Ambivalence

The ironies continue to pile up: five years ago today, I was moving office, out of a dank, lonely basement and into my newly renovated smallish (by the building’s standards, which are vastly out of keeping with the rest of the academic universe) but gorgeous second-floor corner office. Almost exactly three years ago, I moved across the hall, into the office formerly occupied by the Eminent Shakespearean, the office that makes every single person who walks in for the first time stop and say “Wow.” I have said for three years, and utterly without exaggeration, that I have the single best office on campus, outstripping even that of the college president.

Tomorrow morning, I begin my move out of these palatial digs, and into — well, what I’m sure will in the end be a very nice office. It’ll be spacious, certainly, and eventually the bookshelves will be up to snuff. But it’s… in the basement. Where for the next year, at least, I will be alone.

I need to acknowledge the good news in this, of which there’s a lot: for the last eleven years, I’ve been jointly appointed in English and Media Studies. Media Studies has been, all that time, an interdisciplinary program, and the half-FTE of my position was the first dedicated FTE in the program. (We got a second such position, shared with Art History, in my sixth year.) As at many other institutions, there’s a very distinct hierarchy between departments and programs here: departments get lines, space, and operating budgets, and programs, well, don’t.

But a series of developments in my program gradually made it clear that we needed to be converted to departmental status. Among those developments, the attempt to add a third joint position to the program made clear that our needs had become more disciplinary than interdisciplinary; we needed to hire someone whose graduate training was in Media Studies rather than in another discipline, and in order to do so, we needed to be able to house that line ourselves. Which meant that we had to become a department.

Which we now are: as of July 1, the Media Studies program will officially become a department, and each of the positions that was previously partly Media Studies will move fully into the new department.

The downside of this is that I’m losing my affiliation with the English department, which has been my home for the last eleven years. It’s an emotional loss, but also a material one: English is, shall we say, one of the more well-heeled departments on campus, and so I’m losing access to certain kinds of support that I’ll really miss. And I’m losing my gorgeous corner office, which is mildly heartbreaking.

On the other hand, Media Studies will finally have space: three offices, a small library, and a laptop-based computer classroom, all in the basement of the English department’s building. So as I told a colleague last week, I’m trying really hard not to think of it as moving out of a palace and into a dank, lonely basement, but instead as moving out of a rental and into a starter house. It’ll need a bit of fixing up to make it feel like home, but it’ll be all ours. And there’s something to that.

5 thoughts on “Ambivalence

  1. When I was an undergrad at Whitman College, the media studies ’emphasis’ broke free of English and became its own department right before my senior year. Potential crisis, one might think, as I had to decide between established major (English) and promising new major (film studies).

    The beauty of the transition, which it has taken many years to understand, was the freedom from requirements: no longer would my passion for media studies necessitate a course in Medieval Lit. Not that there’s anything wrong with Medieval Lit: it just steered me in the opposite direction of, say, New Media. Breaking free of the English major allowed me to concentrate more time on media studies classes…and write a thesis on media studies. Without that, I’d never gone onto grad work in the discipline.

    And while I was the program’s very first graduate, it has grown to become a thriving (albeit small; it is a college of 1300 after all) and exciting part of the college community. This branching off seems more and more commonplace at small colleges like Pomona and Whitman — and we in the media studies community should greet such continued legitimization with glee.

    But I can definitely understand the loss of the office. And the supportive colleagues.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Annie. I think you may misunderstand the situation here, though; media studies has been a program (and thus a major) entirely separate from the English department for 15 years. The change isn’t the creation of a separate major, but instead the purely administrative promotion of program into department — which means we get lines, space, toys, etc. (Or will once there’s money with which to get them.) It is absolutely the conferring of a kind of academic legitimacy on media studies, no question, but I just want to be clear that Pomona has endorsed media studies as a field since the early 90s, which puts us among the oldest such small liberal arts college based media studies majors…

  3. You should have a big party to celebrate Media Studies being a department! I am so excited to watch the program grow, and it will be fabulous to have dedicated faculty. Yay Media Studies!!

  4. I will admit being of two minds about your office hopping. As a former Crookshank-dweller, I certainly understand a twinge or two at losing that ridiculously great office (that I’m pretty sure is larger than my apartment).

    As a current grad student at the state university you are more familiar with than any other, one who shares an office in the sinus-bashing basement of the English department building with two other people, two oversized desks, a janked-up “couch,” and metal shelf full of outdated composition texts, I harbor jealousy at even the most modest of Pomona digs.

    That being said, it’s long past due for Media Studies to become its own department, so a hearty congratulations on that.

  5. Think of this as perhaps a grassroots move, with the emphasis on roots (ie, the supporting part of a plant that is – um – underground). From that seed a might oak shall, etc etc. Congrats on this lovely and ironic shift – given the hierarchy of space at institutions, it’s an almost Jamesian move: we reward your hard work with departmental status and now we move you into the basement. Get some nice SoCal Wicca to give you a sage smudging ceremony to get the ghosts out, have a few overly inebriated departmental wine parties, and before you know it, the place will be just like home. Congrats.

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