Dr. Erin Bartram has written a beautiful indictment of American higher education. She has composed a post wherein she explains how she gave up trying to get that treasured tenure track position in American higher ed. She tells us of her sense of calling to be a professor, her joy in sitting on committees (commendable), and her sense of despondent letdown in never being hired to that coveted tenure track position she felt was her destiny.
It resonated with me.
I have never shared a response to someone else’s blog post here before, but here goes:
I was deeply touched by your wonderful, melancholy post. I have a PhD in Divinity from Edinburgh, which I’m not sure is elite or not. The thing is that while doing the PhD (awarded in 2014) and through now I have been continuously employed but as a minister and missionary in the Anglican Church, which means I always had a steady if humble income (probably similar to yours as an associate professor).
But I, in the tradition of Thomas Aquinas and Martin Luther, have always tried to keep one foot in the world of academia–teaching “The God Class” (think “Survey of the Christian Faith”) here, “Intro to Philosophy” and “Bible as Lit” there. Most recently my cutting edge research into the lived theology of converts from Islam to Christianity led to teaching–wait for it–“Research and Composition”.
Two years ago I was asked to consider moving to Spain to plant a church here and do some other stuff. With a wife and three young kids it was a big ask. Sharon and I prayed about it. I felt like I had to really investigate all options in higher ed before committing to such a move and so I did. I did the CVs and teaching statements (“I don’t actually know what that is.” –Pinkie Pie, My Little Pony, sorry for not using Chicago….), I did the “make a video and send it to us…” I did the interviews via Skype or what have you. I did the hours of composing a detailed custom q&a document because I had made it to “the last round”–and that while in Mexico for a wedding of a friend from middle school. Some people encouraged me, saying that my area of research (ex-Muslims) was so avant garde, who could resist? Others said that my main area of research was politically incorrect, as it implied that maybe something was lacking in Islam. Anyway, like you, nothing. Enormous amounts of time. Enormous amounts of energy.
My story is different, though, because for me that served as confirmation that God (the same one my Catholic sisters form the 19th Century were concerned with) was calling us to Spain, where we have now been for half a year. But I did feel that hurt, especially at first. Some positions I didn’t care about. But a few of them just seemed…so good. Like such a right fit. Also, I have friends from Edinburgh who, like you, felt that calling–that vocation–to be a professor, but have not been able to secure those positions. So what you wrote touched me.
I don’t know the answers either, but I do know there is something deeply flawed in higher ed in the USA today. There is something evil in telling everyone they must go to college, for it makes the BA or BS little more than the high school degree of yesteryear. There is something foolish in the proliferation of administrative positions in the American university while the number of professors remains more or less stagnant. There is some transgression in practically forcing young people to accrue large amounts of debt so that they will not be able to move out, get married, and have kids if they so wish. In sum, I do not offer any advice, but I offer compassion–a ‘suffering with’–though not to the full extent that you have suffered. It is limited. But it is real.
And here, for your enjoyment, is that most excellent Pinkie Pie quote (this is what comes from having kids…)