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Posts Tagged ‘expectations’

You Were Ambitious

I was ready to write an essay on motherhood and ambition, but then my three-year-old wouldn’t let me leave at drop-off while his older sister waited in the car. He wouldn’t hurry up the stairs to his preschool or through the door to his classroom. We place his stuffed troll in his cubby and hang his green monster lunch bag on a hook. He walks even more slowly across the floor of the yellow room to the door that leads to the playground outside. “Could you hurry up?” I huff at him, and he grins at me. I’m annoyed at his slowness, but I’m also angry at my annoyance. His small legs only propel him forward so fast. He doesn’t hurry. His friends were already swinging on the swings and climbing up the equipment while he walks in slow motion and clings to my hand.

I hug him goodbye and discreetly glance at my watch. Now, I am running late. His eight-year-old sister has to be at camp in 20 minutes, and we will be hard-pressed to make it. One hug goodbye isn’t enough. He wants another and then another. Then, he wants a kiss, and then, he gives me a kiss on my arm as I try to look at my watch again.

“One last hug,” I say, “and then go play.” (more…)

Activism

Here’s my second paper for #sblaar14, which was an invited talk about activism at the junior level. This was another strong panel with a small audience. Unsurprisingly, I took the prompt “Can we BE activists at the junior level?” as an excuse to think about activism’s relationship to not only religious studies but also the modern university. It is a small miracle that there’s so little cursing.

Can we be activists at the junior level? Hell.

Kelly J. Baker

Over the summer, I mentioned to a dear colleague and mentor of mine that I would be participating on a panel about activism at the junior level. He laughed at me. “How can you be on a panel about activism at the junior level,” he asked, “when you never made it to the junior level?” His question was also my question when I received the invitation to join this panel. My name, it seems, pops up when you ask people about activists in religious studies. This is puzzling and also sad.

I’m at best adjacent to academia. I took a year off, which is now a year and a half, and I have no plans to return. After six years on the job market, I bowed out. Publicly. I’m now a freelance writer, who covers higher ed, gender, and religion. I never made it to the junior level (if we’re defining junior as assistant professor. I’m not sure we should).

Yet, I’m at the AAR presenting on a panel about activism, even though I wouldn’t label myself an activist. This is a label applied to me because I write starkly about higher ed and sometimes my own discipline. Maybe my bar for activism is too high, and writing should count. Maybe everyone else’s bar is too low. Yet, I agreed to participate for two reasons. First, I still care deeply about this field we call religious studies, despite my attempts not to. Second, I have things to say about about the role of academic activism in the age of contingency. I’ve lived with this question since I received the invitation. I’m not sure I have any good answers, only more questions.

First, I want to tweak the initial question. Instead of “can you be an activist at the junior level?”, I ask, “Can you be an activist if you are perpetually on the job market?” My tentative answer is a firm “no.” Under the current job market, in which contractual is king and tenure track is not, anything you write, say, or do can be held against you. Members of search committees admit that they look for reasons to ELIMINATE candidates rather than keep them. The question of activism is even more fraught for contingent workers, who work at the whim of department chairs and heads. With positions that can be terminated at any time, certain kinds of activism might prove too risky while others might guarantee you are back for another semester. (more…)