What About the Alternative-Alternative-Academic Path?

alt routeIn my previous post, I discussed some of our readings this week which provided definitions for alternative academix.  Bethany Nowviskie‘s definition, spelled out in “#alt-ac: alternative academic careers for humanities scholars,” is probably the most commonly cited.  Alt-ac refers to, by Nowviskie’s definition, “alternative academic careers-particularly for positions within or around the academy but outside the ranks of the tenure-track teaching faculty.”  While I understand Nowviskie’s definition, and others’ addenda to it, I have a bit of a problem with the way that this debate is framed.

If the traditional academic path leads to a tenure-track job and an alternative academic job leads to the same world of academia, what does it mean if your story doesn’t fit in either of those molds?  But what happens if you divert from not only the tenure track path, but also the university/college system as a whole(intentionally or not)?

The reason I bring this up is because this story, the story of the alternative-alternative-academic path, is one that I have lived myself.  And, although it is a story that I have avoided telling publicly in the past, I think it’s important to think about stories like mine for a few different reasons.  First, the entire idea of alternative academix is predicated on the notion that everyone will stay in the higher education system.  And, in a way, the notion of alternative academix, while a useful tool to fight what Nowviskie has defined as profound “class divisions among faculty and staff in the academy,” purporting the idea that even the alternative path is only right if it stays on the well-trodden university path can, in my opinion, worsen “the suspicion and (worse) condescension with which ‘failed academics’ are sometimes met” with.

Building on this, the reason that I feel so strongly about this is because I walked the alternative-alternative-academic path and felt a lot of shame for veering from the appropriate pathways, although I did so unwillingly.  I told my story in a series of Tweets, which I have included below.

Like I said in my Tweets, I don’t know what the solution here is, but I do strongly believe that there is a problem.  If the notion of alt-act was developed to help those individuals who did not earn tenure-track jobs, but ended up working within the academy, doesn’t this reinforce a notion that the higher-education path is still the only valid path to tread?  Not all who wander are lost; and not all who wander are just alt-ac.

off the beaten path

This post is one of the requirements for South African History in a Digital Age, a graduate course in history which I am enrolled in this semester, drawing on the assigned readings for March 20th.

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