I'm annoyed with, frustrated by, and tired of the ridiculously unrealistic "critical" takes on The Chair. Below are some more positive and nuanced responses:
But as it unfolds, The Chair offers far deeper insight into the interpersonal and intergenerational dynamics of campus culture than any novel I’ve read. The show’s dramatic energies are focused on issues of free speech, the changing paradigms of scholarship and teaching, and the prejudice that women faculty and faculty of color face. Yet the subject that gets the most screen time is none of these, nor is it chairing. It’s parenting—although as the series rolls on, we slowly realize that, just possibly, chairing is parenting by other means.
If we're watching The Chair as Ji-Yoon's story, the portrayal of activist students would exist to shed light on the pressure and complexity of the situation Ji-Yoon is facing as a woman of color in a position of authority, not, as some have interpreted it, as a commentary on activist students in general. That is, Ji-Yoon experiences student activism as high-stakes and unwieldy precisely because she respects their principled stances -- to the point that they intensify her suspicion that, despite her best efforts and intentions, she is not transforming the master's house from the inside (shout out to Audre Lorde).
To operate as if the portrayal of student protesters matters more than how the portrayal illuminates something about Ji-Yoon is to give these characters the primacy
The show, co-created by Amanda Peet and Harvard Ph.D. Annie Wyman, feels like a real attempt to grapple with the problems of contemporary academia, and the humanities in particular, by someone who has felt invested in them.
I don’t know anyone who has gone through the trouble of becoming a professor with the express goal of ending up as a department chair. The role draws on organizational skills that many academics have made a career out of avoiding; it also leeches away time that could be spent researching or teaching...The Chair thrives in scenes where manners and decorum get stripped away and Kim recognizes the futility of her situation. Her strange profession begins to seem relatable. Her face, usually so attentive and patient, evinces rage and disappointment. One complication of institutional diversity is that diverse faces can now lead institutions that are in free fall.
But as much as the characters are—wonderfully—never cynical about the study of literature, they are also exhausted by the situations they find themselves in, both personally and professionally, and especially where those two spheres collide. The current pandemic permanently damaged the academic careers of parents (mostly women) who had to abandon their (our) research to take care of their (our) children, and forced faculty to teach in windowless classrooms to hundreds of students without mask or vaccine requirements. None of that is in this show, yet even so, it depicts the study of literature as unsustainable. I wish it were clearer to the viewer that it’s unsustainable because it’s not supported.
Johannah Winant, Moby-Done