February 04, 2005

Moments of Sanity, Part 1

(Introducing a new series which, for obvious reasons, will probably appear less frequently than “Modern Types.”)

In a certain university department, the recently tenured faculty held a meeting to discuss their new role and how they could help their juniors earn tenure. Those present included a married mother, a divorced mother, and a never–married man.

Someone uttered the observation that the three of them would soon have to concentrate on grinding out more papers and doing more administrative service to get promoted from associate professor to full.

But the divorced mother said, “I’m not going to go up for full professor. I’ve been working hard for forty–two years, and I’m not going to work like that anymore. On my tombstone it’s not going to say ‘Beloved Mother and Associate Professor.’ It’s going to say ‘Beloved Mother and Professor.’ They’re not going to carve the extra word.”

The divorced mother was a rising star in her field, one who had been a cinch for tenure from the moment of hiring and yet had worked harder than anyone to ensure—largely for her children’s sake—that she got it. She would doubtless be as serious in her renunciation of ambition as she had been in her pursuit of it—yet her quality was such that she would almost certainly be promoted just by staying around.

At her announcement, the never–married man rolled his eyes. But tears of gratitude came to the eyes of the married mother, and she thanked her colleague for inspiring her, too, to slave less.