1. Was my experience about being in a particularly toxic department in a toxic school, or was it a more universal experience of the culture of higher education? (I.e., if I got a job somewhere else, could I be happy?)Good question. I'm not sure about this one. I do think, for the record, that my department was particularly toxic as far as departments go. Only thing is, I think that toxic departments are fairly common, maybe not the rule necessarily, but not as infrequent as one might guess. I can't say how many times I've listened to grad students and professors complain about the politics of their respective departments. I think this may be partly because of the way academic jobs work, that you get tenure at a place and then stay there FOREVER and it is virtually impossible to move to another institution. This means that people stay in departments where they are miserable, their souls shrivel up and become hard lumps of hate, and they take their frustration out on the other faculty and their students. I don't think this is that uncommon of a situation. Am I wrong? I think this is what happens when you have basically no mobility in your professional life.
I do think there are different types of schools where I could probably be happier, places where the focus is more on teaching, for example, and the faculty do not see working with students as a burden to be foisted off on someone else so they can focus on their next book. But I do think that there are structural things about a career in higher education that may still be deal-breakers for me. As a single gay man who has aspirations of domestic bliss and perhaps even a family, I'm just not too keen on moving to Lower Mongolia for my career. I've been reading a bit about academics who move into secondary education, and this definitely seems to address a number of my problems, such as the pressures of research, the discounting of teaching, and the geographic mobility. Here's a great article about somehow who made just the switch I'm talking about. He even is doing what I've always dreamed of doing since I was a little boy: writing novels.
Good for him.