Thursday, March 19, 2015

The long goodbye

As you good people are all aware, a year ago I accepted a job at Cosimo's institution--starting, for sabbatical-repayment reasons, in August 2015. But even once I start that job, almost 18 months after acceptance, I won't have fully left my current one. Instead, I'm taking an unpaid leave.

This is partly a pragmatic decision; if the Steven Salaita case has taught academics anything, it's the wisdom of disaster insurance. My own inflammatory opinions are mostly confined to long-dead literary figures and are unlikely to piss off any trustees or Boards of Whatever.* Still, flukey things happen, and in a field with extreme employment precarity, it's better to be on the safe side.

But taking a leave is also about keeping my options open and making sure the move is the right one. In addition to being able to live with my spouse, my new job offers me several things that my current one doesn't, and I'm very much looking forward to those things. But my current job, in turn, has strengths that my new one does not.

This slo-mo, not-quite-letting-go is pretty standard in academia; I know lots of people who have taken leaves rather than resigning outright--some of whom eventually returned, most of whom did not. Still, it probably seems bizarre to people in other industries, and it feels a bit bizarre to me, too. In most areas of life, I'm the kind of person who wants to lock decisions down. I hate endless dithering and lack of closure (which is why so many meetings run by academics drive me insane).

But in most industries, the consequences of an employment slip-up or a bad decision aren't grievous; you just move to a third job or return to your previous employer. When my dad decided to return, after a year of working for my uncle, to the government job he'd held for more than a decade, he could do it. He was docked a GS rank (which he later regained), but he could do it.

Academia is different, and it's only gotten worse. Though I don't have many qualms about the broader effects of my delayed start at one job and delayed resignation from another (it's unlikely that my department would be able to replace me immediately, so I'm not "keeping" a position from a needy job-seeker) I don't have none; the security that allows me to try on a new job risk-free is exactly what's unavailable to most academics today.

However, it's that broader lack of security that makes those of us who have it cling to it. Jobs are so scarce that any screw-up, whether personal or institutional, can have devastating consequences, and no one is immune. These days it's not uncommon for junior faculty in very prestigious positions to have had only that one offer, after years on the market, and to have been a minute away from leaving the profession. Even extremely talented people who get denied tenure often can't find another job, and those who leave the tenure track can rarely get back on it.

I'm thankful that both institutions have been flexible enough to let me make a decision I'm comfortable with, in a way I'm comfortable with, and no larger good would be served by my hastening to closure. But the security from which I make that decision is a privilege. I wish there were more of it to go around.

*Since you asked: the Romantic poetics are goddamn whiny, navel-gazing tree-huggers! (Except Byron; Byron's all right.)


Anonymous said...

You are indeed fortunate to be able to take unpaid leave. My previous institution would not allow it when I moved to my current job, and my current institution pretty categorically forbids it. In both cases that's because vacated lines revert to the College and will likely be given to another department. There is no such thing as "replacement" at either university. Departments have to compete for open lines. We've lost several people that we have not gotten to replace to the benefit of other departments in the College who did get hires.

Flavia said...


I'm sorry to hear that, though it sounds like a problem independent of whether the institution grants leaves or not. We don't actually get to "hold onto" lines after a resignation either, but if that person met an important curricular need that makes the department's case for replacement pretty strong. In my time at RU we've replaced everyone who has departed (and created at least two new TT lines), but not always immediately, and there's no guarantee that this will always be the case. We've just entered a partial hiring freeze (meaning only ABSOLUTELY URGENT requests will be considered), which is why, even if I resigned, the department probably wouldn't be approved for replacement next year.

Renaissance Girl said...

RE: Your footnote: And it's high damned time someone said so.

Withywindle said...

Byron's the one I like least; tch. Except for "The Destruction of Sennacherib," which foretells how I will deal with my many detractors, so it has prosody and prophecy in equal measure.

Andrew Stevens said...

The Romantic poetics are goddamn whiny, navel-gazing tree-huggers!

Broadly speaking, I probably agree. But this is insufficient to establish even that they were not great poets. See C.S. Lewis's "Shelley, Dryden, and Mr. Eliot." (Contra Renaissance Girl, the Romantic poets have been getting kicked around more or less since the beginning of modernity.)

For that matter, even if we must acknowledge that Shelley and Keats were not great poets, surely we may be forced to acknowledge that they might have reached those heights had they lived long enough. Compare their output against other great poets, but disallow poems written by the other poets after the ages at which Shelley and Keats died, and I think you'll usually find quite a mismatch in favor of Shelley and Keats.

EngLitProf said...

Hold it, hold it, hold it. Flavia said she had a problem with whining, navel-gazing, and tree-hugging. Why are we focusing on Byron, Shelley, and Keats, who don’t hug a lot of trees and don’t whine or gaze at their navels more than most poets do?

Flavia said...

Thanks, all, for you interest in my animosity toward the Romantics. I should also have added bullshit mysticism to the list of things I hate.

Doctor Cleveland said...

Let's face it; dislike of the Romantics is surprisingly common among early modernists. I will give grudging credit to individual poets and poems, but a semester of Romantic poetry sounds like Purgatory.

It's funny, because I think most lit profs have the strongest antipathy for the literary period just before, or more commonly just after, their own field. (You're enjoying Romanticism and then those prudish Victorians ruin your fun; you're enjoying Victorian literature and then those crazy Modernists ...; etc.) Renaissance lit types, oddly, often have a distaste for the period AFTER the period that follows their own; the long 18th century may not be their bag, but it's Wordsworth they really hate.

One explanation is that the Romantic movement is really the dividing line between the early modern and the modern, bringing in the aesthetic and cultural values that Ren Lit types are SO HAPPY not to deal with in their own period. Take your heroic author and ... and ...walk him across the Alps!

But I think even more important us that the Romantics bring back early modern poetic forms that had gone out of style, and somehow that revival, the forms returned but approached in profoundly new ways, just gets under Renaissance poetry fans' skins. I love terza rima and You. Are. Ruining It!

EngLitProf said...

Your last point is an interesting one, Doctor Cleveland, and makes sense. My attitude as a Romanticist has been to say to Early Modern people that if they like *Paradise Lost*, they should read *Hyperion*. If they like Spenser, they should see what Keats or Byron does with Spenserianism. If they like *Lycidas*, let's read *Adonais* together. If you are into the Italian sonnet, is there a better sonnet than Keats's "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer"?

Little secret: a lot of Romanticists get impatient with Wordsworth, and find themselves frustrated with how central he is to people's conceptions of Romanticism. Do not go on an OKCupid date with someone you know merely is a Romanticist, and start asking about whether nature ever did betray the heart that loves her.