“Us” is Not Me

A spectacular and well-deserved smackdown from Karen Kelsky. My only wish: that she’d contrasted the packed-house “we need to make our PhD programs bigger” panel with Lee Skallerup Bessette‘s adjuncts panel that had five people in attendance:

This is why I rarely, if ever, consider the feelings of the Research-One tenured when I share my own pain. Because I know that all tenured people aren’t like this (especially those wonderfully dedicated profs at teaching schools, heroes all!)–but too many of the ones in power are. This MLA panel will set the tone for the “how should we feel about grad school” discussion in the modern languages for the next fucking year. And it was full of that odious, blinkered, selfish, self-aggrandizing attitude of “We need to save our field,” combined with a palpable disinterest in discussing the consequences of admitting PhD student after PhD student to populate your grad seminars with sycophants, and do the grading and teaching you’ll never deign to do.

I have an interview with Lee about this in process, so you’ll be hearing from me about it again, A LOT, but I was so happy with Karen’s takedown that I had to jump the gun on myself a little bit.

So, just so that everyone is clear. Just so that everyone is perfectly, perfectly clear: all that hand-wringing, all that “but what can we do”-ing, all that “it’s the administration”-ing that our tenured allies and “allies” do means absolutely, positively fucking nothing, as long as the taste-makers in the modern languages think only of themselves, their graduate seminars, their eminence, their not having to come into contact with the German 101 hoi polloi. “Us” is them. “Us” is not me. Fuck “us.”

12 thoughts on ““Us” is Not Me

  1. Folks are probably bored with hearing me suggest that we submit third-party comments to accreditation agencies about adjunctification, but for anyone who thinks it’s worth pursuing I have compiled links to the relevant US agencies, their accreditation criteria (with notes about which criteria are relevant), and their third-party comment systems and accreditation schedules. Folks can find it at my blog, http://raosyth.com/blog/?p=1056.


    • I actually got my first ever full-time job because my then-employer had been through a SACS review that said this university needed to hire more full-time people and so they created quite a few lecturer lines. And thus I was able to pay rent, buy groceries, and do all the other nifty things that adults should be able to do.

      So that’s probably a really good node to push on.


  2. Is there any available hard data on who really attends MLA, either from this year or past years? What percentage are adjunct, grad student, tenured, tenure track, alt-ac, etc.?


  3. One thing that irks me about this is that it’s really absurd to think that humanities grad programs — and the faculty teaching in them — are qualified in any way to train grad students for non-faculty jobs.

    The “we should also train them to do this or that…” line is always either a pompous know it all thing or a fake gesture to dismiss legit criticism, especially given that something like 80% of humanities PhDs end up working in universities after graduation, and nearly none of them end up working in the private sector.

    Even alt-ac jobs are probably more a function of students knowing how university bureaucracies work than anything in particular they were trained to do in their grad programs. There was a very smart recent Inside Higher Ed article that noted there can will never be nearly enough alt-ac positions to employ all the PhDs humanities departments churn out.

    There’s basically no demand for these degrees. Yet people who benefit from degrees being produced (apparently including the people who work for the MLA!) want to create even more supply. These people should be ashamed of themselves for squandering so much potential and fucking up people’s lives.

    (Even if it’s in the name of some pretend ethical devotion to some understudied bullshit that will fall into obscurity unless we have some destined to be mal-employed PhD student write a dissertation on it, whence it can fall into obscurity on ProQuest.)


  4. Lee’s panel was scheduled at the same time Diane Ravitch was speaking. Her other panel, the one that discussed corporatized education and the humanities, was quite well attended. Your point is excellent, but Lee’s tweet does not contectualize her panel’s circumstances.


    • There’s also the issue that it was a really bad title for a panel: “Defining the Moment, Defining the Momentum: Perspectives on the Language of Employment Status.” If I were flipping through the program quickly, I would not have guessed that that was about adjunctification and contingency.


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