Academics – or sort of academics – love to tell us when they are leaving social media. Douglas Rushkoff for instance, made a big public deal about leaving Facebook. Rebecca Schuman, as well, wants the public to know not only that she left academia, but that she is cheering on those who continue to leave (such as the former Missouri colleagues I never met). And she wants you to know that Ian Bogost, who rightly points out the self-righteousness of this kind of narrative, makes a “boatload of cash.”
If Ian Bogost made a “boatload of cash” as a professor, critical theorist, and game developer at Georgia Tech, I’d say: cool. Why should I or Rebecca Schuman or anyone else for that matter be upset if a prolific and successful member of the field makes a “boatload of cash”? I, too, would like to make a “boatload of cash.” I haven’t yet. But I’m still trying. I wish I could write for The Atlantic of be profiled in Wired magazine, like Ian. I also don’t have 2,100 Facebook friends like Ian. I’m not jealous. I’m not upset. Good for him.
And why should Rebecca Schuman be so upset that Ian Bogost has been promoted to full professor and given an endowed chair for being prolific and successful? I’ve never met Ian in person, but I’ve read his work, exchanged emails, and become Facebook friends with him (I’m one of the 2,100!). None of these activities has led me to believe that telling someone ”tough titties” on Twitter (Schuman’s source of anger) for leaving academia is a “dick move.”
I don’t feel it’s a dick move because when I – also a full professor who graduated in 2002 and now holds an endowed chair – hears someone say “I’m leaving Facebook” or “I’m leaving academia” because of how unfair or awful or whatever both have been, I kind of feel like saying “tough titties” as well. You are leaving. Bye. People do leave professions. People change careers. Good luck in the new endeavor.
Schuman’s reasoning regarding why leaving academia is not a “tough titties” moment is as such:
Its rules had become the rules of my existence: personal worth is determined by the whims of your advisor and committee, of search committees, of peer reviewers, of your “friends” (who are actually just waiting for the right moment to stab you in the back). Its heroes had become my heroes. Its values–if you want to be taken seriously, sacrifice everything, including and especially family life and having children, in the service of the Life of the Mind; move anywhere for any reason, no matter how alone you have to be there–had become my values.
- My personal worth was never determined by studying for a PhD or being a professor. But I am also married and have two kids who give me more personal worth than anything in the world.
- My advisor was great. His influence on my work is obvious. He did give practical advice – even if he is a theorist (since the myth of theory is its divorce from practicality). We met as a dissertation group every month to share work in progress. He still supports my work by contributing to edited collections I’ve done (and he wrote the preface to my first book). And he usually clicks like on my Instagram photos of beer.
- I didn’t sacrifice anything. I go to work. I get my work done. The only sacrifice I can imagine experiencing is not having the time to drink every new beer on tap in this city. Oh and yes. I have children. And my wife is an academic, tenured, as well. I didn’t sacrifice family (and nor did she).
- I did move. To Detroit. To Columbia, Missouri. To Lexington, Kentucky. Hardly sacrifices to live in these cool places – even if not being able to sell my Detroit area home was a financial crisis and burden whose effects lasted until recently. But that wasn’t academia’s fault.
But this is anecdotal evidence from one person! So is Rebecca Schuman’s list as well. Neither makes the case for everyone. And that means that “tough titties” is hardly a problematic response as well. If you make public this repeated narrative of “leaving academia” and the reasons do not strike many of us as so out of ordinary or exceptional, the hyperbole associated with that narrative can prompt the response: Tough titties.One good hyperbolic turn receives another.
You decided not to teach and write for a living. Ok. Good for you. I wish you success at your new job.
Not only do I not care if Ian Bogost or anyone else makes a “boatload of cash,” I don’t care if someone leaves academia or joins it. Enjoy either way. Your public announcement – like the “I’m leaving Facebook” public announcement – is not for me or Ian Bogost or anyone else for that matter. It’s for you. You feel bad. You feel like you are losing out. You feel passed over. Sorry. I like what I do for a living, so I do feel sorry that you are unable to do this kind of work as well (if you really want to do it). But I seriously doubt the reasons are as basic or simple as “I was too unconventional” or “all the doors just shut in my face.” The factors that go into and generate success or failure are more complex than that. The factors that have gone into my success including actors such as “I worked hard” but they also include other factors as well. One factor may be: “My work is important to me.” But it also may be: “studying rhetoric and network theory is not the most important thing to other people or the world” So with that, to paraphrase Schuman, I may or may not be the best “Rhetoric network person. Eh. Ver.” But so what? I’m glad and grateful for those who do read my work. I like teaching even when students tell me that “this book is boring.” I like administrative work even when it is completely frustrating. I like being in the university even though some colleagues are jerks. I at least have perspective regarding the size of the pond us fish swim in and how big or small I need to be to live in that pond, feel good about my job and life, and do well.
Boatloads of cash? I’m still working on that.