Department of Irony Department

by CarlD

So with an active thread in which I express doubt about celebrations, special occasions and recruiting others into displays of unqualified affirmation, today at the annual awards ceremony I discovered that I was named professor of the year at my university. The smoke and mirrors worked! Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!

While I was on the market I interviewed at a little alternative college within a larger state university. It had been established by counterculture hippies back in the day, several of whom were still around. Interestingly, they had hired a younger generation of lefty identity politicians who turned out not to share their gentle humanism, and the resulting transition tensions were so severe that they were unable to agree on a candidate and cancelled the search.

The hippies liked me a lot. I was later told about one of them I especially hit it off with that he was legendary because since the founding of the college he had been offered the teaching award every couple of years, and every time he turned it down. As I recall he believed that teaching and learning is a collective virtue, we’re all in it together, it is its own reward, and making invidious distinctions is beside the point. I thought, wow, that’s pure. I agree, but I’m not sure I’d turn down the award! And I didn’t.

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7 Comments to “Department of Irony Department”

  1. Congratulations on the teaching award. Don’t be shy. Enjoy it.

    P.S. Might make an interesting thread topic: What is with the academic meme of professional shyness, e.g., begging forgiveness for mentioning one’s own publications?

  2. Don’t be shy, Carl, I am sure you deserve it – how is that for an “unqualified affirmation”? As for teaching as “collective virtue” – I say it’s bullshit, it’s all your achievement, all of it!

    P.S. The question of academic shyness is an interesting one, forgive me humble observation to that effect [blushing]

  3. Thanks! Hm. Why the professional shyness meme, that’s a good question. I can think of three components of an answer, right off (no wait, four) – and I’m glad Evan’s here, because he’s said some wise stuff about the professoriat at his place so maybe he can help?

    1. There are various stereotyped professor personae: absentminded, briskly efficient, tyrannical, arrogant, etc. Shy or dismissive about accomplishments goes with the first, and also works as a counterdiscourse to the latter two.

    2. The arrogant professor is an image generated out of the elite history of the high academy and its gradual colonization by various class, race and gender outsiders over the latter half of the 20th century. For those of us with proximal roots in any of these outsider groups, anti-elitism and democratic virtue are part of the moral justification for our occupation of these elite positions.

    3. Going back even further, the professoriate is a guild with its roots in the clergy, neither of which support self-promotion.

    4. Nerd social awkwardness, the emotional habits of subalternity, and a general preference for flying under the radar so as not to get shot down.

    Any other thoughts?

  4. Congratulations! And don’t be shy.

  5. As a persona, being shy and dismissive about accomplishments is of course a self-presentation strategy to which the imagined response from others is, “My, how wonderful he/she is! And humble, too!”

    Another explanation would be the psychoanalytic one, i.e. modesty as a reaction-formation against arrogance.

    By the way, in person Carl is not only modest, but never calls attention to his modesty. It’s either really good self-presentation or its genuine!

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