The following is my discussion of academia, inspired by The Professor Is In’s interview with Herb Childress, on the occasion of the publication of his book: The Adjunct Underclass.
I wonder if there are useful statistics about how the “five times as many PhDs as spaces for them” (not to mention that it’s annually, not cumulatively) pans out re class origins and other factors. I’m a white male, okay, but I’m also from a rural, blue-collar, working-class context in which I was the first person to do a university degree, let alone an MA, PhD (UCLA, 2003), IT certificate, and MLIS (2018). Most of my relatives have been farmers, truck drivers, shop workers, homemakers, and so on.
I still feel like I don’t fit into academia, despite having taught dozens of innovative university courses (from 1999 to 2008, many as a part-time adjunct), publishing three well-reviewed books (from 2011 to 2016), contributing academic book chapters and journal articles, and presenting numerous conference papers. There are almost no post-docs in my field of musicology (or in my more specific areas of cultural studies, popular music, and film & television music), and most people at conferences have assumed I’ve been in a tenure-track position somewhere. However, in reality, I’ve also worked part-time in the performing arts (semi-professional choral singing), arts admin, and writing/editing, and temporarily full- or part-time (or volunteering) in web development and library work. I’ve also gone through bankruptcy and have frequently scraped by on welfare.
I’m in Canada, so at least I have free health coverage and ways to get free or affordable pharmacare. I’m now working as a part-time customer service representative for a government-run liquor corporation. I often feel like I should have started at something like this job in my late-teens or early-twenties, instead of having wasted several decades attempting to land successfully in academia.
People who keep trying to reassure others that they’ll get academic jobs are lying. It’s also too late for me to sort out an alternative-academic career path. At 53 (so, also dealing with the unspoken realities of ageism), I’m now giving up on “the dream.” Getting off of welfare and getting up to a working class income a little above the poverty line is the best I can hope for.Reply ↓
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On the 50th anniversary of The Beatles (a.k.a., The White Album, 1968), I’ve just listened to the whole album for the first time in years. My first thought is that it’s inconsistent and far too eclectic. It sometimes tries to one-up earlier Beatles’ songs but never really succeeds at that. For example, “Glass Onion” and “Honey Pie” both try way too hard. Similarly, the album is so long and sprawling that it even quotes itself several times, but never in a good, thematically-unifying way. The album also wants to help establish the potential of the individual Beatles’ solo careers, and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and “Don’t Pass Me By” do that pretty well for George Harrison and Ringo Starr. However, even with “Back in the U.S.S.R.,” “Blackbird,” “Julia,” and “Helter Skelter,” John Lennon and Paul McCartney both still arguably have better material elsewhere. Half of the double album could have been (and probably should have been) B-sides. However, they decided not to release any singles from the album (let alone B-sides), in favour of releasing a single of the same period’s “Hey Jude” and the faster, more pop-oriented version of “Revolution”–neither or which is on the more than 93-minute album. It’s hard to imagine that the 50th Anniversary, “Super Deluxe,” special edition of the album comprises up to seven discs of material. Very few people are going to need to hear a “bright new mix,” obscure demos, abandoned versions, and an eventual guitar solo hummed by Paul McCartney. Besides, Revolver (1966) and Abbey Road (1969) are much better albums.
The whole kerfuffle about the University of Waterloo’s Nobel-Prize-winning physicist, Dr. Donna Strickland, being “only” an Associate Professor is ridiculous. She has tenure at a fairly major Canadian university, can do her work, and has pay equity. Lots of academics don’t attempt to advance to Full Professorship, because the amount of administrivia, committee work, etc. one then gets stuck with is prodigious. The university’s President basically implied that it would be a walk in the park for her to get that, but she still might not want it.
A much more important issue is that 80-82% of Ph.D.s (e.g., in the humanities, in which alternative career paths barely exist) end up outside of full-time, tenure-stream academia. For example, tens of thousands of adjunct instructors do the same work as faculty-member professors for less than half the pay, usually with no benefits or conference travel grants, generally without unionization, sometimes without even having an office (or, say, having to share a photocopier room with dozens of others as an “office,” as I once did), and they also often do the paid part of their work only on a part-time basis. Some of us basically have to give up after years of that kind of abuse. Now THAT is an actual problem.
It’s pretty clear that Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s months-old Conservative government is going to lose court cases repeatedly. It recently lost against Tesla Motors re leaving the company’s sales out of the gradual phase-out of electric-car rebates, the cessation of which was a bad enough idea already. This morning, it lost against the City of Toronto re attempting to drastically reduce the number of municipal election wards, given that campaigning was already under way and that rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms would be affected in various ways.
The right-wing government will probably also lose in the class-action lawsuit currently underway re the basic income pilot it recently cancelled, despite saying during the provincial election campaign that it would let it play out. I expect disability and welfare recipients and their case workers to create further, successful challenges, once the government rolls out its new, “sustainable” approach in November. The changes to come are likely to be devastating for the province’s most vulnerable citizens: those who can’t work and/or can’t find work.
The new, Conservative government is already turning out to be quite useless, which the 60% of us who voted for the other parties’ candidates knew it would be. Fortunately, the fact that it has a majority of seats at Queen’s Park may not even matter, if its attempted legislation keeps getting overturned in court.
This article begs the question as to what “skim writing” might entail. Academic research and writing seem like an awful lot of trouble, given that it takes a long time to produce with almost no-one encountering it after all that. Also, Malcolm Gladwell and others are just going to reorganize selected parts of it, anyhow. Why not skip the middle man? Why shouldn’t we try to get to “deep digital” parallels to writing and reading?
The Eagles’ 1976 album Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975 (with 38 million copies sold) has once again supplanted Michael Jackson’s 1982 album Thriller (with 33 million copies sold) as the top-selling album of all time, at least in the US. Who cares?
Amanda Petrusich, in her New Yorker article about the situation, accomplishes very little other than to reveal she finds that the Jackson album “provokes” (without once specifying how or why), whereas the Eagles’ greatest hits collection “placates” (though also somehow imbuing “dread” and/or a “swirling beige inertia”).
Given the existence of Hardcore Punk, Death Metal, New Age, Smooth Jazz, and various other musical genres not explored by Michael Jackson or by the Eagles, I find it extremely difficult to consider either of those artists to be particularly provocative or placating. Also, none of this takes into account the fact that both artists uniquely arrived at their mainstream pop successes by merging other styles. The Eagles combined singer-songwriter and country-rock approaches into a kind of rock super-group aesthetic (and certainly with rather less “major chord ubiquity” after 1975), whereas Jackson combined R&B, urban/dance pop, and rock elements into a compelling amalgam.
Do any of the details about music sales actually matter, though, when tens of millions of people now listen to most of the music they encounter–and frequently without buying anything–on such streaming services such as Spotify and YouTube? Probably not. Could music writers please get around to discussing music in more useful ways? Same answer, unfortunately.