I don’t know why I feel the need to say this now. As far as I know, very few of my friends and colleagues actually read this blog. But there’s always the fear that some day, someone will stumble upon it and take what I’ve been saying the wrong way. Some might think, for example, that my complaints about grad school or adjuncting are indictments of them personally. That simply isn’t true, and I’ve never named people or institutions on this blog for that reason.
Actually, I had a pretty good grad school experience on the whole. In retrospect, I think I could have spent my twenties doing something that would have yielded more immediate rewards, but that’s not to say that grad school was a bad experience. I thrived in the environment. I learned a lot, had good relationships with people, including my supervisor. I’ve heard horror stories about people’s grad school experience — stifling environment, didn’t get along with supervisors, etc. — and although I understand how grad school could go bad like that, it doesn’t resonate with my personal experience. At the end of the day, I don’t regret having made the decision to go.
The same is true of my teaching experience. As much as I complain about adjuncting, I’ve never complained about teaching; it’s the politics around it that I don’t care for. I enjoy teaching, interacting with students and colleagues, and being part of the life of a university. The campus I worked on most recently had a great energy and the people I met were genuinely good people. I still keep in touch with some of them. I would have happily continued to teach there if I’d been able to find enough contracts to support myself. In critiquing the university, I don’t want to indict good people who are just doing their jobs. The fact is, there are systemic injustices that go beyond individuals. If it were simply a matter of removing bad people from an institution, reform would come a lot more easily. But it isn’t that simple. Sometimes well-intentioned people, myself included, become complicit in systems that are unjust. If you challenge these systems, you run the risk of losing your own job, so it’s often easier to remain a cog in the machine. The system becomes almost an entity unto itself, with its own agenda, that often inhibits the stated mission of the institution. As James Gordon tells John Blake in The Dark Knight Rises, structures can become shackles.
Unlike Batman, I have no desire to mete out vengeance, but I think I’d be better off outside the system for awhile. It’s not easy. It’s the only thing I really know. I also miss being part of a community, which the university has always provided for me. I miss teaching, especially since I finished my PhD and have less to occupy my attention. It feels like I should be teaching somewhere. Unfortunately, I didn’t make the choice not to teach or even to leave academia; that decision was forced upon me. I’m not unique in this regard. I think most post-academics feel the same way. That’s why it’s difficult to hear terms like “sell out”, “drop out” and “quitter.” We didn’t give up on the academy; the academy gave up on us. But I don’t have any interest in denigrating the decision of those who remain in academia and try to make a go of it. I don’t want to rain on anybody’s parade. I’m simply trying to find the upside of my new situation by reinventing my academic background and diversifying my career options. If my colleagues are disappointed in me for not ‘making it’ in academia, so be it. I don’t bear any ill will. It’s nothing personal.