The message of the article is generally one I support (the humanities job market is crap, so have a back-up plan if you're in grad school), but here are some things that irritated me about the article itself, as well as the comments it generated:
- The author starts with the premise that "In a perfect, pre‐economic‐crisis world, the path from graduate studies in the humanities to the professoriat" would be a smooth and easy one. But it's never been a path as easy as the author suggests here. And the lack of historical perspective sets off the Old Guard from the get-go, who get all huffy-puffy in their comments about how baaaaaad it was back in the 70s. Their criticism that people have been talking about "a crisis in the humanities" for a long time is a fair one. How is the current "crisis" any more of a crisis than crises past? The problem we're dealing with, in fact, isn't a crisis in any real sense of that word. It's a systemic failure that's been screwing a lot of people over for a long time -- not a crisis but an ongoing trend that has been exaggerated by the recent recession such that many more people are now feeling the urgency of no longer lying to ourselves about the problems with the profession.
- The "present" situation, as the author narrates it, isn't anything I recognize. Who the fuck finishes their Ph.D. in 4 years these days, given that most of us are teaching our asses off? I know one person in my starting cohort who finished in 4 years, and ze entered the program knowing exactly what ze would write hir dissertation about. In addition to the time-suck of teaching, few people know exactly what they're going to do from the start. Few people know EXACTLY even at the time they take exams. Research and reflection take time -- time well spent, IMHO, if you're going to get out 7-10 years later and be able to find a job as a professor. When we talk about the fucked-up state of the profession, it's important not to underestimate the amount of time the average person invests because spending a decade in pursuit of a career -- perhaps a third of your entire life -- is a more significant sacrifice than merely dabbling at being an intellectual for 3 or 4 years. Personally, I think the perseverence such an investment requires is an admirable and valuable quality that we are wasting by turning such people away from the profession when they ask for fair compensation only to be replaced by a newer crop of graduate students who don't yet know what they're worth.
- The author misrepresents the current situation, as well as the systemic problems that cause it, by saying "There are no jobs." There are jobs, adjucnt jobs, and adjuncts don't just teach "lower level service courses" anymore. We do it all, with the possible exception of graduate classes -- and even that depends on the institution. It's important not to misrepresent the job "market" this way because doing so misleads people into thinking that "only the bestest and brightest" get the very few "real" jobs available, when, in fact, we've had "real" jobs all along. The problem is that when we earn our credentials and start demanding stable positions and fair compensation we get kickecd to the curb and told we're not good enough. Saying "there are no jobs" perpetuates the myth that academia is a meritocracy.
Begin to suspect that the leftist virtue of the university conceals a system of privilege and good‐ole‐boyism every bit as sordid as the Corporate America you went to graduate school to avoid. Begin to suspect that the leftist virtue of the university conceals a system of privilege and good‐ole‐boyism every bit as sordid as the Corporate America you went to graduate school to avoid.Oh, yes. It's easy to criticize corporate America, but at least those corporate fucktards don't try to disguise their motives. Jobs go to China because labor is cheaper over there. Duh! But don't put me in the same room again with another tenured professor making $113K (don't worry, there's another post coming to clear up what I'm talking about here) who responds to my gripes with "Yes, of course we should pay adjuncts more, but where is the money going to come from?" Dude, are you kidding me? Like, I'm sure this isn't your intention, but I'm hearing, "Let them eat cake!" I'm not saying you don't deserve your salary. But I am saying that my partner and family members who have been supporting my little academic adventure these past 10 years should not be (and should never have been) responsible for also subsidizing the education of the students you don't want to teach. There is a connection, you know. And it's not as if that book you just published was really groundbreaking. You could've taught an extra service course or two. I'd sure be willing to for $113K, even if it meant my book took an extra year or two to finish.
Best line from the comments was this:
People do get better at teaching over time. It is a profession in which experience counts. Which is exactly why having a majority of faculty positions remain disposable -- knowledge workers replaced as soon as they pass their underpaid prime -- is bad news for the profession and bad news for the future of higher education. It is a long term trend aggressively exaggerated by the recession, and we should all be working to change it -- that is, if we care at all about the future of the profession.