Club-Admiralty

v6.2.1 - moving along, a point increase at a time

Academic precarity and other-blaming

I think I am going to commission a saint painting (Byzantine style, of course) of Paul Prinsloo (I just need to find a clever Saint Epithet for him).  Here is another though process sparked by something he shared recently on his Facebook.  Paul shared this blog post without comment (I swear, sometimes I feel like this is an online class he's conducting and we're all participating in a massive discussion ;-) ) and it got me thinking...

I do recognize the adjunctification (and probably de-profesionalization) of the professoriate, and I see it as a trend that's not new.  If I really think back to my undergraduate days, almost 20 years ago now, I could probably see it back then as well. There is, however, plenty of blame to go around. Academia is (slowly or quickly, depending on your standpoint) becoming a capitalist monster operating on a greedy algorithm. My own university, a state university, seems to be in competition with other state universities in the same state.  Instead of looking at complimentary and cross-institutional programs to help one another out (heck, we all get money from the same source!) we compete with each other in (what seems to be) a Hunger Games-like environment for academia. So we must have a program X, a program Y, and a program Z because our sister schools (20-60 miles away) have similar programs.

Having this as a background, we also have internal fiefdoms shaping up. While the few (lucky?) ones on the tenure track hunker down to protect their ever diminishing ranks and privileges, they leave others on the outside to fend by themselves and to be picked off by the (metaphorical) wolves, by getting adjunct jobs with no job security, high operating costs (you go ahead and travel between several job sites so that you can string together work to pay the bills, see how much that costs both monetarily, physically, and emotionally), no benefits, no retirement, and low wages.  Let's not get started with the (tenured) faculty know-best mentality that exists, where two of the by-products are bastardizations of the notion of self-governance and academic freedom.

There are plenty of problems with academia to go around. That said, anyone pursuing any sort of degree - doctoral, masters, or even bachelors, needs to take a hard look at the path that they are setting for themselves. You need to pursue something that is smart and helps you on the road in getting you a job to pay for yourself (think of Maslow's lower levels if you will). I sort of fell for the glamour of specific jobs.  I loved technology and went for a computer science degree as an undergraduate. I liked it, but that sort of thing wasn't exactly what I was passionate about.  But, back then you could easily get a six-figure job, with a bonus, right out of college if you had a CS degree.  And then the market crashed and jobs were sent off-shore. Luckily I didn't have school debt.  This maybe was easy to predict, but I certainly didn't see it.  I've been more cautious since then.  Faculty jobs (perhaps with the benefit of my own hindsight) are easy to observe as being diminishing in number.

The line that really made me roll my eyes in the blog post was this:
Do you retrain to do HR or Admin or tax preparation and forfeit the research you have done, or do you follow the conventional wisdom that if you are tough enough to hang in there, and brilliant enough to shine through, you'll be the one who gets the job and gets to be the professor? 
The answer is "yes" - you retrain an get other jobs to sustain yourself. If her LinkedIn page is any indication, I'm slightly younger than her, and I've had to adapt a few times in my professional life to keep a roof over my head. It's what the regular person does if they want to survive.  You can do something that's fulfilling in life, but sometimes work that pays the bills and sustains us does not coincide with what fulfills us deep in our soul.

The fact of the matter is that academia (at least in the US, I am not sure globally) has problems. Systemic and systematic problems. Both systems and individuals need to be analyzed to fix the problem, but when people are just looking out for their own good...well eventually we all lose. I should point out that I am in a doctoral program as well. I do it because I like learning and it stretches my mind. But, I don't go into debt for it, and I know that a tenure-track job isn't on the horizon for me for all the obvious reasons. I can still research and publish. I actually do that now, and I've worked with some pretty fabulous people over the years.  I count myself lucky to have been at the right place, at the right time, in the right mindset to capitalize on those acquaintances, make good friends, and expand my learning in the process. The fact of the matter is that just because you've earned a doctorate, doesn't mean that you'll be getting a tenure-track job. That's not how the system works. The system is broken, and you can't play by its "rules" if you want to change the system.

Just my two cents.  Your thoughts?  (now back to my lit review)
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