Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Elitist Barriers to Academia

So, like I wrote earlier today, I just haven't been all that motivated to blog in the past week or so. I haven't been thinking much about academia recently, and haven't felt like I've had much to say in a coherent, long-form post.

There's nothing wrong, mind you ... I've been in good spirits and have been busy with work, a quick weekend out of town with my partner, running errands, taking care of household chores that I used to woefully neglect while I was dissertating, etc. I guess you could say that I've been too busy living my life to spend a ton of time thinking about academia.

What seems to be happening is that I'm growing more accustomed to life as a postacademic. Rather than going through stages of anger and sadness and frustration and whatnot these days, I'm just living my life. I get up, go to work, push through my list of tasks at work, and then at 5:00 I leave the pile of work on my desk and go home for the night and do other things. What those other things are varies by evening ... but the key thing is that the academic work (and corresponding guilt) is not hanging over my head, driving me crazy. I'm just living my life like a normal, nonacademic person. It's pretty awesome.

Of course, I still have that nagging "next job" search hanging over my head ... but since a few random things have popped up in our lives recently (nothing bad, don't worry), my partner and I have decided to wait until after the new year to start searching for "next jobs" and preparing to move. Therefore, for the next couple of months I have some time to just relax and live my life, without obsessing over where I've been or where I'm going next. It's been wonderful. It's amazing how much "just living life" you miss out on when you're in the middle of the grad school grind.

So, future postacademics, take note. It's rough (and I'm sure I still have a few ranty blog posts ahead of me before I've really moved on) ... but it gets easier. Especially if you can give yourself some breathing room with a "pay the bills" job that will help you separate from academia financially and emotionally. You'll feel your mindset start to shift. I promise.

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Last week, recentPhD wrote, with some well-justified outrage, about the MLA preventing independent scholars (who do not have a university affiliation) from having access to the Jobs Information List ... unless they fork over an additional $80 on top of the MLA membership fee they already paid.

This is problematic in a number of ways ... not the least of which is (as recentPhD points out) that if you are toiling away as an underpaid adjunct, you get free access to the list of jobs that the academic myths keep telling you can be yours ... if only you work hard enough. They're making it especially easy for the very people they're exploiting to see what jobs are out there ... perhaps, to keep them tethered to the academic system, since the jobs they want seem so very close??

But if you leave? If you separate yourself from academia in order to gain some control over your life, a normal salary, and some job security? You have to pay extra for the privilege of even looking at the list of jobs. You're out of the club.

This post reminded me of a recent article that came out in the Guardian, which revealed the extravagant fees people without access to research libraries have to pay in order to access academic research. When I read it a few weeks ago, the article made me laugh. For all of the talk about "doing important work" that "will help influence and teach the public," academia (okay, to be fair - academic publishers) sure make it hard for "the public" to access that important work.

Both of these posts gave further credence to something I've thought about academia for a long time ... indeed, even before I decided to leave. For as much lip service as academics pay to wanting to do important research that will inform the public and to run a "meritocratic" system of hiring for academic jobs ... academia is nothing more than a closed system for elites, with the gates to knowledge and information and jobs held tightly shut by the same elites who keep telling you that if you just work hard enough, little grad student, you too can have access to the vaunted and important world of academia. But only if you agree to work as an indentured servant to academia for years and years and years first. Then, maybe - maybe! - they'll let you have access to the information they produce.

(If you promise never to pull back the giant curtain and show other exploited adjuncts and grad students that there is life outside of their disadvantaged position in the ivory tower, that is...).

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