My Bags Are Packed, I’m Ready To Go: The Spring Research Trip

March 2, 2011, 4:15 pm

Happy 100th Birthday Ronnie!  I’ve FOIA’d your a$$!  (Corbis Bettman.)

Dateline Simi Valley.  When I look back at the past four years of the blog, I have filed several series of posts while on spring research trips.  Zenith has a rather unique spring break structure, as I may have mentioned:  two weeks in the middle of March.  I don’t know any other colleague who has two weeks off; my guess is that there will be some kind of sunset on this little oddity sooner rather than later.  Zenith is currently in a homogenizing mood, and everything we do is becoming more like what everyone else does.

Here is my current list of non-confidential items that fit this category (yes, they have all been reported on in the campus newspaper.) We now have  summer sessions, in which one can mostly take a dizzying array of introductory science courses (they are now imagining a J-term, which every college student I know thinks is a joke academically, but a great opportunity to ditch Mom and Dad and get back to smoking pot with their friends.)  We spent part of last year working on “voluntary outcomes assessments” (a phrase that makes me wonder what ever happened to the liberal arts) on the logic that someone else might ask us to do it so we should do it first on our own terms.  It’s kind of like giving yourself a parking ticket to save the police the trouble.

We have cut research and conference money and simultaneously raised the bar for tenure and promotion.   We are shifting the financial burdens of the institution onto workers, cutting wages through mammoth increases in benefits.  Why? Because it’s a $hitty job market and we can.   We are creating more small classes and taking more students without creating the full time jobs that such a reform might infer.  Instead we are funding this minor curricular reform through the novel approach of paying full-time faculty adjunct wages to teach these courses as an overload.  This is an ominous salary policy if you ask me (you really want a raise?  How about doing more work?)

Hey Barack?  That middle class tax cut you gave us by cutting our contributions to the social safety net?  You just gave Zenith another reason to say I don’t need a raise to cover COLA, and I can cover more of the health care they would rather not pay.  But maybe you already knew that and the money was never intended for me in the first place?  You White House policy people are smarter than you look.

I’m sure all the rest of you in academia have a similar list of afflictions, and the jobless will see these as not afflictions at all.  But maybe at least some of you will stop leaving comments that chide me for not realizing how lucky I am to work for a rich, private institution?   Soon, barring some kind of mammoth shift in the discourse, we will all live in Wisconsin and New Jersey.  That’s my prediction.  So support your friends in public colleges, community colleges and research universities who are doing the direct organizing.  And by the way, Biddy Martin? The flagship that can command private dollars cutting loose all the other campuses pushes everything towards privatization.  Read more about this terrible idea at Lesboprof (who, since she returned to the faculty, is becoming an even sturdier voice in our feminist blogging circle, since she has a keen administrator’s eye for important issues that affect all of us. Add her to your Google reader if you have not already.)

But I continue to be rich in at least one thing:  time.  In the absence of money, time can smooth over at least some discouraging trends in higher education.  In my case, in addition to the summer (assuming you don’t have to teach to buy the baby shoes this year) we still have the two week spring break.  This is a great opportunity to get some solid research in, particularly if you have jiggered your class schedule in such a way that you can legitimately leave five days early.  Last year I went to London to interview the fabulous Leah Fritz, a long-time feminist and peace activist, and got into some terrific archives about the feminist struggle over pornography in England in the late 1980s and early 1990s.  The year before, I went to San Francisco.  This year it is back to LA, where I have done two stints at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library already, so I have Simi Valley pretty staked out.  I have an archivist who is committed to the project who refers to me as one of “her” researchers.  I like this.  I have a place I always stay at, The Grand Vista Hotel, which fortunately has a new 24-hour drive-in taco place across the street for those of us who get in late from the Other Coast.  I have a new breakfast place to try out (Leslie Harris and I are informally collaborating on what I think of as the Historian’s Guide to Breakfast.)

So I’m off:  I’ll leave you with an old favorite from my youth, in memory of the late Mary Travers and of course, those I love at home.  Which is the only reason not to go on research trips.

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