Marc Bousquet read the same Stanley Fish piece that I did this morning, and while he is much less complimentary to Fish than I was, what I’m interested in is an argument that despite Bousquet’s caveat feels entirely new to me:
I’ve written about this many times before. Even in Wisconsin and Ohio, the police unions are more diverse than the faculty unions–because the extreme wage discount unfairly segments the academic workforce by race, class and gender. Only a small number of persons, disproportionately white, can afford the extreme economic irrationality of most forms of higher education teaching appointments. Defending irrational compensation schemes on the grounds that persons who start out on third base economically are “doing what they love” is really defending a system that denies everyone else a fair shot at doing something they love. The struggle to make academic compensation fair is a struggle to enormously enlarge the academic talent pool: way too many black and brown intellectuals are working at the DMV, fighting wars, and walking a beat instead of teaching at the state university. Too many teaching positions are filled by persons who can afford to work for the status compensation of saying “I work at the U.,” rather than the most qualified.
Every time someone with wealth, parental or spousal backing, and/or high household income brays about how they’d do the job for free, they put another brick in the wall in front of those who don’t have those advantages.
Of course, one of the reasons I might never have thought of this argument before is that I started on third base. Not just the cost of graduate school but the opportunity cost of graduate school was affordable to me because my parents paid for most of it. As much as I wish they were higher, I’ve been reaping the benefits of that decision ever since.
What bothers me about this point though is that I can’t get the image of Diane Chambers out of mind. You remember her, right? She was Sam Malone’s part-time girlfriend on Cheers and as I remember it a perpetual graduate student: Psychology, art history – you name it. I have this vague memory of her working at Cheers in the first place because her father wouldn’t pay her tuition anymore.
While my resemblance to Diane Chambers is hopefully minimal, my best friend in graduate school was much closer to that prototype since one of his ancestors invented Portland Cement. After many years of trying, he got one of those “We’ll give you the Ph.D. if you promise not to try to do anything with it” messages when he defended, and I’ve barely heard from him since. Rich people aren’t exactly served by a system that produces this kind of outcome either.
While I certainly support it in principle, opening up the job market to people of color and others who couldn’t afford a graduate education otherwise isn’t going to help anyone get work. In fact, it will just become harder to get a job in academia. Increased supply of labor when the demand stays the same means more people get wages that don’t support even a working class lifestyle.
If you’ve ever read anything Marc has wrote, you know he’s called many times for a restructuring of the academic labor market. Since administrations probably won’t do this voluntarily, unions can be very helpful here.
But what do we do in the meantime? I say keep everyone, rich and poor alike, out of graduate school by giving the best idea possibile of how bad the market really is. This goes not just for the humanities, but even law schools are saturated these days. If they go anyways and start whining, then it’s their own fault.
Nobody with an expensive graduate education should have to adjunct for a living. They should just go serve drinks immediately instead.