Dr. Philip Sandifer says Farewell to Academia:
I had been going to take one last stab at the job market this fall. With the Flood book done and maybe one or two more articles in process, and maybe even a book deal on an edited version of my dissertation. Just to answer the question, one last time, of whether I could make it in academia.
Which is, as it happens, terribly silly. Academia is not a meritocracy. It’s a lottery, in which the grand prize – a tenure track position – is dangled over the heads of everybody so that we agree to work for the appalling wages that adjunct faculty get. I’ll use numbers from the University of Akron, since I have them ready to hand: adjuncts make up 70% of the University of Akron faculty, and teach 62% of freshman and sophomore classes. They make up 15% of the faculty budget. The annual income for a lecturer teaching a 4/3 load – i.e. the equivalent of full time – is $20,038, which isn’t even $2000 more than the median income for fast food workers in Ohio.
Meanwhile, the odds on tenure track appointments are astonishingly grim. It’s not unusual for a job to get five hundred applicants. There were, last year, maybe two dozen jobs in my field. This is, to be clear, a change. Academia was not always dominated by part time labor. There has been an active decision at multiple universities to move away from full-time tenured faculty and towards cheaper adjuncts. There has been an active decision to expand PhD programs because PhD students provide extremely cheap labor.
It was simply expected of PhD students in certain fields that they would devote substantial amounts of time to propping up aging faculty members unable to handle their job responsibilities anymore, and nearly impossible to avoid losing at least a year of one’s graduate study to such tasks. I watched in bemused horror as students were quite literally expected to help faculty members clean their houses, all in the name of mentorship.
Of course, if you refuse to supply that labor to a tenured professor, you run the risk of being thrown out of the program. And yes, at least one PhD student I knew was forced to clean the department head’s office before he was allowed to graduate.
But academia in 2013 isn’t the career I went to school for. It’s not the career I fell in love with. And it’s not the career I want to be in. However many good people there are in it – and there are lots, including dear friends – it is a corrupt and abusive snake pit, and I don’t want to play anymore.