There are two Chronicle articles not behind the paywall that I first spotted last night. They’re both on graduate education so they must be published together in the paper issue of that periodical. The first I saw is a very earnest letter from a grad student in English. The last paragraph is enough for you to get the tone:
We, the humanities graduate students of the United States of America, do not want your pity, or your smug, self-congratulatory admonishments of our choices. What we want is your help formulating a path that will lead us into careers where we can be useful, not exploited.
Graduate programs recruit students in the honorable hope that at least some of them will carry on the research and teaching that have served the nation so well over many years. While some minimum number of students is required to sustain a pipeline of new scholarship, we need to initiate a national conversation about the appropriate size of Ph.D. cohorts.
I also like 2 and 3:
2. Every graduate program in the humanities should include a truthful statement on its Web site about the realities of academic employment. Every program should also include a required (presumably noncredit) first-semester course aimed at introducing students to the professional facts of life. Such a course would review local and national information on attrition, time-to-degree, placement, prospects for tenure-accruing jobs, salaries, and the workings of professional organizations.
3. Every graduate program should also be required to maintain an accurate and current job-placement Web page. At a minimum, these pages would record the name of each student who has completed the doctorate, the year of completion, the date, type, and year of first placement and each subsequent placement, and the percentage of each cohort that has completed the degree within 10 years. At the moment, there is a troubling variability in the scope, accessibility, and accuracy of placement information from one program to another. In particular, a number of such pages do not distinguish clearly between tenure-track and non-tenure-track placements. And most do not include nonacademic employment.
These things are obviously designed to move supply more in line with demand. They also serve the added benefit of making sure that people who enter academia expecting wine and cheese parties every week have been adequately warned. The problem is that none of these things are going to help people who are already in the pipeline.
Here’s my advice for people who are in the pipeline and need help surviving. Join a union. If there’s no union for you to join (and there’s always the AAUP), then organize one yourself.
The problem is that all the forces that are proletarianizing* academic labor – shrinking state budgets, contingency, the lack of interest in the humanities – are too big for individuals to handle on their own. Like my favorite bumper sticker on my wife’s car says: “Everyone does better when EVERYONE does better.”
We in Academia are trained to think that there is an individual solution for all our problems. One more paper, one more interview, when my book (emphasis on MY) book gets done – then everything will get better. It will for a select few, but it might not for you and the reason is not necessarily your personal inadequacy but forces beyond your control.
That’s why everyone should organize. Professors aren’t that different than plumbers these days. We are skilled labor, which is a cost that most people don’t want to pay for. Come to think of it, plumbers probably make more than we do on average as you can live without college but a toilet that flushes is an absolute necessity.
* Did I really use that word twice in one day? Almost, different tense.