Archives For tenure track

I already hate myself for the impulse to write this post. I find few things more annoying than a short op-ed or whatever in the New York Times or whatever about the English Major or the Humanities or whatever and how they are disappearing or dwindling or whatever and how we should keep them around because they preserve our highest values and make us better people or whatever and how everyone (“everyone” here is defined as a bunch of sappy humanities people) weighs in with treacly, cliched supports or refutations or whatever.

But I’m an English professor; I just read Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker; I can hardly help myself.

Gopnik’s final sentences: “The reason we need the humanities is because we’re human. That’s enough.” Does this make anyone else throw up a little in their mouth? And then swallow it again, which is actually the worst part throwing up in the mouth. We’re human! How very profound!

Last month I met with my Dean, who, having reviewed The Numbers, observes that students are hot on Creative Writing. Writing of all sorts – creative writing, business writing, writing for the web – is where it’s at. Duh, I think. My creative writing colleagues (none of them tenure-track, btw) and I have been making this claim for years, begging for more money, more support, more staff. Students want to create, whether it’s stories, poems, or friggin’ web content. Some of them even want to write literary analyses, which is also creation, the creation of ideas and arguments and insights.

[Side note: Eminem is playing on my Pandora. Yes.]

The Dean seems to think that, just like at Pomona (where English majors are down to 1% of the student body), the English Major is dying. That everything is trending toward Writing.

One would think that I, as a creative writing prof, would be super excited to have the Dean seeing what I have been trying to tell the Dean since it was a different Dean I was talking to. And yes I am. Except I’m not saying that the English Major is irrelevant or dying. I’m just saying we need more support for writing, which is a growing component of the discipline. The problem, at least as I see, at least in my department, is that we have a disproportionate number of faculty teaching literature to faculty teaching writing.

But that doesn’t make the Literature classes irrelevant. One of my colleagues occasionally laments that our English Department, in terms of curriculum and staff, looks exactly like his undergraduate program in the 70s. I can see his point, and I do think English Departments can be shockingly conservative in their structures, especially when people are fighting for their jobs. But I’d argue that what happens INSIDE the classroom is WAYYYY (sorry, I’m shouting) different than what happened in the 70s, especially at Regional Campuses of State Universities, like ours.

[Now it’s Amy Winehouse “Back to Black.”]

My literature colleagues are pretty much all from Research One graduate schools (or, you know, Yale), and they all engage in complex, 50-shades-of-gray literary analysis, and they demand rigorous thinking and writing from our students. Thinking about things they (the students from small-town, northern Indiana) have experienced but not necessarily reflected on. Or about things they’ve not experienced, but that other people have. Or about things that other people have imagined and that suggest alternative ways about thinking about what the students have experienced. Then they have to analyze those textual representations, make connections to both experiences and other texts, make arguments about their relationship, and support those arguments with evidence.

Which is why I regularly make this claim: that English Majors are the smartest kids on campus.

I know it’s not new in the realm of defenses-of-the-English-Major to cite critical thinking as an important skill and outcome. And I know that some of this happened in the 70s in the wake of the radical 60s; it wasn’t all Literary Appreciation. And I know, as the Dean suggests, that most of our students don’t want to go on to graduate school; they just want a degree. I also know that, as everyone else suggests, it is stupid to go to grad school in English in this economy. But I also know, because I teach these students, because I WAS one of these students, that they have NO IDEA what they want to do or can do or what might be available to them if they pursue what they are passionate about.

[Lana del Ray on the Pandora now. “Blue Jeans” remix.]

I remember taking my daughter, who is now 17 but who was actually, impossibly, at one time 2 years old, to the park. Mt. Storm Park at the top of a hill overlooking the west side of Cincinnati. I was pushing her on the swing and she was squealing with glee or whatever. Then she met a friend at the park and they ran off to climb the jungle gym and throw mulch at each other. So I started talking to the mother of the other kid, who turned out to be the wife of an English professor at the University of Cincinnati, where I had just been accepted to grad school.

“Don’t do it,” she told me, referring to grad school. “It’s miserable and there are no jobs.”

This was 1999. They say the same thing today.

I had just quit my job and was so excited to start grad school I could hardly stand it. Who wanted a job? I was going to get to read and write and talk about reading and writing and meet other people who loved the same thing? I remember thinking, “Whatever, lady. Nothing can stop me.”

And nothing did. Not my family, who would have preferred that I have a ‘job’; not the lack of money; not the limited job prospects. And when I finished my MA and PhD and applied for jobs, I got offered not one but two. Even my friends who didn’t get them right away, eventually got jobs. I’m not saying academia always works like this, or that I don’t know people who got exploited on the adjunct track. And I’m certainly not saying that any of my mom-friends understood what the hell I was doing in grad school when my daughter clearly needed me to get from soccer practice to violin lessons. I’m just saying it’s Life, who the hell knows what will happen?

Dammit. I’ve lost track. I was surely going to say something profound about English Majors. Something even more profound than “We’re human.” But now I’ve gone on too long for a blog post. And I don’t even have any pictures!

[And now, no joke, on Pandora is a commercial for an online degree. The University is dead. Long live the Online University.]



June 6, 2012 — 1 Comment

Center for Book Arts work room.

Today I was in NYC for the first of a 5-day Letterpress Printing & Publishing Seminar for Emerging Writers at the Center for Book Arts. Here’s a sampling of what we did. We’re all newbies to letterpress.

Vandercook Press

We all set our names in different type faces and prepared for printing.

Making a print.

The print!

I Am The Tenured Guy

April 25, 2012 — 6 Comments

It’s official: I’m tenured, I’m promoted. Look out.

The poet Jim Daniels visited IUSB over the weekend and gave a terrific reading. Jim has a series of poems called, “The Tenured Guy.” I opened one of Jim’s books that I bought after the reading so that I could type up a Tenured Guy poem here, and I just found this note:

Here’s a poem for your pocket today:

The Tenured Guy

I have smiled
and said hello in the hallways
I have lost sleep over brief exchanges
I have changed pants
just to pick up my mail
and I have gotten tenure.

I have kept my one good pair of shoes
and my corduroy sport coat in my office
just in case. I have nodded
at the names of authors
I have not and will never read
and I have gotten tenure.

I have kept my nose clean,
literally. I have sipped wine
at department parties and receptions
staying just long enough.
I have sat in the back at lectures
far enough away to really not hear
and I have nodded astutely.
I have never asked a question
or disagreed with anyone
in any of the long
Meetings of the Living Dead
and I have gotten tenure.

I have served on committees
with a smile, oh, always
with a smile. I have blended
into the beige paint
I have become the beige paint
subtly, so subtly
I’m not sure where
the paint stops and I begin.
I have gotten tenure
and it’s my own fault.

[read the rest (do!) in Show and Tell: New and Selected Poems by Jim Daniels, University of Wisconsin Press]

My job is the “best”!

January 5, 2012 — 6 Comments

It’s syllabus time. School starts Monday, so I’m working on crafting the perfect balance of readings and assignments, with time for grading in between.

Of course I’m lamenting that break is almost over while assuring myself that Break. Is. Not. Over.

But I’m also experiencing the little inner delight I get over designing a new syllabus and anticipating the cool things I’ll get to read and talk about with students this semester. I’m enjoying the industrious feeling of sending and receiving emails, writing and crossing off items on the to-do list, working on a couple of new manuscripts, and cleaning up the holiday mess.

In other words, I’m looking forward to the new semester. Perhaps this is because my job is THE BEST!

In a recent Forbes Magazine study of BEST JOBS FOR WOMEN IN 2012, my job was rated #1. Here’s what it says:

At No. 1, post-secondary teachers top the list. Not only do women report very high satisfaction rates in the job, median annual earnings range from $59,000 (for foreign language and literature teachers) to $94,000 (for law teachers), well above the average household income in the U.S. Furthermore, the field is expected to grow by 15% and features an average of 55,000 openings each year.

Shatkin believes women likely value post-secondary teaching for its high earnings, prestige and stimulating environments. The National Survey of College Graduates found that women appreciate a job’s location and environment more than men, and Shatkin points out that college students are generally excited to learn, colleagues are of high caliber and college campuses provide comfortable amenities. At the same time, post-secondary teachers have a high degree of independence and autonomy, which Shatkin says almost all workers prize.

[The bold is my doing. Source link to Yahoo overview. Source link to Forbes Magazine article.]

I have to agree. My students ARE generally excited to learn. My colleagues ARE of high caliber (not just in academics, but in food, fashion, music, and fun). And the amenities are comfortable indeed. I like my office with its window view of rooftops and treetops. I love working at a place with a library overlooking the campus on one side and a river on the other – and with more books I can order from other campuses. And did I mention: I got to take students to Prague and Berlin this summer!

Sometimes, when I’m drowning in the middle of a semester, I think that I would quit teaching if I could, and just write. But I’d drown in different ways without the semester’s structure or the students’ energy.

Yes, I get annoyed when our budget well runs dry or when the bureaucracy runs thick, but, in the spirit of living lovely, I thought I should take a moment to appreciate where I am and what I’ve got. Here’s to a new semester.

Oh yes, I’ve been reading the Poets & Writers rankings of Creative Writing Ph.D. programs, where my fellow alums and I have been delighted to find the University of Cincinnati’s program ranked #8. (Facebook: like! like! like!)

At long last, we say. How many faculty successes does one need before one gets recognized? How many graduate jobs and student publications? Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred? How many amazing literary events? How many more top-20 rankings of its literary journal? (Go Cincinnati Review!)

Now at last we get some recognition.

So, how DO you measure, measure a Ph.D. program. To the tune of Rent’s “Seasons of Love,” sing it with me now:

In funding, in selectivity, in job-placement
In CGSR compliance,
In reputation, faculty, in number of applicants.

I can’t sing it either. (At least push play so you can listen as you read the rest of the post…)

But as I read the P&W fine print, it looks to me like Ph.D. programs are ranked not according to all those things, but according to how many people claimed to have applied there since 2007. The answer – 40 – put UC in a tie for #8.

I’m not very good with reading or comprehending fine print, so I may be wrong about that disappointing criterion, but either way, let me give some personal reasons why I still think of my time at U.C. as a #1 “Season of Love”:

1. All the faculty, friends, and fellow students I thanked by name and general reference (karaoke!) in the acknowledgments page of my book.

2. This is a continuation of #1 because I can’t say enough about it. Let’s talk faculty. I graduated in 2006, and I can still send an email to my professor who no longer works there AND is on vacation with his family, ask for a reference letter, and I will get it. My other professor who is still there recently invited me back to give a reading in the spring. And a professor I never even had in class has, 5 years after I’ve graduated, carried on an extended email exchange about a grant opportunity I’m pursuing. (Thank you Brock, Michael, and Don.)

3. This is also a continuation of #1. Friends, fellow students, & ma’ ladies. When my writing was rejected, or when I screwed up in my oral exams, I was encouraged and supported by voices even more powerful than the ones in my head. Since then, I’ve had many opportunities that came about through my network of increasingly successful alums. Who were the first to invite me to give readings at their universities when my book came out? And who did I contact first when I started my How to Become a Writer interview series? You know it.

4. Before grad school the closest I came to interacting with a living author was maybe at a reading at Joseph Beth Books. At U.C. I had lunches, dinners, parties, and even airport chauffeuring with major and emerging authors, and even if I didn’t always have long in-depth conversations, I learned, like all writers do, by observing. (It is impossible not to observe when Lorrie Moore is across the lunch table or  Michael Cunningham is in the passenger seat of your crappy Nissan Altima.)

5. It was in my town. I was married and had a young child when I started grad school, so my geographical options were limited, and I consistently thought, Lucky me that this perfect program is right here in my city.

6. Perfect program? Pretty much. I’m sure I would have also loved a program with publishing and book arts, but a Ph.D. was a great way for me to go because I’ve got an academic side as well as an artistic one, and because it gave me so much extra time. I actually got my M.A. and Ph.D. at U.C. back-to-back, so it was six years to launch, and I needed every minute of it.

7. Yes, funding is important, and I was well-funded. If I weren’t, I would have had to quit after my M.A.

8. I’ll stop at #8 since U.C. is #8! How do you really measure a program? Sing it with me:

In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights
In cups of coffee
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife.

All of which I had at U.C., and more, making it intense and wonderful and #1.

At the AWP this weekend I was on this panel:

Hired!: Landing the Elusive Tenure Track Job
Caitlin Horrocks, Jennifer Kwon Dobbs, Darrin Doyle, Nick Kowalczyk, Forrest Anderson, Kelcey Parker
Six recent tenure-track hires in fiction, poetry, and nonfiction discuss their diverse experiences and offer advice and guidance on the search for a teaching position. They’ll discuss every stage of the job search, from researching positions to writing cover letters, to the interview and the campus visit, providing insight into what you can control, what you can’t, and what you should do to prepare. Ample time will be provided for questions.

My portion of the presentation was the INTERVIEW. At the interview, you will be asked variants of the following questions. But there are questions lurking beneath these questions. The questions you will be asked are the “text,” but there is of course a subtext to all of the questions. Here are the types of questions interviewers will ask you, followed by the questions they can’t ask but are really trying to get answers to.

Hired!: Landing the Elusive Tenure-Track Job
Interview Questions
repared by Kelcey Parker

The three pillars of a tenure-track position are: Research/Creative Activity, Teaching, and Service. So the questions typically hone in on these three areas.

Here are the kinds of questions we’ll ask you

About your writing:

1. We really enjoyed your writing sample. Can you tell us a bit more about how you came to this topic/style, and about how it fits in with a larger project (thesis/dissertation)?

2. What theorists, authors, traditions, schools, and/or political issues inform your writing, and what does your work have to offer?

3. Tell us about your next project.

About your teaching:

4. Tell us about your teaching experience. What sorts of classroom obstacles have you had to overcome, and how have you handled them? (Have some specific anecdotes prepared in advance.)

5. How would you teach our Intro to Creative Writing course, which includes fiction and poetry and is required for Education majors?

6. How would you teach an advanced course in your specialty genre? What texts and assignments might you include? How would differentiate between beginner and advanced courses, or between graduate and undergraduate courses?

7. What is your approach to grading creative writing? or mentoring students? or directing theses?

8. How would you teach Composition? (Or a graduate course? Or a special topics course? Online? Your dream course?)

About your service:

9. What experience do you have with running a reading series, editing a literary journal, advising a student journal, etc.?

10. You list a number of service contributions on your CV. Tell us which is most important to you and why it’s important.

11. What service opportunities at our university are you most interested in being a part of?

About your preparation and interest:

12. What interests you about our school? What questions do you have for us?

Here are the questions we’re actually trying to get answers to

We can’t ask you these questions directly. But you can help us get the answers.

About your writing:

1. Do you have a sense of who you are or who you want to be as a writer? Would we like to keep talking with you even after the interview? Do you offer us – and our students – a new way of thinking about literature and writing?

2. Are you going to have a successful future with publishing your work? (per our tenure guidelines)

3. Can you articulate you ideas confidently and coherently? Especially if we bring you to campus to meet the students, the department chair, the dean, the president?

About your teaching:

4. Would you be a fit for our student body? Would you both challenge and connect to our students?

5. Are you thoughtful and reflective about your strengths and weaknesses? Do you offer interesting pedagogical approaches we hadn’t thought about? Would we like to chat with you more about your teaching experiences and ideas?

6. Will you be effective at mentoring, advising, and promoting our students? Are you better with technology than we are?

7. Will you have success as a teacher? (per our tenure guidelines: awards, good evaluations, records of mentorship and student success in publishing, presenting, and grad school)

About your service:

8. How will you – and your experience and networks – contribute to our thriving but budget-restricted creative writing program? Will you bring new ideas we hadn’t thought of – and the energy to implement them?

9. Will you show up (on time) for our meetings and actively participate in the growth of the department? Will you participate in university service demands – like budget committees?

About your preparation and interest:

10. We’ve let you know we’re serious about you. After all, you’re one of a dozen people we’re interviewing out of a hundred or more applications. How serious are you about us? Have you looked at our web site, checked out the faculty bios, previewed the basic curriculum, and found us on a map? How do you think you might fit in at our school?

11.  Would you live in our flyover town that seems crappy but isn’t so bad once you settle in and meet all the great people here? Do you have a partner or kids, and would they live in the town?

[Let me know if you have additional suggestions for this list, or questions.]