Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Response to an Old Friend

I thought it better to respond here than in the comments since it was such a long comment. Also I have not heard from Ben for a long time. So I think its only fair to give his statement a considered response. After all I still consider him a good friend even if it has been many years since I last saw him in person. The problem is not that he is wrong. He is actually right about most things. But, I still ended up wasting a big chunk of my life before I got here because I believed the lie propagated by academia that the only thing that counts is publications and that teaching is not considered important by universities. That turned out not to be true. You can argue I have nobody to blame but, myself for what happened. However, that just makes it worse because then I feel like an idiot for wasting so much time and effort.

OK, my friend Ben has a point that I do not think the people who control academia in the US gave me a fair shake. They did not. But, it is in the past even if nothing is forgotten and nothing will be forgotten. I think he is wrong about ideology playing no role what so ever. I have gotten a number of peer review reports claiming flat out that there was never any racial discrimination in the USSR under Stalin. This is different from people saying Stalin was a good guy. But, there is a very strong resistance led by people like Francine Hirsch to admitting that racism was ever an official practice against any group in the USSR other than Jews. However, all things considered it is probably only a minor factor as to why I failed to even get an interview in the US from 2004 to 2007.

The lack of teaching experience is directly tied with having a British degree. I am not sure why taking a long time to finish a PhD is considered a virtue. But, the problem is that a US citizen with a British PhD can't work in the UK or Canada very easily because they have laws giving preference to EU citizens and Canadian citizens before they even consider US citizens. At the same time since there is no teaching component to a UK degree you are effectively banned forever from working at a US university. This I did not know at the time because there is a barrage of propaganda claiming that publications are what are considered important not teaching. Nobody told me at the time that Africa was a possibility. Although to be honest part of this last failure is my own lack of imagination.

I am happy to be working in Africa. I am very happy to have fathered a child with a wonderful woman while in Kyrgyzstan. I hope to bring them here as soon as possible. Had I arrived where I am at now without being constantly mistreated, ignored, and disrespected I would have no complaints. But, even though I am in a very good position now I got here through a rather rocky road. If I was a better man I would have sucked it up and taken it. But, we all have our weaknesses. Currently, I plan to stay in Africa for a very long time. I have no real desire to go work in the US right now.  I don't see this changing in the foreseeable future. Like many other Americans to come to Ghana I feel alienated from mainstream American society. In particular I feel alienated from American academic society and culture. Ghanaian academia has been much more accepting of me than they could ever be.

12 comments:

Withywindle said...

When people say that only research is considered for getting a job, or getting tenure, it's usually considered a bug, not a feature.

J. Otto Pohl said...

I don't understand this. I took the claims that research was important and teaching not at all seriously and it turned out to be completely wrong. I think the claim is made as a way of deliberately keeping people like me out. At this point I wish people would just admit that claim has no basis in reality.

Walt Richmond said...

Another problem is that grad programs accept far more students than the market can absorb. I know in the early 1990s, when Russian studies was collapsing, my college accepted a huge number of new grad students. The market gets saturated and no one can make anything resembling an informed decision. If you're on a search committee and you have 250+ applications to go through, you can't adequately judge each applicant. I think what happens is that the committee members look for letters of rec from someone they know, which is why I always felt my rec letters probably didn't do you much good.

Withywindle said...

Did any history professor in the United States ever, in a serious conversation about the academic job market, tell you that teaching didn't matter at all for getting a job? I have never heard it stated seriously. That research matters too much, yes. But "research is everything" is a simplification in conversation that would never be expected to be taken literally.

J. Otto Pohl said...

Withywindle: I do not think any US academics other than Walt ever talked to me. They still refuse to talk to me. I e-mailed a bunch, but none of them ever answered my inquiries. For almost all my job applications I did not even get rejection letters. But, research on the internet regarding academic hiring indicated to me that research was the only thing that mattered and teaching did not count at all. It turned out to be the exact opposite.

J. Otto Pohl said...

Walt: Well your letters did do me a lot of good. But, just not in the US. So now I am joining DuBois, Baldwin, and Wright as an American in Accra.

Withywindle said...

If you didn't talk with any academics, I don't think you should say that you were deceived, or that the claim was made. You made a mistake about the nature of the profession.

J. Otto Pohl said...

Maybe, but given that there was no way for me to acquire any teaching experience and the fact that the profession does advertise that research is all that counts is publications and teaching not at all, I am not sure what I should have done differently.

rhgreene said...

The profession does not "advertise" that teaching counts for nothing. I don't know where you got that idea -- certainly not from any historian at an American university.

rhgreene said...

Contrariwise, teaching does not trump research, either. The two are in tandem and more or less equal in importance. Or at least that's what any U.S. history department is looking for when they advertise for a tenure-track position. Is his/her work interesting? Can he/she teach the courses we want?

Anyway, I enjoy your blog very much.

J. Otto Pohl said...

My experience has been that lots of people get hired with no publications and ABD, but no PhDs with lots of publications and no teaching experience ever get hired. Thus in real terms from my personal perspective the only thing that counts is teaching and publications do not count at all. No matter how many publications I get I can never get a job in the US because I was not a TA in the US. That is the reality.

Walt Richmond said...

It does depend on the institution, too. Right as I was getting my PhD, USC's Slavic Dept. hired someone who had no teaching experience but who had done research on a couple fellowships, and who was also recommended by profs that our profs knew, but primarily because her expertise was on the specific area they wanted (which not that many Slavists work on). But the USC is focused heavily on research (faculty teach 2-3 courses a year but are expected to produce a lot of research). When I interviewed at U. of Alabama, they told me research wasn't important--one article every three years would be enough to get tenure. At Occidental, the focus is on teaching since it's a small liberal arts college.