Thursday, November 27, 2008

A Bizarre Proposition That Makes Clio Realize Her Existing Good Fortune

Someone who I haven't talked to in a while (for reasons of which I was reminded about ten minutes into the conversation) called the other night. I answered, thinking it was my aunt, but it wasn't, it was this person.

He wanted to say "hi" and to tell me that there will be two retirements in his department, which means there will be two jobs open on next year's market (keep your eyes open!). He said that he would be the head of the committee and that he wanted to get me into one spot and someone else who had gone to graduate school with us in the other.

Sweet, right? Don't we all want friends in high places who think that they can get us jobs?

Delusional is more like it.

He started by saying, "I want to package you as a feminist historian and a public historian." Leaving aside the whole "I want to package you" language -- I think that would be a post unto itself in all of its paternalism -- I am neither a historian of feminism nor a public historian. Yes, I am a feminist. Yes, I write about women, some of whom became involved in the women's movement. Yes, I have worked in public history. Feminism, however, is not the focus of my research, and I am not educated as a public historian.

I tried to point this out, of course; but this person perpetually conflates women's history and my personal feminism with being an historian of feminism. He also kept insisting that an MLS counts as a public history degree. People graduating from very good public history doctoral programs would beg to differ!

What I do (or am trying to) work on is nineteenth century abolition and women. The department in question already has two nineteenth century historians, not counting the one retireing, and one of these historians works on abolition. Therefore, as this person admitted, the department does not want another 19th century historian. This was the reason that this person wanted to "package" me in other ways. This person, then, is proposing that I hide my actual strengths and emphasize not just my weaknesses but areas in which I am not at all qualified,

Then, there would be the problem of the actual research record. He seems to think that my book (which is on neither feminism nor public history) is some magic key that will open all doors. Maybe when it first came out (although, it didn't even open doors then), but certainly not now. I haven't actually published anything substantial and academic for -- jeez! -- five years. My work at the big research project may never see light of day thanks to shitty management, and I futzed around on the road not taken (and realized that not taking it was actually a good idea in the first place) for a few too many years, so I don't exactly have a strong record of research and publication at this point.

This all means that, when that job ad goes public, about a thousand PhDs will apply, all of whom will hold degrees in the proper fields and will have stronger evidence of consistent research and publication. By all rights, my application would be one of those for which search committees are grateful because they can say, "well, this is a definite 'no.' One less in the stack!"

Two, three years ago, regardless of my qualifications, I would have jumped at this chance; but two, three years ago, I was off discovering the dead end on that road not travelled and was willing to take a stab at anything that paid more than $15.00/hour. Right now, I am really damn lucky. So, right now, my silent response to this person is: "What the fuck are you thinking?!?"

Again, shouldn't we all want to have friends in high places who think that they can do this for us? Except that he proposes to essentially rig a job search, force his unqualified candidate down the department's throat, and then have that candidate enter into what will necessarily be a hostile workplace due to the shady ethics surrounding her appointment. This hostile workplace, too, is one that he has not described as being normally friendly under better circumstances. Why would someone want to pursue employment conditions like that if they are already comfortably employed elsewhere?

Yet, it gets better. While the job would have a substantial cut in course load (2/3, which is mighty tempting to someone teaching a 5/5), it would also include a cut in both rank and pay. When I say cut in pay, I'm talking about something like an $8000 pay cut in pay. Sure, the region is less expensive, but it is also painfully less interesting to a big city girl like myself.

I want to ask him: why would I leave a job that pays shockingly well, where I am at an associate rank, have great colleagues, a chair and dean who have both so far shown themselves to be in my corner in disputes, where I live in a major and exciting city with top notch museums and archives and theaters, that is a train-ride away from other, similar cities, and has great weather, all to take a job where the search has been rigged, that will require massive diplomacy not to be hated on sight, that will expect me to offer classes and do research in a subject for which I am not qualified, that has a significant pay cut and reduction in rank, in a non-union shop during a depression, that is located in a small town in the dead center of a HUGE red state that I have actually fled? Why would I do that? The reduction in course load just ain't worth it!

I don't know if this is a case of "we should all have these problems" or "with friends like these, who needs enemies?" Both, I guess! I do know that you have to wonder what the hell is going through some people's minds, even when they are trying to help you. In any case, I told this person "thank you for thinking of me, I'll keep it under consideration." I didn't get bitchy because, as deluded as his plan is, he probably did mean it in good spirit.

Meanwhile, in my astonishment at the dimensions of just how bad an idea this is of his, I am reminded of the good fortune that I have right now -- something necessary to do at this, the opening of the Depression Season. I'm also reminded of the reasons that I let this person out of my life. I wasn't crazy or overly emotional, I was just at my wits' end. That made me feel better, too, about deciding not to visit that ex-boyfriend for Thanksgiving.


Hahn at Home said...

Well, there's an even better reason to stay where you are. The gargoyles on the building. Where else would you get that?

Ann said...

Clio B., I think your analysis of the situation is 100% correct in terms of your personal needs and goals. Why, indeed, go back to someplace you left long ago, for less money and a job that doesn't look like it will suit you? Your friend means well, and I'm sure he's love to have you as a friend an ally in his department, but as you note, it would likely be a bad fit.

However, as someone who has served on two public history searches, I can tell you with great confidence that there will be nothing close to "a thousand PhDs will apply, all of whom will hold degrees in the proper fields and will have stronger evidence of consistent research and publication." They will get a lot of applications, but 9/10 of them will be from people who ignore the public history aspect of the job as though that's not a field they need to respect or even address in their applications. You're correct that the real public historians will stand out, but there are very few professionally trained public historians who also have the research chops to succeed in an academic job. (And BTW, there are very few public history Ph.D. programs. The terminal degree in public history remains the M.A. This is why it's hard to find academic historians who also have the public history training, and vice-versa. Public history is frequently more lucrative and reliable employment, and you can get it with an M.A., so what's the use of going on for a Ph.D.?)

Take a look at the job as it's defined in the ad next year. It still probably won't be a great fit for you, but you can't know until you see the ad. My guess is that your friend is (rightly) concerned that this will be a tough line to fill, and he's reaching out to people now who he thinks might be interested.

Clio Bluestocking said...

Lori, ah, yes, the gargoyles! However, I must confess, the gargoyles are portable. I'll post pictures of the trouble they got themselves into one windy night.

Historiann, thank you for your perspective. I confess that I have run in circles where there are an inordinate number of public history PhDs, so my perspective is a little skewed! I have an idea that this search is not going to be a public history search, however, because they already have two public historians, one of whom is also an archivist. Given whom they are replacing, I think that the search is going to be a women's history search (and that shouldn't be a tough line to fill!), and that they are also going to want to broaden their department with a women's historian who works outside of the nineteenth century.

What I really think is going on here has more to do with this person's personal rather than professional motivations. Some of those have to do with some of his grandiose ideas about himself, and some -- well, let's just say I stopped talking to this person over a year ago for some appalling behavior on his part that makes me really suspicious as to what role he would REALLY want me to fill, if you catch my drift.

Ann said...

Oh, my goodness! The intrigue! Well, you are the best judge of the non-professional (or unprofessional?) angles here.

When I hear stories like this I thank goodness that I work with extremely boring and predictable people. (At least, I think I do. Who knows what romantic intrigues I might be surrounded by but remain happily oblivious of?)

bitternsweet said...

I like any opportunity to reassess one's life that reveals it to actually be a pretty damn good life. So, hooray for Clio, in a good place, good job, not at the mercy of some guy who gets a job for you, etc.

dykewife said...

one word and an abreviation...

caller id

Clio Bluestocking said...

Bitternsweet,the whole weekend seemed to go that way (more posts on the subject as time allows)!

Dykewife, sadly, I DO have caller id; but it only shows the number. His area code and the area code for my aunt are very similar. So, thinking it was my aunt, I answered. Maybe I should memorize my aunt's number!


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