Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Brutal truths about academia

I've been reading some rather depressing blogs etc. recently about the difficulties facing new academics in the labour market. It's not necessarily professional interest that has led me to these blogs, even though there is some connection to an 'intervention' in the journal Antipode that I just contributed to (it was collectively written) on the problems facing new academics in neoliberal universities. Rather, I stumbled across them over the weekend and found them deeply fascinating and deeply disturbing in equal measures.

These blogs are less concerned with taking a critical look at the privatisation / marketisation / commodification of universities that many people have outlined in the last few decades. Instead they focus more on the everyday stresses and strains of entering the academic labour market when there are an ever increasing number of 'competitors' for every permanent position. The consequence of this competition is that more and more people with PhDs are simply ending up as temporary (or 'flexible' in management-speak parlance) workers - called adjuncts - exploited by universities and permanent faculty alike.

There are some useful websites out there that provide very helpful and insightful (if sometimes brutally honest and sometimes dogmatic) advice on how to effectively compete in this burgeoning academic labour market, such as The Professor Is In. Also see this recent article in the Canadian magazine University Affairs.

There are also others that point out the ways that universities and permanent faculty are increasingly tied up with the exploitation of the insecure adjunct workforce, such as this story in the Chronicles of Higher Education and this website dedicated to collating information on adjunct pay, The Adjunct Project.

Then there are some slightly more (darkly) humorous blogs about all the pitfalls of graduate life and after, such as 100 Reasons Not to Go to Graduate School.

[UPDATE (2nd April 2012) - just received an email from Ted Dove who suggested: "Regarding the latter [this post], you may also want to have a look at the latest issue (Spring 2012) of the University of Virginia-based journal, The Hedgehog Review. It is a special issue on 'the corporate professor'. Quite a good read". So I've added this here and written another post - got to work out how to turn comments back on].

[UPDATE (12 April 2012) - it's not all bad though; well, if you have a permanent position at least. A new article in University Affairs claims that 'It's a good time for junior faculty in Canada' - largely because of salary levels and workloads. Better than the UK, in my opinion, for sure]

[UPDATE 13 April 2012) - another article, this time in the Times Higher Education Supplement, on the challenges - shall we say - facing more junior academics, especially in relation to the growing numbers of people applying for each new academic post]