She rescinded her letters of recommendation
December 8, 2019 2:37 PM   Subscribe

 
“Money is always nice to have,” Anne wrote to me, “but it doesn’t sound to me like this is about the money.”

In which I blurt out Hey, fuck you, lady! involuntarily in my lab.
posted by klanawa at 2:48 PM on December 8, 2019 [43 favorites]


That's so unbelievably shitty of the mentor. Just like, the level of cruelty and contempt, without even a thought spared to what the author's going through is completely unforgivable.
posted by storytam at 3:06 PM on December 8, 2019 [18 favorites]


So much is broken in academia.
posted by frumiousb at 3:12 PM on December 8, 2019 [8 favorites]



That's so unbelievably shitty of the mentor. Just like, the level of cruelty and contempt, without even a thought spared to what the author's going through is completely unforgivable.


You'd think she'd pause her actions for a moment and consider the ironic parallels between dommes and academic mentors in that they're seemingly both paid to essentially be cruel and depreciating to people they have power over.* But in this case the grad students don't seem to enjoy being masochists.

*Ok, I know, not ALL mentors, but we all know academia is full of abuse.
posted by Young Kullervo at 3:14 PM on December 8, 2019 [6 favorites]


Meanwhile a struggling academic who took a part time job as an ICE camp guard or NRA lobbyist would not suffer professionally in the least. Also I somehow doubt a man taking the exact same job for the exact same reason would face the same consequences.

it's always so fucking disappointing when women abuse other women in the name of upholding patriarchal misogyny. and navigating the fine line between acknowledging that and unintentionally holding fellow women to a higher standard than anyone else in that regard is an ugly side effect. either way this mentor is a shit.
posted by poffin boffin at 3:18 PM on December 8, 2019 [58 favorites]


This story has bothered me so much since I read it. I am not on the most cutting edge of attitudes towards sex work, but the idea that you'd respond to a junior colleague telling you that she'd felt forced to resort to it because she couldn't make a living despite being employed in your profession by further, deliberately, gratuitously undercutting her professional career is just...the action of someone who would rather lash out cruelly than think about the structural problems in her profession. Would I discourage a junior member of my profession from doing that work if at all possible because of the potential professional repercussions, to say nothing of the personal danger? Sure. But--assuming the person is not involved in some kind of nonconsensual activity--how do you get from there to sabotaging that person's career?
posted by praemunire at 3:25 PM on December 8, 2019 [53 favorites]


An adjunct is paid about $4k/course to teach undergraduates. An undergraduate takes about 9 courses a year, coincidentally paying about $36k in tuition. The mean class has 30 students. Is this about right?
posted by Easy problem of consciousness at 3:44 PM on December 8, 2019


That was angering to read.
posted by Dip Flash at 3:47 PM on December 8, 2019


Between these two poles — the perennially guilty, early career researcher and the smug senior scholar with their head in the sand — lie the faculty who genuinely want their students to succeed, and believe that they can, but who feel powerless to halt the collapse of the professoriate. They don’t fault their students — but they don’t fault themselves, either. It’s the economy, the academy, in which we are all just pawns.

Do not remind these gentle souls that they are not, in fact, powerless.


My, is this familiar. I would never have told my adviser anything like this, close and supportive relationship or not--and I say that not because I have not been invited into these comfortable confidences, but because there is a certain furious defensiveness that explodes when a student reminds a mentor that the power imbalance exists and will never dissipate. Advocating to have my needs met can sound an awful lot like demanding that such a person in power take all fault, or so I hear; for my part, I will be going without a salary entirely this summer (we are not allowed to teach during the summer in my program) unless I can scrape up my own funding. But everything is fine! I must periodically reassure someone with power over me that everything is fine, or who knows might happen. If I let slip any whiff of mistrust that I might fear something like this happening, of course I believe the worst of that person, who is then entitled to fuck over my career further to "teach me a lesson."

I'm so fucking tired of this. And I am very, very angry.
posted by sciatrix at 3:49 PM on December 8, 2019 [65 favorites]


But--assuming the person is not involved in some kind of nonconsensual activity--how do you get from there to sabotaging that person's career?

Oh, that's easy enough! You tell yourself that you're doing it for the person's own good. She can't hack it in academia, clearly; so you withdraw support and you let her flounder, and you tell yourself you are hastening her failure so that it doesn't take too long and stress her out further. You tell yourself she's just not cut out for this job; that her talent isn't quite sparkling enough, and isn't it better to just... make it quick, rather than drawing it all out?
posted by sciatrix at 3:51 PM on December 8, 2019 [21 favorites]


Clearly that mentor has more issues than the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Seriously, this response baffles me. It's one thing to be concerned about someone's choices, and another to rescind letters of recommendation on a completely unrelated subject.
posted by rpfields at 4:13 PM on December 8, 2019 [5 favorites]


I’ve been thinking about clientage, and a friend pointed out to me today that academic mentor-mentee relationships are kind of an example in modern life. Understanding them that way, I think you get the attitude of Anne by imagining that your student/client exists to make you look better, that their choice to engage in sex work will make you look worse, that this choice is thus disloyal on the student’s part, and therefore that you no longer owe them your patronage.
posted by eirias at 4:17 PM on December 8, 2019 [39 favorites]


Seriously, this response baffles me.

It makes a sad sort of sense to me. A female professional who is associated with another female professional who is outed as a sex worker could easily suffer for it, in virtually any field. Patriarchy is a hell of a drug.
posted by Etrigan at 4:24 PM on December 8, 2019 [16 favorites]


I wonder why she did tell her mentor. This is something I would absolutely keep to myself, regardless of how close I perceived my relationship to be with someone I worked with in a professional capacity. It just seems unwise to disclose this to someone with immediate power over you, especially if you're still relying on them for some professional leverage. This is America, after all. We already know that academia isn't exempt from messed up power dynamics any more than any other segment of our society; in fact these dynamics seem to be baked in, relished by those with minor power in these structures. I'm also really skeptical of considering anyone I work with to be close like family- she called the mentor her academic mom- because it sort of creates a false sense of intimacy, tightness, and loyalty that professional environments shouldn't/nearly never actually encompass. I mean, I also don't trust my own family like that either, so maybe this is just my general cynicism. I don't think it was a lesson that was fair for the author to learn, but it's a lesson many people in our society are forced to learn nonetheless.
posted by erattacorrige at 4:45 PM on December 8, 2019 [24 favorites]


I wonder why she did tell her mentor.

she says in the article it was "to quell her fears after a summer teaching gig fell through" but like. still. lie! lie always lie forever! i took out a loan, i found a big bag of money on the street, i sold a kidney on the black market.

it feels uncomfortably victim blamey to say this stuff and obviously the actual problem here is her mentor's shitty attitude and reflexive, frightened misogyny but god. you don't owe anyone with financial, academic, employment, etc., power over you the truth about your personal life, ever, for any reason. ever! good day!
posted by poffin boffin at 5:07 PM on December 8, 2019 [84 favorites]


Yeah, I'm constantly struck by how many millennials do not have the self-preservation of a newborn lab puppy with respect to their personal engagement with late capitalism, when there's just no group to whom it should be more obvious that Your Boss Is Not Your Friend (or Your Mom). I have mildly socially stigmatized hobbies that no one I've ever worked with knows about, because I'm not so simple as to think that just because people shouldn't care about something, they won't. But what a lousy way to find this out.
posted by praemunire at 5:08 PM on December 8, 2019 [17 favorites]


Infuriating.

Sex work is work, and should be treated as such without the hypocritical moralizing that's so attendant in society's attitudes.

My heart goes out to the author of the piece for having had that happen to her.
posted by Phlegmco(tm) at 5:08 PM on December 8, 2019 [4 favorites]


and on re-read, she doesn't actually come out and say that her mentor has tenure but wow, if she does? the safety and protection of tenure and you're still going to act like this? in 2019? you have tenure and you leave another woman just out there in the fucking wind bc you're a fucking coward? im going feral i need ice cream
posted by poffin boffin at 5:11 PM on December 8, 2019 [32 favorites]


Academic here.

First, I have found that the cliche of professors being isolated from the world is true far too often. It's very easy for tenured faculty to lose track of the rest of reality beyond their disciplinary area of interest, including the lived experience of grad students. You can think of it in terms of reinforcement, where they are rewarded for following their research focus obsessively, and are institutionally buffered. Or you can think of it as a question of privilege - and tenure is a dwindling form of privilege in American academia. (Not all professors etc)

Second, a strong age gap opens up in many academics. If you came up in the 20th century, you were trained in a very different world. Younger folks, especially those who entered grad school after the 2008 financial crash, inhabit a new sociology. I already mentioned tenure waning; a majority of the American professoriate became non-tenured around 2003. Student debt *really* boomed after 2000. I regularly find older profs (and staff, and senior admin) surprised by this data.
posted by doctornemo at 5:42 PM on December 8, 2019 [21 favorites]


On the other hand, I have also seen attempts to maintain professional boundaries on the part of students met with weird hurt feelings and bizarre emotional pressure on the parts of PIs, especially in fields that involve fieldwork. Like, it's not always a thing that is a student just opening up and sharing with an advisor that isn't actively soliciting that kind of information, and someone who genuinely believes that soliciting that information and entangling a personal relationship with a professional one is an essential part of academia. If you, especially if you are a woman, attempt to maintain a professional reserve, you can get labeled as cold or aggressive or angry which can backfire on you in a totally different way.

It's not like there is any way to win here, aside from getting lucky.
posted by sciatrix at 5:43 PM on December 8, 2019 [22 favorites]


An adjunct is paid about $4k/course to teach undergraduates. An undergraduate takes about 9 courses a year, coincidentally paying about $36k in tuition. The mean class has 30 students. Is this about right?

Eh, it's not too far off.
-Adjuncts can get paid less or more than that number (check this crowdsourced spreadsheet) for a range.
-Courses per year: 9 is on the high end. 8 means 4/4. A good chunk of students are part time.
-about $36k in tuition: community colleges and some state schools are significantly less than that.
-mean class has 30 students: maybe so. Ranges can be vast. I'm teaching one seminar now with 6 students; lectures can have hundreds.
posted by doctornemo at 5:46 PM on December 8, 2019 [2 favorites]


So why not publish this under the author’s real name? Her advisor isn’t her mom, confessor or best friend forever. I might not agree with the advisor’s actions , but I don’t understand why the PhD candidate/author decided to even mention her side gig.
posted by Ideefixe at 6:13 PM on December 8, 2019 [1 favorite]


"reflexive, frightened misogyny"

Thanks for your whole comment, but especially for this phrase.
posted by crush at 6:17 PM on December 8, 2019 [1 favorite]


So why not publish this under the author’s real name? Her advisor isn’t her mom, confessor or best friend forever. I might not agree with the advisor’s actions , but I don’t understand why the PhD candidate/author decided to even mention her side gig.

I can't imagine why someone who just got an extremely obvious reminder as to why it's not safe to be open about being a sex worker in her academic career might feel unsafe sharing this story under her legal name. Goodness.
posted by sciatrix at 6:20 PM on December 8, 2019 [84 favorites]


Moreover, sex workers often do not practice sex work under their real names for reasons of personal safety. So publishing it under her real name would be a bad idea from both directions.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:29 PM on December 8, 2019 [19 favorites]


First, I have found that the cliche of professors being isolated from the world is true far too often.

Child of a now-emeritus professor. Can confirm. I also work as academic support staff at the same R1 that my dad spent his entire career at (literally got the offer the second he successfully defended). For the most part the younger faculty I work with have been in the salt mines enough to have a clue but those of my dad's generation are just completely detached from reality. My dad has a conception of how the world works that... well, he's a libertarian if that's any indication.

About 15 years ago I got a job as a full time masters degree level research assistant in a psych lab. The pay back then was pretty atrocious, but every now and then I catch sight of similar positions in labs and research centers today, and they pay has not increased at all. Like it is literally the same, and I know that there's not a lot of wiggle room with salaries when you're working with soft money, but I do wonder if these PIs look at this and think, hey, this is fucking ridiculous? How are we asking for people with degrees and specialized knowledge and skills and then saying we'll pay them $24k a year?

“Money is always nice to have,” Anne wrote to me, “but it doesn’t sound to me like this is about the money.”

Anyway, fuck this person for a day longer than forever, thank you for coming to my TED talk.
posted by soren_lorensen at 6:59 PM on December 8, 2019 [37 favorites]


i didn't quite...get... that statement? is anne literally just saying "lol ur obvs just a whore tbh"?? like? seriously? i will fucking cut you anne. "money is always nice to have"??? shut the fuck up! let people eat and pay rent and have health insurance! let people live! agree that people deserve a living wage or eat my entire fucking ass anne! for which i will charge you $1,000 an hour! aaaaaaaa
posted by poffin boffin at 7:30 PM on December 8, 2019 [20 favorites]


eat my entire fucking ass anne!

no recommendation letters for you young lady
posted by lalochezia at 7:32 PM on December 8, 2019 [8 favorites]


I think Anne is implying that the author must have deep-seated psychological issues to choose and stand that line of work.
posted by Selena777 at 7:34 PM on December 8, 2019 [11 favorites]


Or else that she's just some kind of natural ho, I seriously can't tell.
posted by praemunire at 7:53 PM on December 8, 2019 [5 favorites]


"Money is always nice to have."
"A roof over your head is always nice to have."
"Food is always nice to have."
"Suitable professional clothing so you can keep getting paid is always nice to have."
"Teeth are nice to have."

Criminy.
posted by praemunire at 7:54 PM on December 8, 2019 [6 favorites]


Love to see discussions like this. I'm old. And came from a World where this... [shakes head]. Nobody would have had a word against the Prof except for not being harsh enough. I remember hearing recently about that Official (something) in Kentucky who just seemed to have realized that there's "...a queer running for President!" Or something like that. I lived around a lot of people like that growing up, was born not too far from there. Much prefer the current World. Even with the problems.
posted by aleph at 8:37 PM on December 8, 2019 [6 favorites]


Would it make sense to tie tuition to adjunct salary-per-taught-course?

I'd love for this to be done bur there's likely behind the scenes stuff I'm not seeing. But do those behind-the-scene things all add up to 8/9 of tuition and fees?
posted by ipsative at 9:20 PM on December 8, 2019 [1 favorite]


She's a friend of a friend. I was always rather amazed by the extent to which she seemingly excelled in both fields while doing so in a relatively open manner. This is bullshit.
posted by bootlegpop at 9:40 PM on December 8, 2019 [9 favorites]


The mentee does it for money.

The mentor does it for sport.
posted by dancestoblue at 11:06 PM on December 8, 2019 [1 favorite]


“You will lose all credibility,” she told me in a long, difficult email.

Maybe a different position to maintain given the fact that arguably the world's best known sex worker, once in a very similar situation to the author, has gone on to a perfectly respectable academic career even after her identity became public.
posted by howfar at 4:13 AM on December 9, 2019 [6 favorites]


Would it make sense to tie tuition to adjunct salary-per-taught-course?

So that tuition would be lower, ipsative?
posted by doctornemo at 6:54 AM on December 9, 2019


For famous sex workers, her past has certainly not held Melania back, but it wasn’t about the credibility, it was about the mentor protecting her own reputation by using an exploitative system that only benefits her.
posted by saucysault at 7:24 AM on December 9, 2019 [1 favorite]


As a curious foil to academic labor, which is both difficult and underfunded, sex work is often misconceived as easy and lucrative. It is neither. Sex work — an umbrella term for an industry that includes escorts, strippers, dominatrixes, sugar babies, adult-film performers, and phone-sex operators — is labor intensive. My own field of domination requires physical strength for corporal sessions, mental agility for role play, a keen awareness of time management to schedule and perform the components of a scene, and the stamina to take session after session over an eight-hour shift.

Thanks for the great post, bq. My only exposure to academia came when I was renting a room to a series of post docs at UC Berkeley. Their stories never failed to depress me and my responses to the first couple of housemates (Isn't there a graduate student union? But the hours your advisor requires must be illegal) were never helpful, and my obvious naiveté must have been deeply annoying. I did not stop listening but I did stop attempting to force my useless advice on them.
posted by Bella Donna at 7:26 AM on December 9, 2019 [3 favorites]


Maybe a different position to maintain given the fact that arguably the world's best known sex worker, once in a very similar situation to the author, has gone on to a perfectly respectable academic career even after her identity became public.

Not true. According to the link, the world's best-known sex worker already had an established academic career when she went public (in part because she believe that an ex was planning to out her). She was able to continue her career, which is great. But there is pretty much zero reason to believe that the academic or larger world has suddenly become friendly and welcoming toward sex workers of any type.
posted by Bella Donna at 7:41 AM on December 9, 2019 [5 favorites]


Huh? Of course it's true. It literally says so in the link. Unless you think Anne's comments were meant to refer only to the immediate future, which they, in my view, clearly weren't.

I've no idea where you've inferred a claim that academia is "friendly and welcoming towards sex workers" from.
posted by howfar at 8:21 AM on December 9, 2019


I was back in the sex trade, beating, humiliating, and degrading men (and sometimes women)

There is so much wrong with that statement...and the mentor was absolutely right in rescinding her recommendations.
posted by davidmsc at 8:50 AM on December 9, 2019


There is so much wrong with that statement...and the mentor was absolutely right in rescinding her recommendations.

Do tell why you think so.
posted by Young Kullervo at 8:59 AM on December 9, 2019 [16 favorites]


There is so much wrong with that statement...and the mentor was absolutely right in rescinding her recommendations.

This is a pretty ignorant comment. I’ve had a number of dominatrices in my social networks over the years, some acquaintances, some friends. And while there are a wide range of people in the business, the best have a variety of skills and aptitudes that would be very useful in a faculty position — sensitivity to social dynamics, empathy, quick thinking, an ability to maintain a poise/persona while doing rigorous physical, mental, and emotional work. And, usually, an understanding of power relationships that academia could use more of.

Good professional doms* allow clients to engage with deeply stigmatized fantasies in a physically and emotionally safe way. You might not appreciate it, but your arrogant dismissal (like the mentor’s) is badly misplaced.

* Autocorrect kept trying to change this to “dons;” I guess it’s configured for the UK.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:09 AM on December 9, 2019 [20 favorites]


...while there are a wide range of people in the business, the best have a variety of skills and aptitudes that would be very useful in a faculty position — sensitivity to social dynamics, empathy, quick thinking, an ability to maintain a poise/persona while doing rigorous physical, mental, and emotional work. And, usually, an understanding of power relationships that academia could use more of.

Good professional doms* allow clients to engage with deeply stigmatized fantasies in a physically and emotionally safe way. You might not appreciate it, but your arrogant dismissal (like the mentor’s) is badly misplaced.


Exactly.*



*I have been both a prodomme and an adjunct professor in my lifetime.
posted by Young Kullervo at 9:28 AM on December 9, 2019 [14 favorites]


"arrogant dismissal" is a bit premature. I've known people who would have been horrified/disgusted/etc dismissal. But I can't say I've known people who would have just been "arrogant(ly) dismissal". Perhaps you have.

Mostly I came from a World where "professional Dom" wouldn't have been a concept that most people could have wrapped their head around. Their World (and mine at that time) was pretty small. It's larger now (relatively speaking).
posted by aleph at 9:37 AM on December 9, 2019


Apologies, howfar, I was reading quickly and misunderstood the quote. Also (emphasis mine):

While some of my dominatrix co-workers rely solely on sex work for their incomes, the majority of us are simply underpaid in our vanilla careers. My co-workers include: a school counselor, a union organizer, a geneticist, a dental hygienist, an art teacher, and, of course, several students — all but one in graduate school. Most have college degrees. Many have master’s degrees. Some are mothers. One thing we all share, though, is the burden of stigma from friends, family, and colleagues who believe that our work signifies a broken moral compass, rather than the reality that the conditions under which we must work are immoral.

TL;DR: Capitalism sucks and it is nearly impossible to make a living these days.
posted by Bella Donna at 9:43 AM on December 9, 2019 [1 favorite]


Academic here.

I'm horrified (but sadly not surprised) that the mentor rescinded her letter of recommendation. Truly, a shitty thing to do, and it punches all our buttons about not punching down.

Here's my story. I recently found out that one of my star students is a serious Trump supporter, not because they said anything to me about it but because their photo appeared in our local newspaper of them holding a pro-Trump sign at a pro-Trump rally. It's funny (not in the ha-ha sense) because I've had them over to my house many times, they've played volleyball with my children, they really like my family and like spending time with us, and yet they support a President who would keep people who look like my family in cages.

None the less, I wrote them a glowing recommendation letter with effusive praise, and I sincerely hope that they get a good position after graduation. Why? First of all, because they're a damn good researcher. Second, because we've tried having a litmus test for academic positions and it didn't work out (see: the UC system's Loyalty Pledge of the 1950's). And third, because if they're able to separate their work life from their outside life so well that it took me two years to realize it, then they can certainly do it at their next job. Oh, and fourth, it's none of my goddamn business what my students do once they leave the building.
posted by math at 9:53 AM on December 9, 2019 [16 favorites]


I've overheard serious discussions along the lines of "misery/cruelty *is* the point" in that conditions *have* to be that bad on the low end to "motivate" the people there to "make something of their lives" or be "worth" anything. Otherwise they'll just waste their lives, or something like that.

There's so much packed into that that there's really no way to begin. :(
posted by aleph at 9:58 AM on December 9, 2019 [5 favorites]


"arrogant dismissal" is a bit premature.

After ~30 years of experience/observation, I’m pretty confident in my assessment. Not so premature; patterns are a thing.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:30 PM on December 9, 2019 [1 favorite]


And after a bit more than 30 years I know myself *still* for a fool. In a lot of ways. What bothers me is the new ways I keep discovering.
posted by aleph at 2:36 PM on December 9, 2019


As an example, found this a only a few years ago. Knew a lot of it just from seeing it around, and you have to make your own judgements, but it was still a shock. And this is only a *few* of the ways I know myself for a fool.
posted by aleph at 2:55 PM on December 9, 2019


So that tuition would be lower, ipsative?
posted by doctornemo at 6:54 AM on December 9


Not primarily, but to ensure that when it is being raised, a steady (and, through transparency, ever-increasing) proportion does go to actual tuition.
posted by ipsative at 7:33 AM on December 13, 2019


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