Add the name Rani Neutill to the short but growing list of liberal professors who have had it with higher ed’s downward spiral and speak out about it. Two pieces she penned in Salon over the last three months detail what drove her out of academia, but in a nutshell, it was her peers and her students.
Her column this month, ”Sixteen years in academia made me an a-hole,” delves into some of why she left the Ivy League — in large part due to the fact that it’s filled with pretentious snobs who like to talk about themselves and their esoteric little intellectual worlds.
“Gradually, I started to resent academia, partly because I couldn’t get a permanent job and partly because of the elitism and snobbery that came with the profession—an elitism that seemed inextricable from the environment and the people in it,” Neutill wrote. “I would grit my teeth at academic parties, listening to conversations where it was impossible for a person to talk about anything other than Hegel or T.S. Eliot. All I wanted to talk about was ‘The Good Wife.’”
“Recently, I was talking to a sociologist about leaving academia to become a waitress. I told him I thought that higher ed was falling apart,” she added. “He didn’t seem interested in my opinion or my personal experience and instead started explaining how it was neoliberalism that was destroying academia. I looked at him, laughed, and said, ‘Whatever the reason, I like being a waitress; it’s much better for my mental health.’ I didn’t have the heart to tell him that waitressing had taught me more about the world than academia ever had.”
Her other piece, published in late October, was ”My trigger-warning disaster: ‘9 1/2 Weeks,’ ‘The Wire’ and how coddled young radicals got discomfort all wrong.” It detailed how her students’ demands for “trigger warnings” became increasingly burdensome: demands that negative images be evened out with positive ones, demands that she email students every little detail of her upcoming class the night before, demands that she weigh students’ every hurt feeling when grappling with tough subjects, and so on. She complied with these demands, until she was exhausted and frustrated.
“I don’t have the answers. Hell, I gave up on the whole thing,” Neutill continued in her Salon piece. “This was the last straw for me. I didn’t know the answers but I knew this was a crisis. Colleges are the new helicopter parents, places where the quest for emotional safety and psychic healing leads not to learning, but regression.”