November 3, 2013

Alternative academic professions — alt-ac — are "less a matter of where you work than how..."

"'... 'with the same intellectual curiosity that fueled the desire to go to graduate school in the first place and applying the same kinds of skills, such as close reading, historical inquiry or written argumentation, to the tasks at hand.'"
Ethan Watrall, a professor of anthropology at Michigan State University, runs the Cultural Heritage Informatics Initiative as part of Praxis. “I try to destigmatize this idea of not going on to a tenure-track job,” he said. “It doesn’t matter — who cares? If you’re happy and that’s what you want to do, that’s awesome.”

He believes the culture has begun to change, “mostly because of the sort of desperate need for it to change.”

7 comments:

Hagar said...

Way off topic, but I watched the noon rerun of "Fox News Sunday" with Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, Rahm's brother, on, and this was really something. I kept thinking of Peter Sellers and what he could have done with this material. Just awesome!

YoungHegelian said...

The article seeks to put a positive spin on the often dire straits of graduate students coming out of the academy. That's all well and good. I myself found that after proving my mettle to my first employers that American capitalism was extremely eager to suck me into its voracious maw and to reward me handsomely for the experience.

What the article doesn't deal with is how the low rungs of academia are among the most exploitative labor markets in the US. I had friends in the late 80's as adjuncts teaching undergraduate courses in philosophy at private universities in the DC area for $1500 per course per semester (and yes that's fifteen hundred not thousand). When my brother showed up for work at his tenure track position at a major Catholic University in the Midwest in 1991, they told him "Oh by the way, we had to cut your salary from $29k to $26".

Low end academics routinely deal with business practices that would routinely earn a real-world business a hearty "Fuck you! I'm outta here!" from the employee. And all from a group of people (senior academics) who routinely think that the rancid butter of being an exploitative employer wouldn't melt in their mouth.

rhhardin said...

"I try to destigmatize this idea of not going on to a tenure-track job"

I hesitate to say that I don't disagree with you.

- Bob and Ray

MrCharlie2 said...

So, what's new?

Bruce Hayden said...

I think that the whole system is dysfunctional. Percentage of tenured and tenure track profs has dropped signicantly over the last couple of decades at many schools, while full professors salaries are up quite a bit now, but tuition has skyrocketed. Pay for adjuncts is now in the range sometimes of what one or two students pay for the class. A huge amount of money sloshing around, and it isn't going into the classrooms.

Another part of this is that in many, if not most, disciplines, reasearch is rated far higher than teaching. Tenure track positions often require a lot of reasearch, at the expense of teaching. Those whose interests run to teaching are often relegated to adjunct and lecturer positions.

My kid is in a STEM PhD program at a university that a couple of years ago was found to have its tenured profs teaching an average of one and a half classes a year. Kid is taking a class from their advisor's wife, and considers her their best teacher this term. Husband is tenure track, and makes decent money. She is a lecturer who doesn't, and has no job security. They met in grad school, and have equivalent top tier PhDs. The difference is that she likes teaching and he likes research.

It seems quite disfunctionality for an institution that is supposed to be teaching the next generation to put such a premium on research, that has little immediate benefits to the students, and so little on the quality of teaching, that has a significant effect on those students.

Peter said...

College instruction today is still mostly Socrates plus PowerPoint- and teaching efficiency (degrees per student dollar) continues to decrease every year, year after year, as it has for decades. If this continues, a day will come when higher ed. consumes 100% of US GDP- yet we know that if a thing can't continue, it won't.

The real questions are, when will MOOCs expand to include generally accepted credit, and when will passing comprehensive exams be the primary criterion for earning a degree and not seat-time (credit-hours)?

The rest is mostly noise. Until things change, adjuncts will continue to carry the undergrad load for absurdly low pay- what do you expect in a labor market where supply vastly exceeds demand? And tenure-track will continue to offer the illusion of a path to high pay and job security, even though it rests on an increasingly unsustainable business plan.

Jane said...

I remember my own graduate school days -- in which we looked down on anything outside the academic world as somehow crass and unworthy of us. Even in this article, the emphasis seems to be mostly on settling into nonprofits or government work.

Big missing issue: a better "culture" at the undergraduate level, to enable prospective grad students to see opportunities outside grad school and choose something else to begin with.

And I speak from experience