MLA: Teaching Lives, Real Academic Freedom

“Real Academic Freedom: The Privilege, if Not Always the Time, to Write What One Chooses”

Audrey A. Fisch
Professor of English
New Jersey City University

A career in academia initially provides little room for variation. Most academics today spend the first ten years or so of their careers grinding through graduate school and, if they are lucky, landing on the tenure track, where they expect to spend another six years in an attempt to demonstrate to their colleagues that they, and particularly their scholarship, are worthy of tenure. For many traditional scholars, research is an anxious venture, in which a scholar is often looking over her shoulder at where she and her work stand within the larger scholarly community. A non-tenured scholar, in particular, must focus much of her energy towards the expectations of her department, publishing certain amounts and kinds of material, often on very circumscribed subjects.

But for some of us, in institutions that focus on undergraduate teaching, those initial six years on the tenure track, and particularly the years that follow, are very different from those of our peers at research institutions and very different from what we may have anticipated when we engaged on an academic career. Our freedom from the pressures of academic research comes at a steep price – far fewer resources for research. But in exchange, many of us enjoy greater stability in our departments and universities and concomitantly greater flexibility and autonomy in research. I, and some of my peers on less traditional tracks, have come to appreciate other kinds of professional work, beyond traditional research and publications: writing that is different, satisfying, and often revivifying. My career has benefited from the unexpected privilege of opportunities to venture down both the traditional scholarly tracks and less traditional avenues, and I welcome the opportunity to share my experiences, particularly with younger peers who might be just embarking on a career at a teaching institution and wondering what it holds in store for them in terms of their research agendas and scholarly identities.

Audrey A. Fisch
Professor of English
New Jersey City University

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