Now That I Have Your Attention…

Two days in and The Closing of American Academia is still the most trafficked article on Al Jazeera, with over 5000 Facebook shares and 1000 tweets. It has prompted an overwhelmingly positive and passionate response and some interesting blog posts, which I’ll get to in a minute. But first I should clarify a few things.

The article is about a failed system, not about my academic career, although I wish those who want to make it about me the best of luck. At the same time, there are a few things worth clarifying, if only because they illuminate the broader situation. I have no debt from my PhD. I had free tuition and a stipend for all of graduate school. There is no need to pick on Washington University – they are much better at funding graduate students than most places. The only reason Washington University enters the picture is because they have the misfortune of having a former student with an international media platform.

I entered graduate school in 2006. In 2008, the academic market collapsed and has never recovered. As this chart points out, academic jobs have been cut by as much as 40% — in a market that was already tight but not hopeless. It is hopeless now, unless you are willing to spend your own money getting paid below minimum wage to work for years as contingent faculty, which I am not. I am not an adjunct. But my friends are, my colleagues are, and I think it is important for their situation to be documented and publicized. In particular, I hope that parents of college students realize how the majority of their childrens’ professors are being treated, and what impact this has on the quality of their education.

I have received many emails from PhD students asking whether they should stay in their programs. This is a personal decision — the only definitive advice I have is to never take on debt. I recommend current PhD students read this great post on how to maximize your time in school and prepare yourself for the non-academic job market. I do not regret getting my PhD. The degree may be meaningless, but the work I produced is invaluable. Graduate students need to be their own mentors.

Academia has been described as a cult. If so, I am your Katie Holmes — but I am not alone. “In order to reform higher education, many of us will have to leave it, perhaps temporarily, but with the conviction that the fields of human activity and values we care about will be more likely to flourish outside of academe than in it,” writes Dr. William Pannapacker, the outspoken academic formerly known as Thomas H. Benton. (It is no coincidence that the Chronicle employs more pseudonyms than any other journal; such is the terrified nature of higher ed.) As my fellow anthropologist Dr. Karen Kelsky writes, it’s okay to quit.

For those determined to stay in academia no matter what, may the odds be ever in your favor. But I encourage you to stand up for yourself, to speak openly, to be your own advocate and to look out for each other.

You are worth more than they tell you.

Now onto the blog posts:

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5 Responses to Now That I Have Your Attention…

  1. Bill Hooker says:

    In your AJ article, you write that “67 per cent of American university faculty [are] part-time employee[s] on a contract that may or may not be renewed each semester”. The link in that sentence goes to a Chronicle article that doesn’t seem to say the same thing — the closest I could find was “professors off the tenure track [are] a group that now makes up 70 percent of faculties”.

    Could you point me to your source for the 67% statistic, please?

  2. Thaddeus Danziger says:

    “Volunteerism is par for the course – literally”. This is what you call college-level writing? Grad-student level? Your subject here is, what, how to keep maintain a respectable score on the golf course? Literally, that is, on an actual golf course, a literal golf course? Little wonder you don’t get paid- you can’t write.

  3. And you can’t read. I’m not sure whether to dignify this with an answer, but there are things in college called courses…oh man, never mind. Nice try though.

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