Friday, July 20, 2007

Trained to Not Ask Questions

One of the points that came up in my defense had to do with the impetus for the declarative stance of student readers. I had noted that students who recorded internal comments to the poems they were reading made comments which were overwhelmingly declarative, as opposed to questioning. I sensed that it was a reluctance to ask questions, a fear of appearing inexpert; the committee member suggested that the peer review process may have played a role in creating that sense.

After reading an interview with Christopher J. Loving, of the Leadership Institute for Tomorrow, I think it may be a mixture of both. An excerpt:

Q: So what is involved in this transformation?

A: Often I hear grad students coming into graduate school very idealistic and innocent. What happens is that innocence turns into cynicism when they get disillusioned, when they see the politics, when they see who is rewarded for what. And then when they become a faculty member, they explain their cynicism as, ‘Oh, I’m just being realistic.’ They also enter with curiosity, which can turn into arrogance — and which later is explained as “authoritative knowledge.” People who ask questions can be perceived as ignorant. Grad students also enter with a sense of wanting to make a difference; this compassion can turn to callousness, which later is justified as “the thick skin of experience.” This psychological evolution is such a part of the academic environment that it handicaps faculty’s ability to communicate effectively.

When I talk to faculty who are in a “safe” place, I still hear their innocence, their curiosity, their compassion. If you’re in a department that isn’t as healthy as it could be, all these people who are cynical and arrogant create conversations that look realistic and authoritative, and they require thick skin. They flame each other in e-mail, insult each other in faculty meetings and tell and demand more than listen and invite.

The remainder of the interview focuses on the things my old (and very wise) boss used to say when things got dicey in discourse--"try to shed more light than heat onto an issue" and "always go ot the source first." That was great advice, and when I take it, I find that it positions me well. But I know exactly what Loving is talking about in this part of the interview, of what graduate school does to teach you to be a bully. That's really what he's saying, isn't it, that these dysfunctional relationships constitute some academic bullying: my position is the right one, yours is the wrong one, I'm going to fight you, overpower you to get my way.

Students learn this from me because I learned it from them and so forth. The cycle continues, and I'm now wondering if the peer review process that I use, with its suggestion of "right/wrong" "effective/ineffective" thinking may encourage students to adopt that posture of telling people what they think instead of asking and listening.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


It's been a month since my last post to this blog, and oh, what a month it's been! I've defended my dissertation and next week I'm interviewing for a position at a local university that would set me on a new career path. So many choices lay ahead, not the least of which deal with planning my wedding (!!!) from several states away. I'm exhausted already.

At times, change comes into our lives with alarming speed. There you are, quietly ambling along, and BAM--you have to realign your way of thinking about yourself in relationship to the world. This reality hit home for me when I was casting about for something to wear to this interview and to my defense yesterday. The defense I could cover by cobbling together seperates from my conference gear. But the interview? Let's just say I've got a shopping trip ahead of me and I have to go to (ugh) a mall. I've purchased 2 new dress/suit outfits recently, but they were purchased for wedding/graduation events, not professional wear. How far I've come from 7 years ago, when I was in a professional position and regularly wore a suit. My clothing life has been defined by my grad student status; now I have to be a professional again.

Not that I'm complaining; it's good to emerge from the grad world and return to professional life. I miss meetings. I'm not looking forward to the student loan repayment (eek!), but everything else will be good.

Back into the world, where I get to make a whole new set of decisions. Feels scary-good.