Yesterday’s post about extramural job seeking and institutional loyalty and your comments have got me thinking. (Oh, noes! Say it ain’t so, Historiann!) Do we really owe our institutions loyalty? I feel loyalty to my profession, as vexed as it is, because I think what historians do is valuable and worthwhile. I feel loyalty to my friends and colleagues in academia, because we have to stand together in intellectual and professional solidarity in a world that neither understands nor appreciates what we do. (I’m sorry if that sounds self-pitying–I don’t mean it to. I knew what I was getting into 20 years ago–this is the United States of Amnesia, after all, and I am an Amnesian historian.) I feel loyalty to my students, about whom you hear very little on this blog because I have been entrusted with a part of their education, and I take the instruction and encouragement of young people very seriously. But I don’t feel particularly loyal to the institutions that have employed me.
Given the realities of the academic job market in the humanities for the past 40 years, and the ever-increasing demands for winning tenure, it may even be reasonable to see ourselves in an adversarial relationship with our employers. This changes with tenure, because tenured faculty are implicated in institutional governance in ways that junior faculty are not. Maybe the absence of institutional loyalty on my part has to do with the fact that I’ve worked for institutions that deployed the rhetoric of loyalty selectively, when they wanted to extract more unpaid work out of the faculty, for example. Then, we were one big “family,” but when I went to my “family members” for protection and redress from other “family members” who were treating me badly, I discovered the limits of that rhetoric on “family.” (However, I have seen individuals work on my behalf, even though it was not in their personal interest to assist me. That has happened throughout my career, and I was and remain loyal to them.)
Another reason I’m mistrustful of the rhetoric on “loyalty” is that it’s deployed selectively against some faculty more than others. As many of you have suggested in the comments, women’s extramural job-seeking is understood (and sometimes retaliated against) as unseemly ambition, whereas white men are not only encouraged to pursue other jobs, some are even patronized or scolded for their complacency if they aren’t on the hustle. Given the hostility that women’s ambition is met with, I think Lance is correct that nonwhite faculty also face similar skepticism and anger for seeking out other employment opportunities. This is the presumption of institutions that still see themselves as bastions of (white and male) privilege: We took a chance on you, an outsider in our club! We employed you! How dare you respond by finding another job?
I had a little taste of this my very first year in a tenure track job in my former department. I won a fellowship from the Newberry Library in Chicago. When I marched down the hall to talk to my department Chair about what I assumed would be great news–someone else was buying me a leave term so that I could research my book!–I was lectured that “it was good that [I'd] be gone only one semester, because [I] need[ed] to establish [my]self here.” When I replied that I thought that winning a nationally competitive grantwas a good way to establish myself at that institution, he replied, “I mean with your teaching.” From that point on, the department that employed me pretended that I must be a bad teacher, because they couldn’t suggest that I wasn’t a good enough scholar. That’s the price I paid for taking that grant, a price that eventually got so high that I resigned. The Chair of the department (a different person from the Chair described above) then spread rumors that she knew someone in my new department and that that person had told her that they didn’t really want me. (Which is why they offered me the job? Wev. I was outta there.)
In short, I have never seen an institution operate as though it were loyal to me. Why should I owe it loyalty? Do academic institutions deploy the rhetoric of loyalty more aggressively than other employers? What do people mean when they invoke institutional loyalty? (Are they really talking about loyalty to themselves personally, or is it rhetoric mean to shame or discipline perceived transgressors?) What do you think?