This is the third post in a series about the glorious completion of my academic career, the internet, and the future of intellectual life. Tell me: Would you like to read the whole story, edited, in a beautiful paperback? I may have an announcement soon, so be sure to subscribe.
My first day of teaching in Fall 2018 would have been October 3rd, so of course — normally — I would have spent the day and night of October 2nd preparing.
I was scrambling to get everything done mid-day on October 2nd, when I received an email from my Dean. She called me into her office for an urgent meeting. A few hours later, I entered her office, where she was accompanied by a high-ranking person from HR (I don’t know exactly what an “HR Business Partner” is, but if you’re looking at one across a table, you know you’re in deep shit). After some niceties, my Dean proceeded to explain the purpose of the meeting. With a most kind and gentle tone — and the HR Tsarina nodding along — she told me she was being inundated with complaints, and that I was to be suspended forthwith, in order that my ongoing investigation could be extended. I think I said, “Hmm,” and looked at the wall for a moment. My initial feeling was just relief, that I would not have to stay up all night finalizing my syllabus and lecture notes for my class the next day. Now smirking slightly, my second thought was, “this is kind of exciting.” My third thought was, “this is going to make great content.”
After some back and forth clarifying the situation, my Dean asked me not to discuss the matter publicly, and I told her that I was genuinely happy to respect the protocols of the investigation, but I would have to warn her. I write and speak about how social institutions function, I told her, and this will surely be one of the most surprising and fascinating encounters I’ll ever have had with a social institution. Not talking about it whatsoever would be out of the question, therefore. Violation of the confidentiality was itself grounds for disciplinary action, she reminded me. Yes, I said, but I will have to weigh the risk of punishment, up to and including dismissal, with the benefits of maintaining my vocation as an independent thinker and writer and speaker. I promised her earnestly that I would not wantonly bring scandalous attention to the university, but I would also need to follow my conscience — and my own strategic interests — to say what I think is true and in need of saying. I told her plainly that I already have a paying audience and community around my independent intellectual work, and a suspension would only grow my audience. I even gave them an out. I said, frankly, “Are you sure you want to do this? This is going to be good for me, and bad for the university…” They were just confused.
I could tell the conversation was not proceeding as they presumed it would. When she began the meeting, she spoke as if she expected me to burst into tears any moment, stressing the plethora of mental health services available to me. By now, they were kindly giving me vaguely raised eyebrows and typical British euphemisms, “So what you’re saying is…?” No, that’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is what I’m actually saying. You should try it.
As I write this now more than three months later, I can already say my prediction has been vindicated, even while I’ve respectfully declined to provoke any significant media attention (which I could have easily spent the past few months doing). People hear through the grapevine, I pick up a few new patrons each month, my paid monthly seminar experiment went from 4 participants to 9, my free private discussion forum has grown to be every bit as intelligent and stimulating as any scholarly community I’ve known, and I get DMs and emails from new people asking to join every day. But more valuable than anything is that, because of this absurd drama, people now know for sure that I can be counted on to say whatever I really think at all times, even when something is threatening my livelihood and status. All I’ve ever aspired to as an intellectual is to have the time and space to work on figuring out some things that are really true, and to earn just enough of an audience to give whatever I find a chance of being preserved and passed on. From the outside, it might look like I’m pissing away my career. But as far as I can tell, I’m just kicking away a ladder, and by doing so I am securing beyond question something much more precious, which is proof I can’t be bought.
Only now am I writing everything out. These posts are drawing a lot of readers (thank you by the way, for reading and for sharing, apparently). I kept my promise that I would not say or do anything that might bring attention to the matter while the investigation was ongoing. I gave the university months to save itself from the self-harm they were threatening, but it was no use. The investigation ended right before Christmas and, it turns out, they’re choosing war — but now I’m jumping ahead…