Unruly bodies: My life as an academic with disabilities

The fourth post in this series, curated by the WPSA Committee on the Status of Women in the Profession, is a window into how personal health issues and disabilities influence the understanding of, and approaches to, academic success and failure. Other posts in this series are listed below.  If these topics are of interest to you the short course on this topic, Unlocking Success with Failure, at the APSA conference in Philadelphia is underway. If you are interested in contributing to analyzing successes and failures in the academy, we invite you to propose a roundtable, paper, or session to the Critical Perspectives on the Academy section of the WPSA conference, which will be from April 13-15 in Vancouver, British Columbia. Participation requests are due September 18th.

By Ellen Ann Andersen

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Based on some commonly used markers, I am an academic success story. I have a tenured position at a university I am pleased to call home and I live in an area of the country I adore. I’ve made a name for myself in my areas of research; my teaching is closely aligned with my research interests. My wife and I teach at the same university and have done so for nearly twenty years. I have also been able to secure academic positions at universities with extraordinary medical facilities and excellent health plans. I’m extremely aware of how lucky I am in all these respects.

At the same time, as my university has increasingly come to define success primarily via scholarly output—which necessarily devalues teaching and service—the temptation to see myself as a failure is all but overwhelming. You see, my capacity to engage in sustained research and writing waxes and wanes with the vagaries of my health, and my health has a wicked sense of humor. I am what might be termed a medically complicated person. My body is like a Russian-nesting doll: health problems layered on top of health problems. I came to graduate school with a mobility impairment and a progressive neuromuscular disease. Working around my body’s limitations was fairly easy at that point. And, in fact, the professoriate can be a terrific place to work for someone with either (or both) of those conditions. Our work isn’t physically strenuous; we work with our minds far more than our muscles.

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Identity, Controversy, Pedagogy: Teaching Contentious Issues in the Political Science Classroom

By John McMahon and Patricia Stapleton

As fall terms approach, one question seems to preoccupy political scientists more than anything else: how do you teach Donald Trump? At the least, this challenge has provoked blog posts, social media discussions, and conversations over coffee (and stronger fare). Benjamin Kroll of Centre College posed the dilemma thusly:

How does a college professor teach with a commitment to politically neutrality and objectivity under these circumstances? Is neutrality in the classroom even desirable or ethically defensible at this point?

I need to figure out… how I can, as a college professor, effectively teach about the presidential election and American politics while simultaneously 1) clearly demonstrating that many aspects of “Trumpism” are illegitimate expressions of American political culture and values, 2) raising awareness of the potential future spectre of authoritarianism that a Trump presidency might enable, 3) emphasizing that there are legitimate reasons to support Trump even if you do not accept the viewpoints and proposals that are not legitimate, and 4) making sure that all students, Republicans and Democrats alike, feel that they are welcome to express their views in classroom discussions, and 5) making sure to emphasize that despite many of Trump’s illegitimate views and that he is this year’s standard-bearer of the Republican Party, the “mainstream” GOP is still well within the traditional boundaries of American politics and values?

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Contingent Faculty and Labor Justice: Opportunity, and Incorporation

The third post in our “professional development and reflections on the discipline” series, curated by the WPSA Committee on the Status of Women in the Profession, discusses contingent faculty. Julie Novkov, current WPSA President, reflects on the realities of adjunct and contingent faculty, and suggests what we and our universities can do to transform thinking around, and acknowledge the crucial contribution of, contingent faculty. Other posts in this series include Failure and Success in the Academy, By Susan Sterett, Jennifer Diascro, and Judith Grant, and The Personal is Political, or At Least, Relevant, by H. N. Hirsch. If these topics are of interest to you, we would like to encourage you to register for the short course at the APSA conference in Philadelphia in September on Unlocking Success with Failure. This half-day short course will focus on unlocking our success – as individuals and institutions – by exploring the failures in our personal and institutional stories. We will do so in the context of the many interdisciplinary intellectual frameworks that illuminate failure as inevitable and necessary for achievement.

By Julie Novkov

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Susan Sterett’s and Jennifer Diascro’s recent explorations into themes of failure and success have struck me particularly in the last several months as my university grapples with the silent growth in, and regularization of, contingent labor as a critical piece of fulfilling its educational and service missions. Our provost convened a panel in 2015 that brought together faculty and professional staff from across the university, including both “regular” workers with eligibility for permanent appointment and a variety of workers holding temporary appointments, both full-time and part-time. We studied the issues for half a year and produced a full report to the president. The university is now in the process of figuring out how to implement the panel’s recommendations, and I am fortunate enough to serve on one of the implementation committees. I’m provoked to ask myself an important question: what is to be done with the various frames of failure that shape our understandings of contingent faculty labor?

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The Personal is Political, or At Least, Relevant

Today marks the second post in our new “professional development and reflections on the discipline” series, curated by the WPSA Committee on the Status of Women in the Profession. In this post, Professor Hirsch reminds us that there is strength in sharing our experiences with each other,  and grapples with our one-size-fits-all system for measuring success. For more on his reflections, check out his memoir,  Office Hours: One Academic Life. If these topics are of interest to you, we would like to encourage you to register for our short course at the APSA conference in Philadelphia in September on Unlocking Success with Failure. This half-day short course will focus on unlocking our success – as individuals and institutions – by exploring the failures in our personal and institutional stories. We will do so in the context of the many interdisciplinary intellectual frameworks that illuminate failure as inevitable and necessary for achievement.

By H.N. Hirsch

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Recently, I took a step away from usual scholarly expectations–I published a memoir about my academic life, a memoir I spent roughly four years writing (and rewriting and rewriting).  Having reached my sixties and having, somewhat by chance, somewhat by choice, worked in a variety of different institutional environments–the Ivy League, the University of California system, and two liberal arts colleges–I felt I had things to say about the strengths and weaknesses of each of these major types of academic workplaces, as well as things to say about being a gay academic of a certain age.

Writing a memoir is an odd experience when you are still embedded in the system you are describing, or at least it was for me.  At times I felt–and will no doubt be judged by some to have been–disloyal or ungrateful, someone seeking revenge or (as an officious senior colleague once said to me) someone who doth protest too much–an occupational hazard for anyone doing personal writing of this kind.  At other times during the writing process I felt liberated–enormously free to ignore standard scholarly form and to say things I had kept to myself for many years, things that seemed to me necessary to say.

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Failure and Success in the Academy

By Susan Sterett, Jennifer Diascro, and Judith Grant

The Western Political Science Association’s Status on Women in the Profession Committee is pleased to introduce a new feature here at The New West blog, geared toward discussions of professional development and reflections on the academy, for seasoned, aspiring, and new political scientists. Our own experiences at different institutions and with different job searches, position us to reflect on the field honestly and openly.

For this series’ inaugural post we aim to contribute to the renewed discussion on success and failure in higher education. In this context, there are several important themes that we touch on below, and we encourage contributions from the WPSA membership on these issues by emailing your ideas to Meredith Conroy (mconroy@csusb.edu). As we’ve been thinking about current discussions of success and failure, we find room for four different dimensions that are easy to forget in thinking about success and failure as attributes of individuals. These include pressures: (1) on higher education to deliver more while diversifying funding; (2) on individual faculty to produce, and teach students in more complex ways; (3) on institutions to support the health and success off students, and address multiple needs; (4) on faculty to integrate our work with our responsibilities to our families and communities. Below we think more about all of these, and invite stories from members of WPSA in an effort to continue this conversation.

And in this spirit, we would like to encourage you to register for our short course at the APSA conference in Philadelphia in September on Unlocking Success with Failure.  This half-day short course will focus on unlocking our success – as individuals and institutions – by exploring the failures in our personal and institutional stories. We will do so in the context of the many interdisciplinary intellectual frameworks that illuminate failure as inevitable and necessary for achievement.

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