The Theatrical Professoriate:
Contemporary Higher Education and Its Academic Dramas
by Dr. Emily Roxworthy
WIT's impact was documented in the 2020 book, The Theatrical Professoriate, written by founder and artistic director Emily Roxworthy.
The Theatrical Professoriate: Contemporary Higher Education and Its Academic Dramas shows how the dramatic arts can intervene in the toxic interpersonal dynamics that today’s academic environment commands its faculty, staff, and students to perform. Dr. Roxworthy explores how the theatrical nature of today’s professoriate and the resultant glut of performances about academia on stage and screen have contributed to a highly ambivalent public fascination with academia. She further documents the "theatrical turn" witnessed in American higher education, as academic institutions use performance to intervene in the diversity issues and disciplinary disparities fueled by neoliberalism. By analyzing academic dramas and their audience reception alongside theoretical approaches, Dr. Roxworthy reveals how contemporary academia drives the professoriate to perform in what seem like increasingly artificial ways.
More on WIT's impact as documented in The Theatrical Professoriate:
"In 2013, the University of California system’s Office of the President (UCOP) turned to interactive documentary theatre—a method familiar to them through the work of CITE and the CRLT Players—as a way to begin deconstructing the problem for a most influential (and mostly white, male) audience: department chairs and deans on all ten UC campuses who were in powerful positions to impact campus climate. Since I was the chair of the systemwide Academic Senate diversity committee and a professor of theatre, I found myself tapped to write and direct a one-act theatrical intervention called Ready to Vote that was focused on an academic review scenario. After conducting research on the experience of women and underrepresented minority faculty in the UC system, the graduate student actors in my theatre company worked with me to devise Ready to Vote using a dozen anonymized interviews as well as secondary literature and climate survey data suggesting that academic departments constituted the main locus of toxicity for faculty, regardless of their background" (165).
"While Ready to Vote ends without telling the audience whether the committee voted to put Felicity up for tenure or not, the differential standards for assigning value to women’s and minorities’ academic work that are modeled in the play offer a theatrical theory explaining what Mason, Goulden, and Wolfinger call 'the proliferation of female faculty in contingent positions' (women are 45% more likely than men to end up in these positions) and 'the relegation of female scholars to second-tier positions in the academy'... Not only are non-tenurable faculty more likely to be women: these contingent faculty with fragile statuses are more likely to be from a racial minority background. Reflecting the racial and gendered barriers facing the theatrical professoriate, Ready to Vote’s final moments show that Kyle has not only negatively influenced Felicity’s tenure case through attaching gendered stereotypes to her promotion prospects, but he has also installed himself as de facto leader of the committee, effectively usurping Glen" (170-1).
"Unsurprisingly, much of the “hot seating” performed during the improvised portions of Ready to Vote focused on how to neutralize the “Kyles” in audience members’ own departments, even when the audience was asked to empathize with Kyle’s character. As the actors stayed in character and answered questions from the audience, the actor playing Kyle often became the lightning rod, serving as proxy for powerful real-world colleagues that audience members had long fantasized about confronting" (171).