Thursday, April 16, 2009

What's at the end of the tunnel?

Tenured Radical posted today on a CHE column on firings in academia, which reminded me of my own dream of last night:
I opened up my paycheck receipt. Inside, there was a receipt for a deposit of about one-fourth my normal pay. Typed below it were four lines, from the provost, informing me that this would be my last paycheck. Because of financial difficulties, my position was determined to be "impacted," and thus subject to elimination to save the university money.

"But I'm only a month away from tenure!" I thought.
Now, this might be just another hilarious incident of my subconscious messing with me, expressed in some bizzare dream format. And we could all say "ha-ha, isn't that funny; thank god it's only a dream." I mean really: a good employee, up for promotion, then suddenly fired? And by a four-line note from someone who's never met you, slipped into your paycheck? So improbable as to be ridiculous, right?

Except, you know, for most people, it's totally not. This is exactly how it comes down. In the morning, they go off to the job they've held for six months or six years; in the afternoon they come home unemployed, with no warning, and no backup plan. And the fact that it's not personal -- well doesn't that make it worse somehow? Someone who's never met you flips a switch, and you're gone. That it's not even about you is just dehumanizing. You're just an "impacted" area.

Sometimes, I can't wrap my mind around the sadness and pointless stupidity of it all. A little human dignity, even in the worst of circumstances: can't we manage that?


historiann said...

Did your Provost actually use the word "impacted" as a verb in your dream? Because that seems like a firing offense for any university faculty anywhere, regardless of seniority, tenure, worthiness, etc.

Teeth are "impacted." Jeezy Creezy.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

I have seen "impacted" too often to even blink at it anymore. I think it's a standard part of admin-speak (especially in a budget crisis). "Impactful", however, still makes me shudder with revulsion.

(Happy 50th anniversary, Elements of Style!)

juniorprof said...

We all this dispair. But interfering with your nightly sleep, very rude.

juniorprof said...

Oops... Have this dispair...

risatrix said...

Per aspera ad astra, so the poet says, or de Profundiis if you prefer.

Michael said...

Is that E.B. Whites Elements of Style?

Dr. S said...

I think about this a lot, since I'm up for tenure next year and it feels as though it would be just too, too easy to cut someone loose at a transition point.

In my book, "impacted" should only be used to refer to colons or wisdom teeth. I know that technically it's okay to use "impacted" as a verb if you use it with a preposition (as in "Anxieties about the economy's downfall impacted upon Notorious PhD's sleep"). But I still hate it.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

@ Michael: Yes, little brother, it is he. And he wants you to include an apostrophe in the possessive of his name.

@ S: Actually, it's in their financial interest to tenure you. Promotions to Full may be another thing entirely.