I'm back in Ghosttown, after a whirlwind visit to, er, Tinytown, home of Cute-as-a-Button University. CBU brought me in for a campus visit, and it all felt so positive and collegial that I am left with some hard questions no matter what comes of the visit. Let me see if I can organize my thoughts a little.
- CBU faculty are happy people, and Ghosttown U. faculty are unhappy. You know how you don't notice how miserable you are until you get to taste how happy people live? That's what I experienced during my visit. I didn't quite realize how much tension, distrust, and pettiness circulate in my department at Ghosttown U. until I got to hang out with CBU faculty. Of course, I didn't realize it partly because I'm sort of beneath the notice of my department's politics, but that stuff seeps into everything after a while.
- CBU students care about learning, and Ghosttown U. students don't. Plain fact, for the most part. There are exceptions aplenty, but the general trend is as stated. There is merit in forcing academically apathetic and mediocre students to try hard and to succeed, but I have to admit that it's getting to be a real grind. CBU more closely resembles my own beloved Alma Mater College than a typical university: liberal arts focus, an expectation of academic intensity, and, for the faculty, a priority of teaching students well, rather than gritting one's teeth and getting through classes on the way to publishing some more. Witness the fact that my tour guide at CBU talked about her academic opportunities and classes she enjoyed alongside the sports and extracurriculars of the school; at Ghosttown U., the tour guides hardly mention academics at all, and concentrate their pitches on how old the campus is, and the great party scene fueled by Greek letter organizations and the athletics teams.
- CBU faculty derive a sense of meaning and self from their teaching, and Ghosttown U. faculty do not. At least, that's the general trend. Within my department, most of the faculty seem, from my perspective, awfully lackadaisical about their teaching, and regard it as something that just comes with the job. The few of us who really care about making the students struggle, and about making students learn things they did not know before, are all a few steps away from burn-out — even the new hires like me.
- I might be happier at a liberal arts college than an R1 university. I know, not exactly a stunner; lots of people have this realization. At this point in time, I feel like I'd have to run myself ragged to rack up the number of publications that R1 schools demand for tenure. My work comes a little slower, partly because of the nature of pseudology and partly because I'm not one of the hardcore theory geeks of my discipline. I don't think I could pound out a major theory article each year, even with a gun to my head. Somehow, I didn't quite put it together that a liberal arts school, which values (and valorizes!) good teaching, might rank that higher than publications in some ways. Whatever happens with CBU, I may want to step up my game in some fashion for apps to liberal arts schools, to drive home the point that I get what these places are about.
- I hate Ghosttown. There's no getting around it. Yes, there's a great bookstore in town, and yes, there are a few lovely places to eat and drink. But that doesn't really compensate for the fact that this place makes me existentially unhappy. I felt a sense of relief and even impatience to be on the plane to CBU, as a respite from Ghosttown. And I felt dread as I drove back into town. My therapist has already noticed my distaste for my current locale, and has suggested we talk about it. And, generally speaking, this has been the unhappiest academic year I can remember, including that rough final year of dissertating.
Now, mind you, Tinytown isn't exactly my utopic vision. It's actually half – half!! – the size of Ghosttown, and has even less to recommend it in a general way than has Ghosttown. But it's less isolated from the, uh, civilized world than Ghosttown, too: only about 45 minutes away from a really big metropolitan area with lots of stuff to do, lots of people around, and a nice straight shot down a highway from Tinytown. (Ghosttown is about twice as far away as that from Major Regional City, and that is partly so because one needs to drive half an hour just to pick up the main highway that leads to MRC.) Most faculty at CBU, as I understand, live in one of the suburban areas of the big city in order to take advantage of the city's offerings, although of course Tinytown is dirt cheap for real estate.