Just this week, and at very long last, my grad program hired a creative nonfiction professor and my feeling is one more of deep relief than one of true jubilation. The extremely long search turned me off to the whole process and made me feel like our program was the gimp-legged dog in the pound wanted by no one.
I realize this cynicism is partially due to the one that got away—or maybe just the one who went away--the professor who never was. I used to think about the professorial candidate who I had forged a relationship with during his campus visit, if only in the whirlwind kind of way that’s never really meant to last, who had been offered the job only to immediately turn it down. I'm over it now, excited to meet our new faculty member, but it took some time. The whole academic crush metaphor is pretty played out and so I really tried avoiding equating this professional rejection with a bad break up, but damn it if it didn’t completely feel like it.
I got the news via e-mail—the worst way to be broken up with—and the e-mail wasn’t even from him. It was from the department search committee. The only way this guy could have made this worse was if he could have somehow figured out a way to reactivate my AIM account and instant message me that he had declined the position. That would have been worse.
When I read the e-mail I decided not to overreact. I chalked it up as a miscommunication. Wires getting crossed. He was probably just playing hardball with the negotiations. He hadn’t actually declined. Hadn’t he told me how much he wanted to be here? How much he wanted he wanted to work with me? How much my work perfectly meshed with his? No, he hadn’t actually declined. Everyone else must have been mistaken.
Who the hell did this guy think he was? Who did he think I was? I was a great grad student. I was frick’n awesome, part of an accomplished creative program that wasn’t the kind of program that you hit and quit. We deserve better than that. But he just waltzed in and romanced the crap out of us, told us we were special and different than all those other writing programs out there what just to use us as leverage for other jobs? We had tons of candidates apply for the position and I’m sure all of them would have killed for this opportunity, but this guy? This guy here, he’s somehow better than all of them? He’s too good for us? Fuck him. We don’t need him.
Maybe it’s not too late, I had thought. Maybe I can still win him back. Maybe if I go to AWP, go to his panel and nonchalantly come across him afterward—“Oh hey, I didn’t know you were going to be here at your scheduled panel discussion, small world! Me? I’m doing great. Just great… I will give you my teaching assistantship stipend to come back. Would that be enough? Was it the assistant professorship salary that detracted you? Maybe they’d be willing to give you tenure off the bat. Missouri not your cup of tea? Maybe they can pay for you to commute. Hate the other grad students in the program? Maybe they can all have unfortunate accidents.”
But after a few awkward passes across the doorway of his panel, I chickened out and I wondered what it would take to get someone else in there to start talking up our program.
I don’t think he’s coming. He’s definitely not coming. Why doesn’t he love me the way I love him, uh, academically? What’s wrong with me? Did I come on too strong? I always come on too strong. That was such a lame joke I made on the campus tour—"the rec center is a wreck"? Really? That's what I think a funny joke is? Well, it's a little funny--no, this why you're alone!
It's me. I suck. I'm the worst. Wherever he ends up I’m sure he’ll be happy, but me—I’ll never have another professor like that. Maybe I’m just not meant to.
Acceptance (finally) –
He never returned my or anyone else’s e-mails. He didn’t even return the initial job offer e-mail. I heard he’s taken another job on the west coast, far away from Missouri in just about every conceivable way. I know he ever wanted to come here. I think he duped us, maybe justifiably so as that’s the way academics work, but he definitely didn’t want to be there and if he didn’t, it’s a good thing he isn’t. The candidate who’s accepted the position wants to be here and I think that means something. She'll be great. Plus, I hear he’s kind of an asshole, but I guess already knew that.