andrea smith, “life after tenure denial”

excerpts from andrea smith, “life after tenure denial” (2013) in mentoring faculty of color, eds. dwayne mack et al.


“[A]s I continued along my academic career, I began to see the need to do more than develop individualized responses to the pressures of academia. It is not enough to survive the oppressive mechanisms of the academic industrial complex, it is important to develop collective strategies to dismantle these devices.” (195-96)

“Our jobs would be much easier if our problems were confined to individual racist and/or sexist departments and universities. We could just target them specifically. Unfortunately, however, our problem is not racism within universities; our problem is that the university is itself structured by the logics of white supremacy, colonialism and capitalism.” (197)

“Rather than view the university as a benign institution, it is more correctly understood as an ideological state apparatus designed to reify the settler colonialist, white supremacist and capitalist status quo. It is fundamentally a capitalist institution because it is premised on the assumption that education is a commodity that should be bought and sold on the academic market place. Consequently, not all peoples are entitled to quality education; only those who can afford it. However, the academy also functions as an ideological state apparatus; the academy must disavow its complicity in capitalism by claiming itself as a system based solely on meritocracy. That is, the students who advance do so, not because they have more resources, but because they are smarter. Similarly, those employed in the academic industrial complex advance because they are smarter than their colleagues. Even progressives within the academy tend to perpetuate this myth of meritocracy by their refusal to see academia as a game whose rules anyone can learn to play strategically.” (197)

“It is not sufficient to ask ourselves, how can we lead more balanced lives? Or, how can we balance a life of social justice activism with a job in academia? Rather, we must deconstruct the logic of the academic industrial complex to see how it has needlessly trapped us into thinking that we must choose between academia and having a life.” (198)

“The other consequence of the logics of meritocracy is not only do we doubt our academic self-worth when we are not included in the system, but we become gatekeepers when we are included. Academia works not just to exclude women of color, but also to selectively include them. Unfortunately, as Rey Chow notes, the assumption that the system is unfair when it excludes me tends to give rise to the assumption that if the system does include me, then it must be fair. In fact, the system is not fair when it includes or excludes. The system also selectively provides the veneer that it is fair. Those who then get included feel so honored by this inclusion that they become the gatekeepers for the institution because they feel invested in its fairness.” (199)

“The capitalist logics of the academic industrial complex compel us to engage the academy as individuals who need to prove their ‘merits.’ As Native studies scholar Glen Coulthard notes, our responses to conditions of oppression is often not to dismantle structures of oppression, but to seek recognition from those structures. Thus, we spend our energy trying to get the worth of our work recognized, or the work of gender studies, queer studies, ethnic studies, indigenous studies, etc., recognized as valuable by the academy. But we should be clear that our only real value to the academic industrial complex is to add what Elizabeth Povinelli describes as ‘social difference without social consequence.’ Our value is to provide a multicultural alibi to the white supremacy and capitalist logics of the academy. In the end, we will never really be legitimate in the academic industrial complex except insofar as to serve as gatekeepers to stop other women of color being in the academy.” (200-201)

“Thus, rather than seeking then ever-elusive recognition, our work conditions are much more likely to improve once we transform the current white supremacist, colonial, heteropatriarchal, and capitalist system itself. To do so, we must put tenure within the larger context of social justice struggle and engage in collective action in order to gain political power so that we can actually change the system.” (201)

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