PhDs on Food Stamps

The Chronicle of Higher Education ran a really important article about how bad it is for adjunct professors. The number of adjunct faculty on food stamps has more than doubled since the recession began, in 2007. It’s the academy’s “dirty little secret.”

There are now over 320,000 people with graduate degrees on government assistance. There are likely more, considering the social stigma that leads many not to report their status.

The article goes through some reasons for so many of our educators being unable to earn a living wage. Long-term defunding of public universities and colleges. Recession-era austerity measures and budget cuts. The price of gas for all the “freeway flyers.”

And about halfway through, the article asks the obvious question: if it’s so bad, why are those academics still in the game?

Marc Bousquet’s answer is interesting:

“A big part of what we do in graduate education is foster this sense of vocation and teaching for love and passion for what you do,” says Mr. Bousquet, who is also a contributor to The Chronicle’s Brainstorm blog. “We socialize people into accepting the coin of reputation as status capital. Some people are so deeply socialized into the regime of payment by way of status that they are essentially trapped in it for life.”

We do it because we love literature (and our students) SO MUCH. We get paid in love. And status.

I love Marc Bousquet, but that’s a little reductive. It’s true that we are acculturated to accept “love” as payment, in lieu of an adequate number of dollars. However, many academics feel that they cannot leave because they cannot get a different job, even if they tried. A part-time job for under 20K a year is still a job. (If you’re one of those people, join Versatile PhD! And then send me a message at e freudenthal at yahoo dot com!)

I think that humanities adjunct Melissa Bruninga-Matteau sums it up, though.

“I find it horrifying that someone who stands in front of college classes and teaches is on welfare.”

Me too, sister. Me too.

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4 thoughts on “PhDs on Food Stamps

  1. Inder says:

    So this Marilynne Robinson collection of essays that I am currently reading … she talks about the defunding of universities as part of a larger rejection of all publicly funded institutions. Which of course hits home (you know, hits my job) for me in a similar way that the defunding of public universities hits home for you. She talks about how public universities, which were founded with ANTI-elitist ideals in mind (to provide a university education to anyone who was interested, regardless of income level), are now being billed as elitist. And paradoxically, they are quickly becoming actually elitist, now that no one can afford to attend them.

    What’s so wrong with the PUBLIC (in their great wisdom) deciding to support something in the PUBLIC interest? Oh, these times we live in.

  2. Elizabeth says:

    Yes, the perils of the democracy. The public can be persuaded to agree to all sorts of things that aren’t in their best interest–or rather, when competing interests are presented, they can be persuaded to choose one over the other. Like, if there’s only $2, and you want two things that cost $2 (higher education and, say, emergency rooms), how will you choose? Marketing!

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