Monday, February 6, 2012

Going to School to Be a Glorified Part Time Worker (and a call to action)

When I talk to most people about my plans for when I get out of school, I think that we have very different visions of the landscape that I am looking out into. I'm definitely better off than most people, but I just want to kind of outline what going into higher education is like:

So, let's say I hypothetically get accepted into a Ph.D program. Great! That is pretty difficult, since they are really getting rid of a lot of acceptance into those programs (for reasons we'll see later). I could hypothetically get a full ride scholarship, or maybe just a partial one. If any scholarship is involved though, you can better believe that I will be in some sort of T.A. position. What that means is that I will be a 'teaching assistant' for a class that is taught by a long term professor, usually with a large student class.

I'm pretty conflicted about the idea of T.A.'ing. On one hand, it's a good way of teaching graduate students how to teach, and it gives you a good amount of experience. On the other hand, I think it can get in the way of the learning that Ph.D study requires in a lot of instances, usually by forcing a student to do a whole bunch of work that is not really helpful for learning how to teach. This basically amounts to menial work like grading papers. This allows for teachers to teach giant classes and have T.A.'s do the work that isn't lecturing to a giant class full of students who aren't exactly paying attention; not quality education, but also it allows for the school to hire less teachers.

In any case, I would do that for some years, and then graduate. Yay! At this point, I am either incredibly lucky to have not gained any debt, or I am in debt to a bank. This debt is basically permanent: even bankruptcy can't get rid of student debt. So, at an interest rate of about 6% compounded a year, I will start to look for a job.  There's basically two types of jobs that professors can get. There is a job that is tenured, and there are non-tenured jobs. Now, when most people think about a professorship, they are thinking a tenured professor. But perhaps they shouldn't, and here's why:

There's a pretty big difference between a tenured professor and a non-tenured (also called adjuct or visiting) professor. Tenured professors get paid a decent salary, and also get health benefits, vacation, etc. All the things a reasonable full time job would give. Adjunct professors do not get the same thing: many times they are paid barely above minimum wage for a position that is technically part time, but requires more than 40 hours.

So why would you hire a tenured professor? Well, that's exactly the question that schools have asked themselves, and they've decided that they mostly don't need them anymore. So they'll hire some, just like some poor Americans become honest-to-God rich from 'working hard'. But the majority will be Adjunct, and they can fill in the gaps with T.A.s (see?), sometimes even undergrad students. If you look closely, this is exactly what has happened at jobs like Target/Walmart. As opposed to hiring one person for 40 hours a week and having to pay pesky things like benefits (or a real salary), they will hire two people for 20 hours a week, paying significantly less to get the same amount of work.

Well, not really. The quality goes down, sure. But in America, it's not the quality of the college education you get, it's the bare minimum that you get it. It's a status symbol for putting in a certain amount of money.

So, with the decrease in tenured jobs, I will probably have to settle for a 25k per year adjunct job, with no benefits. The sad thing is that you get people defending this system, because you have to 'pay your dues' to get a tenured position. Or to teach because it's 'what you love'. Well, besides the Stockholm Syndrome/abusive husband logic that goes into that, I would say that this system is rigged to generally allow people who are already well off to get these full time professorships. Only people who have some sort of buffer of money can live that way for the years required to get a good job. And these people with the buffer are generally upper class, white, etc.

Of course, there won't ever be enough tenured jobs for all the adjunct faculty (since they keep getting rid of the tenured jobs), so what does that mean? That means that the people who can't financially afford to hold a sub-living wage will have to drop out of it. It's basically a system that is predicated on crushing intelligent people's dreams, wasting their resources, and continuing the racist, sexist, classist status quo. All in order to tie people up into wage slavery to pay off their exorbitant debt they got in the process.

This isn't even to mention the fact that many people are shoved into college by a society that requires it for any job you won't get scoffed at for having, only to call you entitled if you don't take that same job because it won't pay your student loans.

With that in mind, I'm going to (in the next post) investigate the ethical and political arguments for a Student debt/loan Strike.

1 comment:

  1. This is exactly why I dropped out. Now I spend all the time I would have spent studying at the public library, and all the money I would have spent on tuition to buy weed. I am much happier and possibly better educated than when I was in school.