This morning, I spent my office hours being grateful that we don’t always get what we deserve. You see, Mondoville is hiring a new English prof — specifically a 19th/20th (and now, I suppose, 21st)-century Brit Lit specialist. I’m on the hiring committee, and I began wading through the letters and c.v.’s today. Actually, fording may be a better word — with 101 applicants, the pool’s a bit deep for wading. After about half an hour, I began to think I would be doing the profession and my students a service by resigning my post, thereby creating another vacancy and allowing two of these applicants to have jobs. And I hadn’t even made it through the B’s yet. (Of course, matters of mortgage payments, groceries, and other niceties will keep me from taking such drastic action — besides, I’d have to change the name of the blog.)
As I look at the various applicants, all of whom strike me as more accomplished coming out of grad school than I am almost a decade into my career, I ache for the talented people who will likely never get a tenure-track position, even at a school like Mondoville, and for the students who will miss the opportunity to learn from these gifted people without ever even knowing the chance has been lost. At the same time, however, I see applicants who don’t seem to have considered who we are, and what we do. I see applicants who make me think that they see us as something to be settled for — a place to while away the exile from the research-intensive university setting.
I see plenty of hard-charging scholars, but little interest in building excitement in students. I see graduates of intensely competitive programs — but no evidence that they are concerned with our mission, or even that they understand who our students are or the challenges and opportunities they present.
And as I look at all this, I want to tell them that we’re a good place — flawed, yes, but still a place with joys and passions even beyond those of living in the world of literature and ideas. But too many of these applicants seem to pine after what we aren’t, rather than expressing interest in making us better at what we are.
I think one of the things that has served me in my career at Mondoville is that I knew I could be content to be a Mr. Chips — well, a Dr. Chips, but you know what I mean. I don’t see enough of that in the applications I’m reading, even from all these smart, gifted people. But I have a career — and a life — here in Mondoville, and it’s really what I wanted to have when I got back into the education racket. Maybe it is what I’ve deserved; I worked to earn it, and I built myself in a way to suit this kind of school.
All the same, as I look at the applications, I find myself turning to one of my favorite wishes, impossible though I know it to be. To each of them, I wish, “May you get everything you want… and may it still be what you want when you get it.”
But now I need to finish the B’s.