Wednesday, March 30, 2011

I Am Not Going Anywhere!

People I work with keep hinting that I might not be staying at my current university for long but rather planning to look for a job with a different school. You know how in soap operas the main character is often the last one to discover that she is pregnant? The entire town knows that she is and has discussed the news at length while she is running around completely oblivious. This is how I feel during such conversations with my colleagues as to my supposed change of employment.

The comments I hear range from accusatory statements like "Well, why do you care so much if you will not be sticking around here for long anyways?" to kindly advice of "When you talk to the Dean, you have to pretend that you plan to stay here and seek tenure at our school even though it might not be true." The annoying thing is that I have no idea where people are getting this from. All my protestations notwithstanding, they keep giving me knowing looks and suggesting that they know something about me that I don't.

Now, the truth of the matter is that I love this university. In the spirit of full disclosure, I have to confess that I didn't always feel this way. When I first came here I was sure that I would look for another job pretty soon. I snoozed through my orientation session because I was convinced that none of the things that were being said would be of any use to me since I wasn't going to stick around. See? I'm very honest about this.

However, four weeks after that, when the MLA job list was published, I didn't even glance at it. Because by that time I knew that wild horses wouldn't drag me from this campus. (I know it's a horribly cliched expression but I love it and don't care.) Barring an arrival of some truly horrible administrator who will make my life here intolerable, I am planning to stick around and seek tenure here.

We are not an extremely prestigious university just yet. I have gone for the prestigious, famous name twice in the past, though, and, believe me, I have learned my lesson. Prestigious names are just that: names. They bring one neither contentment nor intellectual advancement. It's true that people don't go all "Wow, that's so cool!" when I tell them my school's name. However, I am finally completely happy and at peace with my place of employment and that means a lot to me. 

For one, I love the students. They might have their limitations but they all come from normal, regular backgrounds. They understand what it means to start out in life without a trust fund, worry about paying the bills, work part-time jobs to put themselves through school, and rush home after school to make dinner for their family. Finally, I have students who don't regale me with comments of the "let them eat cake variety." 

As to the colleagues, it is very comforting to know that every single one of them was hired on their own merits. Every single person worked hard to be where they are instead of getting the job through nepotism, flattery, and familial relationships. We had a job search this year, and it was a real, completely bona fide search. And every faculty member expressed their opinions irrespective of whether they are tenured or not.

The teaching schedules are made in a completely fair and transparent way. The situation where junior faculty members get stuck with the most unprestigious courses that nobody wants or the most inconvenient teaching times doesn't happen. At all. Everything is 100% fair, honest, and right. I get a lot of time to do my research, and everybody celebrates my successes. The Chancellor not only doesn't snub me as a young colleague but actually goes to the trouble of learning my name (and it's a difficult name, let me tell you) in order to show respect.

So please, tell me, would I not be all kinds of fool if I left this place in order to be at a school that sounds great but has none of these things? I'm way too old to care about silly things like prestige, fame, and names that sound important but cover up a reality that is rotten to the core. (Another cliche. What's wrong with me today?)

And now that I have explained all this at great length, maybe I should print out this post and stick it on the door of my office. Because it would be great finally to put this matter to rest.


Pagan Topologist said...

This happens when someone is at a level far above the rest of the department and U\university in terms of research. People will assume that you would leave to get a large salary increase if you could. Most people do not have the option. Some people will think you are making a mistake by staying at a school which is not the best you could do. Name is part of it, but the fact that the big name schools pay much better is a bigger factor in most people's view.

For the record, I think your view is more enlightened than is the conventional view, although I would not want to live in southern Illinois.

Clarissa said...

Actually, what I make here is only a couple of K less than what I was paid at Cornell. given the difference in prices, I'm much better off here.

Of course, this is a boring, conservative area to live in. But I don't spend all that much time with people anyway, so it doesn't change much.

I miss the variety of ethnic cuisines bitterly, though. That's one thing that really bothers me about this area.

NancyP said...

You need to come over to the MO side more. We have many ethnic restaurants - not like New York, but enough if you aren't a compulsive foodie. Argentinian (hint: beef), Bosnian, Brazilian, Cambodian, Chinese (not chop suey places), Ethiopian, French, German/Mitteleuropaish (you insert the right umlaut), Greek, Indian (several styles), Italian (several styles), Jamaican, Japanese, kosher Jewish, Korean, Lebanese, Mexican, Nigerian, Filipino, Persian, Russian, Scottish (haggis?), Spanish (tapas), Thai, Turkish, Vietnamese, and probably a few that I have forgotten. Some may have closed. Many are luncheonettes. We don't have depth in many areas - eg. few Spanish, many Thai and Vietnamese restaurants.

Pagan Topologist said...

There is another factor here that just occurred to me. In this country, except for a few areas like NYC, people who are planning to stay somewhere long-term almost always buy houses. Someone who rents living space is signaling "I am a transient here."

Clarissa said...

I'm sure that's true. Even though I'd expect people to change their attitudes after the housing debacle of 2007-8. Memories are short, though.

Pagan Topologist said...

I don't think it is so much a matter of short memories as that cultural customs and perceptions change only slowly.