I recall reading Randall Robinson’s book, “Quitting America” that described his disgust with American racism and policies of disenfranchisement for African Americans and the poor. Robinson’s frustration with a land he says, “sapped his creative energies and transfigured humanity,” made him decide to move to his wife’s birthplace, St. Kitts. Right about now I am feeling Randall Robinson. No, I’m not moving out of the country but the increasingly hostile and undemocratic policies being promulgated in higher education (and in my state in particular) have me making serious plans to “fly the coop.” I do not think I am alone in these sentiments and I believe my feelings are especially acute among Black academics.
Don’t get me wrong. Life in the academy is a darn sight easier than a million other jobs that most Black people have to do. The salary is decent. They workplace is semi-autonomous, and the work itself can be deeply satisfying. That is, until now. I have never had illusions about academic life having been a part of it for almost 3 decades. I recognized that there are all kinds of plantations and all kinds of masters. But, in the end one had to ask oneself, “Which plantation can I survive on? Which offers the least amount of stress?” But, they are ALL plantations!
I have been able to have a reasonably good life on the campus I settled on. My career has flourished. I have made more money (with the combination of salary, grants, royalties, and speaking engagements) than anyone in my family ever thought possible. And, as the child of Depression Era parents I have saved and invested wisely. I may drive a luxury car but it is an 11-year old luxury car that I intend to drive for 9 more years! I have what some people call “F-u money” in the bank…meaning I could walk away today and not miss a paycheck for over a year! I’m a conservative investor whose portfolio has come all the way back since the 2008 crash and then some. But what is going on in my state and on my campus makes me think that there will be an exodus and Black academics will be among the first to go.
Let’s be clear. Most research-intensive institutions court us not because they love us. They seek us out because we tend to be productive, draw a diverse group of students, and make THEM look good. It is a classic Critical Race Theory “Interest Convergence!”
My academic stock is fairly high. At this moment I am sitting on 3 open invitations from private, high prestige universities. I can go TODAY! And, I am certain (without bragging) that if word got out I was looking, a number of other invitations would roll in. I’ve stayed put because despite the world’s worst weather and the overwhelming Whiteness that envelopes me, I have been able to mentor and support some brilliant young people (of all races, ethnicities, and nationalities) while simultaneously building an excellent scholarly record. The academic atmosphere here has been bar none. But that is about to change!
Our current state legislature, governor, and now board of regents have decided that it’s not enough to slash our budgets and freeze our wages. Now they are set on destroying what has been one of the most significant perks of academic life–tenure. Of course, every one in the power structure is saying we are acting like Chicken Little running around saying, “The sky is falling!” But in truth, the sky IS falling. When faculty work up to 6 years to prove their research expertise, teaching excellence, and service commitments they earn the right to research and say those things that may be unpopular and/or controversial. Academic communities are places where the spectrum of ideas must be allowed to grow and flourish. Contrary to what some believe there are any number of conservatives alive and well on my campus! Some have even run for public office as right-leaning Republicans. Academic freedom is the thing I most prize about being a scholar. I may be on a plantation, but it’s been a plantation where I get to pick my own row of cotton unimpeded!
I don’t fear for my future. I always have a plan, a strategy, and a tactic—Harriet Tubman’s blood runs through my veins and I am a Philadelphia Negro! I fear for those young Black scholars on my campus and the Black graduate students I and others are trying to mentor. I fear that they will become a part of a huge exodus that will destroy everything so many have worked so hard to build!
But as for me—I go out singing that good ole Gospel song, “Some bright morning when this life is over I’ll fly away…”
Stay Black & Smart!