Wednesday, August 20, 2014


So my department chair wishes to create this mostly-online graduate program, let's say that it's in Advanced Mopery. I don't actually teach Mopery, and there are only two people on campus who do, but the graduate program is intended to be sort of cross-disciplinary, so there are a bunch of literature classes attached to it. (All theoretical classes at this point, taught by theoretical faculty.) The senior Mopery professor wants to list me as one of these potential theoretical faculty on the proposal, so this is where I come in.

I am not wholly opposed to the concept, especially if it means I get to teach less freshman comp, but it seems to me that 1) teaching an online graduate class would be a hell of a lot of work, particularly since the topics for these classes are sort of ... far-ranging. (This is not the sort of program where you can teach a seminar on whatever your dissertation topic was and call it a day.) And 2) we teach a 4-4 load, we don't have a whole lot of support for research or travel or intensive study of new works of literature, and the institution really, really does not have the resources to change this. Nor, as far as I can tell, will there be a pay bump for teaching a grad class. And, in fact, Department Chair and Senior Mopery Professor seem to be working with the cavalier assumption that if you start the program first, the resources will eventually come, and then they will be able to hire new faculty, and compensate the existing faculty, and so forth. Whereas I am of the opinion that if you start giving away milk for free, nobody will offer to take the damn cow off your hands.

Oh, and the junior Mopery professor (who is no longer very junior, being tenured, and who is also well on his way to becoming somewhat famous) ALSO really does not want to teach in this program without some reasonable level of additional compensation, which the Powers That Be have positively refused to give him. At which point he basically washed his hands clean of the whole thing and left them to figure out how to put this program together without him. I am not sure that Chair and Senior Mopery Professor have realized that he is, in fact, the one with the leverage in this situation, and that he has very, very good odds of getting a better job elsewhere. (Let it suffice to say that if you Google his name, the first twelve or so hits are not us, and they include quite a few articles in national media.)

Chair knows how to work systems like nobody's business, so I'm reluctant to say that she and Senior Mopery Professor are being delusional; she is also a seriously awesome and ridiculously hard-working person who basically bleeds in the school colors, but I think that in this case this is part of the problem, because she has a hard time remembering that for the rest of us, this is in fact a job that we are paid to do, rather than the great calling of our life. (And yeah, everybody in academia has a hard time remembering that sometimes, but with Chair it's on a whole other level and most of the time it's great, until she starts expecting it of other people.)

Fuck, I really like and respect all of these people, and I don't want this to turn into a massive departmental feud, but I see almost no way that it doesn't. Meanwhile, I want to be a good citizen, but I really feel like I can't get behind this program and don't particularly want to teach in it, especially if there's no prospect of getting so much as a course release. Because in the end, it is extra work, and work deserves compensation (and grad students deserve faculty who aren't all stretched out like taffy). I said so, pretty much, in the department meeting today, and I feel like I've suddenly flipped the switch from being the Mousy Assistant Professor whom everyone liked, to being a Mouthy Associate Professor who is about to have enemies, and I'm not sure I'm ready for that, either. But tenure means not only that you can speak up about things, but that you sort of have to, right?

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Shakespeare journalism grumpage

I really try not to get grumpy about other people's takes on Shakespeare. First of all, there is too much of that sort of thing in the world already; and secondly, I'm of the opinion that the more people there are thinking and talking about Shakespeare, the better, especially if they're doing it outside of traditional academic channels. (Well, OK, not if they're talking about authorship conspiracy theories, but that isn't really talking about Shakespeare.)

That said, this is a seriously dumb, reductive reading by an author who appears not to get the concept of drama. The whole point of Shakespeare is that he's writing characters, for God's sake, and that those characters are complex and flawed, and, moreover, that he has a peculiar gift for expressing multiple perspectives compellingly! For every ringing set-piece speech, there is a "Yes, but...", usually within a scene or two. Anybody who claims to be able to infer from the plays what Shakespeare's politics were is not only deluding themselves, but missing the reason why we read Shakespeare in the first place. (I think one of the reasons why pronouncements like Berlatsky's get under my skin is that teaching students to value and embrace ambiguity is perhaps the single most valuable thing we do in literary studies, and it drives me crazy when people don't get this.)

Full disclosure: I have my sneaking suspicions, and the answer I'd come up with is almost the polar reverse of Berlatsky's -- and I'd point to a lot of moments in its defense, from Isabella's courageous defiance of Angelo to Michael Williams's searching questions on the eve of Agincourt. And at least one of those moments, the Argument of The Rape of Lucrece, has the advantage of being one of those rare bits of text that Shakespeare seems to have written in his own person and from his own perspective. But I'd never be so arrogant as to claim that "my" Shakespeare is the only possible Shakespeare, or that we know for sure what he thought about anything.

(Also, if you're seriously going to argue that the Henry IV plays are a warning against rulers consorting with people who are beneath them, you've pretty much missed everything that Hal takes away from his time in the tavern. There's a reason why he ends up being a more effective leader than good old Dad, who never really gets what his son is doing in the Boar's Head, even though he did that sort of thing himself once upon a time. Granted, the plays work a bit better as a warning to the people on the lower end of the social scale against consorting too much with their rulers. God send the companions a better prince.)