After a few days/weeks of thinking of nothing other than my current job and my future career plans, a recent post at Postacademic in NYC's place got me thinking, yet again, about privilege in academia. You may recall that I started a series on privilege a few months back, in which I argued that grad school and the immediate post-graduate period is far, far easier to navigate for people who come from lives of privilege, while those of us from more modest backgrounds are often forced to juggle work-intensive assistantships and "side" teaching positions in order to stay in academia while also being able to pay our rent.
In other words, academia exacerbates privilege. And based on the way it's structured, it places more value on students and faculty who come from privileged backgrounds, who are able to pursue academia as a sort of interesting intellectual exercise with Mom and Dad (or a wealthy spouse) footing the bill when things get financially tight, rather than as an actual career that pays a decent salary in exchange for concrete work like teaching.
Because in that post, she relayed a story in which her advisor chided her for not applying to an academic job that the advisor had told her about. The implication, of course, was that PINYC was being too picky by not taking a shot at the job, because it was, after all, an exalted academic job. She should at least give it a shot, because it was academia!!!!
And of course - and this was the part that really got to me as a Type 1 leaver - if she didn't like the job, which PINYC thought might be the case? Well, the advisor said, she could always "just quit."
It's something I've heard many times before, and it's immensely frustrating ... not to mention naive. Why do these faculty members and grad students think that "just quitting" a job is something that most people can afford to do?
And who are these people who think that living in near-poverty* as a grad student or adjunct well into one's thirties or forties, all in pursuit of some academic pipe dream, is a responsible thing to do? Who are these people who think that taking jobs you won't like or that don't pay you a living wage demonstrates your maturity and committment to your career, while taking a nonacademic job that pays you a living wage means that you're "too picky" or "giving up too easily"??
“You know that life of precarity and extra financial anxiety that I endured before this? I [don't] think I’d like to go back to that now, thanks.”
In other words, when academics tell us that we're "giving up too easily?" They're again, demonstrating how privilege rules in academia. Those of us who opt for a steadier salary and job security (not to mention a job we like and don't want to "just quit") outside of academia are viewed as bad, undedicated people who were "too picky." Meanwhile, people who can afford to chase crappy jobs around the country because Mom and Dad are bankrolling them are viewed as serious and dedicated. So yet again, the privileged folks win.
Oh, that's right. Because other academics will call you unserious or deride you as "too picky."
* As we've talked about before, though, a lot of grad students don't actually live in near-poverty. They make a low salary, sure ... but it's supplemented by an allowance from one's parents, or a free house or apartment or car, or free vacations to Europe every summer and financial help whenever it's needed. As most people know, "rich student poor" is a lot different than "poor poor." Academics often act like everyone falls into the first category, when many of us know that's not the case.