Sunday, September 28, 2008

"We Owe You Nothing"

Once again, I don't feel like doing work, I don't feel like moving around, I feel like doing nothing ----- nothing except eat these fresh rolls with lots of butter and honey. Unfortunately, I think eating all of them right now would be bad. So I'll try to stop. Or mostly stop.

Recently I was talking with some other grad students and it seems that they are actually trying to shrink the grad program, at last. This is good, say I. We had about 4 years while I was here where they had set a new, fair policy: only let in as many grads as you can fund. Now, that's funding for 4 years, and we certainly let in as many of those as we could, meaning nobody actually finished in 4 but you couldn't get teaching after that because they had packed in a whole new cohort of grad students. But, as the CA budget circled the bowl, things got worse and worse and we went back to our earlier pattern of "tiered" admissions ---- a certain class of people get a mix of fellowships and taships, a middle class gets just taships, and some people are accepted but guaranteed they will be given no taships or anything in the department. It's fucked up and causes resentment in the ranks. Furthermore, the numbers of people who actually accept and come here despite no funding has gone up steadily lately. Why is this? The bad economy? The increasing stupidity of the younger generation? An evil plot to sell them on working with the best faculty anywhere? I do not know, but I know that we are approaching the point where there are more unfunded students coming here than funded. Ick.

Oh, and remember how I managed to pick up someone's class last year when he had a medical emergency in the second week? I got offered that in preference to some of these new kids who had never taught before, probably beause I could hit the ground running and already had a track record of being an ok TA for the department. I don't know how I feel about that. It means that, unless some of our grads get lucky or manage to cozy up to some other department, they will graduate from here without any teaching experience, the one thing we actually have an advantage over places that fellowship their students most of the way through. What the hell is our dept. thinking?

They're thinking that having a ready supply of unfunded people gives them lots of flexibility to fill all the slots they do have, said my friend.

It's not just that, I reply. I got told that the departments here get ranked, and depts. with smaller grad student populations, if they slip under a minimum line, get allocated a smaller number of TA slots ---- like look at the Italian department. It shrank down to a certain number and they just rejiggered everything to not really do as extended a language program rather than scramble to fill all the TA spots they needed to. I still think it's a good idea for us to shrink our program, though, I added.

If they have all this demand for English sections ---- which that report said they do ---- added my other friend ---- then they could create some lectureships and actually support their own grads who didn't luck out on the market.

Fuck that, I say. That same report said we're chronically short staffed on professors. We're at least 10 lines behind what we should be after that big group of people left. And we're not keeping up hiring with retirements. We should hire like 12 professors, right now. Then we wouldn't have to have so many TA sections, and the profs would be happy because they wouldn't have 50 people on their class wait lists all the time, and then a bunch of grads from somewhere, if not here, would get real jobs.

Mmm, said Other Friend. Except it's cheaper ---- you could hire 3 grad students as lecturers at 1/3 time for the cost of one year's salary for a new prof. Less ---- 'cause a lecturer's full-time salary is way lower than a prof's starting salary.

Mmm, it was now my turn to say. Due to either sneakiness or stupidity, I got promised one rate for this adjuncting stuff I'm doing and hired at another rate, and I'm still pissed off, but it's not grievable (which makes me lean towards sneakiness, how smoothly this was done). (Note: UC lecturers teach 9 classes a year, full time --- 3/3/3. But they rarely hire any of us for full time rates, either giving us a 2/2/2 or a 1/1/1, hence 1/3 time. This lets them get around the whole benefits thing too.)

Except, I add, I kept going to the chair earlier this year and he kept saying there was absolutely no money for lecturships, absolutely none. But I keep checking the web site, and who are all these people --- like ______ ---- listed as lecturing for us?

______? That's so-and-so's partner, the new hire, said Other Friend. And I see that This Person and That Person, the spouses of our hires last year, are teaching for us. That's so wrong ---- they should be supporting their own and giving those slots to our grad students and recent grads. Do you know how many people are on the market this year? And what happens when they all graduate if they don't have jobs? They should be supporting us --- it raises their profile if we do well and get out of here with jobs, so ----

But giving teaching work to partners when we make job offers --- although making it very very clear that this will never ever turn into a tt spousal hire, which I think we say straight up --- helps us actually recruit the people we want to hire, and it makes us look good when the person stays instead of leaves for somewhere else and we have to do the hire again, I say. I can't believe myself as I hear myself say this; I'm arguing against my own direct interests here, and did I mention that the people sitting here on the couch with me are themselves an academic couple?

Right ---- well --- that's true too, Other Friend grudgingly admits. But I still think they should do more to fund those of us who graduate, considering how they're pushing so hard for us to graduate as early as possible.

Yeah, I say, and look at X program ---- they have lecturer slots for all their grads; no one goes on the market there until they have filed. That's who we're competing against --- X grads who spent their last year of grad school publishing the hell out of everything because they know they'll go on the market while as a lecturer next year.

Grumbles all around.

And it really depresses me, breaks in First Friend (who had been interjecting throughout but I can't keep all the conversation threads woven in), how the pressure to Get Out Now is changing attitudes in the program. We have a lot more people "just doing the time" who are planning on CCs or non academic work afterwards, and I like them as people, but it changes the seminars, it changes the tone of the department.

Oh yeah? I perk up. Like who?

She lists off a string of names, only one of whom I'd heard was planning on CC teaching instead of the researching and academia route. Interesting. My advisor is very much "Research 1 all the way," pushing you to take as many intellectual risks and hard routes as possible to get the big payoff, years and years and years later when you've really gotten the groundwork into your system. I'm now wondering how prevalent this attitude is in my department, and how many grad students actually see the benefits of it anymore. Certainly the departmental system with its speedups and its grinding realities of paychecks works against my advisor's students, as well as those of the prof who really pushes languages on her students.

It's clear from this conversation just how complex the funding problem is, and how our department (which is really more like a bunch of people all tugging the rope in different directions at once than "a" department) is stuck between a bunch of institutional constraints and constraints of its own making. I don't know what I would do. I mean, I know what I'd do if I were made dictator tomorrow and could just go in there and rearrange everything to my own liking; I just don't know how I would deal with all the endless negotiations and power trading and building coalitions that would need to be done to get even a minimum of progress. Meh. Clearly they need to go to some magic sugar daddy and get an endowment. I graciously volunteer myself for the Endowed Chair in Cog Studies.

What do you think? If you had to throw a certain group under the bus ---- grad students, recently graduated grad students, permanenet lecturers, spouses of tt hires ---- who would you chuck, and who would you save? Or would you spread the little bit of wealth out thin to everybody, and let everybody complain?


adswithoutproducts said...

ah good question.

I've always been baffled by the spousal hires. I mean truly baffled - they're very hard to figure out. People cite them as a form of affirmative action on the gender front (this whether the spousal hire is male or female... for I think obvious reasons). And especially at places like the one I was at before now - in a fairly undesirable location - it would be hard to hire anyone if we didn't take their spouses too, as there's almost nothing else to do there, even outside of academia.

On the other hand, jobs are f'ing hard to come by, and should in fairness be handed to the best candidates out there, not someone who's simply married to the best candidate out there. And lines are very hard to come by, so...

I will note that at my old place, where I spent 2 1/2 years, we killed two big hires because we couldn't deal with the trailing spouses. So it's not automatic, nor should it be.

Anyway, not sure that adds much to the discussion... but there it is.

Belle said...

Cog, what I find fascinating is that the UC system doesn't seem to have changed in 20 years. When I did my MA in that system, we certainly had the tiered grad student system. They accepted more than 70 students my first year; at the end of the first term, we had about 25 left. And they grumbled (!) about those of us who hung on. There were fewer than 10 in that original cohort when I graduated 2/12 years later.

Within the group of all grad students though, were the privileged - those who had not just funding but the active support of the faculty. They got virtually anything they wanted: one couldn't seem to finish a seminar (ever) within a year and blithely assumed that his privilege was universal. Another could fail his language exams multiple times and never even get a frown. Others couldn't buy their advisor's time or support.

The grumblings of grad students seem remarkably the same everywhere, but the privileged few never seem to question their privilege. Nor do they face 'finish and graduate' pressures, or unemployment when they finally do. And it doesn't seem to matter what the field is.

Dr. Crazy said...

I'm going to take the questions at the end head on:

1. You don't throw current grad students under the bus: you shrink your program until it is sustainable. If that means more teaching for the profs, well, the reality is that it also means fewer theses and dissertations to direct, fewer comps to oversee. If you're going to admit people into a program, you've got an ethical responsibility to provide a program that does its best for those students who are admitted. If you can't do that, perhaps there shouldn't *be* a program.

2. I think that you *do* throw the graduated under the bus, because it does no good to the program or to them for them to be ghosts hanging around years down the road as the example of all of the ways in which the department doesn't effectively get its students jobs and of the brutal realities of the market. The bottom line (to me) is that if you're graduated, the onus is on you - not on the program - to figure something out. Now, I do think there could be a policy where students in their first year on the market after graduation could get teaching would be good, but after that first year? I don't think it's in anybody's best interests (the program's or the graduate's) for graduates to stay around. (At the very least different teaching experience could make the graduate more marketable for a t-t gig, which one would think would be the goal for the grad - not hanging around grad school city not really building his/her cv.)

3. The reality is that permanent lecturers get thrown under the bus all the time in times of budget crisis. Those jobs are in no way "permanent" nor are they secure from year to year. So it's not do we throw them under the bus, it's do we keep doing so. My answer? Probably, because it would be too hard to make a case not to do so.

4. MAYBE you throw the spouse of the t-t hire under the bus, but think it really does depend. If the t-t hire comes along with an overqualified spouse who's willing to teach two sections of intro to lit for adjunct wages, I'm not certain who that hurts. To me, they're part of the adjunct pool, and you know they'll be reliable because they don't want their spouse to lose their job or to be resented. On the other hand, permanent, full-time lectureships being reserved for spouses is, to me, a totally screwed up practice. If you're going to be a trailing spouse, to some extent you have to accept that you will likely not get full-time employment in college teaching, esp. in a field like English. And yep, that sucks, but that's the reality. And the argument that hiring spouses as adjuncts or lecturers helps with diversity? Puh-lease. How adding anybody (most frequently women) to a permanent underclass in the profession is "good" I will never understand.

kermitthefrog said...

In re Dr Crazy's #1: my entire branch of the graduate school (arts and sciences) has chosen to throw advanced grad students under the bus. As in, they're great about funding you up to your 5th year. Your 6th year, they offer teaching or dissertation completion fellowships that you have to apply for. After that, the options shrink dramatically and, unless you are beloved by a professor who wants you to TA or a grad chair willing to act as advocate, you run a big risk of being left out in the cold. With the requirements of paying dissertation tuition and having some form of health insurance to remain registered. So I will agree wholeheartedly with the statement that if you can't support grad students for a reasonable length of time (and the administration refuses to face that forcing all humanities grad students on the market in their 6th year will just not work for some people/fields), the funding needs to be restructured such that you can.