Having spent many years teaching at the ‘higher ed’ level (re: college), I feel qualified to say that the system is sick. Fattened on the blood of adjuncts, centred far too often on the desires of faculty and a profit-driven administration over the needs of students, it’s a system way past overripe. Think piece of fruit ready to implode…
That said, I loved my time teaching university. Mostly because of students, I admit, but also because of the dear friends I made. And living in an environment where learning is important, is valued. I think the ability to exist in a state of heightened learning is an almost sacred state…
So here’s a very cranky poem about what the tenure system does NOT buy us: poets. Any kind of master artist, really. Because the demands of the job suck a person dry, leaving only the fragile husk of some rare and unnamed bug…
Here’s David Lehman, with today’s poem, ‘With Tenure':
If Ezra Pound were alive today
(and he is)
he’d be teaching
at a small college in the Pacific Northwest
and attending the annual convention
of writing instructors in St. Louis
and railing against tenure,
is a ladder whose rungs slip out
from under the scholar as he climbs
upwards to empty heaven
by the angels abandoned
for tenure killeth the spirit
(with tenure no man becomes master)
Texts are unwritten with tenure,
under the microscope, sous rature
it turneth the scholar into a drone
decayeth the pipe in his jacket’s breast pocket.
Hamlet was not written with tenure,
nor were written Schubert’s lieder
nor Manet’s Olympia painted with tenure.
No man of genius rises by tenure
Nor woman (I see you smile).
Picasso came not by tenure
nor Charlie Parker;
Came not by tenure Wallace Stevens
Not by tenure Marcel Proust
Nor Turner by tenure
With tenure hath only the mediocre
a sinecure unto death. Unto death, I say!
Nature is constipated the sap doesn’t flow
With tenure the classroom is empty
et in academia ego
the ketchup is stuck inside the bottle
the letter goes unanswered the bell doesn’t ring.