“Because you are doing it for love.”

I'll get back to the ACRL recaps tomorrow, but first I wanted to point to Thomas Hart Benton (a.k.a. William Pannapacker)'s latest column in the Chronicle of Higher Education, "Just Don't Go, Part 2," in which he responds to various people who criticized his previous article about why grad school in the humanities is a bad idea for all but the independently wealthy or exceedingly well-connected. Apparently, various people wrote to him that he'd abandoned the values of the life of the mind, and that he was ignoring the importance of "love" for one's academic subject.

As far as I'm concerned, Benton's response is bang-on. For instance:

It is striking how often the word "love" is used by defenders of the
current job system in academe; they would never use the word in their
serious work. There is a double-consciousness about graduate school in
the humanities. We often pretend that it is a continuation of the
undergraduate, liberal-arts experience when it is really — like law
school and medical school — professional training for one kind of
position: a research professor at a university, and, failing that, a
teacher at a liberal-arts college.

All of which comes back to the point: What good is professional
training for a job that you are not likely to get, after a decade of
discipline, debt, and deferred opportunity?

And also:

Academic labor is a precisely tuned system: Provide no more costly
tenured positions than are needed to keep the graduate students coming
and the adjuncts working. And, when that balance begins to arouse
skepticism about the fairness of the exchange of labor for opportunity,
the rhetoric of "love" becomes all the more powerful: "We don't need to
pay you fairly because you are doing it for love."

And the part that especially made me nod my head and say "Hell yes":

One probably could not devise a better system for keeping people with
humanistic values away from power than by confining them to decade-long
graduate programs with a long future of transient adjunct positions
making less than the minimum wage.

Go read the whole thing. (I don't actually see graduate programs in the humanities as part of a vast conspiracy to keep humanists out of the public realm; I think that a lot of the time we do that to ourselves. But it's a point that seems very much worth making, all the same.)

Way back when this blog was in its infancy at Blogspot, I made a rather similar argument about the rhetoric of love and happiness in academia, in response to a very different Chronicle column. As I said in that post:

I see … an instance of a
pattern I've been noticing a lot recently: the inversely proportional
relationship between the fervor with which academics embrace their
vocation and the actual availability of tenure-track positions. The
worse the market looks, the more people insist, as the title of this
essay does, "We're Happy. Really." … there's
something that makes me tired and depressed about the whole "well,
there are no jobs, you're going to be poor and anxious and overworked,
and you'll have very little choice in where you end up living — but
the immaterial rewards of a life of devotion to learning make it all worthwhile!" position.

It still makes me tired to see how little has changed in the world I left behind.

3 Responses to ““Because you are doing it for love.””

  1. Meilee says:

    Great minds think alike: I wrote a long response to this myself, also taking up a little battle with our former department for their annoying placement reporting practices. Sadly, the further along I get in the semester with my course on the university (I don’t think I’ve ever done so much research while preparing for each class day), the more my decision to get out is confirmed . . . it’s just too bad that I’m looking for a job amid this ridiculous recession. But I’m keeping my hopes up regardless! 🙂

  2. Meilee says:

    Whoa–not sure what happened there, Amanda–sorry. The comment thing just went k-razy! Maybe the Cylons are taking over . . .

  3. Amanda says:

    Not to worry, I fixed the duplicate comments. Hopefully no Cylons were involved. (What did you think of the big finale? Should I start a separate BSG thread?)
    This recession makes the whole job-search process exponentially crappier, doesn’t it? Here’s hoping that you find something soon. If I hear of anything promising I’ll let you know.