Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Whoo-hoo! I am employed!

No, not a real job, in case you’re wondering. I have finally scrounged up a TAship for next quarter --- with only a week to go in the current quarter, in which I am not really employed; I had to suck it up and take out loans. (And took a readership too, one of those things where you don’t have a section but do the grading, ya know? Well, when you count up the hours of lecture and film screenings the money is pretty much nil. Don’t do it, I tell you. They won’t give you enough hours for the union contract to kick in and cover your fees if they can help it.)

Luckily, Der Gubernator plans to once again hike our fees another 10 %, despite our protests (and more protests). And since the fees have gone up 84% since 2002* ---- and I got here before that ---- the maximum amount of subsidized loans per quarter is just less than the fees and health insurance, meaning that you’d have to either go to a private lender or get a job if you plan to pay rent or eat after taking out all those loans. I’m pretty sure it’s part of a diabolical plan to ensure a captive labor force of desperate grad students (and adjuncts? I don’t know how you can live out here in the Land of the Expensive without being able to take out student loans. I feel for you.) but someone keeps letting in too many captive desperate grad students or starting new Ph.D. programs or something as the number of TAships is getting squeezed. Those of us who have been here a while get squeezed out over the newbies, even though the effort of constantly teaching and scrounging up funding slows down our progress toward the degree in a big never-ending cycle. Even for me to get this windfall someone else had to get sick.

It’s not completely Darwinian over here ---- my department has been pretty good, except for a few fiscally imprudent years (fucking English profs can’t do math! Sure, live up to the stereotypes, guys!) about guaranteeing everyone four years of funding, mostly teaching, with a fellowship year or two thrown in for those who I’ll call the “golden boys.” But even the most motivated and fellowshipped of us are not finishing in four ---- do people really make it through all their classes, language requirements, and research and write a dissertation in that amount of time elsewhere? ---- and with the added pressures of “professionalization” contributing to our checklist of requirements, we’re all thrown in to the cycle of constantly scrambling for funding. Push rock up hill. Get smushed by rock. Walk back to bottom of hill. Repeat. Don’t even get me started on the job market ---- and I don’t just mean the time and effort of it, but the odds of us ever getting anything on a tt-track (another good reason to let in fewer people and support them longer, folks at the department! From my mouth to the chair's ears.).

I wonder if this is the same problem at private U’s? I know at some ivies people toil in comp the whole time they’re there, but other places only have their grads teach for a year. (I know because some of us have jumped ship from here to cushy and well-respected departments elsewhere, and we keep hiring profs from the top ivies who have never taught before and are terrible teachers here at first. But I won’t say anything further against them since I like who we’ve hired recently; they're cool people.) I worry about this (well, I worry about everything, but still), since the more I think about this whole problem of funding systemically, the more troubling it becomes. Because it would make sense that those people who have had the time to think deeply and carefully about their dissertations and take extra time to revise them would look better on the job market. Besides the cachet of an ivy degree, they would have had more time to polish their diss. as well as respond to the pressures of professionalization with publications and such. Even if us “poor cousins” do make it into postdocs and tt jobs, the “silver spoon” class of Ph.D.s will be a jump ahead, setting the tenure bar higher as they have dissertations closer to book quality. Siiiiiiigh. And furthermore, our department pretty openly admits they think we should be getting jobs at “comparable if not ivy-league” R1s, even if they wouldn’t be caught dead hiring someone from a mid-tier public for themselves. The more I think about it, the more I realize just how much of a fucked-up class system this whole ride is.

And I haven’t even talked about the class status of individual grads yet ---- there’s a lot of trust-fund babies and privileged children of professors running around out there. Sometimes I feel totally out of place in the world of academia, and I’m solidly middle class! (Actually, it’s my middle-class sense of entitlement ---- what the fuck do you mean I’m going to put my all into a system and not get a fair and equal return!?! ---- that makes me voice these complaints in the first place. Without generalizing too much, many of the first-generation-college students in grad school I know either feel incredibly grateful for whatever they do get, as if they don’t deserve any teaching support and anything they do get is just a wonderful gift, or they get increasingly swamped and resentful and just quit the whole thing.) When you look around our department, our grads may not look all that diverse, but there are a quite a few working-class and returning older grad students, who, I would argue, provide a valuable perspective to the department and academia as a whole. But I don’t know how much longer that will be so. I can’t imagine how someone would survive on my salary with a health problem, or while supporting children, or while helping extended family pay their bills or rent. And I was lucky enough to not have any undergraduate loans (thanks, parents and undergrad public school!), which makes the thought of the loans currently piling up a tad more bearable. I could see someone who already has a lot of debt and had to work their way through undergrad just giving up on grad school altogether. And while I agree we have too many grads and new Ph.D.s floating around out there, I’m not sure creating restrictions that limit the pool to even-more privileged and overwhelmingly white candidates is the way to go.

* This guy's numbers are different from what our grad student association says ---- I can't tell who's including the proposed fee increases for next year and who's not. Either way, every time fees go up, the department's funding pot covers fewer people.

1 comment:

Flavia said...

My apologies for coming to this post late--I'm totally adding you to my Bloglines subscription! like, now!--but I thought I'd weigh in with the perspective from my (Ivy) grad program.

A few years before I entered my program, my department cut the number of annual admits with the specific intention of giving equal funding to everyone (and the theoretical goal of not admitting more people than they thought could get jobs, not that that always worked out in practice). We were all guaranteed five years of full (nine-month) funding, two years of which were to be devoted to coursework (no teaching); two years for which the funding was predicated upon our TAing all four semesters (two semesters of TAing were required, whether or not a student needed the income); and the fifth year there was a guaranteed dissertation fellowship (there were also prize fellowships worth more money). After the fifth year--well, instructorships were the norm, but not absolutely guaranteed. I don't know of anyone who failed to get an instructorship for years six or even usually seven, but the threat always hung over one.

Summer funding was a constant problem, though internal grants and fellowships were (weirdly) often availabe in years one and two; they were much harder to find in the years when one was actually writing a dissertation. The university also charged outrageous "contining registration" fees starting in the fifth year, even though absolutely no one ever got done before the fifth year and few enough IN the fifth year.

Relative to the situation at state schools, we didn't have much to complain about, but our stipend wasn't any great shakes, and the university REFUSED to allow us to do extra teaching for more money (say, leading two discussion sections for the same lecture, or teaching two sections of the same intro-level course). Why? Well, adjuncts were cheaper, and it allowed the university to perpetuate the fiction that our stipends weren't *wages* tied to actual *labor*, and our teaching wasn't *work*, but an apprenticeship that we were lucky even to be given. We were also prohibited from working at an outside job for more than 10 hours a week, although many of us violated this out of necessity.

So, it wasn't Darwinian, but it was obnoxiously infantilizing: see, WE know how to run YOUR graduate career! Just trust us! Well, until that summer support we all but guaranteed doesn't actually come through. . .