Tuesday, December 01, 2009
Is there some extra extra Random Angry Guy aggression going around the Internets lately? Because Moloch knows I’m aware that I piss off lots of people on a regular basis, sometimes by being a rude, snarky, cheeky fellow and sometimes just by waking up in the morning. And being a blogger has taught me that there are plenty of people out there who will type up all kinds of things about What I Am Really Like Up Close, even though they’ve never met me or exchanged so much as a single email with me. No, I’m not talking about Dean Dad. I have no animus toward the man, and he seems to be doing good work on everything except tenure, and his insults were pretty weak sauce compared to the random angry guy who took to the keyboard last month to write, “Berube is smarmy, juvenile, pretentious, and narcissistic. Not to mention a compulsive liar who rewrites history in his own favor.” This, in response to a blog post written by someone I know IRL and with whom I had just had a very lovely (and very delicious) dinner. As if he’s going to tell my dinner companion what I’m really like.
The weirdest recent Random Angry Guy effusion, though, has to be that of Professor Jim Holstun, who recently chimed in on some liberal blog to say,
Berube is first, last, and always, a professional—and by that, I mean “a careerist hack.”
Richly compensated to serve as part of a team evaluating my department (English, SUNY Buffalo), he proceeded to recommend the destruction of a forty-year-old tradition of (limited) workplace democracy, whereby graduate students were empowered to participate in department governance. You don’t keep getting lucrative gigs like this if you don’t give administrations what they want. Feh!
Where does one start with a remark so profoundly full of fail? I can’t even begin to know what to think of a full professor so resentful and/or clueless as to believe that people who conduct external reviews of English departments are “richly compensated.” If I were to calculate my compensation from Buffalo for that review on a per-hour basis, it would come out to about $12-15/hour. Remember, once again with feeling,
But Holstun’s claim about how I destroyed “a forty-year-old tradition of (limited) workplace democracy” is even more addled than his estimation of my extravagant hourly service wages. It’s not every day I get to have a public argument about an aspect of a departmental review, but just for the record, here’s what actually happened. When we conducted our review in late January 2006, Cary Nelson, William Chace and I came across a provision in Buffalo’s bylaws that gave every member of the department a vote with regard to job searches. Cool!—except that the phrase “every member” included every single graduate student, and most sane people realize that graduate students who have just entered a program really shouldn’t have a vote on job candidates that is equivalent to that of people with years of experience in a field. There was more in this vein: graduate students were appointed to serve on search committees and on the graduate admissions committee—by other graduate students. Our review committee was not unanimous about whether graduate students should serve on searches and admissions (I think advanced graduate students are usually competent to do either job), but we did agree that it was a mistake to have graduate students appointed to such committees by other graduate students rather than by the faculty, because Buffalo’s system didn’t look like a form of workplace democracy; it looked like a device for creating graduate-student cliques and rivalries.
There’s another issue at stake here, as well. On the one hand, graduate programs should train students to do the kind of work they will eventually do as professors (should they get jobs as professors), so it makes sense to introduce them to committee work. On the other hand, graduate students are already serving the department as very-low-cost teaching labor, and giving them sundry committee tasks on top of their teaching assignments might only impede their progress toward the degree. This is no trivial matter in a discipline whose average time-to-degree is about a decade.
Sigh. Sometimes you undertake mundane disciplinary service like departmental reviews, even though they don’t really involve rich compensation, because you want to try to do some good. In Buffalo’s case, we filed a report to the Dean that called for the English department to be replenished: we recommended that the department be authorized to hire four senior faculty and three junior faculty for the next five years (that’s a call for 19 new positions, folks—just what our corporate masters in administration wanted us to say); we recommended that the university administration create a program that would funnel Indirect Cost Recovery funds (from research grants) from the sciences and social sciences to the humanities; and we asked the administration to remedy the fact that the department’s most richly endowed chair was being badly abused by someone who was basically a no-show (with a nod to Dean Dad, yes, sometimes bad people abuse tenure. One might even call them careerist hacks). For all this, I get called mean names on a blog. Feh!
So I understand that I have a talent for making enemies in this business. Sometimes I pick fights, sometimes (as in the curious cases of KC Johnson and The Notorious Riley) I merely answer the bell. And sometimes I come in for bizarre forms of personal abuse just by showing up to do a departmental report. C’est la vie. The Internet has taught me how to brush off (most) personal attacks from random angry strangers. But aggressively clue-free attacks from people like Holstun are just depressing.
But I can’t be too too depressed right now, because I have just had the most fun holiday ever. People started showing up at our house last Tuesday night; most of our sixteen house guests arrived on Wednesday and left on Saturday. The last crew—Nick and his gang—departed on Sunday night. It’s a good thing my ordinary-sized house is expandable! And a good thing that everyone is OK with sleeping on air mattresses, futons, and couches. We’ll always remember the guy (I’m looking at you, Hayward) who decided that the best names-game clue for “Alfred Hitchcock” would be “Schmalbert Hook-Penis.” We’ll treasure the fact that every single guest under the age of 80 joined in to play Beatles Rockband at one point or another. (Many thanks to my sister Jeannie for sending us the best intrafamily present ever—for Jamie’s birthday, no less!) I thought I would impress These Kids Today by showing them that I had mastered “Medium” level on guitar in only three weeks, only to learn that all of them play the game at Expert level, even when it involves drumming to “I Feel Fine” and “I Me Mine” (I’m looking at you, Nick) or playing guitar to “Here Comes the Sun.” (“Can you read those notes?” a friend asked me as the dizzying array of colors for Expert Here Comes the Sun flew by on the screen and Shash hit every note. “Hell no,” I replied, “it just looks like the closing sequence of 2001 to me.” And when I announced to Nick that I had played “Come Together” without a mistake, a 254-note streak, he congratulated me and informed me that he had played it without a mistake on expert drums, a 2100-note streak. So I hit him.) And then there was the moment when we had to prepare for the arrival of Yet More Guests by Saturday at noon, and we looked around at the piles of suitcases and electronics and bottles and cans and leftovers and overcoats and air mattresses and lost clothing and bedding, and I said, “my friends, if we clean up now, then the ‘guests’ will have already won.” Then eight of us went out Saturday night to see Fantastic Mr. Fox, which may be one of the ten most fun movies ever.
Happy sigh. The antidote to random angry guys on the Internet, surely, is having lots of holiday fun in real life. Now I just have to lose twenty pounds by tomorrow. It does kind of suck to be overweight at this time of year. Fortunately, I hear that John Holbo has a new miracle diet plan, for which he no doubt expects to be richly compensated.