What I should be

I suppose most people might be tempted to skip over the acknowledgments frequently found in the front matter of books. I tend to pause for them, perhaps unintentionally, perhaps out of excessive curiosity, to gain a better sense of the authors. I recently found this, from one more fortunate than myself:

Although I am not a gambler, I also thank Lady Luck for being employed as a tenured professor, which makes my academic production possible. It might have been otherwise. Countless potential discoveries, innovations, and advancements are never made because most faculty and intellectuals have been discarded, living as coffee baristas and wait staff versus the alternative of a homeless existence in a McDonaldized contingent academia.[1]

The presumption that attends a Ph.D., a research degree accrediting its bearer as a “producer” of knowledge, is that I should be in academia, conducting research/inquiry, teaching classes. Alas, under neoliberalism this has become considerably more difficult. As I wrote earlier on a page that is now off line,

Unfortunately, under neoliberalism, higher education has largely gone the other way [from preparation for the responsibilities of citizenship]: We layer quantitative metrics on top of quantitative metrics in the name of “accountability;” we see the word “entrepreneurship,” a word that should never be used in the context of education, emblazoned across Ivy League university web sites as they promote their job training programs; academic departments retreat from funding cuts by reinforcing the high walls around their intellectual silos; positivism (or post-positivism, if you insist) ascends not on its own merit but in an emphasis on a naïve view of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM); all while low-paid adjuncts enable ever richer university administrations. As Christian Smith puts it, “[t]he manure has piled up so deep in the hallways, classrooms, and administration buildings . . . that,” he writes, “I am not sure how much longer I can wade through it and retain my sanity and integrity.” Smith and I share an ideal of what the university is supposed to be. He laments “our crisis of faith in truth, reality, reason, evidence, argument, civility, and our common humanity.”[2] But given a choice he has and I seem not to, (I’m pretty sure he and) I would be nowhere else.

In 2015, Saybrook University began “teaching out” (closing down) its Human Science program. I completed the program later that year, formally graduating early the next. But with the toll austerity is taking on academia,[3] the siloization of the social sciences, and the apparent absence of any other human science program in English-speaking[4] academia, there is little to no opportunity for a transdisciplinary (or, as I prefer it, post-disciplinary) scholar such as myself to find even an adjunct position.

[O]f course, even before the coronavirus pandemic [in 2020], most graduating Ph.D.s faced bleak prospects. National Science Foundation data suggest that 40 percent of recent Ph.D. graduates had no employment commitments of any kind (not in the private sector, nor as postdocs, nor as contingent or tenure-track faculty). Of those who did get commitments in academe, tenure-track appointments were relatively rare. According to the American Association of University Professors, nearly three-fourths of all teaching jobs today are not tenure-eligible. As a new report by the American Federation of Teachers highlights, these non-tenure-track jobs tend to provide low wages, few benefits, and little job security — with contracts extended or retracted capriciously from semester to semester. Many contingent faculty members, even those working full time, have to rely on government assistance just to make ends meet. Many are also saddled by immense debt, incurred in the hope that a terminal degree would provide a pathway to a stable and well-compensated academic job.[5]

And if indeed I am wasting my time applying for such positions, then it is not only my time I am wasting, but that of those (my dissertation committee) who so generously write very nice reference letters on my behalf.[6] The truth is I can’t tell whether or not my application in academia will be taken seriously. What I do know is that whether it would land me a tenure track or other position or, as historically seems most likely, it would end up in the bit bucket, the reference letters are a required part of that application. How many such letters can I ask for? How many should I ask for? My professors helped me to something irreplaceable; they deserve far better than this abuse from me.

It might help if I had published more than my dissertation, but scholarly work takes time, resources, and the marketing ability to write a successful grant proposal. I am poor. I need funding I can’t get. In this way, academia excludes me. That this is the case crushes me.

This page is part of a series on my job hunt:

  1. Grievance as fury

  2. Poverty, as a constraint on networking opportunities, as a constraint on social mobility, and as rationalizing dehumanization, but also as a perspective on what I am expected to do to find work and its absolute futility.

  3. The transparent absurdity of my job search since 2001 and, after twenty long and infuriating years, the inescapable conclusion that yes, the job market really is a scam.[7] and that I face discrimination, it which it is apparent that there is nothing I can do to overcome biases arrayed against me.

  4. The denial of my human rights and therefore, my reduction to subhuman status.

  5. That which I am not, whether or not neoliberalism or any other expression of power relations requires it.

  6. That which I should be, largely as a consequence of my education.

  7. That which I am, including my résumé

  1. [1]John Asimakopoulos, Acknowledgements in The Political Economy of the Spectacle and Postmodern Caste (Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 2020), xiv.
  2. [2]Christian Smith, “Higher Education Is Drowning in BS,” Chronicle of Higher Education, January 9, 2018, https://www.chronicle.com/article/Higher-Education-Is-Drowning/242195
  3. [3]Sheila Liming, “My University is Dying,” Chronicle of Higher Education, September 25, 2019, https://www.chronicle.com/interactives/20190925-my-university-is-dying; Emma Whitford, “Public Higher Ed Funding Still Has Not Recovered From 2008 Recession,” Inside Higher Ed, May 5, 2020, https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2020/05/05/public-higher-education-worse-spot-ever-heading-recession
  4. [4]It is fairly common that passengers ask what my Ph.D. is in. It is extremely uncommon that they are familiar with Human Science. One day, there was an exception, as a Spanish-speaking passenger seemed to actually know what I was talking about. She told me that such a program at least formerly existed at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (in Spanish, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México). Sadly, my attempts to learn foreign languages, including German—I took a year of German at California State University, East Bay—and Spanish, have failed.
  5. [5]Musa al-Gharbi, “Universities Run on Disposable Scholars,” Chronicle of Higher Education, May 1, 2020, https://www.chronicle.com/article/Universities-Run-on-Disposable/248687
  6. [6]Cheryl Foster, Rebecca Millsop, and Doug Reed, “The Heavy Unseen Labor of Writing Reference Letters,” Chronicle Vitae, October 14, 2019, https://chroniclevitae.com/news/2259-the-heavy-unseen-labor-of-writing-reference-letters
  7. [7]David Benfell, “About that alleged ‘labor shortage,’” Not Housebroken, May 12, 2021, https://disunitedstates.org/2021/05/09/about-that-alleged-labor-shortage/