This is a more personal post. And I’m sure I’m like the 100,000th person to make this point in a blog on the internet.
I realize that what I am about to say is nothing compared to what my colleagues in MUNACA are dealing with. They are marching in circles for four hours a day at the rate of $70 per day. That’s brutal and boring and economically crushing. And certainly what I am about to say does not compare to being a peaceful protester and getting pepper-sprayed in the face.
But it is really hard to be a professor and actually stand up for what you think is right. It is like a job on top of a job, except neither job ever stops.
I was speaking with someone yesterday who wondered why more progressive faculty don’t take a stand. Is it that we are bought off with our research grants and well-stocked labs (okay, I don’t have a lab but I take the point)? Perhaps for some. And there are plenty of others who are simply depoliticized or who aren’t comfortable speaking up in public. But one of the biggest disincentives to activism is the added stress and exhaustion it brings in times of crisis. There is an activist tax and every activist pays it.
If you are good at your job as a professor you are a very busy person with a lot of people depending on you. Every day I spend on some matter related to what’s happening on campus and locally is a day when papers don’t get marked (sorry again for the delay on that date assignment, COMS 492!), letters don’t get sent (so I do that instead of taking time off on a Sunday), readers’ reports for other people’s books don’t get written, emails don’t get answered and meetings with people who need to see me don’t get had. I have commitments to travel, presentation and hosting that I made months in advance and can’t simply abandon. Then, there’s my own research. Humanists (or any scholar who is able to work alone) will tell you that the institution always tells you your work comes last, despite the fact that it is the thing most valued. But because of publication deadlines, I don’t have that luxury right now.
All of this is actually wonderful and intense and part of the job. But the activist part of the job never stops either. Every day is a new emergency, a new project, or a new meeting. And so those of us who want to actually do something about the terrible things happening on campus have to move back and forth, and ideally, we should “selfishly” take some time off besides (this is the part I’m not so good at–apathy is good for relaxation).
A few years ago I started using the phrase “every day is a special occasion” to describe the embarrassment of riches (and too many nights out) that comes with too many invited speakers and conferences in too short a time. One could say the same thing about the current state of political emergency in my campus environment.
I have never been so angry at my own university, even when my undergraduate school threatened to cut the department where I was studying.
But this is clearly going to be a long haul, and so like some other crises I’ve faced, the challenge is to find a “new normal,” whether temporary or not. There is a cliché that people who do service well are “rewarded” with more work. We could also talk about an activist tax for faculty and students: those who stand up and do the work are rewarded with more of it and stretched thinner. This is why organizing and organization are important, so that we can depend on one another, but don’t individually have to “pay” as much for the time we put in for the cause.
As for me, I am close to my limit, and will be stepping back for a couple weeks–at least that’s the plan.