Obscene indifference to other people’s suffering.

22 12 2010

Via the Daily Dish, here’s the worst post on the academic job market that I’ve ever seen:

Assumption 1: Innovation, including academic research, is the fundamental driver of long term health, wealth and happiness for the human race. (The “including academic research” bit is the biggest leap.)

Assumption 2: Unfortunately it’s very difficult to say beforehand who will and who will not produce great, or even good, research. (Even after five years departments have trouble predicting which of their crop will excel.)

In this world, each extra PhD raises the chances of one more brilliant, world-changing idea. While hardly comforting to the thousands who toil without job prospects, the collective benefits just might outweigh all the individual misery.

Spend a lot of time one the job market before writing that? I doubt it. It takes someone who’s never suffered at all to be so callous towards the people who have.

More importantly, the main assumption behind this argument is incomplete at best, and painfully wrong at worst. Who says the people who do the best research, let alone the most valuable research, are the Ph.D.s getting jobs when they’re done? Suppose your filed is particularly oversupplied the year you enter the job market? Suppose the school you want to work at is more interested in how well you teach? Suppose your research is great, but you don’t interview very well. Suppose your research is terrible, but you could afford to attend a snooty school and you interview very well.

I guess what offends me most about this argument is the notion that the oversupply of Ph.D.s of all kinds out there is in any way rational on a societal level. Certainly it makes economic sense for graduate programs to admit anybody who can pay the tuition, and for other schools to hire the surplus that those programs create at fire sale prices, but telling people who aren’t going to win the lottery that their loss is society’s gain is just obscene.

I wonder what the contingent faculty of the world think about this…


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