by announcing a faculty hiring freeze. Hey, I get it, and I agree that we need to focus on meeting existing commitments before taking on new ones.

    Then she immediately asked for volunteers to serve on an administrative search committee.

  2. Besides not being a turd and not saying turd-ish things (duh), what can men do to make things a little better in academia rn? I think you posted about this pre-COVID, but a COVID edition would be cool 🙂

  3. As a representative of women faculty who had a stay-at-home/part-time partner at home when my child was growing up, I can say it definitely helped but it was not the same experience as male faculty in the same situation. While some of this was the proportion of care-giving I was still doing, I am really referring to the economic repercussions of that arrangement. Since women are paid less than men, our household was financially strapped on just my income. This led to more responsibilities and none of them could be sourced out.

  4. Childless male commented recently commented on how academically productive “most” people had been during the pandemic furloughs at the hospital, and I was like HUH??? Because I have not been. This is a very decent, good person who said this. Imagine what the assholes say.

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