Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.
Date: Mon, 31 Aug 1998 09:34:49 -0400 (EDT)
Random Thought: "Oh, I Can't Do That!"
It's 5:30 a.m. Just back from doing a six mile stint on the
streets. The sun still hasn't shown itself. Steam from my body is making
a curious mixture with the steam of the freshly brewed coffee sitting at
my side. It's brutal out there. I opened the door of the den an hour ago
to hit the streets and only to be hit by a clammy from south Georgia's 4-H
Club: hot, humid, heavy, hazy. Temperature is 84 degrees F; heat index
of 94 degrees F; air so thick and heavy the mosquitoes have to row through
it. I wasn't a few blocks into my walk when the water started pouring down
my body faster than the waterfall in my koi fishpond. Stalactites of salt
started to form on my eyebrows and nose. I soon found myself muttering,
"I was too quick." Last week I had snickered to a friend that the Dogs of
August must have bayed so loud and long in June and July that they were
too tired to do more than whimper this month. This morning, however, with
deafening howls, they bounded out of their doldrums with a revenge to have
one last fling.
Yet, as I slogged along in my own personal puddles that had formed
in my shoes, it wasn't the oppressive temperature and humidity that was on
my mind. I was thinking about an oppression that cast a chilling, dark
cloud over too many of our campuses. Having been off campus all summer, I
had forgotten about it's exitence. But, got slammed in the face by it as
soon as I hit campus:
"Didn't see you at the meeting," a colleague smirked. "You missed the donuts."
"I wasn't in town," I answered with a sarcastic smile. "Besides I
was still getting in shape. Did you go?"
"Yeah. I rushed back from the mountains. I didn't dare miss it
even though I knew it would be boring as tears. And it was. You didn't
miss a thing. It was a two hour waste of time. Wasn't worth the trip
back to miss a weekend."
"So, why not go?"
"Oh, I can't do that. I don't have tenure!"
"I don't have tenure." There's an enslaving attitude as
you'll ever hear on any campus.
That depleting sentence reverberates in our soul, rings in our
ears, beats in our hearts. We feel its pressure as we perform in class,
sit at our desks, attend meetings, pour over some research, hear the
budget cutters, seek committee asignments, listen to the politicians,
whisper in small private conversations, look out the windows, peer over
our shoulders, watch the recruited adjuncts--staff they're called in the
schedules--some of whom are almost literally dragged off the streets--and
out of high school rooms--to provide a body at the head of a class and are
being paid budget-saving, sweat-shop wages.
We walk the halls of ivy with a delicate step as if we were in a
lifeboat at sea and were afraid of rocking the proverbial boat and
capsizing our career.
There is a nervousness in our eyes, an insecurity in our step that
scream out to those who would see and hear: "Who's there?" "Did you see
that?" "What was that?" "Did you hear something?"
We silently ask, as if we were students dependent on the
professors judgement for a grade, "What do you want?" "What should I do?"
We silently excuse our silence with a "What good would it do?" "No
We silently explain away our inactivity, as a friend on another
campus recently told me, with a "It's not all that important anyway. I've
got better things to do with my time."
With a resigned "What's the use, nothing is going to change" we
silently sit rather than take a stand.
With a frightened, as times unspoken as if we don't want to hear
the words, "I could lose my position," we stand on the sidelines watching
the game rather than getting into the game saying, "It's all a game
With argue in our defense, "It's more complicated than that;" or
"that's impractical;" or "you're an idealist."
Saying that we need to have a job or have mouths to feed, with a
frightening crunching of our hats in hand, we merely offer a groveling
"yes, sir" and work hard to perfect our talents in the artful sport of
We don't like to think of it as oppression. We use more
accommodating buzzwords and phrases like "that's life," "be practical",
"get real." Call it what you will, seeing as a sword hanging ominously
over our heads, a potential weapon to penalize, a whip, a billyclub is an
oppresion that reflects a lack of mutual trust, lack of mutual
communication, lack of respect, lack of collegiality, personal insecurity.
Whatever the cause, understand that a fear for tenure that constricts our
minds and souls and heart like a ravenous python squeezing out the
vitality of our spirit and the dynamism of our life forces reduces us from
colleagues to a crushed pulp of employees merely carrying out the orders
of the boss.
Am I exaggerating? Perhaps. Is it more complicated than that? I
don't think so, but lot of us would disagree. Nevertheless, it is
something to think about when we look in the mirror next time. And,
It's a fear many of us don't want to see, don't want to hear
about, don't even want to discuss--openly, at least, don't want to admit
exists. We have all sorts of ways of rationalizing it, ignoring it, hiding
it, excusing it, putting it aside, covering it up, not owning up to it,
explaining it away. But, it won't go away. And, we may prefer to keep
that fear hidden in the shadowy closet world of muttering or the passing
comment. But, that won't make it go away either. That's because this
stiffling and often paralyzing fear for tenure is not about
"them"--colleagues, administrators, politicians, citizens at large; nor is
it about some overwhelming and complex and unmanageable "it"--the system,
society, the world, or the stars; it's about us. And we can tell a lot
about ourselves by what guarantees for the future we want, by what we
allow to scare us and slow us down and divert us and sap us--and stop us.
- If there is fear, there is no imagination;
- If there is fear, there is no creativity;
- If there is fear, there is no risk;
- If there is fear, there is no daring;
- If there is fear, there is no experimentation;
- If there is fear, there is no dream;
- If there is fear, there is no sacrifice;
- If there is fear, there is no questioning;
- If there is fear, there is no courage;
- If there is fear, there is no honesty;
- If there is fear, there is no looking forwards;
- If there is fear, there is no freedom and independence;
- If there is fear, there is no voice;
- If there is fear, there is no action;
- If there is fear, there is no individuality;
- If there is fear, there is no real happiness, no real comfort,
- If there is fear, there is no excitement, no vitality;
- If there is fear, there is no reaching our full potential;
- If there is fear, there is weakening;
- If there is fear, there is silence;
- If there is fear, there is surrender;
- If there is fear, there is cowering;
- If there is fear, there is only an echo;
- If there is fear, there is only acquiesence;
- If there is fear, there is playing it safe, being conventional;
- If there is fear, there is going along to get along;
- If there is fear, there is a bondage;
- If there is fear, there really isn't very much going on except going through the motions.