Sunday, February 06, 2011

Academy Shift?

Perhaps this is the same with each generation of PhD and masters grads who seriously considered a career in the academy, but I have yet to meet someone among my peer group who actually wants the job now.

Views such as those expressed here, and here, I find ring true among these newly minted and thoroughly disillusioned scholars. It's not just the lack of positions available in academia for new grads, it's the nature of the job itself.

Researchers are the means of production for the university which owns them. They are there to "produce knowledge", or "output" as I now often hear it called by way of successful grants and publications, ever more efficiently for the university. Efficient means for less and less cost, which equates to reducing resources, staffing, tenure track positions, and increasing the workload and expectations on professors and their remaining supporters.

A friend of mine, new tenure track prof, not long ago confessed to me the existential tragedy of finding herself in her mid-30s, working 7 days a week to publish the four to five papers a year and three or more undergrad course per term teaching load she required to ensure she'd get tenure. She had wanted a partner and children by now, but was dealing with the fact that this biological imperative was unlikely to ever happen. I cannot imagine what that must feel like.

It doesn't help matters when another friend reports a department head explaining that he doesn't hire female academics "because they all go on maternity leave."

Others, PhDs, expect to string together 5 to 10 years of postdocs, sessional and short-term contract positions before finding something relatively secure. This means frequent moving and highly disrupted personal lives. Is this worth it? For what often amounts to the lovely prize of adding a few lines to a CV (academic job lottery ticket?) a year, not likely. The game is rigged.

These aren't slackers saying this. These are the prize winning candidates with passionate, critical, and creative minds. In other words, these are the ones the academy wants.

My peers and I hear these stories often enough and seriously question that path which looked so appealing not so long ago. Balance is a term that frequently comes up regarding our expectations of life, and is something that appears staggeringly absent in the neoliberal academy. 

If these views are common among the present generation of new scholars, what does this mean for the future higher learning, teaching, and research? Might we see a quiet revolution (mutiny?) within the rank and file and new forms of academic and academy emerge?

1 comment:

Planter said...

Interesting post. The Economist article has been the subject of discussion where I work. I think there are a few things missing from these discussions:

1. Every job has it's ups and downs. Yes an academic job is a lot of work, but do you think that using your technical skills as a consultant, or small businessperson is any less work or comes with any more intellectual freedom.

2. For all of my own complaints about administration / grant writing, I still can't imagine a better place to be than working as an academic.

3. A lot of the blame for the oversupply of PHds. can be put on the government / upper administration. Much of the funding and rewards are tilted toward training PHds over MScs.

4. Those "useless" academic hurdles such as comps, if used properly, can be a form of PHd birth control. Not every student is as talented as the rest (and you can't separate them based on a transcript when they apply), and we need some mechanism to encourage some individuals to consider other options.

5. Just like in grad school, as a junior faculty your life experience will be a function of your immediate superior (supvervisor as a grad student or Dept. Head as a faculty). My life is great, but I find that I have been well insulated by a supportive Dept. Head. Others in my institution are not so lucky. Bottom line - know what you are getting into at the interview.

6. Unless you are like Charles Darwin and have married in to a wealthy family, if you want to make your living as an intellectual you have to join the world of money and political pressure at some point. It might not be the best, but the work is still interesting and you can eat at the same time.