Friday, May 30, 2008

Generation Alphabet

I'm getting all my good ideas from Dean Dad lately. Yesterday he writes about golf serving as a generational boundary. The comments are especially good and I'd recommend reading this one from Eyebrows McGee. He gets at some of the complexities behind Dean Dad's discomfort with "Of course, there'll be golf." It's about jobs, economics, and generations.

I'm a Gen X'er myself, though I've been called on to speak about the Millennials time and again and many of my behaviors fit more with that generation than my own. In theory, this makes sense since some people put the Gen X birth dates slightly before my own. Maybe I'm a Gen Y. I don't know. I feel less and less young every year. I sense that there are many academic bloggers about my age, many of whom have written about their pain and sometimes final triumph in the academic world. We were all told in the 80s that a whole bunch of faculty will retire, enrollments will soar, and faculty jobs will be plentiful. We all know how that turned out. So I think there's a certain amount of general frustration with how the academic job market turned out. It affects administrators as well, as Dean Dad and his commenters point out. In some places, there just isn't a group of faculty that can be groomed for those upper level positions. When over half a department is made up of contingent faculty, there just isn't as much to choose from.

I'm experiencing much the same thing on the staff side. There's not as much of a generation gap in that we have a few managers actually younger than me (okay, 2), but many are 10-15 or more years older--not old enough to retire. I suspect this pattern persists across other institutions as well. Someone who gets stuck or "blocked," as one commenter at DD's put it, has to look for employment elsewhere. In the corporate world, this may simply mean going to the company across town. In academe, not so much. There may not be another college nearby, or if there is, there may not be a job that fits your skills. It's not that this doesn't happen to some corporate types, but it's less common and, there are often better incentives to move when you're a corporate manager--not just moving costs, but sometimes bonuses and housing allowances. Academe doesn't make it easy to pull up stakes.

I'll also say that I possess the "typical" restlessness of Gen X. We like change. We're frustrated when people are slow to change, especially the baby boomers, who claimed they were going to change the world and then just settled in to play golf. We are the first generation to be less well-off than our parents (that's true for me though not true for Mr. Geeky). People made us promises that dissipated into the thin air. That's not to say that things are just horrible, but that perhaps the previous generation was a little too optimistic and too self-satisfied. I think, actually, that my generation and even the generations younger than me are a little more realistic and grounded. How's that for broad, sweeping generalizations?