Academic Gatekeeping 101: A Master Class – Post by Rebecca Schuman

[Update 4/2/18 8 PM Pacific:  The tenured scholar demanded a correction over on Rebecca Schuman’s blog about the nature of the journal referenced in this post, and requested I follow suit; the nature of this demand is spelled out by the scholar in a comment to this post below. Adjudicating the ins and outs of all of this is more than I have the time or inclination for, and, having turned this post over to Rebecca in the first place, I will continue in the original vein and post her correction text as well. I encourage anyone who wants to investigate any of the claims made here to knock yourselves out. Let me know if you have anything to add!

This is the correction written by Rebecca Schuman earlier this evening on her blog: One of the individuals portrayed (anonymously) in this post has requested that I issue a correction about the (spoiler alert) nature of the exchange at the bottom of the post, wherein I attest that this person, a senior scholar, offers a junior scholar a publication advantage based on that junior scholar’s obsequious behavior.

The senior scholar disputes the nature of this exchange, and I readily admit that I misunderstood the category of the publication in question to be a peer-reviewed journal when in fact it is not. (It is, however, still edited by academics, and publishes work of an academic nature; whether that work will bolster someone’s CV and in what way remain up for debate.)

While the more casual nature of the publication surely adds nuance to the situation, I still believe it illustrates the sort of exchange I witnessed in academia on a regular basis, where networking (often involving various degrees of sucking up) results in a leg up on the publication process. I myself benefitted from this at the MLA convention of 2011, wherein the editor of a prominent German journal liked the cut of my jib (and/or the cut of my dress) and solicited a publication, which was later accepted. At any rate, I apologize for the original inaccuracy of that aspect of the post, but I still believe the exchange in question to be a master class in gatekeeping. In addition, the scholar in question also requests that I include the original Tweet that started the whole ruckus; I have not, but Karen Kelsky has at over at her blog, where this post is republished. 

You can learn more about this individual’s concerns in the comment she has included below this post, which I have left intact.

As always, thanks for reading, and thanks for bearing with me while *I* hold a master class in what it looks like to receive professional criticism professionally, and issue corrections in a correspondingly professional manner. Ahem.]

A thing happened on Twitter yesterday (yes, on Easter), that was painful and sad and confirmed every one of your worst fears about the smug indifference of the tenured to the collapse of the academic labor market and the suffering of its victims.  It begins with this smart tweet by Lili Loofbourow (@millicentsomer):

Which brought  — why? — the ire of an petulant academic quote-unquote radical who feels the youngsters have gotten way too uppity and need to shut up and take what they are given.

Rebecca Schuman (@pankisseskafka; author of the memoir Schadenfreude: A Love Story) wrote a post about this dustup today on her own blog (that has since been taken down as Rebecca decided to retire that site in order to declare independence from the world of academic snark), and I have her permission to re-post it here.

Read it and weep.

It’s the whitest thing to happen on academic Twitter this week.

Anyway, Rebecca feels that it’s important for you all, our collective readers, not to run over to Twitter and pile on the Kool Aid-addled junior folks who figure into this sad tale.  I opined that it’s not our job to dictate the behavior of our readers.  But in any case, she is nicer than I am and she asked, so I’m obliging: she would prefer you not do a Twitter pile-on.  The story is of course still unfolding. One of the junior-stans is objecting to his characterization, naturally.

Because this is what it is, and we are who we are, I’m putting this post up in place of #MakeupMonday this week.

Academic Gatekeeping 101: A Master Class – Post by Rebecca Schuman

*cracks knuckles*

*dusts off blog*

Oh hey, what’s up. So. For those of you SchuFriends who have nothing better to do than follow me on Twitter (where you go during the few breaks you take from reading my book, of which you have of course purchased multiple copies in affordable paperback), you might have noticed yesterday that I had a “thread,” as the children call them, that picked up a little steam. Going Twitter-viral makes me feel so dirty, because I get nothing out of it. Twitter gets a lot out of it, though. Anyway. During the course of the kerfuffle, which I’ll explain a bit below, I noticed something that was remarkably telling about certain academic hierarchical movements and structures, and I wanted to share it with you, my eight readers, off Twitter.

So, I will be describing this situation without naming anyone or linking to anyone’s Twitter. This is for two reasons, the first being that why should Twitter get even more money from the collective pain of struggling academics? And the second being that the critique I have to make involves a couple of junior scholars and “calling them out” directly would be punching down, which I do not wish to do and do not wish for any of you to do.

That said, you are all smart people and you will be able to figure out exactly what I’m talking about with one cursory skim you-know-where, and if you do, I implore you: Please do not descend on anyone’s mentions in a dogpile. At no time in the history of Twitter has someone been on the receiving end of a dogpile and thought: Hey, these people virtually punching me in the face have a point, I’m going to change my ways. This is true even if everyone does have a point, and the individual in question does need to change their ways. Getting dogpiled on Twitter just makes you dig in harder. Just a word of warning.

OK, so, here’s what happened. A few days before Easter (aka the Weekend I Took My Daughter to Chicago On a Train Alone, like a Genius), a smart young journalist wrote a viral Tweet about 1-year VAP positions, specifically asking those institutions who advertise them to be mindful of the profound sacrifices they require. That is all. All she said was: “Hey, don’t act like you’re doing anyone a favor, because you’re not.” This is categorically true, and anyone who disagrees is a dick. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Over a thousand people agreed with this journalist, including myself, and this missive got many “retweets,” as the children call them. As such, it garnered the attention of an outspoken senior scholar in the historical disciplines whose outspokenness has targeted under- and unemployed junior scholars on multiple previous occasions.

This individual jumped into the journalist’s mentions with a few smug comments, one of which was, and I’m going to quote directly so as not to be accused of making up context:

Explain: one year jobs have been around for over fifty years. Practically everyone I know started their career in one. What is the big deal? What forces someone on the East Coast to apply to a 1-year job in LA that they don’t want? The harm in this case seems entirely invented.

Another one was:

Just pack a couple suitcases and get a sublet for heavens sake. There has been no time in the history of academia when jobs have been created around the corner so no one has to move.

That was the one I felt, for some reason, like I needed to get my panties in a bunch about. So I did. My panties, they were bunched. I employed the Twitter “power move” (questionable, in my case), of the “quote Tweet” with some commentary—even though to be honest at this point this was, itself, probably an act of punching down since (although I am an unemployed scholar and this individual is a senior scholar) I have more published monographs, and people like me better, burrrrrrn.

I guess because of the holiday of whatever, a lot of other people saw the “thread” and got their panties similarly bunched, and many mentions were descended upon and a thing ensued.

NOW this was all just background. Are you ready? Good, because I have real work to do and I should not be blogging.

Okay. So, the senior scholar in question gets very testy on the Twitter when she is criticized, and her ratio (that is the number of critical comments vs. the number of positive RTs or “likes”) was not looking good, and so, like many of us would in this situation, she RT’d, or “retweeted,” a stan, or a “stoogy fan” (that’s not actually what stan stands for, it comes from “stalker fan” and I *think* it originated in an Eminem song but don’t @ me because I’m not sure).

Anyway, nowadays the term “stan” is used for anyone who transparently comes to the defense of (or “stans for”) someone, “celebrity” or no, and this senior scholar RT’d a stan who, again, I will quote directly so that I don’t take anything out of context, but will neither link or name, because I am trying to be a better human being. The stan in question is a tenure-track junior professor in the same discipline as the senior scholar, and here’s what he had to say:

re: today’s academic Twitter war, I’m very much in agreement w/ [SENIOR SCHOLAR]. Maybe a dept offering a low-paying 1 yr VAP w/o moving exp. could barely get even that from admin, & expects regional applicants though they have 2 advertise nationally

OK, so, I don’t want to adjudicate this too much, but since this individual’s Twitter bio says he likes “logic and precision,” I will point out that this argument is illogical and imprecise, since the original journalist’s critique was not about disingenuously-advertised locals-only postings at all, but rather about the vast majority of VAPs, which do aim for a national reach, and for which people do very often have to uproot their lives and move.

So this is a red-herring argument that means nothing and adds nothing to the conversation, other than to say “Hey, I am stanning for this person.” Great. I’m very proud of you. Good stan. (Downthread there is a very interesting argument about how ‘gauche’ it is to ask if someone assumes caregiving responsibilities for one’s own children, which is only ‘gauche’ if you come from the academic-male-centered world where talking about things like caregiving responsibilities is considered taboo and icky, but this is neither here nor there.)

NOW. Here’s where it gets interesting. The senior scholar’s stan also has a stan, who jumps into his mentions to vouch for his character. OK. No prob. I get it. Defend your friends. I don’t think the senior scholar’s stan is a bad person, nor is this other stan, and although I disagree with their stanning choices, I support their right to make them, and to have friends.

BUT THEN. The original senior scholar jumps back into the stan-a-thon and compliments the stan’s stan’s handle.

AND THEN. The stan’s stan gushes all over the senior scholar and invites her to peep their profile and CV.








This has been your morning’s master class in Academic Gatekeeping 101.

Please be civil with this information, now that you have it.

Good day.

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Academic Gatekeeping 101: A Master Class – Post by Rebecca Schuman — 8 Comments

  1. This whole event is so disturbing, and the obvious glee with which this radical person punches down is even more so – it is beyond journeyman bullying, crossing the line into cruelty regularly and seemingly with joy. The solicitation to publish, presented the way it was, is a perfect crystallization of their corruption, being so invested in the myth of their own “exceptionalism.” I guess kudos to the radical one for saying out loud with so many tenured faculty have internalized. The rhetoric certainly helped the writing on the wall come into focus for me.

    • Dear Katherine:

      Please read below. I really have no idea who you are writing about, but it isn’t me. And you shouldn’t believe everything you read on the Internet.

      best wishes,


      • Um I know exactly who and *what* I am writing about. THANKS, though (that’s ironic, in case you are wondering). While you may have tenure, that doesn’t mean you get to determine what is real and what is not, even on twitter! Your behavior was there for all to see, read, and ponder. And WOW was it ugly. Think about that, while you block willy-nilly.

        • What was said about the solicitation to publish, the person to whom the offer was made, and the journal itself was not true. Because of this, regardless of what you think of me, the premise of the article and your comment that “The solicitation to publish, presented the way it was, is a perfect crystallization of their corruption, being so invested in the myth of their own ‘exceptionalism'” — in addition to being incoherent — was false, and based entirely on Rebecca’s speculations about things she did not check out and should have. Basic facticity, regardless of what you think of my tone, should be a standard for writing, particularly when making public charges about a person’s character, as you, Schuman and Kelsky have done. Rebecca has said on Twitter that she will consider a more substantive correction when she has a break from childcare.

          Please read the comment below. And I do not block willy-nilly. I block strategically and with deliberation. And honestly? It’s *my* feed. I can curate it any way I like. I don’t know why you would want to read it anyway.

          I do not think any of you came off so well either, but as we used to say in the old blogosphere, MOO.

          • OK, Tenured Radical. Whatever you say. All better now? Am I respecting the hierarchy? BTW, typically, academics are pretty good at critical analysis of written sources. Go figure! Even Twitter. So I say, again, I am very clear on what is real and what is not, regardless of your input on the matter. I have YOUR words to guide me there, handily enough – you did write them, no? You can go bask in your glowing reputation as a standup academic, one to be looked up to and admired.

          • Dear god. I can’t reply to your reply, and wouldn’t anyway, but I thought this kind of blog commenting was over. I hope you feel better soon. Good luck.

  2. Dear Karen: Since we are reposting, I will repost the complain to and correction I made over at Rebecca’s blog:

    “Dear Rebecca: I wondered what happened to you. I should have known. Now, a complaint and a correction.

    The complaint is that you started quoting in the middle of the exchange. You should have quoted the original post, and my original d!ckish response, because otherwise it is utterly mysterious why anyone would say these these things. And maybe people might decide for themselves whether I was a d!ck or not. Instead you massaged it. OK, your blog, your rules.

    But the correction is important. You should have looked Public Seminar up and since you didn’t your gatekeeping argument is wrong (at least, as it is currently configured). PS is not a refereed publication, nor is it mine. It is a scholarly publication written for a general audience, with an open submissions portal for pitches. I am the executive editor, and we have a staff of 12 graduate student editors and upwards of 20 faculty editors who run their own verticals, so they decide what they want to publish — and actually most of the decisions are made by the graduate students.

    And before you get upset about exploitation: the grad students make between 5K and 15K a year, depending on how many hours they can give us, over and above their regular stipends. We pay grad students, the unemployed, and contingent faculty $200 an article. We are trying to raise money for FTF who write, but currently the bulk of our budget goes to the people who need it most.

    I invite people to write for PS all the time — when I see a Twitter profile that interests me, or a person who is writing in an area that I need a piece, I ask them to write — and in the case of the so-called “stan” I looked at her profile and she was a grad student who is a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, who is currently quadriplegic. She is using her benefits to go to graduate school, and I thought it must be harder for her to find places on the web to publish, as she has to use voice-activated software, which is slow and inaccurate.

    Public Seminar would be pleased to receive pitches from you and your readers.”

    Karen, the invitation to contribute to Public Seminar also extends to you and *your* readers. But we do fact check, as well as edit.

    Best regards,


    • The two big take-aways for me (current grad student) from this exchange are: 1) Academics can be as cruel and/or patronizing as anyone in the ‘real’world, and 2) Completely aside from the topic under consideration, it is pretty shitty to nonchalantly make public that your invitation to junior scholar was based on paternalistic pity. Ouch.

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