It is a decision, but it doesn’t feel that way. It is not something that I decide; it is already decided, predetermined. I had decided it years prior. The path that collapses reality into the world of academia, a strange space defined by abstractions and possible conversations conducted in pages and imagined encounters with poets, theorists and revolutionaries.
It is also a space of contradiction and impossible regulation, where purpose and vision contradict one another hopelessly. Critical and creative thought encourages possibility, experimentation, and depends upon a fluid society and culture – one which is not only able to change but that is thrilled by the prospect of it.
My experience in college administration could not have been further from these ideals. Contrary to the very foundation of higher education, administration relies heavily on regime and regulation, a fixed set of points and guidelines to measure, define and otherwise contain the learning process. Containment, the ability to add and subtract as needed, to define and categorize a thousand different variables that are seemingly impossible to contain – individual choice, social and cultural influence, etc.
I turned away from higher education following my brief employment as assistant director of extended studies at Western State College (or University, whichever they have decided). I was thoroughly repulsed by the process of it, mindless and near frantic in its intense focus and delicate refusal to accept or acknowledge their own contradictions. As they professed growth and emphasized their commitment to student development, they stripped funding from important education and financial assistant programs to pay for an ever expanding group of administrators and trustees whose sole purpose was to make money, save money and find ways to pretend that this process worked in the favor of the student body. Many of the individuals I worked with had practiced this art for decades and were exceptional in terms of their criticism of this process and denial of their own involvement.
Buildings were build, money was spent, money was taken, tuition rose as services to students and quality of education collapsed within a smoke screen of endless mirrors and circular reasoning that lead those searching for answers back to further rhetoric and impossible questions.
I canceled more classes than I established. I stole (yes that is the word) stole money from students and their parents on a daily basis, encouraging them to enroll in meaningless classes that would inspire nothing more than debt and an elevated and unsubstantiated sense of self worth.
A piece of paper is expensive these days.
This was not the higher education that I had sought, since my youth, to become a part of. That is, I viewed education as a thrilling adventure, a source of ceaseless inspiration that filled my shelves with ideas and imagined happenings, endless fictions and theories that resurrected the past and crafted alternative futures, a shared consciousness defined by possibility – the future tense: what could be, not what is.
There were contradictions. There were uncertainties. But there was hope, a celebration, however brief, of individual worth and self, defined in relation to others and shaped by an unwavering belief in the power and vision of education. There were still teachers. Not professors. Teachers – those individuals still empowered and driven by the thrill of a spark, the ability to influence and inspire a new consciousness through conversation, question and exploration within.
As a teacher, I found meaning and worth; I rediscovered passion and promise. I was also thorough disgusted by the experiences of my students, the walls that were placed in front of their learning, the active and purposeful manipulation of their desire to learn in order to satisfy the hungry pockets of a corporate mentality. The irony of it all! The pressure. I bent. I felt as though I could be of more use from the inside, that I could be more effective at creating change within the system to inspire further learning.
How wrong I was.
And now, after leaving, after that movement from academia and back out into the world, it’s time to return. It’s time to bring the world back with me, to infect the halls and committee rooms, the lecture halls and smoking gardens with engaged possibility, a poetic revolution so described by Kristeva. Significance, deconstruction and shattering – that brilliant schitzophrenia of language that creates and fractures pre-established narrative lines and regulations.
I miss the fight.I miss the trial and the frustration. I miss the struggle and the endless hope that spurns it forward despite all the research, charts and forecasting. I want it back. I need it.
I can only define myself in contradiction, it seems. The friction and tension created as I battle against the internal manifestations of an external culture whose values conflict with those I have sworn to teach. It is only when running, racing to capture the words to express the rage, the discontent, the inevitable promise of change yet to come, that I find myself to be fluid, that I realize my life to be one of intense meaning – a story still in the process of being written.
I’m going back. PhD. The last minute GRE prep, the hastily written letters of recommendation, the frantic revisions of incomplete research projects still aspiring to find their bodies among a boulder field of abstract quotes and inspired utterings. The re-entry, the re-discovery of a journey abandoned for more solid things, less conflicted things, more possible things, less impossible things.
But it is thrilling, dwelling in impossible abstractions.
I think it is time for something exceptional, a twist in the road that bends sharply and refuses to relent.
Of course there are difficulties and reservations, but I believe in impossible things and what could be more powerful than the realization of some path, some nearly forgotten trail stumbled upon and followed through the thick and into a shoreline and the horizon beyond it.
Applications are ongoing for PhD in Literary Theory and Writing programs at:
1. University of Colorado
2. University of Denver
3. University of Utah
5. University of Illinois, Chicago