holy shit

08Feb10

Holy shit.

Thomas Benton/William Pannapacker has just killed it over at the Chronicle of Higher Education. Nailed it. I could have written every single word (and did write some extremely similar a few weeks ago).

For those of you who might not know, Benton’s the pseudonyn for Pannapacker, an English professor who has written a series of columns over the past few years calling out the enterprise of graduate school for what it is and urging people not to go.

He adds to that today in what I think is his most brilliant column to date. He debunks the bullshit that underpins the humanities: the “life of the mind”. The “life of the mind” has become the cudgel with which to hit graduate students who dare to question how they’re going to make the decent living they were promised. Why should you worry about money? The “life of the mind” will sustain you. Tell someone who grew up on spam and tinned corned beef how filling the “life of the mind” is. (I don’t have a problem with spam and corned beef, mind, but let’s get real.) And yes, people can deny it all they want but academia promises a decent living, even if the reality doesn’t bear that out. Benton’s extremely good on this point and even better on showing how the calls to “do your research” once again put all the responsibility on people who have no reason to know that they’re being lied to and none of the responsibility on universities that have no vested interest in making their abysmal placement, attrition, and debt accumulation figures known.

So yeah, in case I wasn’t clear in my post a few weeks ago, Benton’s laid out similar arguments in outstanding fashion. Read this column. Read it again. Share it widely.

Well done, Benton, well fucking done.

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2 Responses to “holy shit”

  1. I agree the claim that a “life of the mind” is somehow just compensation for a Ph.D. is silly. We would never expect people to be satisfied with this answer outside the humanities. Nobody gets a law degree to do law as an unpaid hobby ditto with medicine.

    However, I am not sure there is an answer to the problem on the individual level. I went back and did my MA and PhD because I was working a minimum wage job at the time and I figured that I could not earn any less. I got the money from my grandmother and I did the MA in one year and the Ph.D. in two years to save on the cost of living in London. I had just enough money to do it.

    But, I was wrong about not making less than minimum wage. After I got the Ph.D. I was unemployed for three years and living on my uncle’s ranch on the Arizona-Mexico border. There I did live a “life of the mind”, but I had no money and ate rice and beans every night. I kept applying for academic jobs because with a doctorate in history, two scholarly books, a half dozen journal articles and no work experience other than at a coffee shop I had no other ideas. I think this is the real problem. What do you do other than academia in such a situation?

    Finally, after applying for three years for my current job here in Kyrgyzstan I finally got it. But, only by luck. They were going to reject me for a third year in a row, but my current department fired a whole raft of people on short notice and was left short handed. So I got the job by default. No other place even interviewed me. In retrospect if I had not gotten this job and it pays pretty poorly, I would probably still be unemployed in Arizona. However, I am quite aware that even getting my current job at an unaccredited and poorly paying university in the third world was almost completley a matter of luck.

  2. 2 Deborah

    Thanks for the link to the Benton article. That was the kind of stuff I needed to read 8 years ago. Better late than never, I guess.


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