Saturday, October 26, 2013

At Slate: "I Quit Academe" as a new essay genre

Over at Slate, Rebecca Schuman suggests that the "quitting academe" essay could practically constitute its own genre
Sarah Kendzior, Al-Jazeera English’s firebrand of social and economic justice, suggested this week that there should be a Norton Anthology of Academics Declaring They Quit, among whose august contributions she would place Zachary Ernst’s “Why I Jumped Off the Ivory Tower.” Ernst’s Oct. 20 essay is a deeply honest account of his acrimonious departure from what many would consider a dream job: a tenured position as a philosophy professor at the University of Missouri. 
Ernst’s contribution is indeed part of a raucous subgenre of “I Quit Lit” in (or rather, out of) academe, which includes Kendzior’s own acidic “The Closing of American Academia,” Alexandra Lord’s surprisingly controversial “Location, Location, Location,” and my own satirical public breakdown. All of us faced, and continue to face, the impressively verbose wrath of a discipline scorned, which itself is the completing gesture of initiation into the I Quit Oeuvre.
 Schuman may have a point. It may not be clear that academics are quitting at a greater rate than usual, but they're indubitably hustling over to their blogs to announce the quitting and the reasons for it.  Ernst, who has pride of place in her article, even stars in The Chronicle's entry in the begging-to-be-written Lifetime Original Movie this week, "Faculty Couples for Better or Worse," as one of the commenters points out.

I shouldn't be flippant, though, because these are real problems and real injustices that are happening. Since money is apparently never an issue--those who quit always transition effortlessly into a new career--the spectacular public bridge-burning genre of the "I quit" essay must be designed to make academe better, one blog post at a time.  How could you not admire that?


Bardiac said...

There's a whole lot of pain in those essays, indeed.

But I don't think the transition is quite as easy for at least some folks. Maybe the ones who've found a path more easily talk about it?

undine said...

Bardiac, you're probably right. People who can't sail off into the sunset without considering (or so it seems) mortgages, student loans, groceries, and family obligations probably don't write about it.

undine said...

And I parted company from the original blogger when she declared dramatically that all tenured people have "blood on their hands" as if they were supposed to--do what? Quit in protest? I do what I can to improve working conditions, but I don't plan to starve to death to satisfy someone else's ideal.

Bardiac said...

Given where I work, she wouldn't want to take my job even if she could (different field, so she couldn't anyway).

The "blood on their hands" bit was over the top, indeed.

I think there's a high degree of not understanding academia at non-elitish institutions sometimes, too.

Anonymous said...

Also, folks who aren't hooked into the leaving-academia-as-failure zeitgeist don't tend to write about it. My husband has unemotionally left academia, but has not written any sort of manifesto on the topic. It's really just a job.

undine said...

nicoleandmaggie--"It's really just a job." Yes and yes. It's possible to love a job, but it is still never going to be an equal relationship, as in the institution needs you as much as you need it.