…for, that is the cardinal rule of academia. It took no time for me to realize this fact. Certainly within a few weeks in my first position in the professoriate (which was not at my current institution), I learned that—–in polite conversation—–one is to take only a negative stance with regards to respect for one’s colleagues, the intelligence of students, the competence of the college administration, and the future of higher education, in general.
That is, only the bleakest of outlooks is allowed in this transference of the middle school lunchroom culture. The “queen bee and wannabes” will not suffer politesse and optimism. Rather, anyone entering the environment with a glimmer of hope is to be silenced and then squashed altogether. Only joining in on the decimation of happiness is tolerated; do not try to argue that life in academia is a privilege…a noble privilege to enjoy.
I know this seems a strange topic for this site about quilts and stuff, but it is where my head is today as I read this article about selfies.
Just a couple of weeks ago I was entertaining myself and some colleagues (I presumed) with taking exactly two self-portraits while dressed in polyester robes in miserably hot Indian summer weather. We were corralled into a line moving up a steep hill at half the pace of a snail, leading to outdoor seating in the brightest sun during a light rainfall. I just took out my phone for a minute to snap a shot with a friend and then put it away. However, a nearby colleague (who was nowhere near the sight-line of the camera and who only recently learned the term “selfie”) scoffed and his wife (who always pretends to forget we ever met before) sneered at me.
As always, I let the moment go by. Why bother? What is the harm in choosing to be happy? …or, rather, in choosing not to be unhappy?
My own happiness is not tied to those folks. I continue to congratulate my colleagues on all their accomplishments—big and small. And rather than criticize naivete, I choose to be thrilled each year to meet a new crop of first-year students who want to learn how to seek further knowledge. At the same time, although some administrators rub me the wrong way, I am eternally grateful that someone decides to follow the career path of running a college; it’s a thankless job that I’m not sure I’m equipped to want to handle. And, of course, I remain confident in and hopeful for the future of higher education in the US. We’ve done well so far. And we have the potential to do better.
Closer to home, I also no longer hide my interests in my life beyond my credentialed scholarly field. At a conservative institution like my current employer (and even within the community of quilters), one’s only allowed extracurricular activity is to have children. Other paths, if known to one’s colleagues, can diminish already low respect—as a teacher-scholar—unless they are of the firmly masculine variety.
That is, when breezing by in the hallway, one can hear colleagues talking big of baseball stats while at the urinals. I can only presume that this is some sort of tribal bonding that I’m glad not to have to conform to. But I digress…
As mentioned recently, I suddenly feel whole and renewed. Certainly, stepping out of my “artists’ closet” is a bold first move that catalyzed this change, in part. Let’s see where it goes!