If anyone cares, you can find me over at “This, too, is joy.” Hope to see you there! kdb

This is an excellent article by Sarah Sentilles. I have nothing to add; I just put it here so I can find it later when I want it:

“The Pen is Mightier”


I also enjoyed her memoir.

Dear reader, if you believe a tenured professor has no right to complain about anything, ever, you will spare yourself much vexation by not reading any further. For those of you who are still there, this is a rant about money.

I recently received a contract for the coming academic year, which reflected a 2% cost of living increase over this year’s salary (better than the 0% we’ve gotten in the recent past), plus a $1500 raise for being promoted to associate professor. Altogether, my new base salary is about $52,000, not including benefits. Not bad, right? Everyone should have my problems! Let me say here and now that, unlike Ann Romney, I do consider myself wealthy [http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-505245_162-57391392/ann-romney-i-dont-even-consider-myself-wealthy/]. But this rant is not about my relative position in the universe, which I’d say is excellent; it’s about my status relative to others who work on my floor.

I can maintain equanimity when I see that my base pay is a full $20K less than the nationwide average for female associate professors in private undergraduate institutions, which was $72,913 in 2011, according to the AAUP’s annual salary report [http://www.aaup.org/AAUP/comm/rep/Z/ecstatreport10-11/]. (The average male associate earned $74,539, so it’s good to know that academe’s gender gap is keeping up.) Some of those people live in Los Angeles or Chicago or New York; others work at fancy schools with giant endowments and lots of wealthy, full-tuition-paying students; and a few of them may even be famous authors, or be curing cancer, or advising the president on Middle East peace. Considering where I teach and what I have to offer, my salary fits pretty well. I now officially earn more than half of the people in my county, the median income of which is $52,000.

What makes it difficult to be entirely cheerful about this is the fact that the average assistant professor at my own institution earned a base salary two years ago of about $1500 more than my future associate salary. Moreover, the average associate professor’s pay at my own institution is upwards of $60,000, a number that – assuming an annual cost of living increase of 2% for six years (since my institution does not offer any merit pay) – I will not be able to reach, no matter how hard I work, before applying for promotion to full professor, at which point I can look forward to earning about $3000 less than the average associate professor at my institution. Now an average is just an average, and it can tell only so much of the story. Knowing the median and the distribution might make AAUP’s information more useful. But even so, it irks.

I accept that governments, taxpayers, and even most of my students and their parents don’t attribute much monetary value to my work. The media tell us every day that most professors are lazy and/or overpaid. I accept that I don’t earn what financiers, surgeons, CEO’s, senators, plumbers, or advertisers earn. Their mistakes come at a very high cost, whereas my mistakes are mostly negligible (unless you count the left-wing indoctrination that Barack Obama and I have conspired to commit) [http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2012/02/25/santorum-his-romney-as-michigan-campaign-heats-up/]. I accept that I am currently, as an assistant professor, paid below the average among assistant professors at my school, because someone has to be below average. This makes sense simply because of numbers: there are a hundred Ph.D.’s applying for some jobs here, while there are very few applicants for others. Moreover, people in some fields could earn much more in industry than in academe. At hiring time, the college has little choice but to offer incoming faculty a wage that will get them to take the job; paying some of us more than others is a simple survival technique. Most people in highly competitive job markets, even if they are the cream of the crop, will take any salary they can get, and administrators know it. (And for the record, this is not strictly a Lilly Ledbetter issue; at least one of my male colleagues is also not getting “equal pay for equal work.”)

What is hard to accept is the idea that my work as an associate professor is worth less to my institution, on average, than the work of my assistant colleagues who teach the same number of courses I do, sit on the same committees I do, and get the same summers “off” that I do. But that is precisely what these numbers say. Or perhaps the numbers are saying that folks like me shouldn’t worry about money; we should teach simply out of love of the subject (or students, or mission), taking the rest of our compensation in thank-you notes and good vibes. But my higher-paid, lower-ranked colleagues also supposedly love their subjects, students, and mission, so why are they allowed to do it for the money? That seems unjust, as well as counter-productive in the long run.

In Economics for Humans [http://www.amazon.com/Economics-Humans-Julie-Nelson/dp/0226572021/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1331072018&sr=8-2], economist Julie Nelson argues against a mindset that falsely pits “love-versus-money.”  Unequal pay is not a natural law that colleges must mindlessly obey; as Nelson writes, “money these days is entirely a social creation!” In so far as payments are a way to acknowledge someone’s goals and desires, as well as her accomplishments and contributions, “they reinforce and magnify the worker’s interior motivations and satisfaction.” But in cases where money payments signal a devaluation of a particular worker, they can be very deflating and create disincentives to future excellence.

Yes, higher education needs to pay attention to basic business principles. We must balance budgets and be conscious of economic forces like supply and demand. But when an institution of higher education ceases to differentiate itself from the for-profit world, when it becomes just another business that exploits conditions in the labor market (hello, contingent faculty!), we’ve lost something. It is the job of higher education to create the demand for the “product” we’re offering, to show people that what we do is unique and worth paying for. Perhaps this is a hard lesson that I, myself, must learn: if I can’t convince even my own administration that what I do is indispensable, then perhaps it really isn’t.

UPDATE: After sending a much shorter and more diplomatic version of this concern to my provost and president, they have decided to change the college’s policy on paying associate professors. There is now a minimum salary of $55,500 for associate professors (of which I will receive half next year while on sabbatical). So the good news is, institutional change can happen if people are willing to speak up and if administrators are willing to listen. Thanks, bosses!

This was an interesting article in Salon: http://www.salon.com/2012/03/14/what_came_before_the_hunger_games/singleton/.

The funny thing to me is that people feel the need to “accuse” Suzanne Collins of plagiarism. That seems a bit like “accusing” J.K. Rowling of plagiarizing Lord of the Rings, or “accusing” the authors of Genesis of plagiarizing The Epic of Gilgamesh.

As I see it, there really is nothing new under the sun – there are only retellings and revisions of old stuff, some of it well done, some of it quite lame and boring. Whatever her influences (and apparently she admits to having many of them), Suzanne Collins is a great storyteller and The Hunger Games is a great read. Why would anyone – other than frustrated authors who wish they’d thought of it first – begrudge her that?


I like what Stanley Fish had to say today in the New York Times, about Rick Santorum’s understanding of religion in American politics: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/03/05/rick-santorum-isnt-crazy/?nl=opinion&emc=edit_ty_20120306.

I tried to say as much myself a few months ago, but as I am no Stanley Fish, my piece only made it as far as the Alma College magazine, Accents: http://www.alma.edu/alumni/accents/archives. Here’s what it said:


When American pastors burn Qurans or politicians denounce the presence of Islam inU.S.politics, they appeal superficially to our tradition of separating church (or mosque) and state. But scratching the surface of their rhetoric exposes a hypocritical double standard. Beliefs, especially “Judeo-Christianity” and secular humanism, have always shaped and continue to shape our nation’s politics.

The First Amendment to the Constitution, while prohibiting the establishment of any particular religion, does not exclude belief from public debate. Americans sometimes balk when religion is “used for political purposes,” but such complaints assume that belief is essentially inward, belonging only in the private sphere. They may also assume that the “true essence” of religion is some abstract belief in love, peace, and harmony, all of which are taken to be utterly irrelevant to the real world. By this logic, acts of violent extremism or nonviolent protest can only wrongly be called “religious.”

But such an understanding does not hold up in light ofU.S.history, where religious worldviews have always intersected public interests. Belief, namely deism, factored into the colonies’ decision to part fromEngland. Christians fought the Civil War over religious beliefs about the personhood of slaves. Martin Luther King, Jr. led a political movement for civil rights that was unabashedly faith-based. American troops were sent toVietnamto fight atheist communism. In none of these cases was religion wrongly “politicized”; rather, each case demonstrates that beliefs always have political corollaries. (Indeed, one wonders whether belief with no concrete effects can properly be called “belief.”)

Even when theological understandings about the way the world works are not made explicit, they can be found by reading between the lines of policy recommendations. Does my god want humans to care for one another? Then we should raise taxes to pay for things like public education and health care. Does my god want individuals to exercise free will and take care of themselves? Then we should do away with all public safety nets. Is there no god at all? Then science will show us the way.

This should not surprise us. Humans are highly social beings who carry our beliefs wherever we go – the board room as well as the bedroom; the PTO meeting as well as the family dinner table; the voting booth as well as the couch from which we shout at the TV. Since both religion and politics deal with people, both religion and politics cut across every aspect of human life – where we live; how we earn, spend, or donate money; whether we recycle; what we eat and with whom; whether and how we marry and rear children; how we treat our aging parents; and so on. Americans should not pretend that some of us are able to cordon off our “private” beliefs from politics while others of us cannot. Nor should we take our own beliefs to be politically “neutral” and therefore acceptable in politics, while seeing others’ beliefs as wrongly applied to the public sphere.

Our debates would undoubtedly make more sense if we openly addressed the elephant in the room (or the Ganesha, as the case may be). If personal belief is an inevitable piece of all policy debate, then we cannot exclude the beliefs of Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Mormons, atheists, or for that matter Scientologists, simply because they are “religious.” But by the same token, Christian belief does not deserve special privileges simply because it is dominant. Americans can enthusiastically affirm the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment while still acknowledging that private belief and public practice are two sides of the same coin.

A couple of months ago I wrote this little piece on the “spiritual but not religious” phenomenon, in response to a piece by Lilian Daniel. I’m putting it here because, well, it’s my blog.


UPDATE: Here’s a related blog post that I really liked by Jana Bennett. http://theologyphdmom.blogspot.com/2012/04/spirituality-versus-religion-or-maybe.html?showComment=1334612173197#c8209675322442615310

ANOTHER UPDATE: I posted a related piece on RD about branding myself a “heretic” (rather than “atheist” or some of the other options available.) http://www.religiondispatches.org/archive/atheologies/5941/coming_out_as_a_heretic/. Then someone wrote a response to my piece, encouraging me to reclaim the word “atheist” (although I really don’t think that describes me – just because I don’t believe in a personal “God the Father” as such doesn’t mean I think there is no god whatsoever): http://www.religiondispatches.org/archive/atheologies/6005/%E2%80%98heretics%E2%80%99_or_%E2%80%98atheists%E2%80%99_a_response/.


Democrats and moderates who care about winning elections should start reading their Bibles, if only to find out how little evangelical conservatives actually care about it.

Surrounding the scripture-saturated Republican primaries, evangelical commentators a few weeks ago were making much of Newt Gingrich’s similarity to King David. Just like David, so the narrative goes, Newt had an affair, he confessed, married the other woman, and was forgiven by God; that means Christian voters can forgive him too. It’s a convenient parallel, but it works only through selective reading of the biblical narrative. We must assume Newt is himself ignorant of the story, or he might be out front begging people to stop making the comparison.

To begin with, David – a polygamist and God’s anointed messiah of a small, West Asian nation circa 1000 BCE – was accused not of having an affair, but of raping and impregnating one of his subjects while her husband was at war and he, David, was at home peeping at naked women. (It must be noted that rape in this primitive time was legally an offense not against Bathsheba, as 21st-century folks might think of it, but rather against her male guardian – in this case her husband. Thus, it might not have been so bad for David if she hadn’t gotten pregnant.) After a failed, Three’s Company-worthy attempt to get her husband home to have sex with his wife, David subsequently has him killed in order to avoid the unseemly scandal of a cowardly king defiling the wife of a war hero. He takes Bathsheba as his own wife, and would have gotten away with it if not for God’s pesky prophet who showed him the error of his ways.

He sinned, he confessed, he was forgiven. Right? Not really.

As it turns out, the God of the Hebrew Bible is much less forgiving than 40% of the South Carolina Republican electorate. For starters, God kills the baby born of David’s rape of Bathsheba. But even after that, a curse of violence remains over David’s family. His son Amnon, following in his daddy’s footsteps, rapes his half-sister Tamar. Tamar’s brother Absalom then murders his half-brother Amnon; Absalom later conspires to overthrow David and is killed by David’s men. While David is on his deathbed (with a beautiful virgin to keep him warm), he declares that Bathsheba’s son Solomon will succeed him on the throne, but the intra-familial bloodshed continues into the next generation.

Even if the comparison is somewhat ill-chosen, it is not “wrong” for commentators to compare Newt to a religious figure. It would be foolish for anyone with historical consciousness to expect to keep religious rhetoric out of the American political scene. Politicians are people, voters are people, and people’s beliefs and practices – religious or otherwise – cannot be tidily separated from our personal associations, economic behaviors, or understandings of policy. But precisely because there is no way to keep religion completely out of the discussion, we would do well to analyze its use more closely, to be more critical in our readings of narrative and metaphor.

What we can learn from the recent deployment of the David story is that people who support political candidates with “the Bible” are not concerned with critical reading, thoughtful analysis, or even biblical literacy. Apart from disliking homosexuals and people who ask taxpayers to help support their children, they do not even really care about sexual purity or family values. Their primary interest is simply in seeing Newt win.

It might have worked, if not for that pesky Rick Santorum…