I left academia at the end of the fall semester of 2011. Starting in 2013 and then returning in 2015, I’ve been working on a lengthy story project that involves archiving and processing my life as an academic, first as a student, then as a teacher.
My project is not intended to be just an example of quit lit, a public declaration of being “burned up and burned out” by the academy. But I started it just shortly before essays about quitting academic jobs began to proliferate and it is partly motivated by a desire to give an account of why I left the academy. It would be easy to read or write (or write-off) my accounts as just another, among so many, “goodbyes to all that”. But it’s not. At least, I hope it’s not just that. While my project includes several public declarations of my leaving and it includes critical assessments of toxic academic values that led to my leaving, I’m also trying to do something else with it.
But what is that “something else”? As a preliminary way to answer that question, here are two lists to compare: List 1: What can quit lit do and List 2: Why am I doing this?
List 1: What Can Quit Lit Do?*
- Offers a public explanation (a because) of “why I quit teaching”: because of demanding students, poor salaries, unnecessary bureaucracies, limited opportunities for creativity and self-actualization
- Enables writer to be seen and heard after years of feeling ignored, devalued and dismissed
- Allows writer to be a role model for others thinking about leaving and allows them to destigmatize the process of leaving/quitting and debunk myths (you just weren’t good enough, success can only be found with an academic job) surrounding it by making their experiences visible
- Functions as a public rejection of the Academy and a refusal to perpetuate its toxic practices: a public statement/critique/condemnation of the AIC
List 2: Why am I doing this?
- To give an account (and an explanation) of my academic life and to tell a story about why I left and what I’m doing for anyone who is interested (which hopefully includes family members and friends)
- To take my experiences seriously
- To confront the haunting questions that living and then leaving the academic life generated within me
- To do something creative and playful that resists and troubles academic rules
- To undiscipline myself
- To scavenge through my past, sorting out and keeping the bits (tools, ideas, methods, theories) that I found helpful, discarding the rest. And then, to use those helpful bits to experiment with new ways of teaching, learning and being a thinking, feeling, troublemaking, educating SELF
While there is some overlap, much of why I’m doing this project fits under “something else.” At least, I think it does.