I barely made it out of Boston University intact, with yes, a “newly minted Ph.D.” in philosophy in 1973 after a heck of a (essentially, political) fight with the philosophy department to get my thesis accepted as worthy enough to be debated at the oral examination; given that basically, in that storied document — an interpretation of the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein — I told these professors that if they understood what I was saying there they would leave academia, for the soul of Wittgenstein was not to be found in hair-splitting arguments about words; given that, the following year, having been hired over hundreds of other candidates to teach philosophy at New College of California (disbanded in 2010), then a year-old experimental college in Sausalito and, after a tumultuous year when my ego ran rampant was summarily fired only days prior to the next year’s classes, I certainly did NOT narrowly escape anything. Rather, I unconsciously trumpeted, loud and clear, long before they fired me, that I was not one of them, that I was utterly other.
Who was I? I had no idea. I’ve spent the last 40 years finding out.
I’ve watched all these decades, as the world we used to, with reason, call “higher education,” has gradually and insidiously been hollowed out, corporatized; I’ve watched, here in Bloomington, Indiana, a college town, over the past ten years of my living here, how undergraduate and graduate students think and act, their changing values, the focus on “career” rather than learning how to learn; how they now gravitate away from the humanities into business and law and medicine; I’ve watched how professors are treated by those who run the universities, and, especially pernicious, how the scientists among them have to toady up to corporations for research grants to pay themselves; and even worse, if that’s possible, how so many many “professors” are now second-tier, tentative, tenuous, “adjunct,” rather than tenure-tracked. I’ve watched the many fancy new dorms being built here for rich(?) kids who obtain more and more loans to pay off their college years and find — or worse, know ahead of time — that afterwards, there will be no jobs in their fields.
I personally know a woman in her 50s with a “newly minted PhD” in the humanities who owes $800,000 for the ten years she spent in graduate school getting it. Whoa, you say! Isn’t that extreme? Well, perhaps. But $100k and $200k debts are common. Debts which cannot be erased with bankruptcy. Life-long debt. Sentenced to servitude.
So these three stories below are nothing new, at least to me. And yet the shit has yet to hit the fan. Someday, of course, it will. Perhaps as early as this summer.
The second story feels a bit whiny, like I want to say, get a life! Not all life is in academia! And yet, I can really feel at a visceral level what she is going through and how she feels robbed of both her past and her future.
There are no academic jobs, and getting a Ph.D. will turn you into an emotional train wreck, like me
Finally, I really appreciate this third story, as an individual and collective antidote to the despair of the second one.
(Even so, there’s still the crushing debt, which hovers over effort and tends to squash hope.)
I’m heartened to note that these new graduates are helping themselves to leave academia without shame. Why shame in the first place? Because it shows the values of our culture, which is still — still! — focused on academic achievement for not only “career satisfaction and enhancement” but inherent self-worth. Hard to believe, but true.
As if I am identical to my mind!
As if my mind is identical to all the tired conceptual rubbish they required me to swallow in school.
It’s time we stop paying for the programming we absorb that whittles our beautiful limitless selves down to teensy tiny boxes — and then has the audacity to call this travesty good!
Yep. It’s hard to break free. But once you do, you’ll never, ever close down again. I promise.