Coming Home…And Choking

November 18, 2006, 7:13 pm

Returning from a research trip reminds me a lot of how I felt about slumber parties when I was a kid. I always looked forward to them, I always had fun, I never got enough sleep, around the middle I always wanted to come home and sleep in my own bed, I ate too much, and when I got home I was very relieved and a little sad that they were over. But of course, back then my parents would just tell me to Shape Up and Get My Homework Done: life is not directed by the parental units now and my domestic companions are far more welcoming. Sailor the dog was delighted to see me, and has clung to my side ever since, which is actually what Portuguese Water Dogs always do whether you have been away or not. N was more restrained, but she picked me up at Teenie and had already bought a pre-made dinner so I think she thought it was a good idea to have me back too.

But lucky for me, there is so much going on at home I am motivated to pull myself together lest I wake up one day to find I am President of the University, all because I haven’t paid attention to my e- and snail mail.

One feature of being me right now is that I am soon returning to work at Zenith after having been on sabbatical/leave for over a year. Therefore, when folks are looking for someone to fill a need they think automatically of me. “Search committee? Hey — how about Radical? She’s been gone and doesn’t have any committees!” LBGTQ students getting a little restless? “How about a special committee to investigate homophobia — maybe Radical will chair it!” Therefore, all emails from the dean’s office, the teaching center, and all groups and offices doing social justice organizing on campus are, for now, going automatically into my Junk file.

Ironically, my worst problems right now are connected with my life as core faculty in the American Studies program, a bunch who really were steadfast allies during the recently resolved Unfortunate Events (about which I will come clean one day when I have nothing better to write about.) I am supposed to become chair next fall, which is all good because a) there is a course relief; and b) it means I will not be available to chair the History Department, which I would rather not do until at least two or three of my enemies either retire, die or admit their crimes publicly. Fine, that was settled.

Then Dr. Victorian, my dear friend and ally, asked if I would be willing to take her administrative job as Center Director (the Center houses our program and another one), in addition to being chair of American Studies, should another viable candidate not appear in the next month or so. Advantages: another course relief, and summer salary. So I said yes — more money, less teaching, and actually I am a good administrator when the folks I am ministering to are civil and decent (this does not describe a significant faction in the history department, who as you might be beginning to guess, were responsible for the Unfortunate Events.) I felt this was a good decision, and put me in a strong position to walk tall as I return to Zenith.

Now, along comes the current chair of American Studies to say, Might I consider being part of the team teaching the core course in the fall, with an Untenured Person To be Named Later? And while I’m at it, teach the methods colloquium in queer studies in the fall since, for reasons far too icky (and wacky, and litigious) to discuss, the person who was scheduled to do it may be gone. Not so good — now what was coming in was Hard Work for no compensation. I do not dislike teaching with less experienced folk — and I love team teaching, and teaching methods — but you cannot do any of these things lightly. They require planning, responsibility, and mentoring — none of which go well with snatching an old lecture out of a file and running into the room, which had been my plan. And for reasons known only to themselves, young teachers really freak out when the person who is supposed to be running the show seems to be leading her own life — and theirs too — by the seat of her pants (I would use an emoticon here to indicate an ironic moment if I used emoticons.)

Needless to say, upon receipt of these requests, I felt the balance tip: I had gone from being predator (my preferred position at Zenith) to being prey.

N thinks that saying yes to the American Studies requests is a wonderful opportunity to tell the History Department to go f**k itself, but the truth is, the only people in history who will get screwed by this is the new chair, a lovely man who never harmed me, and what remnants of the U.S. wing as will be available next year: a tenured colleague in U.S. history who will also be returning from leave and is probably fielding similar mail from the African-American Studies program; an even younger colonialist who will be preparing his tenure case; and a player to be named later who will be hired in the spring. And word has it that there will be another U.S. search in Fall 2007, which I will probably have to chair regardless of what else I am doing.

So to buy a little time to work this out, I shot back an email to the American Studies chair to say that I had become apprehensive about the many things I was being asked to do. I listed them all, and said that we had to have a conversation about the needs of the program. So far, silence. I don’t know whether this is good or bad.

I had a friend in college who was a great physical comedian, and at moments like this he would gag, roll his eyes up into his head, and claw madly at his throat to demonstrate that he was choking under pressure. If only there were an emoticon for that! But calm down Radical, you might say, You are a full professor — just say no! I have to tell you — it isn’t that easy at Zenith. Staffing problems are just intense, in part because we probably need 20 to 40 more faculty lines across the board, and in part because student demand has nothing to do with how resources are distributed. And I never let down my pals if I can help it. So I do need to say no — but the question is to whom, and to what? Am I avoiding my inevitable election as chair of history at too high a cost?

Stay tuned. And I really will describe the Unfortunate Events one day, as soon as I can figure out a suitably comedic narrative.

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