The other day Inside Higher Ed posted an article that has now been re-posted at Slate. It’s one among many recent blogs that chronicles the longstanding difficulties of the academic job market, making evident the personal, social, and economic prices many people pay while trying to find work after earning their Ph.D.
A much quoted line when friends post links to it on Facebook, from its second paragraph, reads as follows:
Yet of all the machines that humanity has created, few seem more precisely calibrated to the destruction of hope than the academic job market….
Reading that lined stopped me dead in my tracks. Regardless how bad the academic labor market now is — and I get it, it is bad, really bad — I had trouble making sense of what I read as utter hyperbole. Slaves building pyramids or picking cotton came to mind as, I would say, rather more finely tuned human-hope-crushing machines, no? Do I need to start listing more…? Perhaps the planned extermination of Jews, and gypsies, and homosexuals in Word War II? Child soldiers…? Trade in so-called blood diamonds…? International sex trafficking…?
So while not wishing to diminish the very real troubles, and very real prices, job candidates very often have and pay in academia — prices I’m personally all too familiar with, by the way, as I know many readers are as well — I really have to stop and ask: What is it about academia that justifies this level of rhetoric when it comes to talking about our own situation?