Here’s the UIC Fanfiction You Have Clearly Demanded

Reader “Penthesilea*” has this to say about our previous discussion of a current job ad for a “part-time” position at the University of Illinois-Chicago that offers twenty-eight thousand dollars per annum as compensation:

Typical Schulman job. Doesn’t contact the school for comment, doesn’t understand the political context, singles out an institution that’s been brutalized by Rauner, writes a cutesy little fantasy of evil admins, and flails in the comments in response to folks who actually know what’s going on.

I don’t know who this Schulman is, but she sounds terrible.

It’s true that in my capacity of writing a blog that critiques job ads, I don’t routinely reach out to the writers of those job ads for comment/explication/justification. This is not because I have derelicted my journalistic duties—largely because in my capacity as a writer of blogs that critique job ads, I have no journalistic duties.

If I had chosen to write this up for a national publication such as Slate, the Chronicle or the Atlantic, you can be assured that I’d do my due diligence and reach out for comment, as I have in every single one of the hundreds of pieces of higher-ed journalism I have written since November of 2013, when, in my fourth or fifth article as a professional Slate writer, I did neglect to reach out to an institution for comment on a shitty thing they did, because I was a baby journo and didn’t know I had to. Then my editor said, “You have to,” and I said, “Duly noted,” and I have done so, and rigorously and professionally, ever since.

The fact is, I have neither the time nor the desire to turn something so highly specialized as job-ad critiquing into a palatable piece of actual journalism. This is my hobby. (Hey, we all have some weird-ass hobbies.) And it’s a hobby I barely have time for these days, in my capacity as Stay-At-Home Fuckup and Alleged Professional Author. (Also, BUY MY BOOK?)

It is also true that job ads should stand on their own. No applicant should have to go on a fact-finding mission to understand what’s “really going on” with an advertisement for a job. I didn’t contact UIC for comment because not only didn’t I want to, and not only didn’t I have time to, but also I didn’t have to. If they have something they’d like to explain regarding this ad, I’m all ears, but it’s nobody’s job to assume there’s a justifiable backstory and then go hunting for it, least of all nobody who is currently in the unfortunate position of an active academic job search.

Anyway. I wouldn’t say I “flailed” in my own comments, or did anything close to it, because flailing would involve caring, and I don’t. Do I care about the Illinois budget crisis? Sure, I guess. As much as someone can care about something esoterically that is just part and parcel of a larger conflagration of outrage-inducing garbage nightmare realities, a.k.a. our world at present. Have I been following said budget controversy religiously? I most certainly have not, and I am guessing that unless you are an Illinois public employee, neither have you.

I also know that there is literally no context on the face of the Earth that would allow for the advertisement of a job that bills itself as part-time, is definitively not part-time, and pays more or less the Chicago minimum wage for a highly specialized position requiring a specific and highly-learned skillset. The only mildly acceptable thing would be if this job had been posted as a piece of performance art in protest of Illinois governor Bruce Rauner, which it definitely wasn’t, because I have seen its poster attempt to defend it, and I watched as it was disseminated in earnest (and then most of the people it was disseminated to balked and refused to pass it on).

HOWEVER. I certainly know ENOUGH about the Illinois budget crisis to know that a job like that doesn’t get posted without some serious wackadoodle shit going on behind the scenes. And luckily for you, I have been offered a glimpse behind those scenes.

So here, gentle Penthesilea, is what’s “really going on” at UIC.

CHAIR: We need a new language program director.
DEAN: No you don’t.
CHAIR: Really we do.
CHAIR: Yes, the budget thing is terrible.
DEAN: Wait, I have an idea!
DEAN: I’ll curb my own salary about $200 a month, and get a bunch of my dean friends to as well, and that will create more than enough money to offer one full-time job once.
CHAIR: That is both weirdly generous and also not helpful in the long run.
DEAN: HA HA HA I am definitely kidding. My kid’s third birthday party isn’t going to pay for itself. Do you know how much a gluten-free bouncy castle costs? 
CHAIR: So are you saying we should just kill our German program? 
DEAN: *I* didn’t say that, *you* said that. Also THE BUDGET!!!! Our governor is AN ASSHOLE! It’s his fault!
CHAIR: He’s the worst.
DEAN: So we agree.
CHAIR: I guess?
DEAN: Look, you seem nice. I’ll tell you what. How about a “67 percent” appointment?
CHAIR: That sounds awful.
CHAIR: True. Everyone who is looking for a job in German follows our budget travails religiously, and will immediately understand the context of this posting, and will also be grateful for such a good job opportunity that will offer a “foot in the door” while they work on their own publications in their copious spare time. I will get a committee together and write an ad, and then disseminate it widely to German listservs, and everyone will be happy to pass it on. Also, everyone knows pedagogues aren’t real scholars anyway.
DEAN: Good meeting. 


PS: If you liked this, I heartily recommend a book you might also like!

PPS: this post has been updated to reflect the corrected spelling of a name, and to finish a thought about why that damn ad should have stood on its own merit that was truncated earlier thanks to a certain toddler.

PPPS: IMPORTANT! The milk-afflicted car, aka the #Retchmobile, is currently at the detailer with its stench fate TBD. STAY TUNED.

Doubling Down on #PhDon’t

The other day, one of my favorite former students hit me up on Facebook to ask for my help in applying to the PhD program in German at my alma mater. Now, I have nothing but good things to say about my program, the rigor of my coursework, the innovation of our comprehensive exam process, and the singularly, harrowingly individualized guidance I got during my dissertation from my former adviser, whom I love like an eccentric older cousin.

The sole fear I had when I struck out on my own as postacademic a few months ago was that laying bare the truth of my wrenching failures would reflect negatively on my Doktorvater, as my discipline calls one’s dissertation adviser with some, but not enough, irony. Fortunately, my “father” has recognized the unique opportunity public failure has given his “progeny” to speak truth to power (and to embolden others to do so as well), and though I’m sure he would not have chosen the words I did, nor do I expect him to publish any Solidarity with Rebecca Schuman posts anytime soon, I know he is proud of my unconventional path.

That said…when my former student expressed interest in being one of my Doktorvater’s new progeny, I said: “Do not get a PhD. Do not do it.” I then pointed him in the direction of Sarah Kendzior’s “Academia’s Indentured Servants,” which is the most important piece of academic journalism ever published, and my own humble “Thesis Hatement,” and finally several classics from the Pannapanopticon. My student, who had never heard of an adjunct, was made duly wary, and I was soooooooooooproudofmyself. So proud, in fact, that I took to Twitter to #brag.

William Pannapacker, it turns out, doesn’t appreciate his work being used in a purely categorical way. Indeed, he has said repeatedly that would-be students should be aware of the reality and of all of their options, and do the best research possible (research he is currently putting his ass on the line to make possible, by the way), but he, and many of my other Postac Homies (including the fantastic Jen Polk and Gradland), are outspoken advocates of Make Your Own Choices.

There is, after all, no guarantee that you, my dear potential or current grad student, will have the rotten luck on the job market I did. You may very well get a tenure-track job your first year out, at a wonderful school that is a perfect “fit” for you, with students you adore and well-reviewed books and conference travel you enjoy, and tenure, and promotion to Full, and eminence für immer und ewig.

But I’m here to say that even if I could guarantee that would be your path, absolutely 100% guaranfuckingtee it, I would say: “Do not go to graduate school.”* 

And I’ll tell you why. As I’m sure you know now, having read Sarah’s article several times, the current labor system in academia is…I believe the scientific term is FUBAR. Over three-quarters of instruction is conducted by non-tenure-track faculty (like meeeeeeeeeeee), and the compensation and work structure for tenure-track faculty is also no picnic these days anywhere but at the most elite institutions (and/or if you humped your biographer—wait, never mind. Buuurn).

Meanwhile, executive administrative positions are multiplying like cicadas, and dormitories and off-campus apartments are cushier than the Ritz-Carlton. Universities have so many “partnerships” with MOOCs and for-profit testing centers and multinational corporations that they have become indistinguishable from any other corporations (although they are probably the only “Fortune 500 companies” whose workforce often contains self-professed Marxists).

The contemporary university is a modern-day feudal system, where the very few at the top enjoy a comparatively cushy life while the vast majority labor at close to minimum wage. The contemporary university is Wal-Mart with PhDs. And every single person who works in its structure, from Full Professors to adjuncts like me, is participating in what I truly believe to be a toxic and deeply exploitative system.

If a student came to me and said, “Hey, I am thinking of working at Wal-Mart after graduation. There’s a good chance I’ll go straight to upper management, but I might have to start as a Greeter,” I’d be like Good God, don’t do that if you have any other option. Because Wal-Mart, whatever their aggressive Corporate Image ads are trying to tell you, is a corporation that makes the world an abjectly worse place by driving local businesses into the ground, forcing the low-education workforce to have no other feasible option while simultaneously reminding everyone how disposable they are, and—most importantly—creating a falsely low standard of “how much shit should cost” by relying entirely on cheaply-made goods produced in overseas factories with slavery-like conditions. The entire world that Wal-Mart creates and perpetuates is despicable, and so if I had a student who wanted to go work for them and asked for my advice, I’d be like, “Maybe don’t become a cog in a system like that.”

Academia is not as bad as Wal-Mart, but it certainly operates on a similar model. Are you a 35-year-old PhD with no training for any other career, but still have to feed yourself (and possibly your children if they’re being uncooperative)? Then you have little choice but to adjunct for your three favorite local colleges, for a total yearly wage of $20,000. Don’t like making $2700 a course? No problem—there are 10 recent PhDs who still think their big tenure-track jackpot is right around the corner who will be delighted to take your place. Adjuncts are (usually) unfit for any other job, financially unable to take unpaid time off to train for a new career (or socialized out of believing they even can), and completely disposable.

This is a highly distressing system, and it’s not one that I can encourage someone to join…even at the top, as one of the “haves.” So you lucked out and got a tenure-track position with research funds and benefits. That’s great—but the simpering, deferential cowardice you will probably have to display for the six years it takes you to get tenure will prevent you from speaking up on behalf of the adjuncts who work all around you, whose credentials are probably identical to yours, and whose only “crime” is having too much relevant experience. There are many tenured and even a few tenure-track faculty who have the balls to speak out about their institutions’ treatment of adjuncts—but just as many are straight-up feudal about it.

Yes, everyone’s experience is different, and you may indeed end up with a great tenure-track job. But your fortune will be surrounded by suffering. If you’ve got no problem with that—well, then that makes you an Ayn Randian fuckwit. “I got mine, because MERITOCRACY, and screw you, Untermenschen!” Great. But why would I encourage someone to do that, to be that?

As a part-time adjunct I realize I am a complete hypocrite. I am trying to atone for this by being an “adjunct activist” whenever possible—but encouraging someone to follow my path just to be the Norma Rae of the Ivory Tower, fist aloft and $14 in the bank, is just irresponsible.

So this is why I am absolutely fine with categorically suggesting that would-be Humanities PhDs stay the hell away from graduate school, no matter their financial situation, no matter their connections, no matter their goals or background or mental toughness or whatever. The academic labor system is exploitative, even if it doesn’t directly exploit you personally. So fuck it. Don’t join this system—as a serf, or as a lord.

*NB: I am referring to Humanities grad school only. A discipline that officially presents any alternative to employ within the academy is a situation with which I have no experience, and whose socialization mechanisms are different than the Humanities.




I like this person, I like this person’s writing, and I AM OBSESSED with this person’s nom de Internet-plume.

I like this person, I like this person’s writing, and I AM OBSESSED with this person’s nom de Internet-plume.

Also Sprach the erudite and kind Werner Herzog’s Bear at Notes from the Ironbound (the post is many times worth reading in full):

I then remind myself that it is in fact an insane profession.  For instance, I know multiple people who’ve published books with reputable presses on important topics who can’t get tenure track jobs.  I know many more who are fine scholars and stellar teachers who toil as low-wage contingent faculty, or who are on the tenure track at schools that pay little and offer a pittance, if anything, for research funding.  At the same time, I know complete and utter mediocrities with tenure.  I have seen someone get promoted to full professor for being a crappy department chair.  The more I think about it, the more I realize that it is these people who keep the academic dream alive.  The youngsters see such mediocrity and think “if they can make it, surely I can too.”

Werner Herzog’s Bear should have written my Slate article instead of me–under the name Werner Herzog’s Bear, selbstverständlich. Many Internet fist-bumps to you.