Monday, May 14, 2012

Adjunct Professors on Food Stamps

Depressing Chronicle of Higher Education article about adjunct faculty getting food stamps, Medicaid, and other aid for the poor:
Of the 22 million Americans with master's degrees or higher in 2010, about 360,000 were receiving some kind of public assistance, according to the latest Current Population Survey released by the U.S. Census Bureau in March 2011. . . . The percentage of graduate-degree holders who receive food stamps or some other aid more than doubled between 2007 and 2010. During that three-year period, the number of people with master's degrees who received food stamps and other aid climbed from 101,682 to 293,029, and the number of people with Ph.D.'s who received assistance rose from 9,776 to 33,655.
Just another symptom of the difficulty with finding meaningful work in our fallen age. People get Ph.D.s because they are interested in intellectual life and turned off by the alternatives: business seems like petty money-grubbing in a corporate wasteland; government service is just bureaucracy, like spending your career in the DMV waiting room; in the military you have to kill people; in NGOs you spend all your time hitting up rich people for money. And, as this article points out, the atmosphere in graduate school only encourages this kind of thinking:
Many people hold on to hopes that they'll be the one to get a lucky break, even as their economic situation deteriorates. Marc Bousquet, an associate professor of English at Santa Clara University and the founding editor of Workplace: A Journal for Academic Labor, says that ego, identity status, and prestige may explain why so many people refuse to abandon their aspirations of becoming full-time professors.

"A big part of what we do in graduate education is foster this sense of vocation and teaching for love and passion for what you do," says Mr. Bousquet, who is also a contributor to The Chronicle's Brainstorm blog. "We socialize people into accepting the coin of reputation as status capital. Some people are so deeply socialized into the regime of payment by way of status that they are essentially trapped in it for life."
Not to mention that if these adjuncts tried to get other jobs, what would they do? So far as I know, there is no field in America where well-paid jobs are to be had for the taking, and no skill set that guarantees anyone a decent job. The closest things are probably hospital nursing and certain medical tech fields, and your average English or History Ph.D. may not be well suited to deal with blood and bile all day. Besides, since they have already spent most of their lives in school with little to show for it, the thought of going back to school again can be a bit bleak, even if they could figure out how to pay for it.

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