Sometimes I Don't Think Academics Quite Get It

So, today’s Inside Higher Ed has a piece about “OccupyMLA” the “newest Occupy movement,” which is currently only in Twitter form. My knowledge of this is based almost entirely on personal prejudices and this IHE article, but for any number of reasons, this bugs me immensely.1

First off, I’ll reiterate for the 10 millionth time that I am 100% behind the Occupy Movement. We post about it here as often as logical, and I spread the word to anyone who will listen (and many who won’t).

But this? OccupyMLA? It seems misguided, opportunistic, and, well, elitist. Sort of like the anti-Occupy Movement, movement.

Just check these early posts:

Your thoughts are more erudite than the venti latte you just served! Join us!

You did not learn Middle English so you could teach freshman comp! Join us!

Tired of making syllabi for courses you’ll never teach for jobs you lose to some assoc. prof. from an R1 Uni? Join us!

So let me get this straight: The main tenet of the OWS movement is the income disparity and the way the financial sector (and corporations as a whole) have screwed over 99% of everyone in favor of a rich elite. The percentage of Americans living in poverty2 is on the rise, something like 38% of college grads had to move back in with their parents, my generation is the first that is likely to earn less money than their predecessors (nevermind the fact that retirement is a pipe dream for 99% of us and health care a nearly unaffordable luxury), and I won’t be able to leave anything for my children.

Sure, all that stuff is going on with poor people and those who can’t afford a college education (at least not without going into massive, life-crippling debt), but god damn it, I know how to use an Oxford comma, so therefore I should only be teaching high level literature courses! I should be tenured!

Are there things about higher education—in terms of students and young faculty—that should be discussed and addressed? Hell yes. The rising costs of education, the rights of graduate students, the “rationalization” of the university which favors profit centers over good programs, the dicey interweaving of corporations and the academy, so on and forth.

One could even go so far to say that tenure should be abolished because it sets up a feudal-like system that abdicates responsibility and creates an inequality that favors reputation and doesn’t necessarily benefit students.

I’m not exactly behind this idea, but if I were to start an Occupy Movement that addresses higher education, I sure as hell wouldn’t be complaining about the fact that I’m too smart to work at a coffee shop. What this all comes off as is a sort of whinging desire to become part of the elite. These OccupyMLA folks don’t want to change the system and right inequalities—they want to be part of the privileged class.

And directing this at MLA? Don’t they know how the Occupy X moniker functions? It’s as if they’re factory workers upset about the overall inequalities of the manufacturing sector, and decide the best course of action is to OccupyUAW. Missing. The. Point.

Granted, there are a few hints that OccupyMLA isn’t as disconnected from the real world as I’ve just painted them. (Although, I suspect they really are that disconnected. Sorry.) For instance, two tweets that are more in line with actual issues are:

Don’t have any interviews at the MLA Convention in Seattle? Join us.

Manuscript rejected by outdated academic press? Join us.

These are things to discuss. What’s the future for young professors in an environment where money is scarse, and investments tend to go into non-position creating activities. And the university publication system is pretty busted. That’s a given that’s been talked about for a long time, but that never seems to change. (Q: What’s more resistent to change than the Catholic Church? A: Academia.)

So if you’re going to co-op a “populist,” inclusive movement to address issues in academia, do so with a goal of actually changing things for the greater masses, not so that you can have a sinecure that allows you to comfortably teach two classes a semester and have summers off. Don’t sound like a banker.

1 Although, in the case that this is a complete joke, then oops. It’s actually hard to tell, since a lot of the tweets are right in that strange spot where a parody of the tweet would be identical to the tweet itself. The fact that they’re retweeting a lot of messages from other parts of the Occupy Movement makes me believe that they are at least somewhat serious, but couching their position behind anonymity and globs of irony so that if this “movement” backfires, they are shielded from any and all critiques. Which, to me, is extra irritating. But in the event that this was never meant to be anything other than a place for professors to come up with witty quips about the “queering of the Mutability Cantos” or whatever, then this post never happened. Then again, if these “people” are retweeting legit Occupy messages to gain followers for their parody/joke, then they suck anyway. So . . . Yeah, I think that covers most of the potentially embarrassing outcomes.

2 Minor op-ed point here: What is considered the “poverty level” is bullshit. If you earn more than $22,000 for a family of 4, you’re above the poverty line. That is insane.

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