Monday, September 06, 2010

Introducing "Benjamin Harrison": Regular Guest Contributor

My name is "Benjamin Harrison" (a pseudonym), and I’m jumping off the tenure track. For the last few years, I’ve been an assistant professor in the humanities at a non-flagship state university. I was one of about a hundred applicants, so when I got the job I felt lucky. I moved my family here, and we thought I/we could be happy, but it has turned out otherwise.

The largest issue is family. I just can't raise my kids here. The state is incredibly insular: the top grads from the top high schools go to, not Harvard, or Berkeley, or Williams or anywhere else that requires an essay portion on the application, but to Huge State University because they have a famous football team and are the only school on anyone's radar.

There are also financial issues. I have not received a raise in four years, and none are on the horizon. (When I earn tenure, that raise will be about 5%, so I'll get back a bit less than inflation has taken away.) There is little institutional money for archival research, and nowhere near enough for a trip overseas - which is where my archives are. While my children could attend the university at which I teach at a 50% discount, I would pay full-freight to send them to a university in the same system.

Obviously I am far from alone in this situation. The good news for most third-tier institutions such as mine is that the majority of humanities faculty have concluded that the sacrifices are worth it. They may not be happy with their current situation but if that is the only way to stay in academe, they are willing to do what it takes.

I have come to a different conclusion: In the coming academic year I will search for a job teaching at the secondary level, and blog about my experience here. My goal is to provide some insight into the process for other Ph.D.s and A.B.D.s who are considering a similar move, and perhaps a forum for discussion.


Anonymous said...

"I just can't raise my kids here. The state is incredibly insular..." I could have written this. I'm 2 years in and we are planning on leaving in 1 or 2 years - teaching at a prep school is a definite possibility. I will be following your experience with great interest.

Eliza Woolf said...

Thanks for your comment. The location of an academic job (or any job) is so important; it has a huge impact on our lifestyle choices and the opportunities available to family members.
Based on Ph.D.s I've talked to who are considering leaving academe, location is almost always at the very top of their "why I want to exit the tower ASAP" lists.

WorstProfEver said...

You go, BH! The more people demand that quality of life matters, the less easy it becomes for others in the academy to pooh-pooh it. Goes both ways, too: many singletons I know are seriously contemplating moving somewhere where they can actually meet people.

Eliza Woolf said...

Pooh-poohing people's complaints about location is so typical of academics everywhere. Their thinking usually goes like this: I sucked it up big time and moved my single self or family to sucky Podunksville for the sake of my grand career, so you can too!

Benjamin said...

The problem is that grad students are socialized into thinking that success = Tenure Track. I have very good friends who think I'm certifiable for even considering a step "down." (I disagree with the premise, but that's another post.)

As a result, my school will have no trouble replacing me. Hell, they'll get a hundred applicants and probably find someone better. For as long as there is an endless supply of grad students willing to step in for those who leave, why would anyone change the system?

Administrator 1: "Ben Harrison quit, citing lousy library resources, a lack of funding for research, horrible facilities, and low pay. We can either spend money to fix the problems, or hire some newbie as a lower salary."


Anonymous said...

I know about 100 newbies, at least, who'd take a crappy job like the one Benjamin mentioned for peanuts. Therein lies the problem. We undervalue ourselves and the cycle continues!