...What the Moral of the Backstory Could Be...

So amidst the bi-annual chaining of Curmudgeon to his desk to advise students (read: sign forms, pick out classes, and do other irritating busy work that comes of the hand-holding service model of higher education), I managed to squeeze in an interview with a student for one of the various campus newsletters.

It was the typical sort of fare. Who are you? Where did you come from? What do you do here? Very "getting to know you," very "journalism 101." And it had some local peculiarities. I've never heard an interview in this region that didn't, at some point, include a some version of "tell us why we're not so bad for living here" - mine was "What do you like about the students here compared to the other places you've taught?" And there are some good answers to those questions - I do like the students here for particular reasons (though not because they're somehow better or worse than the students at other places: because they're distinct).

And then two questions that threw me:
  • why did you decide to teach at this university?
  • are you planning on staying?
Part of why I was thrown was obviously because of how close to home those questions are to current considerations for me. And I wondered whether it was transparent to my students. Do I look like I'm watching the metaphorical door while I'm instructing? Does the bedlam that is my office somehow convey that I'm trying to pack my bags? I hope not, because that seems like it would be shafting these students a bit.

But the other reason it came across strangely was the realization that I couldn't tell the whole truth in my answers. I couldn't say "Yes, I want to leave so badly I'm clawing at my own skin." or "I came here because it was here or a year of unemployment." This interview was very much a PR moment. For the part of the school that will publish the article. For me. And I'm living in a pretty small fishbowl, as it were, and I can't afford to piss off the bigger fish.

But I've got to say, I've never felt quite so unprofessorial as that moment.

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6 Responses to “...What the Moral of the Backstory Could Be...”
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Belle said...

So... how did you answer? I know those students need the experience interviewing, but you'd think their professors would encourage them to do it in creative ways. Or am I asking too much?

April 9, 2008 at 7:05 PM
kermitthefrog said...

Wow, I have to say that "are you planning on staying?" is a very presumptuous question, although perhaps interview presumption is not surprising coming from a proto-journalist!

April 9, 2008 at 7:11 PM
Dr. Curmudgeon said...

It probably was a bit presumptuous, though someone I wish more proto- and real journalists would do that rather than playing it safe.

And there were some creative bits - we talked a bit about things I'd like to see the department doing and why, and about what I'd be doing if I weren't doing this.

As for what I told them, I went with things that were true but that weren't the full truth. I'd like to think it came out well, but I'm not sure. What I was trying for was something like this: I came here because the department was doing good things that most departments weren't and they were willing to let me do my thing and help when they can. And that I don't have any plans to leave but you go where the challenges are and your heart leads.

April 9, 2008 at 7:27 PM
Dr. Crazy said...

I've gotten both of those questions when freshmen have interviewed me for their University 101 course. My answers have tended to be honest. To the first question, I explain the academic job market and how it works and throw in a bit about how competitive my discipline is, but then I explain that I was happy when I got this job because it's nearish to where I grew up. To the second, I say that I don't know because who knows what the future holds, but that I have no plans to leave immediately (insert chuckle here).

April 9, 2008 at 11:21 PM
Dr. Curmudgeon said...

And the tragedy is that today when I got to read the draft of the article - an article about me - I checked out. My life, in three column inches, and it bored me.

Whee.

April 10, 2008 at 9:09 PM
ash said...

i was profiled my department's newsletter when i was new faculty. not only was it boring and badly written, the lead sentence read, "dr. ash is a self-professed english junkie." ummm...WHAT??? not only did i not profess such a thing (in the interview or...let me see...ever), i have no idea what it even means! that i am a lit prof wannabe? that i am addicted to speaking my native language? a very surreal experience.

April 10, 2008 at 11:33 PM