I recently – and quite unintentionally – started a furor on the Chronicle of Higher Ed with a stupid little piece I wrote about post-tenure depression: http://chronicle.com/article/Ive-Got-Tenure-How/130490/. It’s laughable to me now, but before the piece came out, my biggest fear was that (a) my provost wouldn’t approve, and (b) my colleagues here at Alma would be angry for putting them in a bad light (which wasn’t my purpose, because by and large they are lovely people). I hoped they would understand that I was merely venting, and even trying to entertain readers a little bit, while addressing an apparently common phenomenon that took me by surprise.

I admit now to being a complete idiot for not knowing that the article would make a whole lot of adjunct faculty VERY angry, so angry that they would say all manner of mean things. The comments are sufficient evidence of this, but apparently that wasn’t enough for one man with a Ph.D. and a cat, who went to the trouble to look up my email address in order to send me this personal note:

“Regarding your essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education on the ‘psychic pain’ of attaining tenure, I have to say that although I am strongly tempted to write nothing more than ‘Cry us a f*&%ing river you lucky b#i$@h!’, I won’t. Knowing that my response is widely shared, it seems quite unfortunate that you would write an essay that would instantly make you the object of so much contempt.
But I will say that you should be ashamed of yourself.  Perhaps you are so ashamed, and that is the real source of your depression. Whatever the case may be, let me assure you that I–and many, MANY others–feel absolutely no empathy for your ‘suffering’.
Why don’t you instead focus on the inherent injustices of the academy and the tenure process itself? (I would love just to have the opportunity you enjoyed to waste the time of Chronicle readers with an essay!) You are genuinely ridiculous.
Most sincerely, [Depressed in Denver]”

I was in such shock when I received this that I actually thought I could be compassionate (yes, I teach religion and do actually try to adhere to principles taught by wise people like Jesus and the Buddha) toward a person who would waste his time looking up strangers and sending them hate mail. So I made the rookie mistake of replying. Not only that, but I naively replied thus: “Dear [Depressed in Denver]: I hope that made you feel somewhat better. Sincerely, Kate Blanchard.” In hindsight, I realize that I was AGAIN being a complete idiot, because the recipient of my compassion was obviously incapable of understanding anything other than his own anger and vitriol. So he sent me another personal note :

“Your sarcasm only serves to underscore what a really cruel and morally stupid person you are, Kate. But it also demonstrates–not that any more evidence was needed–that it is not the ‘best’ who get tenure (as many who have attained the status conceitedly imagine), just the luckiest. Sincerely, [Depressed in Denver]”

I didn’t know what to do with this attack so I did what any self-respecting victim does: put it on Facebook. And through the connections of compassionate FB friends, I learned (what I didn’t know because this was more or less my first experience writing an online piece) that the world is apparently full of such people – especially men- who get off on anonymously berating total strangers -especially women- online, or harassing them personally via email, rather than dealing with the obvious problems in their own actual lives. (See for example Kate Harding’s page: http://kateharding.info/2011/11/10/its-just-tiresome-damn-tiresome/.) I’m sorry to say that I am actually grateful that no one made rape threats against me.

So here I would just like to say to Depressed in Denver, I really am sorry that you are so unhappy with your career. I know it’s not fair that some of us get tenure-track jobs and others do not. I work with lots of adjuncts, and I regret every day that they don’t enjoy the same job security that I do. I feel damn lucky that I graduated in 2006 before the market crashed. I tell myself I’m stupid almost every day. I know that much smarter scholars than I don’t get jobs. I don’t think I’m better than you, at least as a scholar.

I do, however, think you might want to get some therapy for that anger of yours, because it’s bad for your health. It’s also dangerous. It’s possible that someday you’ll lash out at someone who is more vindictive than I, and she might decide to report you for harassment to the provosts or department chairs of the institutions that employ you as an adjunct, on whose web sites your name appears. Or you might go crazy and hurt someone, and the only job security you’ll ever have is behind bars. I sincerely – not sarcastically – hope that you will someday know the joy of depression that follows tenure.

I would also like to thank Philip Nel for his substantive critique, with which I agree entirely: http://www.philnel.com/2012/02/04/tenure/.

UPDATE: Here’s another article I enjoyed: http://perilsofdivorcedpauline.com/blogging-2/is-your-blog-stalked-by-trolls-heres-why/

AND THIS ONE TOO: http://chronicle.com/blogs/innovations/how-to-comment/32183

ANOTHER UPDATE: Someone actually cited me! http://limature.disseminary.org/?p=134&cpage=1#comment-4149. Apparently my claim to fame is now being a whiner over being one of the most privileged persons on the planet. A reporter from the Chronicle actually called me to hear MORE about why I am depressed. Yeesh.

ANOTHER UPDATE: The Bloggess writes about depression, and how it lies. Only someone who’s never been depressed wouldn’t get it: http://thebloggess.com/2012/05/it-comes-around-and-around/.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: I was interviewed and (mis)quoted (as “Ms.” “Kathyrn”) in this Chronicle article about unhappy associate professors. Yes, it’s great to be “known” for complaining: http://chronicle.com/article/Why-Are-Associate-Professors/132071/.