Encouragement for the new year

While at MLA, I picked up Donald E. Hall’s* new book, The Academic Community: A Manual for Change (Ohio State UP, 2007), which is a follow-up to his helpful book about The Academic Self: An Owner’s Manual (Ohio State UP, 2002). I’m not done with it yet, but it has plenty of interesting commentary on how to be productive in a program, department, school, or university, as well as chapters on u/g and graduate teaching. Anyone with service commitments or students will probably find at least something useful here. For readers who might not know Hall, he spent many years at a teaching-intensive university in California, so he’s familiar with the demands of a 4-4 load.

In the spirit of the new year, and a fresh start, here’s Hall’s overall thesis, which I fully endorse:

To put it bluntly: no one has more responsibility than you do for making your department, college, or university a better place in which to teach, conduct research, and live a multifaceted professional life. Others–deans, provosts, or presidents–may be paid far more than you are, and may even be explicitly assigned that task of improvement, but if you don’t like certain aspects of your institutional environment, then it is your responsibility to try to do something about, albeit carefully, responsibly, and in self-protective fashion. (7)

Just so. The past three months have been very hard, and I’m looking forward with more fervor than usual to the idea of rebooting my productivity/organizational systems. Hall’s book will be a help–and I’ll probably reread The Academic Self, too.

Parenthetically, I might add that there’s an implicit argument in the book for academic blogging, especially the pseudonymous variety that openly examines the motivations, frustrations, opportunities, and complexity of the job search or tenure process. (And a citation to the blog that Mel organized to discuss The Academic Self!) For, just as in the earlier book, Hall brings a textual emphasis to our lives:

Our professional lives are narratives of sorts, and I have long believed that we need to hear about and learn from a far wider spectrum of those narratives. Only by placing narrative against narrative (against narrative against narrative), do we acquire some marginal ability to rewrite, synthesize, or even reject the stories that we have internalized or embraced as the singular truth about professorial life. (1)

Though, of course, part of what’s so exciting about such blogging is that it requires no particular justification. Witness, e.g., this new year’s reflection on narrative (via Flavia), or this, quite different example by Horace. I’ll try to be better about this, too.

Happy New Year!

*Full disclosure: Hall edits the Victorian Critical Interventions series, in which Lost Causes appears.

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