Curmudgeon at your gates
Fragments shored against
by Craig Monk
Craig Monk is professor of
English and associate dean in
the faculty of arts and science
at the University of Lethbridge.
His column will be appearing in
every second issue.
ntroductions are usually awkward.
University Affairs has offered me an opportunity to challenge a few assumptions with
this new column, “Talking out of school” –
I have had an ordinary career among a group
of remarkable people. If you are reading these
words, you likely have a qualification or two
yourself, are probably involved in postsecondary
education, and have lost at least some of the
idealism with which you entered the academy.
Growing up in St. John’s, I had the vague notion
that many people worked at Memorial University, but I never met any of them until I enrolled
there. Now, of course, I have seen that it takes
the hard work of those many people to make our
Encouraged by well-intentioned parents, I
began a pre-business program 25 years ago, but
I brought to it a passion for literature. As Newfoundland was then suffering 20 percent unemployment, my first English professor sighed at
my familiar story, stared out her window, and
said, “No one is working. Study what you love.”
I changed my major on the spot. I decided in my
senior year that I would go to graduate school
only if I could arrange a scholarship. I had completed a master’s, and was waitlisted for the PhD
program, at the University of Western Ontario
when I won a fellowship to Oxford University.
I knew that there were few academic jobs, and
had no idea what one paid, so I understood that
three years abroad might not set me up for life.
I returned from England with two more parchments, a fistful of typically frank references, and
no contacts. I lived in my parents’ basement,
teaching sessionally, until I secured the last contract offered that year: a term position at the
University of Lethbridge. Though I have tried
on occasion to leave, I’m still here.
Over 15 years, I’ve taught a lot, and have been
recognized by my institution for teaching well.
With a SSHRC grant, I wrote a manuscript, hustled to get it published, and sold my obligatory
500 copies. I am fortunate to co-edit the journal
of record in American magazine studies. Some
time ago, I began working in student services and
am now finishing my second term as an associate dean. I find my life in middle management
to be maddeningly ineffectual. I got involved in
administration out of a desire to know better
how universities work. Some days, I wish I hadn’t
Four years ago, to coincide with appearances
on Charles Adler’s Corus radio show, I began
blogging at craigmonk.com as “The Classroom
Conservative.” I hoped to demonstrate that there
are Red Tories in academia – and social progres-
sives in the West. Now, the provocative title has
outlived the collaboration, and I wonder if I am
more curmudgeon than conservative. I used to
tell my host that the modernists I study were
never as revolutionary as they seemed. Rather
than dismantle everything, they wanted only to
turn it upside down to establish their dominance.