Changing Campus Politics: Why Disgrace Might Be Preferable to Irrelevance
It occurs to me that perhaps I lost my teaching job in the nick of time. I was a white man who taught a very popular Women’s Studies course on a mostly non-white campus. That was edgy and admirable in 1998, and even in 2013. It would be unacceptable to the Awakened Spirit of 2021.
No one stays cool forever - and the gap between me and my students would have widened with time. Perhaps I’d have come under pressure to stay in my proverbial lane; my free-wheeling insistence that we are never defined by our sex or our race would have increasingly seemed offensively out of touch.
Losing my teaching job shattered me and plunged me into a life on the economic margins. I may never recover emotionally.
But. But. I left as a mostly well-liked teacher with many students who enjoyed my classes; perhaps my dismissal saved me from a slide into becoming a dottering and offensive anachronism. I lost my job because of my private ethical failings; my mastery in the classroom was still uncontested.
I know what aging does to most of us. And I see the national mood on college campuses. I would not have been able to adapt to the times; my laissez-faire liberalism would have gone from radically inspiring to repugnantly tone-deaf. I would have become Lear on the heath, muttering pathetically about thankless children. Better to be fired as a scoundrel than quietly forced out as a fool.
I left at the peak of my gifts and my relevance. Perhaps my fall was a blessing in disguise. It broke me, and I stay broken, but at least I know that my ideas and my pedagogy were never rejected. They would have been, had I stayed.
I jumped before I was pushed. And that lets me hate myself instead of others, and spares me the embarrassment of resenting my students for having changed. A gift indeed.