Academic Work for Free: It’s Indefensible and Exploitative, but We Continue to Do It

A professor at a major university wants me to contribute a chapter on critical theory to a new, academic-press book about progressive rock. That sounds great, right?! However, are you aware that I would be paid absolutely nothing for what would probably end up being several hundred hours of research and writing? [Update, March 16: The editor of a scholarly journal, who is a professor at another university, similarly wants me to do numerous hours of additional research work and writing to update my article about parody and intertextuality in the music of The Simpsons. I already researched and wrote that article and did numerous hours of revisions to satisfy the relevant journal issue’s editor and peer reviewers. That journal article would also pay me absolutely nothing.] You read that correctly: academia frequently does not pay anything for substantial work that is done.

My progressive rock colleague says it’s “somewhat defensible” that people with academic positions write for free. However, that work is actually considered essential to their full-time positions and to their salaries that are around three to five times more than mine as a full-time, computer technology, e-commerce, order support specialist. I earn $15 Canadian per hour, which works out to about $11 U.S. per hour. If I had my Ph.D. in a STEM field (Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math), there’d be other places to use my knowledge and abilities in a well-paying, full-time job–other than just in universities. I don’t, and there aren’t.

Scholars with academic jobs seem to think it’s reasonable for scholars without them to do the exact same level of work for free, because it might increase interest in their earlier work–such as my published books on the music of Rush and of Peter Gabriel. If it’s already merely “somewhat defensible” for full-time academics to do work for “free,” it seems indefensible–possibly even exploitative–to expect scholars without academic positions to do the same. In fact, in the sciences it is now usually the case that for-profit, largely-paywalled publishers expect scholars to pay hundreds–sometimes even thousands–of dollars upfront for each and every article they publish. However, doing hundreds of hours of work for free is arguably at least as bad as that, especially if you have no income related to it.

Book publishers, as well as the organizations and societies that run conferences and publish scholarly journals, should find ways to pay those authors who don’t have academic positions. It doesn’t make any difference if I would enjoy writing a new book chapter or journal article, or another conference paper or book or two, for that matter. I would, but I shouldn’t have to do it for free, just like musicians, artists, and student interns shouldn’t have to do work for free just to get their names out there. No-one went to graduate school for up to a decade to end up not getting paid for the work they do.

[Update, March 18: I have agreed to research and write the book chapter and to revise the journal article further. I have most of a year to do the former and about a month to do the latter. I still think it’s indefensible and exploitative to expect anyone without an academic job to do this type of work for free.]

Meta Plow

Hilariously, these several plow-dudes plowed their way to work this morning in their snow-plow-fitted pickup trucks and then switched over to their industrial-strength snow plows.

“Meta Plow, that’s their name; that name again is Meta Plow.”

“Be Sharp: ‘The Simpsons’ and Music”

My book chapter, “Be Sharp: ‘The Simpsons’ and Music,” appears in: The Simpsons’ Beloved Springfield: Essays on the TV Series and Town That Are Part of Us All (McFarland, 2019)

Simpsons book bio

Here’s my bio for a forthcoming book about The Simpsons (McFarland, 2018, edit: actually 2019), in which I have a chapter called “Be Sharp: The Simpsons & Music.” [I also have a semi-related journal article coming out in MUSICultures in 2020.]

Durrell Bowman has a Ph.D. in Musicology (UCLA, 2003), a Certificate in Computer Applications Development (2010), and a Master of Library and Information Science (2018). For about a decade, he developed and taught music history courses as an adjunct or visiting instructor at seven institutions all across North America. He has also worked as a semi-professional choral singer, built websites, and presented numerous conference papers, including several on music in The Simpsons. In addition, he has written books, book chapters, journal articles, media and book reviews, reference entries, and program notes. His books are: Experiencing Peter Gabriel: A Listener’s Companion (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016), Experiencing Rush: A Listener’s Companion (Rowman & Littlefield, 2014), and Rush and Philosophy: Heart and Mind United (co-editor and three chapters, Open Court Publishing, 2011). He hails from what Homer refers to as “America Junior” and agrees with Marge that “grad students just made a terrible life choice.”

Book Chapter on Music in The Simpsons

I’m working on a chapter about music in The Simpsons for a book that the independent publisher McFarlane has requested. I presented six conference papers on the topic between 2006 and 2013 and also completed about half of a book on it, so it shouldn’t take take too long! The editor in 2010 co-authored a book for the same press, called: The Simpsons in the Classroom: Embiggening the Learning Experience with the Wisdom of Springfield. The new book is intended for undergraduate students and the general public, so it’s a good opportunity to get some more “public music history” out there.

Letting Academic Things Go

Kelly J. Baker just posted an article called “Goodbye to All That,” about abandoning her recently-contracted plan to write an academic book on the cultural history of zombies. I have very similar feelings about my work on music in The Simpsons, including my proposed academic book, related possible journal articles, and already-presented conference papers (e.g., 20062013). Without a tenure-track, professorial context, I have to let those types of academic things go and possibly reimagine them as public music history projects instead. I’ve already made that transition from my dissertation on the rock band Rush to Experiencing Rush: A Listener’s Companion (2014) and am currently working on Experiencing Peter Gabriel: A Listener’s Companion (2016). So, I don’t see why I should stop now. Maybe, I’ll be able to get to the point of making a living wage at it!