Unmasking Academia

Full Professor Mask

An academic life has many bizarre and Kafkaesque moments. As an ‘outsider academic’ I try to find humor within these moments as that helps me not take either the academic bubble—or myself—too seriously. This time of year we are asked to provide “updated CVs with accomplishments for the past academic year highlighted in yellow.” CVs, those courses or chronicles of our (academic) lives, are supposed to grow by the (academic) year and can become upwards of 50 or more pages by the time one becomes a full professor. I read advice from some supposedly successful academic that she did not accept any request to do anything unless it would add to her CV. Absurd, yes. An exercise in hubris, yes. Exhausting and in the end—meaningless. Yes.

My alternative CV for this past academic year: I survived. I loved my Fulbright fellowship time in Edinburgh. I read many nonacademic books. My favorite book that I read this past academic year was To the River by Olivia Laing. It has to do with the River Ouse. It has nothing to do with nursing.

The giant binder of promotion materials that went into my relatively recent promotion to full professor was returned to me. It served as a doorstop in my office for awhile. Then, after stubbing my toes on it one time too many, I tore up all the paper into tiny strips and turned the mushy mess into this paper mache mask. It is one of my proudest achievements.

After sleeping on this post, I woke up to re-read one of my favorite books from my adulthood: Carolyn G. Heilbrun’s Writing a Woman’s Life. This is a book I read when it first came out in paperback in 1988 while still living in my hometown of Richmond, Virginia. It is a book I managed to carry with me even when I spiraled into homelessness—and it is a book that remains on my bookshelf. This passage from the end of Heilbrun’s book has a much different meaning for me now and relates to the content of this post:

“I once titled an Amanda Cross detective novel Death in a Tenured Position, and it occurs to me now that as we age many of us who are privileged— not only academics in tenured positions, of course, but more broadly those with some assured place and pattern in their lives, with some financial security—are in danger of choosing to stay right where we are, to undertake each day’s routine, and to listen to our arteries hardening. I do not believe that death should be allowed to find us seated comfortably in our tenured positions. Virginia Woolf described this condition in Mrs. Dalloway: ‘Time flaps on the mast. There we stop; there we stand. Rigid, the skeleton of habit alone upholds the human frame. Where there is nothing’ (55). Instead, we should make use of our security, our seniority, to take risks, to make noise, to be courageous, to be unpopular.” (p. 131)

5 thoughts on “Unmasking Academia

  1. You are inspirational! Love your approach to health, and community, and the work that you do.
    And I love your approach to academia.
    Congratulations on the full professorship!


  2. Also, your insights help me accept the changes in my work as an adjunct professor, no danger of listening to my arteries harden in a tenured position!!


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