Muncie Jones, Indiana’s Sister, Gets Tenure at a 2-Year College

When my Gran’mommy and Gran’daddy Roane saw Raiders of the Lost Ark, in the theater when it came out in 1981 (I, personally, saw it eight times in the theater–paid for it eight times), they liked it, but Gran’mommy confessed to me they were a little confused about the nice college professor. Where did he go, they wondered.

When I explained the professor and the guy with the whip were one and the same, she said they’d wondered that, but they weren’t sure. She and I agreed that one of our favorite lines was when Indy asked the army guys, “Didn’t you guys ever go to Sunday School?”

Gran’mommy and Gran’daddy aren’t alone noting the gap between Professor Indiana Jones in the lecture hall (in tweed, leaving no time for questions, stumbling when a girl blinks and has LOVE YOU written on her eyelids) and Indiana Jones in scrape after scrape (in leather, with a whip, getting knocked out when Marian whacks him with a mirror).

Recently, McSweeny’s has posted an amusing bit called “Back From Yet Another Globetrotting Adventure, Indiana Jones Checks His Mail And Discovers That His Bid For Tenure Has Been Denied.”

This has made a couple rounds amongst my academic friends on Facebook, and it does amuse me, with criticism of Indy such as “In addition to multiple instances of public drunkenness, Dr. Jones, on three separate occasions, has attempted to set fire to the herpetology wing of the biology department,” and “he has consistently failed to report the results of his excavations, provide any credible evidence of attending the archaeological conferences he claims to attend, or produce a single published article in any peer-reviewed journal.” It concludes with “His aptitude as an instructor is questionable at best, his conduct while abroad is positively deplorable, and his behavior on campus is minimally better.” I started grad school in 1987, and I’ve been teaching full time on the tenure track since 1992, and I can absolutely assure you that yes, it’s possible for someone amazing not to get tenure. Thus I read some anger behind the satire here.

It is also possible for a tenure committee to absolutely not get the point, and it seems clear to me that clueless academic committees are a legitimate target for satire. (I also understand that this is just a funny piece, and I’m jealous I didn’t think of it. It is the kind of parallel world weirdness I particularly enjoy.)

It is also possible for a hotshot to be found wanting when it comes to the actual job requirements, also possible for a committee to ask for actual evidence of successful job performance, and–in not receiving the evidence, to vote no.

But honestly, my guess is Indy’s absolutely safe. He’s clearly teaching at a swanky institution (they have a museum, after all, and can fund his expeditions), and although the McSweeney piece discounts the influence of Marcus Brody, the museum curator, Marcus knows the real stories. Dr. Jones also has the respect of his peers internationally–Belloc knows who he is, after all. Now, if Marcus loses his position, that’s a different story. But until then, I think the graduate student assistants will happily take over his classes when he’s off on an adventure.

Part of what makes him so safe is that he doesn’t appear to care at all whether or not he continues to have a job as a professor.

I’ve always been a lot more bourgeois. I graduated from the University of Montana in 1991, and started working in the UW System that fall. It was very, very important to me to get a job right away, and I was obsessing about it in ways no one else I knew was. My friend M.B. said she was impressed (or did she say she thought I was ridiculous?) that I went out to buy an interview suit.

I do wonder sometimes if I’d have paid more attention to my muse if I hadn’t been so interested in launching myself into the middle class. What if I’d gone from fellowship to fellowship? From one part-time gig to another? But no–it was always, always important to me to have health insurance and a reliable car.

Thus I started at UW-Richland in 1992, got tenure in 1998, and got promoted to Full Professor in 2005, the same year Wendell was born.

I’ve had just enough marrow-deep satisfaction from teaching, just enough salary/benefits to live where I want and support my family, just enough autonomy, just enough wonderful people to work with, and just enough time for writing that I’ve stayed and stayed. And stayed.

I like to imagine Indiana Jones’s little sister. Let’s call her Muncie. She maybe could have been an adventurer, too, but perhaps longed for stability instead. So she got a job at a two-year school that can barely afford to send her to conferences, let alone South America. She doesn’t have teaching assistants, so she really needs to be there for every MWF class, every Tues/Thurs class, for fifteen weeks and finals, semester after semester, year after year.

Her time piles up like one wooden crate on top of another, row after row, aisle after aisle….

Well that’s fucking bleak.

My life’s not like that.

Really it’s not.

I have a little talk I share sometimes when there’s a campus preview day at UW-Richland, in which I mention Indiana Jones, and point out that we now know lecturing isn’t particularly effective in the classroom, and talk about the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. But I also mention that professors are expected to be professionally active, and that we do spend time adventuring as writers and researchers.

But just as Andy Bryan points out in the McSweeney piece, and as my Gran’mommy and Gran’daddy noted, it is pretty tricky to reconcile the tweed and the leather.

I have spent most of my career tending the tweed more. (A little sad for several reasons, including the fact that I don’t wear tweed.)

But I have spent just enough time dodging arrows to dive across a chasm and snag EXACTLY the right word for a slant rhyme that nails, absolutely NAILS, the closing couplet of a sonnet, that I know I’m not Muncie Jones.

7 responses to “Muncie Jones, Indiana’s Sister, Gets Tenure at a 2-Year College

  1. Muncie – good!

  2. Love this one! Have known a few atrocious professors who somehow managed to wrangle a tenured position and would hold it over their students’ heads that there was nothing they could do to get them fired, regardless of the circumstances. Have also known a few exceptional professors who were at the opposite end of that spectrum and clearly deserved tenure, but were denied for one bogus reason or other. Sometimes it all boils down to who places the most money in the correct pocket or brown noses the best at social functions. The ability to effectively teach and relate to their students has nothing to do with it in some cases. Like my late Daddy always said, “Money talks and bulls&*t walks!!!”

  3. “I do wonder sometimes if I’d have paid more attention to my muse if I hadn’t been so interested in launching myself into the middle class.” If I hadn’t known I was reading your blog, I would have sworn I’d written that. In 1994, I took what was the safer, stabler path, and that choice has had definite repercussions on my art.

  4. On so many levels, I am with you. Stability has trade offs. Being back on the tightrope is exciting, but not as much fun as it was before we had kids who depend on us…

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