Monday, August 21, 2006

letter from a former professor

I've pasted the letter from a former professor, Randy Malamud, at Georgia State University in response to my column on August 4 in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. (You should be able to access my column in my August 4 posting.) Following it is the letter I sent to him in reply. I have not heard back from him. Of the letters of application I've sent to Georgia State University, most have gone unacknowledged. Most of the time I've received form rejections, even though I've sent my application to former professors and followed up with telephone calls. Oh, BTW, I received a private letter of praise from a reader who said he sent such a letter to the AJC. It was not included in those published. Two out of the three published were negative.

From: Randy Malamud
Sent: Fri 8/4/2006 1:58 PM
To: Mary GrabarSubject: Your article

Dear Mary Grabar:I read your column in the AJC today, and thought about writing a letter to the editor, but decided it didn't warrant a public response. But I wanted to share with you, privately, my thoughts: I found it self-righteous (without any foundation, as far as I can tell, in any record of scholarly accomplishment on your part, which accentuates a resonance of 'sour grapes'), gratuitous, and, as a salvo in the culture wars, um, about ten years out of date . . . . Your writing is formulaic, utterly predictable, uninspired. As a member of the profession, I found it embarassing. You will probably 'interpret' my response as a self-defensive riposte from a tenured radical, but it's really not -- if I thought your 'point' was important enough to attack, I would have done so publicly. I really just found it trite and banal. -Randy Malamud

Mon, 7 Aug 2006 09:55:10 -0700 (PDT)
"Mary Grabar"
your letter

Dear Professor Malamud:

Thank you for your letter regarding my editorial “Colleges’ open minds close door on sense” (AJC 8/04/06) sent to my Clayton State University e-mail account.

I would welcome a dialogue with you about the issue at hand. I would be happy to forward the calls for papers that I listed. But I am sure that you subscribe to the same list. If you believe that these are suitable topics for scholarship then you should support your points. I think the public would benefit greatly from an open and honest debate, such as in a letter to the editor from you, and a defense of specific types of scholarship. After all, we both work at public universities. Georgia taxpayers have a right to know what goes on in the institutions they support.

I was quite surprised to see your assessment of my writing as “trite and banal” because I earned an A in your seminar on T.S. Eliot as a master’s level student in the early 1990s; I recall your comments on how well-argued my papers were. I was encouraged enough by the comments from you and other professors to go on to earn my Ph.D. at The University of Georgia. I have had papers published in major journals and collections and have presented papers here and abroad. I trust that you felt that I earned the A. Why now after I have obtained my Ph.D. and published and taught for several years do you not respect my scholarship?

I would like to keep the discourse at a level in which we address pertinent points rather than make ad hominem attacks (attributing ‘sour grapes’ to me, for example). I think that all of us in the profession agree that personal attacks are unprofessional. That is what I teach in my writing classes.

I do disagree with your approach to scholarship, particularly in reference to T.S. Eliot. I felt very frustrated in your class because it was a 10-week-long attack on Eliot’s character, namely with your charges that he was anti-Semitic, misogynistic, and elitist. I recall a good part of the class period taken up with you reading from your manuscript-in-progress. I was frustrated because when a student asked, “was T.S. Eliot a good poet?” you simply brushed the question aside.

I also learned from the late Hugh Kenner, who was on my doctoral committee, that not all in the profession agree with your opinion of T.S. Eliot. As you know, Hugh Kenner was an internationally recognized authority on the modernists, and--pardon my impertinence-- more esteemed as a scholar than you are. Hugh Kenner highly disagreed with your assessment of Eliot; in fact, Dr. Kenner knew Eliot personally.

I found that I had to search long and hard to find a professor who was not extremely liberal and took the same political approach to literature as you did. The few remaining were near retirement age.

I don’t think you know much about me personally. I am an immigrant from Slovenia and became a U.S. citizen at the age of 18. My father had a fourth-grade education. I was not able to enter graduate school until I was in my mid-thirties. I come from a blue-collar background and to survive have in my time worked in agriculture (the vineyards of Upstate New York), cleaned houses, tended bar, waited on tables, and worked in fast food and retail establishments. I eagerly awaited a study of T.S. Eliot but was sorely disappointed when I took your class.

I sense that you would prefer to keep me out of the profession; you have probably seen my letters of application to Georgia State University. (I guess that is where you have determined that I do not have “any record of scholarly accomplishment” as you have ascertained.) But I fulfilled the requirements for a Ph.D., and at a disadvantage, for I had to counter the positions of professors like you with rock-solid papers. Since most of the academic journals and panels at major conferences at the MLA are comprised by those with your political views, my work is not welcomed there.

Hiring committees do not welcome candidates with political views that differ from their own. And “conservative activists” ask only that we enjoy fair representation. Show me your recent hires at Georgia State University that would demonstrate this intellectual diversity. I have observed only the hiring of those with similar views to those doing the hiring and running of English and Comparative Literature departments today.

I find it ironic that a professor who complimented me on my work and felt along with many others that I did work good enough to be awarded a Ph.D. now disparages an editorial in the newspaper and does not address the specific points I have raised. As a teacher, I am glad to see students who are not afraid to venture from the standard interpretation and forcefully argue and support their own positions. I wish that you would write a letter to the editor and openly defend your position, addressing the specific points I make on the panels I cite. Above all, let’s keep the dialogue at a level befitting our profession.


Mary Grabar

Hi Mary.....

First Point...Anyone who knows anything about you would know that had you been guilty of "Sour Grapes", it would have been projected as "Sour Figs"...ahem

Having said that, IMHO (although I was not educated in the "correct" Universities) you hit the nail on the head (forgive my working class background phraseology) by pointing out the esteemed Professor's disinclination to address your criticisms, point by point, as it was soooooo beneath him.

The rest of your post was "wicked" and icing on the cake (whoops, there I go again).

Academia, has to a large extent stagnated over the last couple of decades, because of an intrenched elite, who have buried themselves in their own perceived greatness to the point of caste. This fellow is a perfect example.

You, however, have hundreds, if not thousands of former students who will never forget you, nor the path on which you guided them towards intellectual excellence and beauty.


ps...this guy is a Putz. Since past masters are so rascist, who are his scholarly heroes now? Mr. Spock and Katie Couric?
Mary - what was his point in even commenting if it was just to personally attack you?? It looks to me as if you struck a chord in him that he didn't like - period.

The truth hurts sometimes, Randy............
Yep, them figs is gettin sour. I better go out and pick them, but it's so dang hot here in Georgia! I keep thinking about that bike ride along the Erie Canal last week. I can't wait for some crisp autumn weather. Professor Malamud, who it appears has lately written a book about animals, has tenure. Well, I guess I should be glad he's not writing about Eliot. He attempted to do as much as he could to the great poet and playwright in the classroom. But then again, for Professor Malamud, the poetry itself was not the concern. So it's no wonder that the argument is not the concern when he responds to an essay. You both are right: the private e-mail was intended to intimidate. But I had to suffer enough of that nastiness when I was IN the classroom
If you'd like to get away from the Georgia heat - come visit the Door County Peninsula, where there is culture, crafts, entertainment, water sports and sites that please the eye - from natural surroundings.
It is wonderful to know that we still have professors in our educational system who are open minded and allow students to engage in open discussion.
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