I exercised the better part of my free thought this weekend on how I could've written Friday's post more forcefully. Like others, I'm happy with the conversation it inspired—but the inspirational object had some real problems. (It annoyed Tomemos, a dubious achievement given how fair-minded and even-keeled he is.) So here's a more concrete example of the undeservedness of which I wrote:
Imagine a job advertised as follows:
Medium-sized state school seeks specialist in 19th Century American literature with an emphasis on post-Civil War authors. Candidate should be able to teach interdisciplinary American Studies courses in tandem with members of the History department. An emphasis on minoritarian literatures is welcome but not required. (I know that doesn't read like an actual advertisement, but I'm running a thought experiment here: verisimilitude's not required.)
I apply for this job and am frank about my qualifications: I can teach late 19th Century American literature; as an historicist, I know how American culture is understood and taught in American Studies, History and—because of my dissertation's emphasis on evolutionary theory—History of Science departments; I possess considerable expertise in African-American literature of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, but know little about the period's other minoritarian literatures.
The hiring committee reads my honest assessment of strengths and weaknesses and requests an interview. On the phone, they inform me that I'm not exactly what they're looking for, but that there are eight other equally quasi-qualified candidates, so I have a shot at landing the position. (For the moment, pretend that we're all unpublished and have comparably strong dissertations.)
During my interview at the MLA, one of the interviewers notices that I helped design the curriculum for the Literary Journalism department. He asks what my exact role was, and I answer him honestly: I helped refine and finalize the syllabi for the two introductory courses; I co-designed the upper-division course on the Ethics & Evolution of Literary Journalism; &c. Over the next fifteen minutes, it becomes clear to them that I could design and manage the undergraduate program in creative nonfiction they've been trying to establish, and before the interview concludes, they offer me the position, complete with pre-approved tenure and a 1-1 teaching load. (Shut it! This is my thought experiment.)
Were this to happen, would I deserve the position advertised? I'm as quasi-qualified as the other applicants, but none of them could've known that this department intended on starting a creative nonfiction program. I would've lucked into the position, then, because I'd be no more quasi-qualified than any of my competitors. I merely would've filled a void no one who applied knew needed filling.
Obviously, I'm not saying I haven't worked hard—I mean, I slacked a bit during chemo and while rehabbing, but I did keep teaching (although the dissertation ground to a painful halt)—but given the circumstances above, I can't claim I deserve the job in any meaningful sense. I'm no more qualified for the job as advertised than my competition, therefore I don't deserve it any more than they do.
Does this make more sense, or am I still missing something fundamental? (If I am, please don't hesitate to tell me. I'm not stubborn, merely dumb.)