Sunday, November 4, 2007

academic prostitution

Another one of those perfect days in fall. The confederate rose (hibiscus mutabilis) is one of the late bloomers of the year. The coloration of the blossom changes from almost white at first to pink, and when almost spent to a purplish pink. I have one large shrub growing in the backyard, close to the wooden fence, but it does not get enough sunlight late in fall and carries therefore hardly any blooms. I rooted cuttings this spring and planted them at two new locations. One is at a place in the backyard with late afternoon sun, and this shrub does very well. As with so many things, it is all about location. You may have the perfect soil, the most healthiest plant, and it still will not grow well if it is not happy at that spot.

I am always learning from my garden. I know that I cannot force a flower to grow - I might trick it, but is it worth it? The campus of big public U grows tulips in the spring. Poor things! I remember visiting for my on-campus interview. It was at that beautiful time of year when the weather is perfect, and how amazed I was to see tulips blooming away. How great, I thought, tulips grow here so well, it must get cold enough in winter. How a first impression can be deceiving. Yes, you can force tulips to bloom even if the ground does not freeze enough like in icebox state. The trick is to store the bulbs first in a really cold place. I have no clue what exactly they do here to get the tulips to pop up in spring, but they must trick them in some way. And as I know by now, the blooms last maybe two to four days, on occasion a little longer if a cold spell hits. I cannot help but feel sorry for those tulipd. Let them grow where the ground freezes in winter! Give me better a plant that feels at home in this climate, a plant that does not suffer in the already hot days of spring in U town.

It is the same with some colleagues. They are so happy to have landed the tenure-track position, but are not happy here for whatever reasons. Those are the ones who need forcing. But are they happy? I know that it takes me about four to five years to make me feel somewhat at home. Then I begin to feel comfortable. But what do you do if someone has a hard time adapting, even after a number of years, and can only survive by constant complaints? One such colleague was made to leave last year. I hope he enjoys life again, big city mouse back were more mice live. Forcing did not work in his case. Did he trick the others to land the job? No clue. I wonder what makes me develop roots, since I get restless after about six to eight years. Tenure is great, but is it a life sentence? I feel too tired to go on the job market again. Academic prostitution is not fun. So you hopefully have the credentials. You can play it as a game, figure all out about the place you are having your initial interview with. Who are the people in the department? What do they do? What books do they use in lower level classes? What do their syllabi look like? And what about the students, the campus, the sports, you name it. Then you dress accordingly and talk the talk you guess your interviewers want to hear you talk, all the while trying to stay as much true to yourself as possible under such circumstances. And this is where the game stops, at least for me. I was always too stubborn to give up myself entirely during these job interviews and prostitute myself all the way. If I do not like them, and they do not like me, than I will not be happy there. Then why go too far to make them like me, even if I do not like them. A somewhat naïve assumption how far you can influence the interviewers? Not necessarily. I have seen job candidates going in with greasy hair, shirts that were not ironed or make-up and lipstick as if preparing for a glamour shot. That would all be fine if that would be who they normally are in ‘real’ life. And what about those who did not even do their homework, had no clue about the department and people working there? How far should one go in playing the game? I do not know. I guess there is no single correct answer. I draw the line where I feel that one step further represents academic prostitution.

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