Sunday, May 05, 2013

They took our jerbs!

If ever there was an article to inspire grad-student rage, it was this one about post-scandal politicians (and a certain Nazi-sympathizing fashion designer) landing plum (well-plum-ish, more on that in a moment) jobs as "professors" (again, more in a moment). Writes Ariel Kaminer, "The traditional path to an academic job is long and laborious: the solitude and penury of graduate study, the scramble for one of the few open positions in each field, the blood sport of competitive publishing." Consider the point driven home. These big-shot neer-do-wells are, surprise surprise, all men, and in similar surprisingness, the money they can make as adjuncts is so drop-in-the-bucket-ish that one of these guys was like, meh, I'll give it to charity.

Meanwhile, the article's maybe a bit misleading, because it gives the impression that tenure-track jobs are being handed out to whichever formerly Great Man has most recently solicited sex in a public restroom or tweeted his genitalia or expressed admiration for Hitler. It seems more like, they pop in and teach at most a class or two. It's not quite that they took our jerbs.

But in any case, the real reason for outrage is not that grad students work hard for little pay, only to have our would-be jerbs taken by those who find the pay hilarious, the task second-rate. Nor is it even the implicit those who can't, teach - the notorious anti-teacher slur - reference: those who can but make asses of themselves can also teach. No, it's that grad students live in fear that micro-missteps will cost them a job. Things like, oh, having a Facebook page on which they admit interests other than critical theory. Things like, if female, having a male significant other. (Which - see Letter 2 - means one is a dabbler.)

And my sense - but what do I know? - is that grad students vastly overestimate the amount their professors - let alone this broader class of individuals, All The Professors - are thinking about them in the first place. (PhD Comics sometimes gets it right.) According to anecdotal evidence spanning beyond myself, you won't not get into grad school, not get a fellowship, because you have an internet presence that, while tame, reveals that you have thoughts other than how unfortunate it is that the library isn't open 24/7 and doesn't have all the books you need for your dissertation. Maybe it's radically different when it comes to jobs, but that seems unlikely. Somewhat different, maybe.

Still grad students will worry about things like whether they mentioned another scholar in class, and this is someone everyone knows the professor thinks has it wrong - everyone but this one grad student, whose fate is now sealed. And there probably is some truth to the minor-missteps-will-end-your-career-before-it's-even-begun concern. So there's something painful, I suppose, for those dead-set on an academic career, watching those principally known, at this point, for some embarrassing screw-up being "professors," however tangentially.

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