Tuesday, October 7, 2008

What's Anti-intellectualism Doing at the University?

Why would anti-intellectuals take jobs as administrative support in universities? Thank heavens this is not the case in the English department anymore. But it used to be, as recently as last fall. In fact, all over campus, right now, this morning, occupying their swivel chairs, reigning over their computers and filing systems, are vicious, seething anti-intellectuals.

This situation is not confined to HSU or even the CSU system. Some of my insider information also comes from UC Davis.

What I want to know is how and why is this the case" If you're an anti-intellectual, why choose a university as a workplace? This seems an enormous contradiction to me, perhaps even a little masochistic. Sado-masochistic, actually, since intellectuals don't like dealing with anti-intellectuals any more than vice-versa.

Perhaps anti-intellectualism is the egg, produced by years of negative interaction. Perhaps some of these people come to the university full of hope and admiration. Perhaps they hope to use their employee discounts on tuition, perhaps they plan to earn a degree themselves given time. But then life interferes, as it does, and time never allows them to take any classes. The hours of the job itself conflict with the scheduling, since all the important classes are offered in the 9-5 hours. So resentment begins to seethe. Clearly, only the privileged, those who don't have to work 9-5, can ever take classes.

Or perhaps they hold a business administration degree and are dismayed to find themselves no more than glorified secretaries. Still typing, filing, answering phones and dealing with idiots.

After muttering "Idiot!" under their breath at a respected, PhD-bearing scholar for the 99th time, one's attitude would surely undergo a shift. The same person who is an internationally recognized expert on "Keats' left nostril" (to swipe a bit of sarcasm from Professor Stacey), can't even make a damn photocopy or a cup of coffee! "How do they even live?" the budding anti-intellectual wonders daily as he or she finds, fixes or figures out yet another painfully obvious and practical matter.

Over time -- and not much time, I would imagine -- bitterness sets in, soon followed by its evil cousin, passive aggression.

As a person who reinvents herself regularly, I have to wonder why they don't just get jobs somewhere else, somewhere that doesn't make them miserable? Why don't they feel their souls shriveling and get the hell out for their own health and sanity?

But, even though I don't actually feel it, intellectually I do know the answer: the illusion of security. The same reason millions of Americans don't leave their soul-crushing jobs, marriages, families, neighborhoods or towns. In familiarity is security, they think. Then security is only a feeling. Security addicts would never admit that security is no more tangible than a feeling. All it takes is an honest look at history -- natural, prosaic or political -- to see that security doesn't exist; it is non-existent. There is no security.

If your job is crushing your soul, get the f*** out and stop blaming it on the people who have to tolerate your attitude every day.


pmn34 said...

Now that was a rant of epic proportions.

Indie said...

Yeah, it was that or an act of terrorism against Room Reservations. Thank you for reading my rant. I feel better now.

beachcomber said...

OK..so I'm administrative support at a community college though I don't take too much offense by your rant since I LIKE my job AND (most of) the people I work with. I work here because I like it. I like the environment. I like the students.

What I DON'T like is what we like to call "academic elitists" who presume that ONLY those with Masters and Doctorates have skills and intellect. It's tough to deal with people who see staff doing work that DOESN'T require a degree as unskilled and unintelligent -- that goes for administrative support as well as vocational-ed instructors. Try having a home built or a car fixed by someone who is unskilled and you'll find you appreciate those skilled in the "dirty arts".

I have finally, after a number of years filled with family raisin' and housekeepin', managed to complete my Associate Degree in "random studies" -- skills needed to do my job well. I run my office efficiently in SPITE of some of the academics who treat campus office help as ...well....office help. I do this because I like it and I'm good at it NOT because I'm not qualified to do anything else. I may not be able to do the work of a fully-tenured professor but then, I doubt they could do my job. I can eff things up as well as any file clerk and better than any full-blown professor but I don't because I'm proud of the job I do keeping this place running.

I repeat, I like my job. I like the students. I LOVE the campus. I HATE dealing with anyone that hates their job. I know too many who are surly and have no business on the front-lines but...it ain't me. I'm the friendly chick that answers the phone and deals with the students....with a smile.

Indie said...

Really, even in a community college there is the same divide? I somehow thought it would be different there, that the gulf would be smaller considering the greater number of voc-ed instructors as well as instructors with MA/MS degrees.

I'm glad you didn't "take too much offense" at my rant. It was just a rant, after getting caught in the middle of a power struggle between professors and support staff.

It was DEFINITELY not meant to offend the "friendly chick...who deals with students with a smile." I had in mind those other folks, "who are surly and have no business on the front-lines" when I wrote it. It sounds like you know just what I mean.

Thank you for being one of the KIND people running the show.

beachcomber said...

I didn't intend you answer your rant with another. I should make it clear that, at CR, the elitists are the exception rather than the rule. We're pretty cohesive though there are both staff and faculty who have no business dealing with people. I'm treated well, especially in my neck of the redwoods. I was just trying to make the point that education and knowledge come in many forms.

Indie said...

I ran straight from this exchange to my own department to make sure the wonderful staff there know how much I appreciate their daily pleasantness and efficiency.