Hubby and I watched the indie movie Tenure (2009) the other night.
Haven’t seen it? I hadn’t heard of it, until I read about it at Post Academic. And since summer is the season for academic fiction generally (as Ink blogs), I immediately added it to my Netflix queue.
Though it’s not a great movie, the trailer doesn’t do it justice:
Luke Wilson plays a schlemiel-like man, but an engaging English professor at what is described as a second tier college (filmed at Bryn Mawr, a beautiful campus, fyi). The plot is fairly unrealistic for the most part: there’s the Anthropology professor who is a Big Foot specialist, denied tenure early fall term, then Luke, the English professor, goes up for tenure spring term, at the same time the Chair (nary an administrator in sight) hires a Yale graduate who begins spring term and is immediately put in competition with Luke Wilson’s character, Charlie Thurber. (Thurber is at his 2nd or 3rd college, and has yet to earn tenure; on top of that, his father is a retired Princeton English professor who knows full well his son’s failures as an academic.) The new chick from Yale (played by Gretchen Mol) is beloved by the Chair because she publishes (Luke gets many rejection letters), but she’s a lousy teacher, unlike Charlie.
Naturally, they begin to fall for each other, and Gretchen asks Charlie for some teaching advice, and here’s the rub:
- “Remember, you’re the smartest person in the room.”
- “Stop preparing so much and just wing it.”
The first line is ridiculous: the scenes when he is teaching make it quite clear that he respects his students’ own intelligence and that he does not at all treat them as if he even thinks he is the smartest person in the room. Yeah, he may KNOW more than they do, but smarter? I’ve never felt that way, and I’m not sure I want to. I love when I get brilliant students who make me rethink ideas or see them in new ways. Besides, Prof. Yalie may actually be the smartest person in the room, but since she is a pitiful teacher, that “reminder” is useless.
The second piece of advice may be, admittedly, useful to Prof. Yalie who spends hours preparing but who just freezes when in front of the room trying to engage the students. So, I’ll go with that as initial advice to her, specifically. But I think preparation allows one to just “wing it” well: I know that most students can figure out quite clearly the difference between a professor who “wings it” because s/he isn’t prepared, versus one who is flexible and allows a good discussion to take off despite any “lesson plan”.
But I quibble. If you are one of those who spends summers re-reading academic novels, this movie i perfect for a summer evening.