Sunday, April 10, 2011
Delays and Academic Life
The past three days George Mason University has hosted the Southern Conference on Slavic Studies. What a glorious three days in which which we learned about the 20th anniversary celebrations of 1989 in Eastern Europe, the sublime Soviet director Andrey Tarkovsky, transnational Baptist communities moving between Moldova and the US, new forms of Russian grammar, the lives of Russian and Yugoslav dissident exiles in the US, and so on. The conference is mainly a venue for we professors to expand our own knowledge and train graduate students. Sunday is now devoted to class prep for Monday's classes. Then the week is full of lecturing, grading, guiding our students as they write their research papers and finish their theses, attending lectures by visiting professors, honoring our most successful students with their families in ceremonies, hosting visiting graduate students, evaluating grant proposals, applying for grants, writing and sending off articles -- two in my case -- to journals, evaluating articles for journals, writing letters of recommendation, talking about developing new research centers, generally running our departments, university, and professions, and, in a couple of weeks, graduating our students and sending them off into the world. Professors may appear absent minded -- the Post very ignorantly wrote that someone "looks like a college professor lulled into a kind of zen complacency by the anesthetic of tenure" -- but this is because we are multi-tasking madly. I have never seen a professor not racing around trying to keep up with an ever expanding number of tasks. Some tasks we take on because we have to, while others we take on because we love our research, we believe in our universities' missions, and we are dedicated to our students. We also spend much of our lives in multiple time periods and in far away places. I have spent the last year "living" in the 1920s in Berlin and Vienna, then moving around the 1970s in Budapest, Belgrade, and the US, when not teaching about Tanzania in the 19th century or the Philippines today. Completely overwhelming and utterly sublime work. Take-away point: my next posting will be a bit delayed.