Beside/s: Fall thoughts on the academy

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m not teaching this fall. It’s the first time that I haven’t been in school in the fall as a teacher or student for 33 years. Will I ever want to go back? I’m not sure. For now, I’m taking some time to think through my relationship with the academy/academic industrial complex (AIC). Here are a few things about the state of the AIC that I’ve recently encountered online. When I put them beside each other, they make me think that higher education is a fundamentally broken system:

1. A tweet about the dismal job market:

2. A post about the terrible process of trying to get an academic job. Here’s one excerpt:

The more I talk with PhDs around the country, the more I learn that my husband’s and my situation isn’t that, um, unique. There are PhDs who have secure jobs but who live thousands of miles from their families; PhDs who resemble nomads moving from state to state after their lectureships and VAPs have ended; PhDs who have given up on academia altogether because of the poor job market, the politics, and the bad taste it has left in their mouths; PhDs who cobble together a “salary” by adjuncting at 2-4 different schools (often miles apart); and PhDs who live on unemployment (until it runs out), with no insurance, and no extra income from a spouse or partner to help make ends meet. As a professor tweeted earlier this week, “Academia is such a racket.”

At the end of her post, Kelli Marshall writes: “academia is indeed a racket, and it is flawed on many levels. But I enjoy teaching, and I enjoy publishing (most of the time). And I don’t think I’m willing to surrender just yet, as this “old” PhD still has some things to offer.” I’m not sure that I could say the same. Increasingly, I feel that the academic is more than flawed. It’s broken. And I’m confident that there are other spaces for me to teach and write and engage.

3. A report that Emory University, where I earned my Ph.D in Women’s Studies, is closing their ILA (Graduate Institute for Liberal Arts) program. It’s very sad to see such an exciting learning space (I took several ILA classes) being shut down. Here’s part of their explanation:

Forman acknowledges that the departments and programs most impacted by these changes have made “important and fundamental contributions to our campus, and they have passionate supporters…. There is nothing about this process that has been easy. However, we have a primary obligation to our students to allocate resources in a way that will allow Emory College of Arts and Sciences to train leaders of the century to come. Emory students — both at the undergraduate and graduate level — have the right to assume that they have access to a world-class education regardless of the course of study that they choose here, even if that ultimately means that we cannot support all of the possible choices.”

So, what does the future of the academy look like? How can they train students to be future leaders and provide them with “access to world-class education”? Get rid of interdisciplinary programs that give students the important skills and tools for learning how to do interdisciplinary work. As I posted in my tweet about this news report: Ugh!

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