It’s been kind of a bad week around here because of some unpleasant politics among department faculty. Obviously, I’m not going to comment on the specifics of the issues, but in the general and “Happy Academic” sense, I thought I’d offer some random thoughts about academic politics/fights I’ve seen, including this one:

  • As the saying goes, the politics in academia are so ugly because the stakes are so low. But when the stakes become about something that at least one group of people see as “something,” that’s when they can get really really ugly.
  • It’s amazing how a group of faculty who are otherwise not empowered or involved in things can cause a big fight.
  • People who have advanced degrees in fields like English are just as capable as anyone else of misreading texts and/or writing things with one supposed intention when it would appear to others to have the exact opposite intention. In other words, we all bring our own “terministic screens” to the party. The wikipedia entry on Kenneth Burke describes terministic screens as “a set of symbols that becomes a kind of screen or grid of intelligibility through which the world makes sense to us. Here Burke offers rhetorical theorists and critics a way of understanding the relationship between language and ideology. Language, Burke thought, doesn’t simply “reflect” reality; it also helps select reality as well as deflect reality.” That sounds about right to me, and in this particular situation (and many others in English departments everywhere), I think the screens that literature scholars assume are completely different from the ones that composition/rhetoric scholars assume.
  • Way back when I was in my PhD program and just starting out as an assistant professor, I used to think that senior faculty who were “dead wood” got that way just because they were lazy and they gave up. I suppose with some folks, that is true. But I’m beginning to think that most of these people are actually “dead wood” because they are battle-scarred from old poly-ticks. And I’m beginning to have a lot more sympathy for that.
  • These things can turn into just an ENORMOUS time suck, both in the time it takes to engage in the argument, the reconciliation, the aftermath, etc., and in the sense of just mental and spiritual energy that one would normally devote to things like teaching or scholarship. A few days and I feel a month behind.
  • Academic politics and the arguments that ensue are like icebergs in that everyone worries about and talks about the surface, but everyone also knows that so much is submerged, invisible, and unseen.

There’s probably more to say, but in the spirit of actually getting caught up, I think I’ll stop.

Oh, I do feel like I should mention this opening paragraph from this Inside Higher Ed article, “Learning From Cats:”

Academic squabbles are often compared to cat fights, but as one who has owned cats for several decades, I’ve come to believe that such analogies are unfair to felines. Cats, for instance, instinctively know to terminate a chase when they would consume more calories than their prey would provide. And even the pugilist tabbies I’ve owned eventually learned to give wide berth to rivals who consistently bloodied them. All of this suggests that cats may be more evolutionarily advanced than a lot of academics.

Of course, I’m kind of a dog person….

One thought on “Poly-Ticks”

  1. Being an academic myself, I understand what you mean. & mind you, I live and work in a remote village in India. There too everything is just as you write; only we do not speak English and look brown. Nothing is different anywhere. LOL.
    And English literature folks, including yours truly, seem to suffer from various complexes. Like we are defensive about our discipline etc.
    Good post! :-)

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