Let’s get the easy comments out of the way. It’s awful that people with Ph.D.s are on welfare. It’s also awful that there are too many graduate students going into graduate school in the humanities in the first place (despite multiple warnings not to do so). The hard question is, what is the relationship between these two awful things?
Oversupply of Ph.Ds? Check. Deliberate restructuring of demand? Check. Did I mention the probability of tens of thousands in student loan debt that can’t be discharged through bankruptcy? Of course there are Ph.D.s on welfare then.
That’s why Jim Grossman’s admission that he’s never heard of a historian on welfare is so disappointing. I realize he told the Chronicle that that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening, but he’s not really bothering to look for it either. On the other hand, the incomparable Michael Bérubé tells us:
“Everyone thinks a Ph.D. pretty much guarantees you a living wage and, from what I can tell, most commentators think that college professors make $100,000 and more,” he says. “But I’ve been hearing all year from nontenure-track faculty making under $20,000, and I don’t know anyone who believes you can raise a family on that. Even living as a single person on that salary is tough, if you want to eat something other than ramen noodles every once in a while.”
The “everyone” in that first statement should not include professors, especially tenure-track professors, who ought to know how bad things really are. Willful blindness is no excuse. And if you know how bad things really are, then don’t you have a moral obligation to inform prospective graduate students who might not know as much you do? The thesis advisers of those adjuncts on welfare are the people who should be most ashamed by that story. Do they even know? Do they even care?
Just because you love your chosen field does not mean that your students are exempt from economic reality.
Update: Looks like Jim Grossman’s ideas on this subject didn’t entirely make it into the story.