What is Academic English Like?

According to Douglas W. Texter, in a Chronicle article, Academic English Is Not a Club I Want to Join, it is full of angry female tenured professors and very few men who act like men (in the modernist sense of the term).

Much of how he described himself resonated with me, though I am three years early for Gen X and my parents were also Boomers, but non-traditional ones.

I saw the article because someone on Twitter pointed it out, annoyed with his discussion. “I forgot that what English departments really need is masculine, intellectual swashbuckling.”

But I think part of the annoyance may have resulted from his loose use of the term and a lack of understanding of his point.

I don’t relate to angry women, though I know some. Angry women aren’t great role models for me; I understand their positions, but don’t relate. Certainly I knew a lot about the academic world before entering it. My grandmother earned a BA from Berkeley back in the 1930s. She had two Master’s and was asked to recuse herself from the PhD application process because a man would need the position more. But my grandmother wasn’t angry. She kept learning and teaching and growing all her life. She is my role model.

I went to graduate school because I loved to study, wanted to teach, and thought that writing was something I could persuade my students was important for their lives. I didn’t go for equity, though I know many of those angry women are the reason I didn’t have to.

What Texter appears to me to have been looking for was someone who engaged with the culture as it exists now in ways that he thought were interesting. Both my previous and my present college have plenty of people in the departments who would have delighted Texter, had he had the privilege to meet them. Many academics, however, are wrapped up in the game and seem locked in an ivory tower just as isolated as Sleeping Beauty ever was, with thorns of their own creation. I think that is what he is talking about.

Some might say the article is a rationalization for his lack of success in the tenure-track positions, but I think that many brilliant scholars and great teachers are going begging for adjunct work these days. Does he really need a rationalization? I don’t think so.

Plus, he doesn’t just say what he wanted, he gave examples. He wanted people who had a wider audience in mind, people who weren’t focused on tenure, people who were interesting to him. Yes, he characterizes it as intellectual swashbuckling, but I would have LOVED to have had my grad classes be anywhere near as scintillating as the conversation among my Mensa-level brilliant friends on Dante’s Inferno at a restaurant. They weren’t, though. They were good, solid education but not invigorating and engaging. That’s what I think he was looking for.

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