I’ve been doing a great deal of reading about the state of the academy broadly and about the state of the American academy in particular.
Obviously, this was personally motivated. I am, after all, longtime adjunct and, as if that weren’t enough, a nontraditional and interdisciplinary graduate student that has faced more than one all-out showdown with faculty at more than one university. I’ve had the honor of being called “completely uncompetitive” and a “buffoon” on various occasions, in all cases while other faculty members in the very same departments were calling me “one of the best students we’ve had through this place,” or “one of the best students I’ve ever had.”
At each step of the game, I’ve had to continue to work outside the academy and always felt vaguely exploited in labor and compensation terms inside it. I’ve always taken the tension between most-disrespected and most-respected student in the department as a kind of motivation; it’s pressed me forward all the way through the completion of a Ph.D. program and nearly a decade of campus teaching while at the same time always continuing to build or at least nurse along a career on the side.
But now—now, with Ph.D. done and a very nice full-time post-ac job under my belt for the first time in a decade, I’m in a reflective mood.
And the thing that strikes me is this:
Not much good can happen inside the American academy right now because its basic mission, vision, business model have little to do with teaching, with knowledge, or with inquiry—sadly.
The American academy’s business model is to exploit faculty to do whatever it takes to secure cash honoraria from this society’s cultural conservatives in government. The conveyances of these honoraria are brazenly burdened by vast transactional costs that accrue and that are paid by the same conservatives in ways that enrich the business class that are their constituents. The faculty are willing to be exploited because they essentially have no other options—the very same business class has conveniently and collectively declared the faculty to be unemployable anywhere else.
The result is a great bottom-to-top wealth-transfer and conservative ideology machine cleverly dressed up as its precise opposite: a top-to-bottom wealth-transfer and liberal ideology machine, which is how the popular cultural imaginary continues to see it—even while members of the popular culture are continually being pickpocketed (both themselves and their children, in a wide variety of structural ways) by the system for the enrichment of the business class at its top.
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What is to be done about this?
Shit all if I know. And increasingly, I am losing my religion, my faith in this system’s unfulfilled potential.
I’m not sure it can be fixed.
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But what it does tell me is that it’s not a system that I want to blindly sacrifice for; it exists primarily to try to exploit me.
My best best is not to be seduced by my “progress” or “success” and to realize that all is as it always was; the system is a machine whose founding goals so long ago were laudable but which exists now to digest me, to chew me up and spit me out.
To serve the founding goals, I must remember to do what I have always done: approach it on my own terms, with a hard-headed awareness of the conditions and limitations involved, and be willing to walk away whenever and in any case in which my own terms can not obtain.
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I might like to work within the university, but I’m certain I won’t be the one to fix it.
I’m quite certain that every one making the claim to be the one to fix it—is a part of the very same wealth transfer and ideology machine. At some point, you begin to suspect that the card trick isn’t “magic” after all, but clever, if banal, manipulation.