Re: mommy!

Fri, 27 Sep 1996 16:32:47 -0600

Eric wrote, among other interesting things,

>One thing that disturbs me a bit about the skepticism this fun little
>rhetorical circus idea seems to be attracting: There's this embedded
>assumption that some sort of parental authority must be present in order
>for us to be safe and secure.

Eric, I really agree with you that the only thing we can really trust is
ourselves when we think about our futures, but the truth about working in
education is that ppl who don't know jack about anything make sweeping
decisions that affect our lives in minute, thorough, long-lasting ways. To me
one solution would be to be self-governing, as my department is, but it takes
huge amounts of time and not everybody has a talent for managing space,
machines, people.

But what stimulated me to write is what's been nagging at me in this
conversation about what's wrong with tenure.

First, my dad has been thinking about the past, and he told me the other day
about his last year at TCU in 1969 or 1970. He was in the theatre department
and had directed _Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf_, _Cat on a Hot Tin Roof_, and
_Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window_, and the newspapers were running stories
about the "dirty" plays that this renegade person at TCU was putting on. The
community put pressure on the university to fire my father, who was tenured,
and the president of the university and his dean both did what they could and
they said explicitly that if he hadn't had tenure, he'd have been out of a job.
They agreed with the people demanding he be fired. They thought the plays were

To me, their mistake is to think by content and not by principle. They would
have supported tenure for somebody whose plays were not dirty.

There are I know lots of reasons why *we* shouldn't be trusted to run the
place, but administrators and legislators are unselfknowingly swayed by every
metaphor for a university that rolls down the pike. Once it was a monastery and
now it's a corporation, when we could just as fruitfully consider a university
as a ... I don't know, as a lawn or as a river or as a train station. At U Mass
Lowell, the president thought of us as his family (he was dad, natch).

I'm not arguing that tenure is intrinsically anything, but I have noticed a
small shift in my own willingness to stand by my convictions and my willingness
to insist that unpopular voices be heard.

What if the problem isn't with us or with the Old Farts or even with The System
itself. What if the problem is the legislatures? and legislators? or the
metaphors we use to describe ourselves? there's probably more than one problem.
I'm done rankling, though, every time I hear how advanced business is compared
to universities. that's classic American anti-intellectualism. If I'd wanted to
work in a corporation, I would have stayed in publishing. what I do is
different, and better.

If you want to make up a new thing, do it and my blessings go with you. I did
what I wanted to do, and you should do the same. But tenure's not the thing
that's stopping you, Eric. In fact, would anything stop you, really? Of course

I think you've got the wrong bad guy.

yrs, with warmth in her rankling heart,
having spent hours with an idiot who thinks Milton Scholars Who Don't Do
Anything Scholarly are the only people on earth who have a real, valid