Saturday, April 21, 2007

Take that, Ivan Tribble! Or Marathon Post #1: My Colleagues' Responses

The academic bloggers out there remember Ivan Tribble, the pseudonymous scribe of two essays in the Chronicle of Higher Education Careers section, back in aught-five, who argued in the first that "Bloggers Need Not Apply" for tenure-track jobs in academe, and in the second that the bloggers who responded critically to his article were all just shooting the messenger ("They Shoot Messengers, Don't They?"). But as I argued back then (god, that seems ages ago), it seemed that the trouble with Tribble wasn't only that he had a thing against bloggers specifically, but that he also didn't like or didn't want to know about academics who -- the horror! -- found time to do things other than the teaching, research, and service for which they were being hired. So what does this have to do with my recent run in the Boston Marathon? This juicy passage from Tribble's second article is where the connection lies:

A number of respondents worried they could be mistaken [in a Google search] for an unhirable doppelganger on the Web. I can't speak for every committee, but ours had no trouble distinguishing our candidates from the semi-pro hockey players, quilt-store owners, marathon runners, and grade schoolers that Google turned up.
Uh, hello? Why on earth would you assume marathon runners and academics are mutually exclusive categories? Or that a marathoning academic was unhirable? Witness not only me but ProfGrrrrl (link goes to her training blog). (And as for semi-pro hockey players, cf. Michael Berube.)

All of which brings me back to my experience running Boston and the responses of my colleagues, including those who will be voting on my tenure. All my colleagues know I run marathons, and as far as I can tell they don't have a problem with this. Witness their responses to my Boston experience (which, by the way, required training almost entirely during the school year):
  • Awesome Supportive Chair said, "You're my hero!" and asked for pictures for the department newsletter.
  • One senior colleague asked if I had run a local marathon that was close to Boston's date, and when I said no, because I ran Boston instead, he said, "Wow! Congratulations! That's impressive!"
  • Fellow junior colleague Milton looked me up on the official marathon site during the race, tracked my performance, and sent me a congratulatory note -- all without my knowing until I got home. (I don't know why, but I thought that was really sweet.)
  • Senior Rhet/Comp scholar e-mailed me after hearing the weather report that day and sent her sympathy (she runs and does triathalons).
  • Another senior colleague routinely asked how my training was going, and his spouse saw me in the local park in the midst of one of my 20-mile runs and cheered me on. I told her I was thinking of calling it quits at 15 because I was aching, but she rallied my spirits and I completed the 20.
I could go on. But the point is, every department has a different atmosphere, and one of the ways I was wooed to this one was with the promise (by the senior colleague in the last bullet point) that people have lives here. And frankly, I think that's a good thing not only for faculty retention, but for the students, too. We can then model for them full, well-rounded, and healthy (physically or mentally) lives. (Besides, when my students know that I ran the Boston and graded their papers in the same weekend, there's less whining about deadlines and hard work. :) Te-hee!)

Of course, if I were doing poorly in publishing or meeting teaching and service expectations, my marathon running might then be a point against me. I think then my colleagues would have every right to be worried that I'm unnecessarily distracted and would be justified in saying in my annual reviews that I'm not meeting job expectations. But since I am meeting those expectations (at least at my university -- I don't know that I could do this at an R1) what I do with my free time is up to me.

That said, it was really hard fitting in even the most basic easy-level, three-day-a-week training this semester. And the training is starting to be a burden rather than something fun. I don't know if marathons are in my future or not. I may just run for fun and fitness for awhile and then maybe think about half-marathons and shorter races for the time being. The distance of the race doesn't scare me -- I'd still like to learn how to and train to keep my pace in those last four miles -- but fitting in those really long runs is hard. They just eat up so much of my weekend.

OK, future posts will detail the race itself, I promise. But I wanted to start with something that was more closely related to the character of this 'academic life' blog.


Profane said...

More shocking news. There are academics who enjoy South Park, sports, and beer rather than merely Masterpiece Theatre, opera and chardonnay. There are even academics who were jocks in high school and college, as the message board for sports at my current school found out when someone trotted out what EVERYONE knows - that all academics hate jocks. [Apparently I was supposed to hate myself.] There is even the odd male medievalist who has no facial hair, and no caffeine or nicotine addictions. [I make up for it with the red wine drinking.] But I digress.

The criteria for tenure decisions at the school where I am going tenure-track in the fall include 10% for community service. Are there others in this situation? Under what circumstances could/should blogging be considered as part of this community service, and thus, contra Tribble, a benefit to blogging academics?

Anonymous said...

Bloggins should count as community service. Blogging should count as research. Blogging should count as university and disciipline-specific service. Blogging should count as teaching. Hell, aren't they basically paying us to blog? Isn't blogging the book- and journal-killing technology that exposes the corruption at the heart of all academic life?

I think, contra Tribble, we should be paid for 40% blogging, 40% "teaching," and 20% blogging, with a marathon thrown in for good luck.

Heo said...

Dr. V, you must tell me something. How do you get a troll to show up and spill spleen-juice all over your comments in a marathon-running post?

It's a talent, really.

That said, congratulations! (I still want to know what's chasing the Virago family, though.)

The Pastry Pirate said...

oh the trouble with tribble... in my experience, without exception, the people who disparage those of us who succeed at multi-tasking and have full lives are those who are crippled by cowardice and self-hatred.

this pirate salutes you - huzzah! - for yet another damn fine accomplishment. to hell with the cowardly and, ahem, the anonymous.

Dr. Virago said...

Profane -- I was a varsity athlete in college, in fact. (OK, so it was archery, a sport that really is 90% mental, but still, I had to make time for practice.) And I find that the students who are athletes at my school, especially those in the less high profile sports, are usually the most organized and dedicated students. When it comes to sports, I'm a Greek: I believe healthy minds and healthy bodies go together.

And speaking of community service, I have a dream of starting something modelled after Kids Run LA that takes academically "at risk" kids and teaches them to set goals and manage time, to develop their minds and bodies, by training for road races from the 5K to the marathon. But in my version, I think there will be a multi-disciplinary academic component that shows how an understanding of science, math, the social sciences, and the arts and humanities enhance the performance, experience, and enjoyment of sport (in this case, running). It's a big dream and I think it will have to wait until after tenure, plus I have to build up contacts in the local public schools, but someday...

Anon - Tribble was the set-up, but marathon running is the subject. Stay on topic.

Heo - What's chasing the Virago family? Heart disease (Mom), cancer(sister, paternal aunt and grandfather), depression (just about all of us), and dementia (Dad), all of which might be prevented or at least staved off by fitness. (And also my brother is just hyper competitive.)

Pirate -- Hear! Hear!

Profane said...

Hear hear on the Greek attitude towards sports, and many apologies if I did not make it clear enough that the first bit of my comment was a facetious attack on stereotyping.

The student-athletes you describe are very much the rule rather than the exception, since most are not in revenue sports, where the profanity lies. For my part I would not have survived the graduate school hazing were it not for the time discipline and fortitude learned while a college athlete.

Dr. Virago said...

Profane -- No worries, I got the facetious tone of your first comment. I was agreeing with you, if that wasn't clear. These dumb stereotypes of nerdy academics and dumb jocks have got to go. (And while we're at it, stereotypes of medievalists!)

Steve Muhlberger said...

The Tribble remark is typical of academics who want to keep a distance from anything anyone might consider weird, because they damn well know that academia itself is (or is considered weird).

Anonymous said...

Hyper Competitive? I'm just damn good. In fact, my wife says, and I quote, "Honey, you're so awesome how do you live with yourself?" She's a weird academic so I can't tell if she's serious or not.

Anonymous said...

One more thing, what was anon doing reading a Blog instead of writing the Great American novel?

Dr. Virago said...

Tehee! My brother cracks me up. And bro: you're good AND hyper competitive.