A great friend of Historiann’s in feminist studies has left academia for good. While this was a huge loss to her students and her discipline, she was treated so poorly by her department and the institution she worked for that it’s been nothing but a tremendous relief to her. In addition to resigning her academic position, she left the city that she has lived in for the past decade, moved 2,000 miles away, and has gone into a new line of work where she is succeeding admirably. For the first time in nine years, she is respected, valued, and is getting positive feedback on her work. She’s elated by the fact that her new colleagues are no longer abusing her, and she feels almost bewildered by the praise and generous reception she has received in her new position.
Although (as Historiann says) living well is the best revenge, sometimes (in my friend’s words) “revenge is the best revenge.” I resent the fact that when a department or institution succeeds in driving someone out, the institution then gets to tell the story about how the outcast really wasn’t fitting in, or wasn’t all that successful, or was really a very difficult person to work with, or was too big for her britches and who the hell did she think she was, or all of the above, and then some. So, in the name of speaking truth to power, I’m supportive of my friend sending a letter to all of the people she worked with spelling out very clearly the circumstances she worked in for more than a year, and which ultimately forced her to resign. It’s heavy on the facts, and rather light on the invective, all things considered. Because she has left the profession and doesn’t need letters of recommendation from them, she is beyond their reach entirely (although because her major adversaries are not high-status people in academia, its unlikely that their opinion would be terribly meaningful anyway.) This will embarass her former colleagues, although I’m sure they’ll just tout the letter as proof that she was just a crazy bee-yatch all along. But, I also think that her story will ring true to many of its recipients. And although I don’t think her former institution is going to snap-to and reform itself and its practices once it sees her letter, it’s the institution that wins if she doesn’t speak out. Institutions count on untenured people to be poor, weak, driven by fear, and to remain silent when attacked. (An observational aside: why is it that most of the faculty I’ve known who were treated this way were single women, and therefore more economically vulnerable? Is it just a coincidence?)
I want to hear what you think. What advice would you give my friend? Should she send the letter?