Guess What Went To Press?

HWW Cover

Jordynn and I are pretty psyched that this one is finally at the printer.

Back in 2011, when I was still pregnant with my now-3-year-old and Jordynn’s baby was still a twinkle in her eye (as my father would say), we embarked on this book project.

The full acknowledgments are in the book itself, but some quick thanks are due to Carrie, Meg, Fred, our families, the rest of the team at Oxford University Press, and everyone who helped us along the way. (Of course I’m forgetting someone important here and whoever that is I’m sorry.)

We’re also super happy with the cover, which has an adequate amount of Carolina Blue.

Four Years’ Work

Image by Smadar,

Image by Smadar,

Four years ago, through my sister and brother-in-law, I met a remarkable family here in Chapel Hill. First I met Emmanuel; his wife Veronica was still working on getting her Green Card, and she and their children lived in Canada.

Emmanuel was in his late 20s when we met, a 2009 grad of UNC-Chapel Hill with a biology degree. But what most people didn’t know about him was that when he was in his late teens, he arrived in the U.S. as a refugee from the Sudanese civil war, illiterate, with very little knowledge of English at all.

I still have trouble reconciling that refugee teen whom I can only imagine with the man I know, father of four, scientist, loving husband.

When I met Veronica, she was reserved at first—nervous about telling her story to a stranger (and I was, indeed, a stranger). But after only a short period of time we became great friends. She is an incredible mom and works a full-time job as a home healthcare aide—work that she loves. She’s a woman I deeply admire.

And now, today, four years later, we’ve written a remarkable book together—about their escape from the war as children, about how they fell in love as teens in a refugee camp but were torn apart, about how they miraculously found each other again in Canada years later. I feel so lucky to have been the person they picked to help them tell their story. Visit the website we put together to learn more about their story and about these amazing people.

Negative Capability

Image by Author, Chapel Hill, NC

Image by Author, Chapel Hill, NC

As I walked to my local coffeeshop this morning, I saw a daytime moon and snapped this photo with my phone. The sun was, at the same time, very bright—you can see the blueness of the sky, a crisp blue that we only get in the North Carolina after the summer’s humidity has been whisked away by cold.

I’ve lived in NC off and on for most of my life, and I love it here. I’ve lived in Durham/Chapel Hill off and on since 2000—nearly 15 years now—and I really love it here in particular. I met my husband here, and we’re raising our kids here. If I weren’t completely unsure about Western religion I would completely buy into the “Southern Part of Heaven” thing they say around here when bragging about how beautiful things are.

Back to this morning’s daytime moon.

The sun and the moon being brightly visible in the sky at the same time made me think about the ability to feel two ways about a thing at the same time. It’s a thing that happens, and it’s not crazy. Keats called it negative capability. Cornel West describes it like this:

You could just called this “being open-minded,” but that’s too simple.

Here’s the point, today: I love Chapel Hill. I love The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I’m a light-blue-blooded Tar Heel. I’m ashamed and horrified by the academic/athletic scandal going on right now. I’m also bummed out by how the university is corporatizing its administration and adjuctifying its faculty (including me).

I can feel both ways at the same time: love, and bummed out. It’s a thing that is possible.

My husband and I are both lifetime alumni association members of UNC. We are season ticket holders. We take our kids to play on the quads and tell them stories about the old buildings. We’re proud to have attended school here. I’d be proud to have my kids attend school here.

So here’s my question for you, my readers, and for all of us who write higher ed journalism:

Why on Earth would I take time to critique higher education if I didn’t care so much about making it better for everyone? For students—first and foremost—and for faculty, staff, and everyone who is a part of this extremely valuable public good?

I wouldn’t. That right there is my mission. I want to make things better. If some dirty secrets get aired, you know what that guy in robes said about daylight and disinfectants. I’m doing the best I can with that mission in mind. I hope you are, too.

Sour Grapes, or Waking Up?

Image by Laura Collins Britton,

Image by Laura Collins Britton,

Recently, a friend I respect told me that she was concerned that my writing on academia came across as though I had “sour grapes.” She was mostly talking about the writing on this blog, although now that this blog is a series on The Chronicle of Higher Education Vitae, I guess she means that, too.

(Some background: She felt like she had to bring it up because we are entering into a business endeavor together. And keep in mind, she was sincerely, truly worried about hurting my feelings. Also, you can see her perspective: Is a crank a good spokesperson for your business?)

But I was truly surprised that she viewed my words as sour grapes—or as anything that could reasonably be perceived as such—in the first place. I actually think I’m kind of pollyanna-ish, once you get past the “let’s stop deluding ourselves” bit. I don’t wallow in misery, and I’m very practical. The point of this whole blog/column #freelanceacademic endeavor is not just to identify problems with our work in higher ed, but to find ways to fix them as well.

I looked up “sour grapes” in the OED, and learned that it derives from one of Aesop’s fables, “The Fox and the Grapes,” and it refers to a situation “in which someone adopts a negative attitude to something because they cannot have it themselves.” So I guess my friend is saying (and I’m inferring here) that since I didn’t get a tenure-track job, I have sour grapes towards higher ed.

But she’s wrong. You can check out my previous post, but know that, right now, I feel like I narrowly escaped by not landing a TT job. There’s something rotten in the state of higher ed, and if I’d moved my family into that dying kingdom, where would I be? Defending it like a lifeboater? Hoarding my meager riches and stomping on contingent faculty? I’d probably be a terrible person and hate myself—IF I were self-aware enough to know what I was doing.

(OK that previous graf didn’t sound very pollyanna-ish, but it does fall under the “stop deluding” exception.)

Besides, this has been the question of the day:

This question isn’t about figuring out how other people see you. It’s about figuring out how YOU see you—and what YOU want to be for YOURSELF.

I know one thing for certain: I do not want to be a tenure-track professor.

They do not hold anything that I cannot have. That’s not sour grapes. That’s waking up.

Now: Soon I will address, in a more hopeful fashion, the wonderful open pathways that higher ed holds for us. Because that hope is there. Those pathways are there. Thinking creatively about learning, teaching, finding making sharing knowledge—we have to do those things. And we can.

Also we have to eat. I’ll talk about that, too.

The Uglier Side of Academia

Image by Laura Collins Britton,

Image by Laura Collins Britton,

“The price one pays for pursuing any profession, or calling, is an intimate knowledge of its ugly side.” -James Baldwin

This quote came across my Twitter feed today.

(It was a RT by someone I follow of a tweet by someone I don’t know, so I’m preserving her privacy and not linking to her it here—I don’t link to people without permission. Let me send out a thank you to the person who passed this tweet through my timeline today.)

I’ve been in academia for 11 years. If you count my master’s program, when I had to fend off bizarre antics by two different male professors, and law school, when my favorite professor was denied tenure for being a woman (don’t make me fight you about this one), even longer.

The point is, I’ve pursued this profession for the first half of my professional life, give or take. And I can see that this profession is really ugly. But I’m wondering, today, is academia any uglier than any other profession? Or do I just see it’s ugly side because I am intimate with academia? And does everyone see academia’s ugly side?


Is it possible for a tenure-track/tenured person at an R1 to jamble along and never ever see the ugliness of academia the way we NTTs do? For it to actually not be ugly for them at all?

Like the dude who lives on Park Ave., and the homelessness and hunger and desperation and poverty are invisible to him? (I don’t like overly dramatic comparisons as a rule, but just picture the dude getting in his town car for his trip down to Goldman and never looking up from his Blackberry.)

Recently, a super-tenured dude in my division asked one of my NTT colleagues just how much we made—because he had no idea.

(I know how much super-tenured dude makes, because it is public record and because I took that public data and created a spreadsheet to compare salaries by race and sex. I enjoy staring ugliness in its ugly face.)

We he learned what we make, he dropped an f-bomb out of shock, or so I’ve heard. My Park Ave. Professor just had never thought about it. That’s his privilege.

So I think that perhaps NTTs (and others, like women who get denied tenure for not being masculine enough yes that happened and others who are so wildly underrepresented you wonder how we all survive in the academic world at all) get an even uglier side of academia, actually.

Because we have to think about it. We’re forced to stare ugliness in the face every day. And it ain’t pretty.

Sorry for the gloom. Perhaps some cheer tomorrow.

So I Wrote This Thing About Rape…

Image by Laura Collins Britton

Image by Laura Collins Britton,

Back in April of this year, I posted a short-short story (that I’d originally published in a lit journal back in 2008) as a “Prelude” to another project that I was working on. The short story tells a first-person narrative of being raped.

Sidebar: A cliche topic for a short story? perhaps, but only because rape happens every fucking five minutes, enough to make telling a rape narrative a cliche. #Rapeculture anyone?

I followed up that post with another, in which I explained the context of the short story, and why I chose to post it on my blog—because I planned on reporting the rape to UNC now, in 2014, many, many years later:

I was raped in Chapel Hill, just off campus, by a student of UNC-Chapel Hill. And UNC-Chapel Hill at that time was doing a terrible job dealing with rape in its community, and continued to do so until March of 2013, when it was slapped with a gigantic federal investigation.

I’m curious to know, though: What will happen when I try to report? How will it go? Has a professor ever reported to campus sexual assault services before?

This might be hilarious and awful at the same time.

So then I thought, why not pitch this story rather than writing it for my blog? So I did. I pitched it to my favorite kicks-ass-and-lets-you-use-swears-woman-centered-magazine The Toast, and the editor told me to run with it.

Let’s say “running with it” equaled getting my ass kicked, but I finally went through the reporting process and wrote the piece. I actually scheduled a date on my planner called “Reporting Day.” Reporting Day was a terrible day.

I was a wreck for about a week after. I was jumpy and had jitters, so I just kept telling everyone that I’d had too much coffee, which is an easy lie, since I regularly have too much coffee. I drink too much coffee on such a regular basis that my regular coffee shop has standing orders to only pour me half-caf.

The point is, for those of you who actually can remember April, and you want to read the results of Reporting Day, head on over to the Toast and check it out. Many thanks to Nicole Cliffe and the rest of the team over there for publishing it (and for paying their authors since I’m basically unemployed now).

For those of you who would like to read the short story that is loosely based on the events that led to the piece in the The Toast, here it is.

[You'll notice I don't allow comments on my blog. It's good to be Queen. But I'm happy to chat with you on Twitter so long as you aren't a jerk. I have a No Jerks Clause in the Constitution of the nation-state that I am Queen of.]

Big News

View inside of a jet cockpit at night, with tight focus on the controls.

Image by Aureliy,

I have some big news.

My favorite higher education publication, The Chronicle of Higher Education Vitae, which is never behind a paywall (#openaccess, y’all), has picked up these blog posts as a new column for their publication.

Thus: The Freelance Academic Blog will now be the Freelance Academic Column at Vitae.

Thanks, folks, for reading this blog, and head on over to Vitae to read more. Vitae will provide the added benefit of allowing comments on my columns (which, for many reasons, I never have allowed here  ;) )

See y’all around.

Epiphanies and Bending Reality

Image by Prawny,

Image by Prawny,

This post recounts my epiphany of the week, courtesy of my friend Sara who gives me all of my epiphanies. (For those of you who already live the way I’m about to describe, please don’t judge me.)

The epiphany happened at lunch with Sara when she spoke some “words” to me. Usually, my brain processes words. Words are a thing my brain can “do,” you know? But, as she was speaking, I kept saying, “What?” “What?” “Huh?” and she kept repeating herself in new and different ways, and her palm was twitching like she wanted to bop my head (okay maybe I’m imagining the palm part Sara, but you have to admit you really were wanting to or at least you were wondering if maybe the beer was affecting me more than it should have).

The point is, I was very resistant to the epiphany at first. I LITERALLY (in the literal meaning of the word) could not process the words Sara was saying to me.

But Sara stuck with me until the epiphany occurred, and all was well. No bopping.

The Conversation

Just recently, a law school sent me a recruitment email for a tenured position in a cool city across the country. At first I was excited to receive the email. But then I realized I couldn’t have this job because it is located far away and my family can’t move, and anyways I don’t want to move. [1]

I told all of this to Sara, and she said, Did you tell them you don’t want to move?

I said, No.

She said, Why not?

I said, Because.

She said, Why not?

I said, Because.

She said, Why not words words I can’t understand words words I can’t understand.

I said, ???????????

And then I had the epiphany.

The Epiphany 

Sara said something like, Why don’t you ask them to make the job into something that you DO want?

I couldn’t understand how that would even be possible. I said some nonsense about distance-learning and ABA standards blergity-blerg. In retrospect, I suffered from a major failure of creativity.

For those of us living alternative-academic, post-academic, and freelance lives, we don’t have set tracks to follow. Our tracks are, by necessity, set by our own creativity. They literally (there’s that word again) are what we make them.

When we’re confronted with a job offer or a gig that isn’t quite right, instead of turning it down outright (like I did), we have to make it right—through negotiation or other tactics. We have to ask our counterparts to reconfigure what they’re asking us to do so that we no longer have any of the worries/issues/etc. that are holding us back.

But—and this is the hard part—we often have to do so in such a way that is so far off the track that no one would ever think of it. So, the burden of creativity on us is really high.

An Example

My friend is a dermatologist. She said “no” to a last minute AWESOME interview with a major TV station in New York because she wanted to spend a rare afternoon with her kids. The interview wouldn’t have taken long, but arranging childcare and interrupting her day with them would have been too difficult.

Plus, the TV people needed her RIGHT THEN. (Welcome to television, apparently. Not that I would know anything about that.)

When she told me about her dilemma, later, and asked me for advice, I drew on my new epiphany. I told her this: You could have said, “Yes, awesome. Love to. You have an intern to watch my kids for 30 minutes, right?”

She was like, “THAT’S BRILLIANT. They would never have thought of that, so I have to think of it for them.”

I felt so smart. (Sara, you make me SO SMART.)

Yes, the burden of creativity lies on those of us who take alternate tracks. But we have more power than we think to bend reality in our favor. We just have to start asking.

If you need help coming up with creative solutions, you aren’t alone, either. Reach out to your freelance academic colleagues on Twitter or blogs; hire a coach. It’s likely you aren’t the first one to face the particular challenge that you are facing. Ask for some creative brainstorming help.

“I need to bend reality a little bit today. Anyone feel like helping me?”

Answer: Absolutely.

- – - – -

[1] There’s a forthcoming post about the other reasons why a job on the tenure-track is probably not right for me any more. I think I’ve been ruined, in the good, old-fashioned meaning of the term.

#ArticleRemix & Escaping the Double Bind

White daisies against a bright blue sky

Image by pippalou,

Suggested Reading: “What’s the Point of Academic Publishing” by Sarah Kendzior (@sarahkendzior) for Chronicle Vitae.

Suggested Watching: Adjunct Action‘s Conversation with Rebecca Schuman (@pankisseskafka) (along with host Sean Michael Morris and panelists Lee Skallerup, Joe Fruscione, and me).

I. No More Adjunct Heroism, No More Academic Publishing

Earlier this year I was at a critical moment in my academic career: I’d spent 11 years searching for a tenure-track job and then just gave up. I decided had better ways to spend my time and money than on the academic job search.

Essential to being on the perpetual academic job search is publishing as many articles as one can in academic journals and edited collections. The job search also requires presenting at as many prestigious professional conferences as possible. For the past few years, I’ve been running myself into the ground.

I’ve also been missing milestones: my eldest kid lost his first tooth just this past weekend while I was off giving a talk at a conference. I got to chat with him about it on FaceTime.

Protip: It’s not the same.

To use Rebecca Schuman’s term from her recent Adjunct Action Conversation, I was playing the “adjunct hero” (not a term of praise) hoping that my tenured colleagues would grant me membership in the tenure-track club. Now, I know THAT is never going to happen. I know because I finally asked the person in charge this past February.

I have one more academic article that I have committed to write, due this October, and then, as far as I can see into the future (which, as we all know, is not very far), I’m done. I do not plan on writing any more “traditional” academic articles.

I’m kind of beside myself with joy after making this decision.

II. The Publishing Double Bind & the #ArticleRemix

With this context in mind, I reread Sarah Kendzior’s Chronicle Vitae article on academic publishing this morning, and this paragraph particularly resonated:

With the odds of finding a tenure-track job against them, graduate students are told to plan for a backup career, while simultaneously being told to publish jargon-filled research in paywalled journals. Scholars who bet on that insular system find themselves stranded when that system fails them, as it does most. Appeasing academics means alienating alternatives.

Academics on the tenure track are stuck in a double bind: (1) Make yourself attractive to a field where you are unlikely to find work by publishing articles that are hard to locate, read, and understand. Or: (2) Make yourself attractive to fields outside of academia by publishing your work in an accessible fashion (easy to locate and easy to read)—but making yourself seem un-academic as a result.

Accessibility on both the readability front and actually getting-your-hands-on-it front are equally important, as Sarah pointed out. So much academic writing is hidden behind paywalls. And then, when you finally can download an article, the knowledge it contains is hidden behind field-specific jargon (some of which is completely unnecessary for the making of meaning).

This lack of accessibility means that often no one outside of a narrow field can put to use the important ideas that many, if not most, scholars are developing today. And yet, embracing this lack of accessibility is required in order to be taken seriously as a scholar.

After reading Sarah’s piece again this morning, I tweeted what I’m sure is not an utterly original idea (if only because there are no original ideas)—but it was an epiphany at least to me:

Liana Silva Ford (@lianamsilvaford) and Kelly J. Baker (@kelly_j_baker) hopped into the discussion, and the #articleremix was born.

So here’s the challenge, #ArticleRemixers: Take your amazing scholarly work, and write about it in on your blog or on a guest post on another blog. Avoid jargon. Keep it short. Make it meaningful to people outside your field. Show us how we can use your ideas to make the world a better place, even in a small way. Then tweet a link to the post using the hashtag #articleremix (and @me so I know you did it and can boost your work).

But first, make your original article publicly accessible on an open-access repository and link to the original article in your blog post.

Here’s how.

III. Open-Access Repositories as Paywall Work-Arounds

Today’s conversation reminded me of another one I had on Twitter with Karen Gregory (@claudiakincaid - Mixed-Up Files FTW) back in April. She and I chatted on Twitter about the pros and cons of “publishing” her dissertation online via Proquest.

Simply put, it seems that new Ph.D.’s face another double bind: if you want your dissertation research available for others to read, you have to hand over rights to Proquest to publish it. Or something like that.

Indeed, part problem was that the rights situation was very confusing.

Tweets by Karen and Katie about feeling confused by Proquest

So Karen and I started talking about free public repositories that provide ways for scholars to share their work without a paywall and retain full rights to their work at the same time. These repositories are springing up all over the place.

The one I’ve been using the longest is the Social Science Research Network ( Although you create an account in order to upload your work, the account doesn’t cost you anything. Plus, you can search for articles—and download them—without logging in. The articles you upload are indexed on Google Scholar, making it easier for the wider world to find your stuff.

There are newer (and nicer looking) public repositories now, including,, and BEPress’s SelectedWorks (here’s mine). The Google Scholar indexing means that your work is easier to find by independent scholars and by others, such as journalists, who may be looking for experts such as you.

Warning: #Fancy publishers such as Taylor and Francis get really freaked out when you put a PDF of your own articles up on SSRN or other repositories and will send you angry emails to take them down. They’ll email SSRN too, and force SSRN to take them down.

This is very annoying.

Here’s the deal: You have the right to make your work publicly available in two ways, even when your work is published by #fancytaylorandfrancis.

(1) You can upload the PDF of the actual journal article to your own website along with some canned language they require you to use. (Check out the paragraph that begins “Author Posting” on my web page here for an example.)

(2) You have a right to post on a public repository (and on all the public repositories) a PDF of your own creation of an “author’s version” of the article—say, the final Word doc that you submitted for publication.

Get your work out there. Take control of it. Make it available. Then, once it is all out there, write your #articleremix and link it to the downloads. Sweet.

IV. What’s the Point

After thinking about #articleremix and repositories and the meaning of academic publishing this afternoon, it seems to me that my doctoral program did a really great job training me to be an expert in an area of study—but not a really great job training me to share this expertise with the world outside of academia.

And if we experts can’t share our expertise, then what’s the point of being experts?

After all this grumbling, I should say that I might return to academic writing eventually. Currently, writing for more public fora, such as smart online venues, is satisfying my need to investigate and put those investigations into words. But—if I can find meaning in academic work beyond the silly hope I used to hold for a tenure-track job, then perhaps I can bring myself to publish again.

After all, as Sarah K. writes at the end of her Vitae article, scholarship for the purpose of gaining an academic job—one you may likely never get, given the odds—means that all of your scholarly work might leave you feeling empty (as I feel). But:

When you orient your scholarship toward its obvious yet overlooked purpose—furthering human knowledge—its value does not need to be determined by others, because the value lies in the work itself. This is what counts.

Freelance Academic Manifesto

White rope on a black background, about to split apart

Image by imelenchon,

So, what does it mean to be a freelance academic? From my first post on this topic:

To be a Freelance Academic is to recognize this bifurcation that we contingent professors face, and then to try to mend it.

So, on the note of “mending,” here are some new rules to live by that I dreamed up (and stole, erm, borrowed) for this new paradigm that I’m exploring. This is an incomplete list. [1] I thought the list might help others, so I’m sharing it here.

As we’re all figuring out together in the #altac, #postac, and #adjunct communities online, there are changes that one needs to make to leave behind dead-end traditional academia and move toward freelance academia.

Update, 8 September 2014:

I have some good news. My favorite higher education publication, The Chronicle of Higher Education Vitae, which is never behind a paywall (#openaccess FTW), has picked up these blog posts as a new column for their publication. Thus: The Freelance Academic Blog will now be the Freelance Academic Column at Vitae.

The first post for the column will be this post, “The Freelance Academic Manifesto,” updated and expanded and generally far more awesome. I’ll link to the column right here when it comes out, which will be soon.

Thanks, folks, for reading this blog, and head on over to Vitae, which will provide the added benefit of allowing comments on my columns (which, for many reasons, I never have allowed here ;) ).

Update, 11 November 2014:

The column was published on 31 October 2014 (auspicious!) and you can access it here!