18 January 2014

Divided Selves, Divided Profession

"It’s not that there are no jobs out there. There are contingent and part-time adjunct teaching jobs. When it comes to hiring contingent faculty and adjuncts, the profession is still partying like it’s 1969."

Rebecca Schuman stops hurling invective and calls on Adjunct Nate Silver to bring out the charts and numbers in her latest blog post (not Slate).  The post deals specifically with the German language and literature job market, and I'd be really interested to know whether the trends charted here track with other humanities disciplnes (particularly non-literature disciplines).  Bottom line: the students are there, but the tenure-track jobs are not.

Lee Skallerup Bessette's most recent column in Inside Higher Ed makes intelligible how contingent faculty fail to recognize themselves part of a as a collective working entity while still doing much of the labor of higher education
We are more like other low-wage workers, but we have trouble seeing this because our privilege and education tells us we are different, for better and for worse. So when few came to the panel on part-time faculty, I understand. I get the anger geared towards me for the tweet, and I get the anger that was placed back to those who were angry at me. People weren’t at the MLA to talk about these issues, they were at the MLA to meet with friends, get a job, learn about what’s going on in their field, share their work and research, get feedback, and get away from their own individual challenges that are taking place on the ground at their university. Contingent and part-time faculty issues? Not on the agenda, not on their radar, not by choice.
Twitter today presented me with a very different depiction of the relationship between college learning and Ph.D's:
"We dangle our three magic letters before the eyes of these predestined victims, and they swarm to us like moths to an electric light." 1903
— Ted Underwood (@Ted_Underwood) January 18, 2014

Reading "The PhD Octopus," by W. James, w/ a sense of desolation like Charlton Heston seeing the Statue of Liberty. http://t.co/IoSv8SJYF1
— Ted Underwood (@Ted_Underwood) January 18, 2014
Follow Ted's link to the essay, which starts with James charting a mismatch between first-rate college literature teaching and the apparatus of Ph.D.-getting (which James calls "a tyrannical Machine with unforeseen powers of exclusion and corruption").

Much of the essay is devoted to describing the three sorts of men (of course, men) who pursue Ph.D.'s. The first two sorts are worthy.  The third sort is not but gets a Ph.D. anyway.  Want to hear your worst insecurities about your place in the profession spelled out in elegant early-C20 periods? They're there.

I wonder how much debt Ph.D candidates were wracking up in 1903?

I can't come to any pithy conclusions about this essay, but I can't quite leave it alone either.

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