When I think about my current state of happiness, I contemplate the awfulness that I endured as a low-wage "visitor" and an assistant prof at a totally dysfunctional institution located in a cultural backwater. Many of my academic friends have less bitter attitudes about the profession, and I've been thinking about how their jobs differed than mine, and those of some of my other friends, who are not as happy. So, for shits and giggles, I decided to concoct an academic misery quiz, one that should tell you whether you should find a new job.
Each "A"answer is worth zero points, each "B" answer one point, each "C" answer two points, and each "D" answer five points.
1. Which best describes the kind of academic job that you currently have?
A. You possess the great golden ring of tenure.
B. A tenure track position with the tenure clock ticking away.
C. A "visitor" or lecturer position with limited appointment and substandard pay.
D. A temporary adjunct position with no security paid by the course.
2. How would you describe the students at your university?
A. They are self-motivated, mature adults with a love of learning.
B. They are smart yet entitled children of privilege who need some prodding.
C. They are middle of the road intellectually and see their classes with a mostly vocational understanding, i.e., "why do I have to take this class?"
D. They are barely literate and seem to have no clue whatsoever as to why they are in college in the first place. The few brain cells they have left after nightly games of beer pong are devoted to texting.
3. How would you describe the town where your university is located?
A. A world-class city brimming over with fine dining, cultural events, and like-minded individuals.
B. An idyllic college town with a relaxed atmosphere and lots of cultural amenities.
C. A non-college town, mid-sized city that's a little boring, but at least has all the stuff you need, and the occasional cultural event.
D. A backwoods 'burg lacking a decent sit-down restaurant where the locals actively resent the university community for making them look like the countrified rubes that they are.
4. What are the politics of your department like?
A. What politics? We all love each other and most of us are good friends.
B. There are minor disputes, and we aren't all that close, but mostly because we're too busy to fight.
C. The silverbacks and the young'uns clash from time to time, but mostly inside departmental and committee meetings. We all know the two people who hate each other's guts, but the rest of us stay out of that mess.
D. They make Renaissance Florence look like an eight year old girl's tea party. Long-held grudges, character assassination, and intentional sabotage are the norm.
5. How would you describe your chair?
A. A far-sighted leader who tirelessly strives to protect the best interests of the department.
B. A competent technocrat who gets the job done but lacks vision.
C. A well-meaning buffoon who mostly tries to avoid doing work.
D. A malicious control-freak who plays favorites and considers any alternative viewpoint to be treason.
6. What is your institution doing with assessment?
A. What's assessment?
B. Writing standard boilerplate to keep the accreditation people happy but little that faculty have to deal with.
C. There's lots of pointless meetings and discussion and it's a big annoyance, but profs are not really told what to do in the classroom.
D. Faculty have lost control over what material is taught in their courses and spend a great deal of their time filling out asinine forms and getting reprimanded for failing to follow hopelessly labrynthine policies to the letter.
7. What happens when you report a plagiarism case?
A. I have to hold back the chair and dean from nailing the student to a cross.
B. There's lots of paperwork and I am asked to give the student the benefit of the doubt, but if I want to punish a student, I am able to do it.
C. I am reluctant to push cases because I am usually asked to lessen my penalties.
D. The chair and other higher-ups immediately take the student's side, and get irritated with me for taking up their time.
8. How would you describe your university's priorities?
A. To achieve educational excellence and foster world-class scholarship.
B. To provide a quality education for its students and give some support to research.
C. Mostly football and manipulating the categories in the US News rankings.
D. To keep distracting outsiders from the fact that the place is a complete joke and ought to be shut down.
9. What's the financial outlook of your institution like?
A. We are a wealthy private school with a huge endowment that our regents swim in like Scrooge McDuck.
B. We have had to make some cutbacks in course offerings and travel budgets, but faculty have mostly been spared.
C. Our state government is run by anti-intellectual GOP blockheads who force us to make do with less with each passing year. There's less money for research and few raises, but our jobs are relatively safe.
D. We have a psychotic governor hell-bent on destroying whole programs and firing tenured professors with budget cuts/we are a poor private school running on a showstring budget always begging alumni for money which is only keeping us afloat for just one more year.
10. When you talk to your faculty friends outside of class, what sentence are you most likely to utter or hear?
A. "Wasn't the pinot grigio at the faculty reception last night delightful?"
B. "With the cutbacks it looks like I won't be able to get the library to order all of the books on my list."
C. "I don't know how they expect me to teach more students with these increased tenure and service requirements."
D. "If I can't get a job somewhere else this year I will end up dying of alcohol poisoning."
After tallying up your scores, look the misery index below:
0-10 points: Shangri-La
Congratulations, you are living the academic dream! The next time you think about complaining about your job, please do the rest of us a favor and shut the fuck up.
11-20 points: The Good Life
You have the right to the occasional gripe, but things are looking good. If you can avoid the tendency in this profession never to be satisfied, you'll have a happy and fulfilling time at your institution.
21-30 points: The Danger Zone
If don't absolutely love academic work with all of your heart and soul, it might be time to explore your options.
31-50 points: Soul-sucking Misery
Get the hell out while you are still young and relatively sane. If not you will end up like the senior colleagues you respect who always have looks of bemused sadness on their faces.