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.