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  • The Affiliation Blues
  • Joseph R. Urgo (bio)

There’s a standard rap we give to candidates for faculty positions in the Department of English and Humanities at Bryant College. It’s the affiliation blues, and it usually happens over dinner but sometimes earlier in the process if the candidate seems either too eager or a bit edgy about the prospects of teaching at a small business-specialty college. Often, at the preliminary MLA interview, we provide a few of the basic blues bars, admittedly for the sake of enticement. We say that there’s a lot one can do to build a career here: the College supports scholarly activity, it funds travel responsibly and generously, and allows unfettered academic freedom in terms of both research and teaching. I’ve been Chair since 1995 and have never turned down a travel request by a faculty member to present at a conference. Never. The teaching load is reasonable at 3/3 and we keep preparations to 2/2 unless the faculty member prefers otherwise. Most everyone teaches what they want to teach and on the schedules they prefer. Salaries are competitive with any university or college in the country, better than most, and so are the fringe benefits, including hardware and software, office support, sabbaticals, and summer research grants. We even pay association dues and throw in a couple of journal subscriptions.

Then, once we have the candidate on campus, we follow the basic riff with a transition into the deeper blues scale. But, this is a business college and you are, when you are here, deep into the bowels of capitalism. If you think your critique of corporatism or consumerism is tinged with complicity at the University that trained you, try it here, where the largest majors are Accounting, Finance, Management, and Marketing and the administration actively and publicly seeks out corporate connections. We don’t catch young minds during that rebellious state when the professional angst of the disaffected intelligentsia nurtures a lifetime of private reservation and reveries of what might have been. Our students want in and they want in right away. We’re deep in the corporate mode. We train [End Page 7] accountants and managers and finance officers, marketers and actuaries and salespeople. What our students want from college is not to find some inner sense of purpose but career planning. They know that English will help them be more articulate, and they know you hold the keys to that, even if they have to read Faulkner to earn the right to glimpse at those keys. They know they have to communicate. They have to be articulate in their writing and in their speech. Long before they have something to say, they know they want to be articulate. Now the blues are blowing hot. But faculty job candidates are categorically optimistic. They answer our riff with their own. Yeah, business school. But I’m ready for that. Can’t be that much different. And we play it again. The hell it ain’t, we say.

The College markets itself as a business center. The Wall Street Journal arrives in every faculty suite every day and you may have a personal subscription for the asking. There’s a World Trade Center on campus and a Center for Management Development; our Board of Trustees consists almost exclusively of CEOs from large corporations and successful entrepreneurs. Almost none come from professional academic backgrounds. Most of our students measure out their futures in terms of salary increments and judge the existing world the same way. At some point the blues gets so heavy the candidate’s eyes say, so what are you doing here? And you have no choice but to fall back on those affiliation blues. Man, it’s not a why question. Save why for the classroom. This is what it IS.

I don’t think other careers blow quite the same. I can’t imagine an executive recruiting agent for a Taco Bell playing the blues just because in the fast food business, where hamburgers run the show, tacos and burritos can provide feeding stops for those more suited to beans. Man, I just can’t see myself...

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