A dark cloud: Bleaker times to come

In many ways, 2015 has been a dispiriting year. Just as they fell for Barack Obama, Democrats are falling for Hillary Clinton. We still lack a plausible response to climate change or the other existential threats to human survival. The U.S. remains embroiled in conflicts around the world. Domestic spying goes on. People show no sign of awareness that our system of social organization itself is the problem. They even go on eating meat.

In one important way, 2015 should be a good year. I’m writing my dissertation and expect to defend it by early next year. Hopefully, I will graduate in 2016.

But along with that has come the distressing news that my program is closing down.[1] This will not help my job search; my discipline is already more than sufficiently obscure.

In truth, I had already largely written off my once-hoped for academic career. Had I succeeded in finding employment when I earned my Master’s degree in June, 2009, at the depth of the Great Recession, that decision might be different. But since then, the news from academia has been all bad. What little hiring there is is largely for adjuncts, who get paid next to nothing, receive few benefits, and enjoy almost no job security.[2] This returns me to the very quandary that I returned to school hoping to escape.

Although I’m constrained from saying as much publicly as I know about the situation, what has very clearly emerged from the ‘conversation’ surrounding the shutdown of the Human Science program at Saybrook University is that it was a political rather than a financial decision. Administration has never explained how it is that this program cost so much that it had to be shut down; certainly the program couldn’t account for even a significant portion of the $1.6 million in suddenly needed budget cuts, particularly as it must be “taught out,” meaning that students already enrolled must be given the opportunity to complete their degrees, which means that the process of shutting it down will be stretched out over several years.[3] Saybrook’s administration has almost certainly been grossly dishonest about this situation.

Academic politics are notoriously among the worst in the working world. I had previously noticed that that office politics were worst where the stakes were lowest, in low-paid work where managers offered the promise, but almost never the fulfillment of the promise, of advancement to marginally higher-paying positions. Paulo Freire notes that the plantation worker promoted to supervise his erstwhile peers is often crueler than the plantation owner ever thought of being and while owners are certainly cruel enough, his description accords with my own experience.[4] Academia is becoming more like the office politics I have experienced and more like Freire’s plantation. I might not have survived academic politics anyway; with the apparent escalation in politics I’m witnessing, I surely would not now, even if I did secure a position.

For all its merits, and they are many,[5] Human Science is a program that prepares its students for academia and, at least in a quantifiable form that appeals to the private sector, not much else. It falls victim to a strong anti-intellectual tendency in our society.[6]

Meanwhile, in all the years since I was last gainfully employed, not one of my friends has come through with a viable job prospect.

I know it’s hard to let go of the dream of landing the perfect academic job. You might hear a story from a friend who knows someone whose cousin’s mailman’s niece finally landed a tenure-track position that was just right for her. You hear this story and think, Just one more round of applications, and that will be me!

It won’t be you. I’m so sorry. You sound like someone who buys lottery tickets. Stop buying lottery tickets.[7]

I’m not even hearing the story. And when people talk about freelancing or being ‘entrepreneurial,’ they assume what it seems like everyone in our society assumes, that I can market myself.

No, I can’t. I have tried sales jobs at low points in my life and it just doesn’t work. I cannot sell, even something in which I believe. I never have been able to and if I were able to, it is highly likely I would never have returned to school. I might not have landed so hard on my ass each of the previous three times from my previous experiences in the technology sector. I might even be working in the latest tech boom.

But as it is, there is no feeling I have experienced closer to being a prostitute—and I don’t mean the sort of sex worker who enjoys, or at least claims to enjoy her work—than the attempt to sell myself on the job market. The reality of my situation is that I am desperate, that is, I am just where capitalists want me to be.[8] But having experienced the abuse I have, and knowing what I now know about the operation of capitalism, I am terrified of subjecting myself to an employer who seeks to exploit that desperation. And the desperation undercuts any attempt I might make to broaden my network.

So 2015 is shaping up to be a very bleak year indeed. With bleaker times to come.

  1. [1]See David Benfell, “Why human science matters,” March 20, 2015, https://parts-unknown.org/wp/2015/03/20/why-human-science-matters/; David Benfell, “Open Letter to Saybrook University President Nathan Long,” March 29, 2015, https://parts-unknown.org/wp/2015/03/29/open-letter-to-saybrook-university-president-nathan-long/;David Benfell, “A pre-existing plan?” April 23, 2015, https://parts-unknown.org/wp/2015/04/01/a-pre-existing-plan/; David Benfell, “Fighting the good fight: Will Human Science be saved?” April 23, 2015, https://parts-unknown.org/wp/2015/03/22/fighting-the-good-fight-will-human-science-be-saved/
  2. [2]L.V. Anderson, “Why Adjunct Professors Don’t Just Find Other Jobs,” Slate, November 19, 2013, http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/education/2013/11/death_of_duquesne_adjunct_margaret_mary_vojtko_what_really_happened_to_her.html; Kelly J. Baker, “The Impermanent Adjunct,” Vitae, February 26, 2014, https://chroniclevitae.com/news/354-the-impermanent-adjunct; Josh Boldt, “99 Problems But Tenure Ain’t One,” Vitae, January 21, 2014, https://chroniclevitae.com/news/283-99-problems-but-tenure-ain-t-one; Josh Boldt, “The Ph.D. Needs CPR,” Vitae, February 18, 2014, https://chroniclevitae.com/news/335-the-ph-d-needs-cpr; Austin Cline, “Duquesne University: Unions Are Anti-Catholic?” About.com, September 27, 2013, http://atheism.about.com/b/2013/09/27/duquesne-university-unions-are-anti-catholic.htm; Peter Conn, “We Need to Acknowledge the Realities of Employment in the Humanities,” Chronicle of Higher Education, April 4, 2010, http://chronicle.com/article/We-Need-to-Acknowledge-the/64885/; Gary Cutting, “The Real Humanities Crisis,” New York Times, November 30, 2013, http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/11/30/the-real-humanities-crisis/; Ella Delany, “Part-Timers Crowd Academic Hiring,” New York Times, December 22, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/23/world/europe/part-timers-crowd-academic-hiring.html; Henry A. Giroux, “Intellectuals as Subjects and Objects of Violence,” Truthout, September 10, 2013, http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/18704-intellectuals-as-subjects-and-objects-of-violence ; Henry Giroux, “Neoliberalism’s War Against the Radical Imagination,” Tikkun, February 11, 2014, http://www.tikkun.org/nextgen/neoliberalisms-war-against-the-radical-imagination-by-henry-giroux; Henry A. Giroux, “Neoliberalism’s War on Democracy,” Truthout, April 26, 2014, http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/23306-neoliberalisms-war-on-democracy; Billie Hara, “How Do You, NTT Faculty, Pay Your Rent?” Chronicle of Higher Education, March 23, 2012, http://chronicle.com/blogs/profhacker/how-do-you-ntt-faculty-pay-your-rent/39146; Erin Hatton, “The Rise of the Permanent Temp Economy,” New York Times, January 26, 2013, http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/01/26/the-rise-of-the-permanent-temp-economy/; Keith Hoeller, “The Wal-Mart-ization of higher education: How young professors are getting screwed,” Salon, February 16, 2014, http://www.salon.com/2014/02/16/the_wal_mart_ization_of_higher_education_how_young_professors_are_getting_screwed/; Scott Jaschik, “Hiding Adjuncts From ‘U.S. News’,” Inside Higher Ed, September 3, 2009, http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2009/09/03/usnews; Audrey Williams June, “Do You Know Where Your Ph.D.’s Are?” Chronicle of Higher Education, September 23, 2013, http://chronicle.com/article/Do-You-Know-Where-Your-PhDs/141777/; Audrey Williams June, “3 Things I’ve Learned About Ph.D. Students and Placement,” Chronicle of Higher Education, September 23, 2013, http://chronicle.com/blogs/phd/2013/09/23/3-things-ive-learned-about-ph-d-students-and-placement/; Sarah Kendzior, “Zero opportunity employers,” Al Jazeera, September 23, 2013, http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2013/09/2013923101543956539.html; Sarah Kendzior, “The Job Market Recovery that Never Came,” Vitae, September 26, 2014, https://chroniclevitae.com/news/724-the-job-market-recovery-that-never-came; Diana Lambert and Phillip Reese, “CSU using more part-time faculty than full-time professors,” Sacramento Bee, January 31, 2015, http://www.sacbee.com/news/local/education/article8875895.html; Moshe Z. Marvit, “Duquesne University Adjuncts’ Fight to Organize,” Unionosity, n.d., http://magazine.unionosity.com/; Mark Oppenheimer, “For Duquesne Professors, a Union Fight That Transcends Religion,” New York Times, June 22, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/23/education/for-professors-at-duquesne-university-union-fight-transcends-religion.html; Stacey Patton, “The Ph.D. Now Comes With Food Stamps,” Chronicle of Higher Education, May 6, 2012, http://chronicle.com/article/From-Graduate-School-to/131795/; Stacey Patton, “Ph.D.’s Spend Big Bucks Hunting for Academic Jobs,With No Guaranteed Results,” Chronicle of Higher Education, March 11, 2013, http://chronicle.com/article/A-Job-in-Academe-Itll-Cost/137823/; Stacey Patton, “‘I Fully Expect to Die With This Debt’,” Chronicle of Higher Education, April 15, 2013, http://chronicle.com/article/I-Fully-Expect-to-Die-With/138507/; Katie Rose Guest Pryal, “A Manifesto for the Freelance Academic,” Vitae, October 31, 2014, https://chroniclevitae.com/news/783-a-manifesto-for-the-freelance-academic; Alissa Quart, “This College Professor Has a Master’s…And Is Living in Poverty,” Alternet, January 9, 2015, http://www.alternet.org/economy/college-professor-has-mastersand-living-poverty; Claudio Sanchez, “The Sad Death Of An Adjunct Professor Sparks A Labor Debate,” National Public Radio, September 22, 2013, http://www.npr.org/2013/09/22/224946206/adjunct-professor-dies-destitute-then-sparks-debate; Jordan Weissmann, “The Unending Horror of the Humanities Job Market, in One Chart,” Slate, July 14, 2010, http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2014/07/14/humanities_ph_d_employment_the_longstanding_horror_of_the_job_market_in.html; Jordan Weissmann, “Someone Calculated How Many Adjunct Professors Are on Public Assistance, and the Number Is Startling,” Slate, April 13, 2015, http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2015/04/13/adjunct_pay_a_quarter_of_part_time_college_faculty_receive_public_assistance.html
  3. [3]David Benfell, “Fighting the good fight: Will Human Science be saved?” April 23, 2015, https://parts-unknown.org/wp/2015/03/22/fighting-the-good-fight-will-human-science-be-saved/
  4. [4]Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 30th Anniversary Edition (New York: Continuum, 2006).
  5. [5]David Benfell, “Why human science matters,” March 20, 2015, https://parts-unknown.org/wp/2015/03/20/why-human-science-matters/
  6. [6]Henry A. Giroux, “Intellectuals as Subjects and Objects of Violence,” Truthout, September 10, 2013, http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/18704-intellectuals-as-subjects-and-objects-of-violence
  7. [7]Katie Rose Guest Pryal, “A Manifesto for the Freelance Academic,” Vitae, October 31, 2014, https://chroniclevitae.com/news/783-a-manifesto-for-the-freelance-academic
  8. [8]George Kent, Ending Hunger Worldwide (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2011).

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