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

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Everywhere Except in Academe

Over at From Grad School to Happiness, JC has a great post up that starts out lamenting the problem of homeless adjuncts but ends up not only drawing attention to this particularly disgraceful consequence of the current academic labor structure but also taking a clear and strong stand on the question of whether adjuncts and recent Ph.D.s (and TAs, too!) have the right to demand something better in terms of pay, benefits, and job security.

Go read the whole post, but here is my comment (slightly amended):
You are absolutely NOT being an academic snob for pointing out that, at the end of a decade of professionalization and work experience, people have the right to expect a job that pays something like a living wage. They have the right to expect that their efforts -- and, indeed, their knowledge, skills, and experience -- should be respected, valued, and rewarded by their employers. That's not entitlement. It's the norm for most other professions. Companies and organizations wouldn't be able to retain workers or make progress in their industries if there wasn't a performance-based and experience-based reward system. People demand it. I don't care how much you love your job, how much of a calling it is -- at the end of the day, you're there because you're getting paid.

True, there are unskilled types of jobs -- and many people doing them -- that don't pay well, don't offer stability, and come with no benefits. That is: Unskilled. Types. Of. Jobs. Jobs that require skills, knowledge, and experience in order to do well at them are a different story. Even if you start out as a Starbucks barista with only a high school diploma, you can work your way up to store management and even to higher levels in the company if you pay attention, show up to your shifts on time every day, treat the customers well, and learn the shit you need to learn about making coffee and running a business.

Everywhere else, knowledge, experience, and skills count towards better pay, greater job security, and better opportunities -- everywhere, that is, except in academe.
 It's time more people started taking a stand.


  1. Hey, thanks for the follow-up comments. I agree that it's not snobby to assert that Ph.D.s deserve a living salary ... I suppose I just balk at making the argument that anyone inherently "deserves" anything.

    But you're right - it's not as if job candidates are marching out after their first year, demanding tenure-track positions and 60k after taking their first theory class. The average Ph.D. grad has a decade of experience doing almost exactly the same job they'll be doing as a tenure-track faculty member (for at least the last few years). And in almost any other industry, that kind of experience would be rewarded (or at least compensated fairly).

    I'm starting to think that all of the "life of the mind" nonsense is some kind of cultish rambling, allowing the organization to benefit tremendously while telling the subordinates that they're serving some kind of higher purpose while they're getting completely screwed out of money and a decent quality of life.

    Perhaps that hyperbolic ... but I'm having an "angry at academia" week.

  2. Well, understatement isn't exactly my rhetorical strategy these days. Maybe deserve is too strong a word, but, then again, adjuncts are "serving" a clear need. It isn't too far of stretch to say they "deserv"" fair compensation.

    Hehe ... Every week is an "angry at academia" week around here.

  3. Oops. That is, "deserve." Goddaamned iPad touchscreen.

  4. I just noticed my big old typo in the last line, and I'm on a laptop with a regular old keyboard. Sigh ... that must've been why I didn't get a t-t job. Can't even type. :)