The Ugliness of Academic Discrimination

poetry Recently I received a phone call from a university that is interested in bringing me on board as an English professor for the coming school year. The lady on the other end of the line was just as pleasant as a peach, noting how complete my application packet was, and complimenting my various awards and accomplishments.

And then the other shoe dropped.

“It appears that you’ve done a lot of work in poetry,” she began, “but have you done much work in rhetoric and composition? What has this degree (MFA) program done for you as a teacher of writing?”

I must admit, I went a bit speechless there for a moment. Who would have thought that knowing TOO MUCH about poetry would disadvantage a post-secondary faculty candidate? This was beginning to sound like the script for one of those poorly made online animated movies about higher ed environments and their humorous ironies. Was I living YouTube?

Gathering my thoughts and squelching the urge to lambast this poor woman with the virtues and necessity of poetry, I calmly responded, “Well, to be perfectly honest (ahem), a great deal of the MFA program exists in the realm of composition and rhetoric. In order to write the analytical essays and critical theory pieces that I have to turn in, I must be constantly aware of MLA style, and write using exemplary prose to fully examine the assigned materials.” In retrospect, it might not have been my best (or least pretentious) answer. Nonetheless, it helped to clear the air about the legitimacy of the MFA as an English-based terminal degree, I felt.

I also was quick to point out my educational experience: Advanced Placement English Literature and Composition teacher, Dual Enrollment educator, adjunct professor for composition classes, English Department Chair, etc. etc. etc. ad nauseam. The rest of the pre-interview conversation went well, as I asked a few questions about the prospective employer, and was told that the next step would be an actual interview. Still, that one part of the dialogue stuck in my proverbial craw:

When one’s advanced education becomes a perceived handicap, it raises the hackles somewhat. After attaining nearly two graduate degrees and seven years of higher learning, I feel like I shouldn’t have to defend the reputation of my degrees or the integrity of my education. My classroom practices and students’ successes speak for themselves. If you feel uneasy about my subject area of specialty and its relevance to your students, then simply cull me out. There are bigger fish in the pond, and plenty of prettier shells on the shore. And no matter what, I will ALWAYS be a poet-educator. Love it or leave it.

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