"In many disciplines, for the majority of graduates, the Ph.D. indicates the logical conclusion of an academic career." Marc Bousquet

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Quotes of the Day from Inside Higher Ed Article

The article came out yesterday and is called "In for Nasty Weather" by Dan Berrett. First:
To newly minted Ph.D.s, the structural reasons for the lousy job market may well matter less than the inescapable fact that the job market is, well, lousy. Finkelstein said that the research he and Schuster have been doing "quite clearly suggests there isn’t an academic career anymore."
Yes, read that over again: "there isn't an academic career anymore." Game over. The jobs are disappearing, being converted into contingent positions. A contingent position indefinitely, a permatemp job, isn't a "career." And it's true that for many recent Ph.D.s, the structural reasons may seem remote, but we HAVE TO keep the structural reasons in mind. We have to think about them when making decisions about whether to stay adjuncts and hold out for the "career" position or leave academe. Even current or prospective graduate students should bear them in mind rather than just thinking about the "market" in personal terms. Yeah, the job market is lousy, and one of the reasons it's lousy is that people keep holding out for something better. Don't do it! Resist the temptation. The profession is fucked whether you get a job or not, and if you A) do not have a tenure-track job already and/or B) would be unwilling to work towards reform of the system if you got one, just cut your losses and get out. It's better for you and better for the system.

Here's why:
While [some currently tenured and tenure-track professors] fault academe for producing too many doctorates when there is clearly not a big enough market within universities to absorb them, they still worry about the larger ripple effects of bright students turning away from careers in higher education in search of greater stability and a better shot at a middle-class life.

"The deterioration of talent will completely alter the academic profession,” said Hermanowicz of Georgia, “and its impact will be likely felt not only on the intellectual fabric of society, but on the nation's scientific and economic infrastructure."
Yes, that's right. As adjuncts, we are easily exploited by the neoliberal corporate university and the society that acquiesces (not knowing what its own best interests are, not recognizing that the long term effects of investing in higher education are more important than short term tax and budget cuts). But when we all leave? Well, that "impact" is worth pondering by all sides. I'm not a huge Ayn Rand fan (her admirers are the ones promoting cutting the taxes that fund public higher ed -- a policy, in part, to blame for the need for a cheap academic workforce), but her philosophy of "rational self-interest" has something to teach us. You're talented? Smart? Good at teaching? Recognized for original research? They know it, but they want you to forget -- and they pay you accordingly. They pay you nothing so that you will continue to believe you are worth nothing -- and continue to work for the pay. Don't put up with it. Get out. If you're getting a barista's wages, or a secretary's, go work as a barista or a secretary. Don't teach college students. That work requires more of you. More knowledge. More skills. More training. More experience. All of which you have. Don't sell yourself short as an adjunct.

And, lastly, from a comment to the article:
The point often missed in these rifts is that since the late 1980s, there have not been enough tenure-track jobs and far too many qualified people willing to teach for any wage and lacking benefits.
Exactly my point. It's time to get out, do something else, and make the powers-that-be -- the administrators, the tenured faculty who are out-of-touch, the voters whose kids you've been teaching, the budget-slashing politicians whose kids you've been teaching -- that you're worth more than $20K a year. When you leave, they'll start to get the message.

(Whew. Three posts in one day! What have I been neglecting?)


  1. The academic job market has been very bad in the US for a very long time. It is not good in a lot of other countries either. But, it is not universally bad in every country. In some places outside North America and Europe there are openings for people with PhDs. That is why I work in Africa and not the US. In Ghana the number of native PhDs is below the demand so they have recently hired a number of foreigners including myself. I suspect market forces will bring about more international migration of US citizens with PhDs in the near future.

  2. That's interesting. I won't be one of those migrating (I've written elsewhere on the blog about my idiosyncratic reasons for limiting my job search by location even within the U.S.), but I hope other recent Ph.D.s will -- for the same reason I hope that those unwilling to leave the country will just leave academe, as I have. Eventually, the drain of talent will have an impact and conditions will have to improve. That's my theory anyway :)

  3. Given the choice between leaving academia and working as an academic abroad, I suspect a fair number of people will give Africa and other destinations a shot. I am not sure it will improve conditions in the US. But, it should be an embarassment that a country like Ghana offers academics better relative pay and work conditions than the US. After all the US much, much richer than Ghana.

  4. Well, I can't speak for anyone else, but for me, it's not a simple choice between leaving academe and working as an academic abroad.

    What I'm trying to do (though it remains to be seen whether I will succeed) is carve out a place for myself here on the margins as an independent scholar -- such that I can pursue my own research and writing agenda (albeit perhaps at a slower pace than I might inside academe), live in a place I like a lot, and work at a stable, decently paying (relative to adjuncting) job.

    I do hope other recent Ph.D.s whose life circumstances are different from mine will walk out on their adjunct gigs and give Africa and other destinations a chance. If you've got nothing to lose, why not? Whether or not this will improve conditions in the U.S. depends on how many people are willing to leave -- either to go abroad to work as academics in more respectable circumstances or to leave academe altogether. The exodus would have to be large enough such that departments could not find enough people willing to teach their courses for an adjunct's wages and working conditions.

    Right now, too many people are more than willing -- which is why I keep saying, over and over again wherever and whenever I can, "leave, leave, leave."

    And, yes, I agree it is shameful that academics in a place like Ghana have better working conditions and relative pay than academics in the U.S. (or, for that matter, that a low level administrative position in the U.S., like the one I now have, offers better pay and working conditions than teaching undergraduates).

  5. Well, of course not everybody will have to choose between leaving the US or leaving academia. But, I do not think the numbers will be enough to improve academia in the US anytime soon. If enough people leave the US then Africa and other places will no longer have a shortage. But, I think it is a viable option on the individual level now for people because so few people with PhDs and publications do want to live and work outside of of North America and Europe.

  6. Right now, the U.S. system benefits from large numbers of ADBs and PhDs who are willing to sell themselves short because they think they have no other options -- whether those options be going abroad to stay in academe or staying in the U.S. and leaving academe.

    That's why I think that those who choose not to pursue going abroad should walk away from contingent positions -- no matter how much they love teaching and no matter how passionate they are about their research.

    Would a mass exodus of contingent faculty have a major impact on improving the system? I don't know. I'd like to think so, because the alternative would be understaffed colleges and universities -- more and more students learning in larger and larger classes and online. I'd like to think that in such a scenario our society would get over its dumb obsession with cutting taxes and spending enough to start reinvesting in higher education.

    But what my "leave, leave, leave (unless you go abroad)" mantra comes down to is more a matter of rational self interest than anything else. So many of my adjunct colleagues -- in real life and in the blogosphere -- are just miserable. They stay in because "something better might come along," yet year after year after year, it never does. And it never will, because the longer they stay, the more they reaffirm the system's commitment to relying on people who are willing to work for less than they are worth.

    Staying, to me, means complicity with the system, even though, as an adjunct, you have no power to change it. Leaving, on the other hand, whether you go abroad for a faculty position or stay in the U.S. and do something else, releases you from that complicity. And, very few people I know love teaching so much that they wouldn't quit their adjunct gigs if they knew for sure they could earn more doing something else. People I know are genuinely afraid to walk away for a number of reasons, which is a mindset I'd like to change....but that's the subject for another entire post.