Sunday, April 09, 2006

I Attend Meetings

I recognize that I don’t have a particularly difficult job. Being a college professor doesn’t involve a lot of heavy lifting. We don’t need to keep canaries around just in case one of the classrooms collapses. Spending most of my time in an archive or looking at microfilm means that I don’t really have much human contact. For me, it’s great.

I think of the poor Barista at my local Starbucks who always has to be chipper to see us cranky folk jonesing for our morning fix. Trying to talk to me before I have some coffee is a bad idea. Yet, he is always so happy, or at least pretends to be so happy, to give me a cup of Joe. I learned long ago, my gravitas prevents me from making a good impression with the general public.

So, yeah, I like my job and I don't like to moan. Sometimes, though, I can’t believe how petty other academics can be. My department wants to hire a super-special-senior historian. A generous alumni decided we needed a better quality of historian in our department. Heck, who can blame him? So he donated a pile of money to make that happen. The problem being, though, that these types of hires always bring out the sharp divides that exist in our department.

Our department currently splits along the lines of “traditional” historians (think somebody who moves around flags-on-maps) and “cultural” historians (think somebody who justifies watching hours of vintage gay porn as “research.” See? I love my job). The “traditional” historians are quite angry about all the changes that occurred in the department over the past five years. I can’t say I really understand what fuels the anger.

Not all the white, straight men in the department are “traditional” historians; however, all the “traditional” historians are white, straight men. They claim to be under siege – which is readily apparent given that white, straight men currently constitute a mere 80 percent of our department, and barely 95 percent of the senior faculty. White, straight men also occupy the administrative positions of Director of Graduate Studies, Director of Undergraduate Studies, Associate Department Head, Department Head, Dean, Provost, and President of the University. Yeah, the poor dears have really been forced out of power. It’s a brand new day at our university.

I am not claiming that it is all about race, gender, and sexuality nor do I blame white, straight, men for all of the university’s problems – entirely. What astounds me, though, is that the “traditional” historians are the ones who are the first to claim that we cultural historians (read: gays, women, and racial minorities) infringe on their rights. They disparage our work as “too narrow” because we focus on minority populations or women. In their mind, white, straight, men are still the real story for history.

On Friday, we had a meeting to discuss hiring our super-special-senior historian. In that time, the “traditional” historians seethed with anger and venom. They demanded the department hire another historian just like them. One senior “traditional” historian actually stated, “We have gone along with all of these ‘diversity’ hires. We allowed the department to offer courses in things that are irrelevant, like ‘Border Studies’ and ‘Women’s History.’ How many women historians do we need? Now it’s time to give back to the department’s real strengths: Traditional History.”

These are the same folk who attempted to eliminate the department’s non-discrimination clause a few years back. I am constantly annoyed that they disparage our research as a means to feel better about themselves. I don’t feel an equal hostility to their work. On the contrary, I am glad that somebody else spends their time moving flags around on maps. There is too much vintage gay porn for me to watch. I don’t have time to think about which army regiment went to which battle.

When I think about hiring, I selfishly want to hire people who will be my friends. I get so lonely here. So, more than anything, I think, “Hey, is this somebody who I would invite for coffee?” For me, it’s just not that deep. The stakes in academia are so low.

For the “traditional” historians, though, the next hire clearly will impact their mental well-being. They have all the power and the numbers, but they feel quite persecuted. This is why I have started sitting close to the door during department meetings. One of them might show up to the next meeting with a shotgun should we hire somebody who is not white, straight, and male. In a blaze of bullets, they will be shouting “Where are my blue flags? Where are my blue flags?”

As the department’s gay Latino guy, I know my ass would be first on their list too. That’s why I stretch my calve muscles before each meeting. I like my job and all, but I am not going to give my life for it. If one of these mother-fuckers finally snaps, I am out. GayProf will just be a blur. My speed out the door will qualify me to be the next Bruce Jenner on the Wheaties box. Before they have time to reload, I plan to be at my parking garage.

I just don’t understand it. The “traditional” historians have the same job as me,except they are paid more and have tenure. I am here to tell you, it’s a cushy job. Whoever we hire will not be paid out of their bank account nor are they going to be fired (tenure prevents that). The women, gays, and minority folk don’t sneak into their offices and rearrange the flags on their maps during the middle of the night. Why are the “traditional” historians so incensed? My guess is that they simply aren’t watching enough porn.


Dorian said...

Ah yes. When I was in school, the English department had pretty much already gone through all this and the traditionalists had either already retired or were the gay men.

That is one of my favorite laments of the conservative academic though. At the heart of it seems to exist the assumption that white, heterosexual male-dom is both somehow a normative condition and everyone else is some strange alien being and a lack of racial, sexual and gender identity, and therefore ideologically neutral.

tornwordo said...

You sound cranky like me. The politics of the workplace are strikingly similar to the playground don't you think?

Chad said...

Hang in there!

What always gets me is how those 'traditional historians' get so uppity when you simply suggest that one of their Great Men might have been homosexual. Make a strong argument that someone in the medieval period was gay and you'll get, "You're just viewing chivalric friendship through a modern lens!" I've even read this used concerning King Edward II, that king who was suggestively murdered with a hot poker through the anus.

My most recent encounter with this attitude was when I was reading a book on Frederick the Great. The author argued that, even though Frederick had an intimate relationship with a young man in his youth, even though his marriage was absolutely frigid, and even though his close friend Voltaire joked he was gay on numerous occasions, he could not have been gay; instead, he had to have caught syphilis, tried to have some kind of operation to cure it, and was accidentally castrated! (I am not exaggerating.)

Frank said...

I don't have an answer for you, gayprof. I don't get it either. I guess for "traditionals" (white, old, straight) ANY sort of inroads, no matter how minor, from minorities of any stripe, are threatening because "traditionals" were formerly 100% in power. Now that they're only 99% in power, they feel the whole thing is going to collapse in on them. Perhaps they fear that they'll be treated the way they've treated others? Perhaps they just can't stand that there's a 1% they can't boss around? Who knows.

I totally don't get the "too narrow" charge they lob at you. I mean, what can be narrower than basing your whole career on the Battle of Thermopylae or Gettysburg or some such? How is "Women in Patagonia" not at least a touch broader than that?

Did someone actually say, "We have gone along with all of these ‘diversity’ hires...."????? Do they think insulting everyone who isn't one of them is going to get them what they want?

Maybe you should go in and move their flags around at night. They'll have apoplectic fits, die, and your problems will all be over!

batmansf said...

I'm with you, except if I were hiring I would also be looking for someone CUTE to have coffee with. I mean, who cares what their philosophy is? It's not like anyone is "team teaching" a class or anything. Somebody is taking it ALL a bit too seriously!

Roger Owen Green said...

"The “traditional” historians are quite angry about all the changes that occurred in the department over the past five years. I can’t say I really understand what fuels the anger."

I think it's change itself.

What REALLY struck me about your use of the word "siege" is that much of it applies to Christianity as practiced in this country. That intolerant brand of Christianity that is practiced in the Whoite House and dominates the House leadership. Yet Christianity is "under siege", they say. No, it's not; it's the idea of religious pluralism that's REALLY under attack. Women priests? Gay pastors? The horror!!

Brian said...

Tread carefully GayProf.This phenomenon is not new or unusual.Those that own the deck and dealt the cards are the first to cry out when the"fill in the blank" card is played.I have struggled with the use of terms that obfuscate meaning like "politically correct" and playing the_ card and diversity.Privilige is addictive and we all know what an addict will do for his fix.

MEK the Bear said...

"One senior “traditional” historian actually stated, “We have gone along with all of these ‘diversity’ hires. We allowed the department to offer courses in things that are irrelevant, like ‘Border Studies’ and ‘Women’s History.’ How many women historians do we need? Now it’s time to give back to the department’s real strengths: Traditional History.” "

It's amazing how the incredibally well educated can be so ignorant.

I think they're afraid someone will finally realize that straight white men are really nothing more than apes in pants.

"They have all the power and the numbers, but they feel quite persecuted."

I'm confused about this, I thought we were talking about historians not Christian fundementalists? Are they the same thing?

Note: Sorry, I deleted my first post due to some typos...oops.

Elizabeth McClung said...

I can understand thier despair at seeing thier piece of the pie go from an overwhelming 95% to a measely 60% because with different people and different points of view they have to not only justify thier positions, but acknowledge that other ones exist as all (scary thing).

What I don't get (in my life and yours prof) is why they come to us and moan about it. Yo, white traditional guy; aren't you still the heads of department; the provest, the internal grievance committee, the alumni association; don't you or your friends sit in the government, make the laws, run the police, are the police, make the decisions which determine how much voice and freedom people like us are likely to have. Okay. Then why do you come and expect me to cry about how you don't have as much absolute power as you used to, to the person your very viewpoint tries to eliminate - I will be nice to you but don't ask me to hold your hand while you tell me how in the "good old days" I could have simply been run out of town.

Anonymous said...

People like that are the kind that accept minorities as long as "they stay in their place". They really do believe they have an inherent right to sit at the head of the banquet table. I'm with Frank ...move their silly little flags around.

Here's who you should hire for the job:

Now, I'll bet she'd be fun to have coffee with. She totally rocks!


Chris said...

Oh the joy of faculty politics. Did your graduate program have a class on this?

Maybe you should be reading more things like this:

Luciferus said...

Yeah, when I was in grad school it was similar except, at OSU, the English Dep't was HUGE. We had the straight, white, male curmudgeons, who were essentially strict Whimsatt-and-Beardsley; the theory people, who were all deconstruction and Foucault; the Queer types, who were essentially theory people; folklore people,; creative writing people; and lastly and, at the time the most powerful, the rhetoric and composition people. There were so many lines of force riddling the department that you had no idea where to turn or run. The grad students, of course, were the weapons of choice in this little internal war.

But as bad as the fights were in the English Department, it was nothing compared to the German Department (my bf at the time and my roommate were grad students there). Oh, boy. And the feminists there (and I consider myself a feminist) were the worst: horrible in-fighting, undercutting, petty bullshit.

And in my experience, hiring new people always brings out the worst in everyone. And the even worst in the traditional types. But that's just my opinion. I'm just sayin'.

Dan Vera said...

Well, given the views I had of the HUGE immigration rally here in DC, time is on your side Gay Latino Historian, time is on your side (to paraphase Sir Mick). There were many many Latinos. Well over 200,000 massed on the National Mall and it was FAN-FCKING-TASTIC!!
So, they can keep whining about their "traditional" history all they want. Their traditional history will taste quite delicious wrapped up in a nice sope shell and smothered with salsa verde. Of course they'll have a bad case of upset stomach for the first few decades. Ay! Los pobres!
Hold on Gay Latino Historian. Our time is fast approaching.
Sincerely yours,
Gay Latino Poet

Dean said...

This sounds remarkably like the "persecution" certain "Christian" groups (and Republicans) claim to experience. I fail to see their claim that a small minority has totally overwhelmed a huge majority unless any miniscule advance for the rights of a minorty population is considered overwhelming.

Derek said...

love the blog, I'm a big WonderWoman fan myself, I just started watching old Linda Carter reruns on the internet.

GayProf said...

Derek: Hail, Amazon Sister! Thanks for stopping by my little bloggy.