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"Calling the job market 'rather bad' was akin to calling Katrina 'a bad storm'"
August 18, 2010 8:09 AM   Subscribe

One psychology professor, looking at the oversupply of PhDs for a very limited number of academic jobs, thinks that programs should simply stop admitting PhD students, and has decided not to add any others to her own lab.
posted by grouse (119 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wait a minute, the prospective grad students are dressed up when they show up in her lab?

(I'm making snarky comments to hide my bitterness.)
posted by madcaptenor at 8:16 AM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well, one obvious FAIL is that not every Ph.D. expects and intends to get an academic job after those many years in the system. A great many go on to do other things because they want to, not because the market is any dryer than it has been in a decade.
posted by clvrmnky at 8:20 AM on August 18, 2010 [20 favorites]


It's always better to simply stop trying. Fixing problems and innovating is a goddamn heartbreaker.
posted by thusspakeparanoia at 8:21 AM on August 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm just concerned that many of these idle doctors could become mad doctors.
posted by fleetmouse at 8:24 AM on August 18, 2010 [7 favorites]


I'm just concerned that many of these idle doctors could become mad doctors.

This will provide work for the Psychology PhDs already out there, so it would be a win-win situation.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:27 AM on August 18, 2010 [8 favorites]


Wait a minute, the prospective grad students are dressed up when they show up in her lab?

If part of the campus visit is to try to secure a place in a lab (not implausible for some labs or depts), why not?

It's always better to simply stop trying.

Do you have any idea what you're talking about, thusspakeparanoia?

She can't actually do anything about the limited number of (tenure-track) jobs generally, and nothing about what she's doing in her lab prevents her from agitating against, for instance, the casualization of academic labor at her own university.

What do you imagine she has stopped trying to do?

Well, one obvious FAIL is that not every Ph.D. expects and intends to get an academic job after those many years in the system

The PhD is training for an academic post; it's true that not everyone enters (or exits) a PhD program desiring such a post, but as long as its purpose and its outcomes are so seriously misaligned it is not obviously a failure of judgment to think that admissions should temporarily be halted.
posted by kenko at 8:28 AM on August 18, 2010 [6 favorites]


Some people go to graduate school to simply learn, to make lifelong friends with similar interests, and then see where the marbles fall when it's over. They may be in the minority, true.

Granted, she says that every new student she interviews says that they want a tenure-track job, but I think it's possible that they all think they HAVE to say that to sound like they're serious.
posted by Philemon at 8:28 AM on August 18, 2010 [7 favorites]


That too many PhDs are being churned out (in most science and science-related fields) isn't really a novel revelation though, is it? Here's Johnathan Katz in 1999.
posted by gaspode at 8:30 AM on August 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


Considering the prestige of getting a PhD, and that it is something many people want for purposes other than getting an academic job (on review, what clvrmnky said), this seems extremely short-sighted -- if someone wants something you don't, screw them, in other words. Besides, isn't the point of a PhD to expand human knowledge, not to get a post-doc position?
posted by Blackanvil at 8:31 AM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's always better to simply stop trying. Fixing problems and innovating is a goddamn heartbreaker.

...what exactly do you suggest? You can just snap your fingers and make more paid and tenure-track professorships/research positions, which is what most Ph.D.s are aiming at post-graduation (correct me if I'm wrong, Ph.D.s) Sure, some exit into private industry but that's the exception and not the rule. Why would you want to take people's time and money when all you'll be able to do is shrug and say "you're on your own" after they get their credentials?
posted by griphus at 8:32 AM on August 18, 2010


Graduate programs accept students according to their needs re: teaching undergraduates and grading and/or TA'ing for the real profs, not based on how many people they honestly they think they can get into tenure track positions.

And this will never change. It's be nice if they'd admit that it's a racket though.
posted by bardic at 8:32 AM on August 18, 2010 [8 favorites]


But who will teach the undegraduates? The social contract behind the PhD is almost entirely broken in many disciplines: getting a PhD is signing a 5 -10 year contract to be low-pay instructional labor and if you do your job well, after the contract period is over, they "let you go."
posted by ennui.bz at 8:32 AM on August 18, 2010 [13 favorites]


What could possibly go wrong with hooking acquisition of human knowledge to market forces?
posted by DU at 8:33 AM on August 18, 2010 [17 favorites]


I know when I was applying for graduate programs last year, I was afraid to tell people that maybe I wasn't interesting in being a professor but since I wasn't entirely sure what my life plans and goals were going to be 5-8 years and a whole lot of education and life experience later when I was also asking them to devote 5-8 years and a lot of time and money to my training... being a professor was something that I frequently used as an excuse for a graduate degree.

That doesn't change the fact that Ph.D programs are basically ways to train new professors. If that structure were changed, or the expectations that you come out of a Ph.D program and must profess or you are a failure or a traitor to your field and advisor were changed, maybe higher education would be less broken?
posted by ChuraChura at 8:34 AM on August 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


Sure, some exit into private industry but that's the exception and not the rule.

I believe you have this reversed.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:34 AM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Sure, some exit into private industry but that's the exception and not the rule.

Which industry? Hard sciences, sure, but I don't know any Liberal Arts Ph.D.s who are aimed at anything outside of an academic career.
posted by griphus at 8:39 AM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Crap, I meant to quote your reply, Civil_Disobedient.
posted by griphus at 8:39 AM on August 18, 2010


Speaking as a person working on a Ph.D. with the goal of doing more important work than could be done in academia, I think this is completely stupid. I certainly have no desire to limit myself to being a professor. Frankly, this sounds like somebody on a "tenured professors are the most important people in the world" ego trip.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 8:41 AM on August 18, 2010 [6 favorites]


First, I am bitter. Not because of my situation. I got my degrees, worked, retired. But schools and their shabby unions allowed more and more jobs to go to adjuncts, part-timer teachers, larger classes--result: fewer full time needed. Further result: dumping of tenure in lots of places if not fully dumped in large measure gotten rid of.

Next: tenure faculty keeps bringing in grad students for their programs because it gives them work. Not enough students, even tenured teachers can be let go (called financial exigency), so drag in the suckers and keep your job. For them? hey, we did our job. Now they must find the right course of action.

This prof in post did not play that game. Eccentric!
posted by Postroad at 8:42 AM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Philemon: a masters may be taken out of interest -- even a short (3 year) British-style PhD. But a North American PhD is something that no one does for just education and growth -- it is explicitly job training and, in some departments, failure to get an academic job is treated as a true failure. Heck, in some departments, failure to get a job at a research university is seen as a failure.

The hardest part is trying to translate your skills into a job outside of academia. No one seems to care that I've presented well received papers at a major conference, or that I have a chapter coming out in an edited book. But I can't program, or do stats, or design a database -- so I'm off applying for job in a coffee shop. (Only I don't know how to run an espresso machine).
posted by jb at 8:45 AM on August 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


Speaking as a person working on a Ph.D. with the goal of doing more important work than could be done in academia, I think this is completely stupid. I certainly have no desire to limit myself to being a professor. Frankly, this sounds like somebody on a "tenured professors are the most important people in the world" ego trip.

Who's on the ego trip, now?

Signed, Professor Worthless
posted by Palquito at 8:47 AM on August 18, 2010 [16 favorites]


kenko, I'm a mathematician. We don't do dressed up. I showed up at an academic job interview in a suit and jokes were made at my expense.
posted by madcaptenor at 8:47 AM on August 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


Related: The illustrated guide to a Ph.D.

Does a social psychology PhD qualify you for any jobs other than teaching more social psychology PhDs? I guess there's always marketing.
posted by Nelson at 8:48 AM on August 18, 2010 [8 favorites]


The academic job market is a mess, in far too many countries. I'm in the arts rather than the sciences, and I was lucky enough to get a good postdoc position with decent future prospects, but 'lucky' is the appropriate word - I have a lot deal of friends who would have done wonderfully in a position like this, who are instead struggling to make ends meet with part-time teaching and whatever other jobs they can cobble together, just to get a foot in the academic door.

What is really, really infuriating about the situation, though, is that even when aspiring and new PhD students are warned about the job market, it's done in such a way as to make it seem like a test of character. I've heard so many first-year PhDs rattle off the party lines on this: you should only get a PhD if you absolutely love your subject and are willing to go into poverty for it, because the market's tough! You should only get a PhD if you're really really smart enough to do well and willing to work really hard, because the market's competitive! - and it's depressing as hell, because the truth of the subject is that academic jobs are in such short supply that you can be the hardest-working person on the planet and the absolute cream of the crop and still not get one, and you should make the decision to go into academia or not based on reasonably weighing up your potential gains and losses from the decision, not because You Love Your Subject.

When you frame the decision to not get a PhD as being a decision about not loving your subject enough, or not being smart enough, or not being willing to work hard enough, what clever determined 22-year-old isn't going to be even more determined to get one? When you present the job market as 'competitive', rather than saying 'Hey, the last vacancy here got 200 applicants, and that was for a hellish teaching fellowship nobody in their right minds would want if they could get something else in the field,' they're just going to think all they need to do is be good enough and prove they're dedicated enough. And 'dedication' is defined by throwing your whole life into your academic work, and being prepared to take on all the low-paid teaching jobs that the university throws your way, without once complaining about the pay because omg you get to teach and it's all about the experience and if you start saying things like 'wait, doesn't this work out as below minimum wage?' then maybe the department will see you as a troublemaker and give the teaching to someone else next time. Okay, you're miserable and impoverished now, and no matter how much you love your subject you can't help thinking that staying up until 3am marking undergrad essays while the eighteenth round of revisions of your latest thesis chapter is winging its way back from your supervisor, red pen in tow, while nobody you know in the years above you has even got a job interview and doesn't it seem a bit weird that your department has produced 45 PhDs over the last couple of years but only hired one new member of staff, and you're so tired but you have to get to your third part-time job in the morning if you want to buy food next week... but there'll be pie in the sky when you graduate!

Don't get me wrong: I love my job, I love my colleagues, my subject is amazing, and I am hugely happy with doing this for a living. But I got lucky. The system is really messed up, and more people should know that before making the decision to go into it.
posted by Catseye at 8:55 AM on August 18, 2010 [64 favorites]


It is important to note that there are differences between departments/subjects with large numbers of non-academic jobs (which only include some sciences -- not those astro-physics or social psychology or zoology) and those with few to none (history -- sometimes one of the largest departments -- most of the social sciences, all of the humanities). I'm including jobs like academic libraries and museums, etc, as academic because they are subject to the same job market pressures -- and even then you often have to get further training to go into them.

Nelson: Ironically enough, there are lots of academic jobs in marketting. I know a social psychology PhD who is doing a second PhD in marketting, and has more jobs interviews as a marketting ABD (just passed quals) than he did as a full PhD in social psychology.
posted by jb at 8:56 AM on August 18, 2010


What could possibly go wrong with hooking acquisition of human knowledge to market forces?
posted by DU

I have quite a bit of human knowledge that I have acquired at little or no cost by reading library books, doing research on the internet, talking to people, and living my life. What tends to be expensive is formal education, which not only imparts knowledge but does so in some prescribed manner in order to be able to certify that the resulting graduate has the qualifications that are needed for some profession.

We don't like to think that something so crass as market forces will affect the basic human need for knowledge, but market forces and economic conditions affect everything that people do. Food is also connected to market forces, and starvation is a more fundamental problem that the lack of university certification. In the end, there are finite resources in our world, so it is not possible for everybody to have everything that they may wish to have. Some selectivity is inevitable.

I can certainly imagine a world in which every person can, and does, eventually obtain a PhD in one or more subjects. This requires a number of very major forms of social engineering, but it is possible at least in theory. Of course, so is world peace. The gap between theory and practice can be very large.
posted by grizzled at 8:58 AM on August 18, 2010


Speaking as a person working on a Ph.D. with the goal of doing more important work than could be done in academia, I think this is completely stupid. I certainly have no desire to limit myself to being a professor. Frankly, this sounds like somebody on a "tenured professors are the most important people in the world" ego trip.

Are you getting a PhD in inflated self-worth?
posted by kmz at 9:01 AM on August 18, 2010 [4 favorites]


But schools and their shabby unions allowed more and more jobs to go to adjuncts, part-timer teachers, larger classes--result: fewer full time needed. Further result: dumping of tenure in lots of places if not fully dumped in large measure gotten rid of.

This is exactly the worst problem in all this--nearly half of all university instructional faculty is no longer tenured or tenure-track, which is a profound, fundamental change in the nature of the American university. (Though I have not seen many places where tenure has been actually fully dumped; far more common in my experience is a department with, say, 15 full-time profs and 20 or so adjunct and TA-type part-time faculty. And when budget cuts hit, those part-time positions are easy to cut, so there go a third to half of all class offerings--depending upon how much overload you can force onto the full-time people--so sorry students!)

The hardest part is trying to translate your skills into a job outside of academia.

This is true, but the past decade has seen a real transformation in the business workplace where skills like being well-read, self-directed, and capable of speaking well in public are being recognized as desirable, marketable skills. I recommend Dan Pink's short but fantastic A Whole New Mind for a fair bit of data on this.
posted by LooseFilter at 9:02 AM on August 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


Well, one obvious FAIL is that not every Ph.D. expects and intends to get an academic job after those many years in the system...

I've been in academic history for around 35 years and I've never met a PhD student who didn't intend to be a professor. On the other hand, I know a couple dozen history PhDs who have left the field because of a glutted job market.

I'm with the psych professor on this one.
posted by MarshallPoe at 9:05 AM on August 18, 2010


Also, what Catseye said, right on the mark in my experience.
posted by LooseFilter at 9:09 AM on August 18, 2010


The funny thing is, and the thing which arguments based in "well, we need to cut back on the supply of freshly minted PhDs" completely fail to address, is that there is nothing resembling an undersupply of work in academia. There is tons of work, scads of work, more undergrads wanting to be educated than any time before in history. If we were short on work, then it would completely make sense to reduce the number of incoming graduate students. But we're not short on work, we're short on jobs. The whole "non-tenure-track adjunct" idea, that didn't even exist in any meaningful way until the 1970s, has completely taken over academia.

So, schools have a large amount of work that needs to get done. That work can be assigned to one of these two types of workers:
  1. Underpaid contingent labor (adjuncts with a few grad students mixed in — though grad students are in a sense a luxury because they're actually slightly more expensive than adjunct lecturers)
  2. or
  3. well-paid tenured or tenure-track professors.
No matter how few PhDs schools issue, there will always be fewer jobs of type 2 waiting for those new PhDs, because school administrations want to have as few of those jobs as possible on their books. The ideal school, that we're tending to, is one where all of the work is done by people who fit into type 1.

This is not fancy, this is not something special to academia — this is just the end stage of a classic union-busting scheme, where the people already in the workplace get to keep their living wage and decent benefits while new workers get shunted onto a second tier with bad pay and no benefits. K-12 teachers unions have so far successfully resisted this scheme, but university-level unions have, for an array of reasons1, folded without much resistance at all. It's hilarious that even at this late date, people who should know better — and who think of themselves as being extremely smart — are still writing articles predicated on the idea that the problem, in an environment where there's more work available than ever, is an oversupply of workers.

[1]: Not least of which is the deep and deeply deranged elitism that runs through the field; this leads people with secure well-paying jobs to think of themselves as deserving of those benefits, and to think of the people with the same degrees, doing the same work, without job security or decent pay as being inherently unworthy.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:10 AM on August 18, 2010 [97 favorites]


If the PhD is documentation that you can perform original research (your thesis) and discuss it intelligently while defending it against questioning (defense), there are a lot of jobs out there that can use that skill set that aren't in academia. The applications are obvious in research science and engineering, but there are jobs out there that can use the skill set you get from research in the social sciences and humanities.

To the extent that the PhD is solely for reproducing the academic class and providing underpaid grad student labor to universities, the decision to reduce numbers makes sense. To the extent that we want to train people to perform research and defend it, maybe what we need to do is re-examine the PhD system. Unfortunately that would threaten entrenched university interests--both the professors that benefit from the big lie that the only PhD jobs worth a damn are tenure-track and the administrations that benefit from cheap grad student and post-doc labor--so I don't see that happening.

/left academia with a terminal master's & intended to go on for a PhD, but never did, and is relieved that she's not in the academic job market, but still finds those research skills useful.
posted by immlass at 9:11 AM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


So.... an industry that makes money by selling a product is gleefully selling that product to more people than can actually make use of it. And they say academics just don't understand the business world!
posted by seanmpuckett at 9:13 AM on August 18, 2010


I realize y'all are talking about psychology as a research field here, but from my personal and familial interactions with psychology and psychiatry, I'd really like to see more access to mental health professionals here in the US.

It's amusing to me that while there's (apparently) some number of idle psych grads lazing about, there's practically no access to worthwhile, functional therapists/psychiatrists- at least in my corner of the country.

Expanding human knowledge is very important work, but not everyone going to college/uni/grad school needs to focus on explicit theoretical knowledge research, do they? Do people actually build things and "do stuff" anymore? That's the only reason I went to uni. Maybe I'm missing the point.
posted by EricGjerde at 9:15 AM on August 18, 2010


I can't image subjecting myself to the goal of being a tenured professor. My best friend is 45 and after an undergraduate degree, a masters degree, a phd, a post-grad, a year as an adjunct professor, tons of awards, dozens of peer reviewed papers published in journals and now four years as a tenure track professor, he's finally up for tenure next year. And he's sweating it. And he's paid so little that he was jealous of my Honda Fit because he can't afford one.
posted by octothorpe at 9:15 AM on August 18, 2010


That's a heartbreaking comment, Catseye. I'm glad you got lucky.

My SO is a PhD candidate in the same subject I majored in. People in my department encouraged me to go to graduate school with those lines—"if you really loved the subject", "if you were willing to work hard"—but watching someone you love go through it is a really fantastically effective deterrent.
posted by bewilderbeast at 9:18 AM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Philemon: a masters may be taken out of interest -- even a short (3 year) British-style PhD. But a North American PhD is something that no one does for just education and growth -- it is explicitly job training and, in some departments, failure to get an academic job is treated as a true failure. Heck, in some departments, failure to get a job at a research university is seen as a failure.


--You're entirely right and I don't disagree with this. Your point highlights a couple of the things I wish I could change about the US PhD system (esp. for the humanities). Reducing the length of time to get the degree and eliminating the pressure on doctoral students to publish (though this is driven by the fierce competition for academic jobs) would top my list. I agree with a lot of the points made in Louis Menand's recent history of graduate studies in the US.

But to elaborate on my point, which I concede straight away may make sense to a minority of grad students. I went to get a PhD in English and got to the point of ABD when I quit. I just couldn't come up with a topic for a diss I cared about, and I didn't want to go through the job market. But I learned a lot and had fun. I was in graduate school from age 22 until age 28, making an average of about $22K a year through stipends and part-time work.

I have many friends with PhDs or working toward them, and many of them complain about the job market. I'm somewhat unsympathetic to them, I have to say. They all must have entered graduate school knowing that the world didn't need another Spencer scholar, and didn't owe them a nice job being one. What they got was time to read and think and write. There's value in that. Most jobs in the world are not very interesting or stimulating -- even ones that require some intellect, like lawyering. Most jobs are kind of boring and tiring, so that even if you want to read, you get home, you're tired, and Jersey Shore is on and the beer in the fridge is cold, so maybe I'll set Faulkner aside for a while and treat myself.

I do think grad schools should be much more candid with students about their career prospects. And that prospective PhDs should be honest with themselves, too, about their future. It would be nice if the US education system could make high schools attractive places for people with PhDs to teach, which would help absorb a lot of these brilliant people who aren't becoming professors, but, alas, I see no hope for that.
posted by Philemon at 9:18 AM on August 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


there's practically no access to worthwhile, functional therapists/psychiatrists- at least in my corner of the country.

Psychiatry is an M.D., EricGjerde. Therapy is a Master's degree plus certification.

That's the only reason I went to uni. Maybe I'm missing the point.

Yeah, you are. The point is that everyone makes the decision for themselves and for their own reasons, not simply based on what the world "needs."
posted by griphus at 9:19 AM on August 18, 2010


They have to keep accepting people or there will be no TAs. It is simple as that.
posted by k8t at 9:19 AM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think the dear professor suffers from a bit of myopia on this subject. Perhaps the suggestion which is missing from her argument is that the research sector in the U.S. needs to be expanded.

While neither I nor the writer are likely expert in policy to achieve this goal, it is stunning to see that rising world powers such as China appear to have plenty of applied and academic positions for their scientists and technologists when they're done with their training. Perhaps we're missing something here?
posted by DrSawtooth at 9:20 AM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


There are too many PhDs! *



* This is the Computer Science footnote. If you are a doctoral student in Computer Science you may feel free to dial back your hysteria to normal graduate student levels. Dr. You will find a job upon graduation. It will involve a six-digit number. You may choose to pursue a job in academia, and there's a better-than-average chance you'll find one, but it's not your only option.
posted by rlk at 9:30 AM on August 18, 2010 [4 favorites]


Speaking as a person working on a Ph.D. with the goal of doing more important work than could be done in academia, I think this is completely stupid.

I have heard this many times before, "I will be fine, I don't want to be a professor". Well, as someone that has a Ph.D. and now works in industry, it isn't quite so easy, even with a hard-science doctorate.

I graduated a couple of years ago and am lucky to have a great job, but it is not in my preferred field and I only arrived here after sending out a couple of hundred resumes. When I graduated, this was the norm, from what I have heard from my colleagues who are graduating now, it is much worse. As someone who has now sat on the other side of the table during interviews, I know there are dozens (if not hundreds) of qualified applicants for every open position.

To those think thinking of pursuing a Ph.D., be very careful: industry is not a safe, easy, reliable way out.
posted by roquetuen at 9:32 AM on August 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


This is why, since my own time in a PhD program, I have advocated strategic poisonings in all academic departments.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:34 AM on August 18, 2010 [8 favorites]


From the comments of the original article:

"I get a fairly explicit mixed message from my teachers:
1) There aren't many good (tenure-track research) jobs out there.
2) If I don't get a tenure-track research job, I'm a failure, and my name will ever be a scandal and a byword and a source of discomfort to my teachers. If I have any plan B, I'd better not mention it!"

Tis true!
posted by k8t at 9:40 AM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


As soon as I get my hands on a time machine, I'm going to bake a chocolate cake, hire a brass band and some hookers, and meet myself leaving my advisor's office right after I quit. "All this is to help ease your transition into how much better your life is suddenly about to become", I'll say.
posted by Kwine at 9:49 AM on August 18, 2010 [4 favorites]


I became a college professor instead of a university research professor both because (a) the job market for university professor was too hard and I am a better teacher than researcher, but also (b) because I just couldn't ethically justify participating in what appears to be a pyramid scheme.

I entered graduate school in computer science with twelve people in my starting year. In the beginning, I think eight of us wanted to be professional researchers. Only four of us got the PhD. I was the only person to get an academic tenure-track position, while two people went off and got postdoc research-y positions, and the fourth stuck with his job at the company/lab that paid for grad school in the first place. I am pretty sure the two who went the postdoc route were originally thinking of being R-1 professors, but it was just not a practical career path at that time for them.
posted by pmb at 9:51 AM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


pmb is correct. PhD programs are predicated on making you into a narrowly focused researcher who can then teach that narrow discipline to undergrads.

Problem is, most of the profs who are 70-80 won't retire until they die and they have tenure so no one can remove them easily.

Granted, I'm not a PhD, but several of my friends are, and it's been hard going for them trying to find anything suitable to their qualifications in the job market, academic or otherwise.
posted by reenum at 9:57 AM on August 18, 2010


I have a phd in math and work outside of academia (and outside of math). When I get a resume from someone else w/ phd, I never bother interviewing them. All my experiences have been that they're poorly prepared and disinclined for the real world (as was I). I understand the irony.
posted by TheShadowKnows at 9:59 AM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Aren't retirement age professors hanging around longer to replenish retirement funds wiped out with in the current recession?
posted by ZeusHumms at 10:03 AM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


I work as a writing tutor. At our school, we have frustrated PhDs giving mind-boggling questions about Oedipus and fate and shit and whether Sylvia Plath's "Daddy" is a love poem to students who (often because they're ESL) can barely cobble together a five-paragraph argument.

I desire to scream into these professors' faces: "Teach them how to write a fucking thesis statement! Fuck!"

But I don't, because I like my job.
posted by angrycat at 10:07 AM on August 18, 2010 [4 favorites]


Seconding TheShadowKnows about PhD preparation for non-academic jobs. When I interviewed fresh-out-of-grad-school folks for software engineering at Google I pretty much never talked about their amazing primary research into the subtleties of type inference in dynamic relational operating systems. Instead I was asking questions about what code they wrote, what open source projects they used, and how they'd design some really simple distributed system that was understood ten years ago but way more relevant than whatever pi calculus inspired thing they spent their last few years researching.

Ironically the folks with experimental science backgrounds often had more useful skills than the computer scientists; the code you write to process and analyze your data is a lot like the code you write for web server hosted products.
posted by Nelson at 10:10 AM on August 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


Consider: Ph.D. programs take in very bright, dedicated people. Drive them as hard as they can. Have them learn all sorts of things, possibly make groundbreaking discoveries. Put them under intense psychological pressure. Treat them like crap. Then, after years of labor and penury, crush them like bugs with a miserable job market.

Is it any wonder so many super-villains are called "Doctor" something-or-other?

Years upon years of such intense training coupled with such awful treatment would certainly tempt me to use my scientific knowledge to build an Unstoppable Robot Skeleton Army of Doom and unleash it upon an ungrateful world as I shake my fist at the skies, telling the world they will all pay.
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 10:15 AM on August 18, 2010 [12 favorites]


First Collector: At this festive time of year, Mr. Tax Payer, it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the poor and destitute PhD candidates.
Tax Payer: Are there no private industries?
First Collector: Plenty of private industries.
Tax Payer: And the tenured positions - are they still in operation?
First Collector: They are. I wish I could say they were not.
Tax Payer: Oh, from what you said at first I was afraid that something had happened to stop them in their useful course. I'm very glad to hear it.
First Collector: I don't think you quite understand us, sir. A few of us are endeavoring to buy the poor Phd candidates some meat and drink, and means of warmth.
Tax Payer: Why?
First Collector: Because it is at Christmastime that want is most keenly felt, and abundance rejoices. Now what can I put you down for?
Tax Payer: Huh! Nothing!
Second Collector: You wish to be anonymous?
Tax Payer: [firmly, but calmly] I wish to be left alone. Since you ask me what I wish sir, that is my answer. I help to support the establishments I have named; those who are badly off must go there.
First Collector: Many can't go there.
Second Collector: And some would rather die.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:19 AM on August 18, 2010 [5 favorites]


LOLPSYCHOTICS!
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:20 AM on August 18, 2010


I know finite group theorists that stopped taking PhD students once they'd seen several not get suitable jobs, pretty reasonable approach.
posted by jeffburdges at 10:22 AM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


jb: "It is important to note that there are differences between departments/subjects with large numbers of non-academic jobs (which only include some sciences -- not those astro-physics or social psychology or zoology)"

I'll take issue with the last one there, jb. Both my undergrad and PhD degrees are in zoology. Perhaps you misunderstand exactly what that field entails? Think "Biology". Got it? OK, now subtract plants, bacteria and fungi. There you go. There are a metric shit-ton of applications for the field. In most universities I have worked at, a "biology" degree is essentially an "I want to teach high school" degree. Anyone wanting to do hard science picks a specialty, either botany, zoology, or microbiology.

Anecdotally, the zoology department from which I earned both degrees has a large number of faculty who do botany, ecology and microbiology. You can study zoology by studying the organisms, or their ecosystems, or their parasites, or so on. One tenured botany professor I knew once told me that she'd never actually done much real botany before obtaining an adjunct appointment in the zoology department.

As to the FPP, well, I think this professor is being a bit selfish, and I think it's going to hurt her. Competition for academic jobs is pretty damn fierce. If you have no students, you personally end up coming up with all the ideas in your lab. Undergrads can do some good work, true, but they have neither the time nor the training to do PhD-equivalent research. On the rare occasions an undergrad is talented and dedicated enough to come close, guess what? That student is going to be gone in one to three years, and will very likely end up continuing that level of work in a competing lab. If this professor has no graduate students her personal publication record is going to suffer. When she does decide to take on more students, well, how many are going to want to join a lab which has been without students for years? Especially when it's known this is a matter of choice and not funding? How will this affect her funding, in the future, when she has no personnel to continue doing the research she had planned? Failure to complete grant objectives is a really good way to not get the grant renewed.

She isn't doing herself or her prospective students any favors. On second thought, maybe she is helping the students by redirecting them to labs where they will actually get support in their goals. There are an awful lot of older profs who will eventually retire. The economy won't stay bad forever. People I have talked to have said that things were about this bad around 20 years ago, and guess what? they improved. It goes in cycles. But the cycle breaks if everyone voluntarily refuses to train their successors. People outside the US sure as hell aren't taking any breaks training their students.
posted by caution live frogs at 10:23 AM on August 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


Ironically, there is an alternative doctoral degree for psychologists who wish to concentrate on being practitioners rather than professors - the Psy.D. However, it gets looked down upon by the academic community as being an "inferior" doctorate, and its reputation suffers. This drives more applicants into Ph.D. programs, even those who have no desire to ever actually teach, which results in an overcrowded system.
posted by thewittyname at 10:41 AM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


David Goodstein nailed it years ago in The Big Crunch:
We stand at an historic juncture in the history of science. The long era of exponential expansion ended decades ago, but we have not yet reconciled ourselves to that fact. The present social structure of science, by which I mean institutions, education, funding, publications and so on all evolved during the period of exponential expansion, before The Big Crunch. They are not suited to the unknown future we face. Today's scientific leaders, in the universities, government, industry and the scientific societies are mostly people who came of age during the golden era, 1950 - 1970. I am myself part of that generation. We think those were normal times and expect them to return. But we are wrong. Nothing like it will ever happen again. It is by no means certain that science will even survive, much less flourish, in the difficult times we face. Before it can survive, those of us who have gained so much from the era of scientific elites and scientific illiterates must learn to face reality, and admit that those days are gone forever.
posted by benzenedream at 10:41 AM on August 18, 2010 [6 favorites]


The day I handed in my dissertation at an Ivy research university I went to the career office to see if they had any ideas since I hadn't managed to land one of the very few coveted teaching jobs in my field.

The jobs counselor woman looked at me and said, "well you can type, try doing temp secretarial work." I walked out without a word and slammed the door as hard as I could.
posted by mareli at 10:56 AM on August 18, 2010 [5 favorites]


She isn't doing herself or her prospective students any favors. On second thought, maybe she is helping the students by redirecting them to labs where they will actually get support in their goals.

worth sayin' again!
posted by DavidandConquer at 10:57 AM on August 18, 2010


As the spouse of a former Ph.D student in the hard sciences, I am ever so grateful he left.

As much as Ph.D. programs can be (and probably mostly are in many cases) pyramid schemes for universities and detrimental to individuals, Ph.D. programs are far worse for anyone who wants or has a spouse or wants or has children.

As someone who was never in a Ph.D. program herself but experienced how soul sucking they can be by having a loved one in one, I have very strong feelings for how harmful Ph.D. programs by requiring all of a person's time to the exclusion of absolutely anything else whatsoever. Family functions? Forget it. Dinner with friends? With enough notice. Last minute weekend getaway? Never gonna happen. Accepting spur of the moment invitation from a friend to a movie? No way.

And that was before Baby Zizzle. I was never a single parent, but I came as close to one as I ever want to be when Baby Zizzle born and until he was about 10 months old. The best thing to happen to our family was when my husband got his high school teaching job and, in actions rather than words, let his advisor know he was done with the crap that goes with a Ph.D.
posted by zizzle at 11:02 AM on August 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


The jobs counselor woman looked at me and said, "well you can type, try doing temp secretarial work." I walked out without a word and slammed the door as hard as I could.

Was her tone particularly bad? Because, depending on what your Ph.D. was in, you may have not been qualified for anything they had on hand and she was just trying to point you in a direction where you could make some money while waiting for something else.
posted by griphus at 11:03 AM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


She would do better to give up tenure and the "bed-blocking" the system creates.Then young talented people would not be denied jobs by older, past retirement ages colleagues who won't get off the pot.
posted by A189Nut at 11:06 AM on August 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


She would do better to give up tenure and the "bed-blocking" the system creates.Then young talented people would not be denied jobs by older, past retirement ages colleagues who won't get off the pot.

This would make sense, except there's more undergraduates in college and thus more work available in higher education than ever before in history. The population is not shrinking and the population of college students is definitely not shrinking.

The problem isn't tenure. Oh christ, that's funny. The problem is that new hires by and large aren't considered eligible for it anymore.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:17 AM on August 18, 2010


You Can't Tip a Buick: "this is just the end stage of a classic union-busting scheme, where the people already in the workplace get to keep their living wage and decent benefits while new workers get shunted onto a second tier with bad pay and no benefits. K-12 teachers unions have so far successfully resisted this scheme"

That's a curious thing to say about a profession where the unions are largely alone in still defending a system which rewards teachers with better pay based solely on their experience and (largely meaningless) academic credentials.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 11:24 AM on August 18, 2010


You Can't Tip a Buick: "This would make sense, except there's more undergraduates in college and thus more work available in higher education than ever before in history"

Help me out here. This idea, that the primary purpose of professors is to teach, has been repeated in this thread. Yet we know that the main purpose of a PhD is to learn to perform research. No amount of TA'ing will count towards your degree that I know of. So why does the number of undergraduates enrolling matter for PhD holders?
posted by pwnguin at 11:28 AM on August 18, 2010


So why does the number of undergraduates enrolling matter for PhD holders?

Because graduate students, at some point, got seen as teachers of undergrads who are cheap to hire. And the number of people you need to teach undergrads is of course correlated with the number of undergrads.

No amount of TA'ing will count towards your degree that I know of.

This is not exactly true. Some PhD programs require their students to do some amount of teaching even if they're fully funded from other sources. It's "morally true", though.
posted by madcaptenor at 11:32 AM on August 18, 2010


The suggestion here that many profs are well into their 70s and above strikes me as simply wrong. Any statistics to support that claim? ps: There is no mandatory retirement age in many profession in America, and so to suggest that older (and more experienced) teachers should automatically retire is a discrimination that we have a while ago put aside. Mandated age retirements are ok in areas where physical strength is important still applies, such as police, fire fighters etc.
posted by Postroad at 11:32 AM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


No, okay, I am going to stay GRARR over this. So here's the situation: Therefore, success as a grad student looks like this:Whereas failure looks like this: The problem is not tenure. That's hilarious. The problem is not oversupply of PhDs (nearly any PhD can find work teaching at a university... it'll just be low-paid and contingent). The problem is that school administrations aren't willing to pay all of their instructors a living wage.

This is going to do huge long-term damage to the American university system that we're just now starting to see. Overworked, underpaid instructors are bad for students. Instructors who don't have time to meet with their students outside of class hours, because they're teaching six classes a semester to avoid starving are bad for students. And, of course, overworked, underpaid instructors don't have any time whatsoever to do research, which means that the university is abandoning the other side of its reason for existence altogether.

Schools that run on overworked, underpaid instructors are destroying themselves. Like, literally. Actually bulldozing every building on campus and having students meet in tents would do less damage to a school than this contingent labor scheme does.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:34 AM on August 18, 2010 [20 favorites]


As someone who was never in a Ph.D. program herself but experienced how soul sucking they can be by having a loved one in one, I have very strong feelings for how harmful Ph.D. programs by requiring all of a person's time to the exclusion of absolutely anything else whatsoever. Family functions? Forget it. Dinner with friends? With enough notice. Last minute weekend getaway? Never gonna happen. Accepting spur of the moment invitation from a friend to a movie? No way.

Well, that's just a matter of advisor or research group culture. There's a lot of variation there, but the demanding ones can be very demanding.

I personally have never had so much personal flexibility as when I was doing my Ph.D. The only person who was relying on me was myself, and I could plan my own time, so long as I made sure things were progressing. It was a great time.

Sounds like your husband just had a shitty advisor.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:37 AM on August 18, 2010


What is not being discussed here is the 'degree inflation' that is going on in countries like the US, Australia and UK (and maybe other places, I don't know).
Once 'everyone' is pushed to go to university, an undergraduate degree in most cases means relatively nothing. I am 34, and when I finished highschool in Australia it was assumed if you were not completely dumb you would try for a university degree. From what I can see that has not really changed very much.
So once an undergraduate degree is worthless, you have to do post-grad. I did a coursework Masters because I wanted to do it (and was returning to Australia pregnant and thought chances of getting a job were low, so why not do a Masters to fill my time?) I got on to what was meant to be a prestigious course, but really it was just a money maker for the university (a whole other story). But the fact is that 'dilettantes' like me can get on a Masters course pretty easily, and I probably could have gotten a research place if I had tried.
So now it is expected that if you have any university education, you have some kind of Masters or equivalent, so to put yourself ahead of the crowd, you go the PhD route. I know because I started, was even accepted, and realised early on (luckily) that my heart was just not in it. I just didn't care enough about a specialised subject to devote my life to it totally for a few years.

That said, the Australian PhD system is laughably simple compared to the US way of doing things, but we also don't really have the whole 'tenure' thing going on.
posted by Megami at 11:44 AM on August 18, 2010


Well, that's just a matter of advisor or research group culture. There's a lot of variation there, but the demanding ones can be very demanding.

I also work with faculty recruiting at my current job, which is a completely different field than my husband's. We've been recruiting for three years -- someone left, new line, someone left, etc. --- and the candidates we invite for campus interviews really don't seem to have a life outside of academia.

Very few of them have families, which is not really an indicator of much of anything. Many don't even have romantic ties. Also not necessarily an indicator of anything. But then we hire them, and they come to our city, and they don't know anyone except the people at the university, and it's very clear that they're lonely, unhappy, and frustrated. Part of this is life change, but part of it is also that getting a Ph.D. in many fields is not conducive to having any type of other life. It's really heartbreaking to see in just-graduated Ph.D.s, and particularly in the cases where there was no type of work experience outside of academia ever. The ones who did other work before entering a Ph.D. program seem to be psychologically in a healthier place.

Again, my department is one data point, but it seems to be another side of the same coin that Harris is exploring in her article.
posted by zizzle at 11:46 AM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think this professor is being a bit selfish, and I think it's going to hurt her. Competition for academic jobs is pretty damn fierce. ... That student is going to be gone in one to three years, and will very likely end up continuing that level of work in a competing lab. If this professor has no graduate students her personal publication record is going to suffer. When she does decide to take on more students, well, how many are going to want to join a lab which has been without students for years? Especially when it's known this is a matter of choice and not funding? ... She isn't doing herself or her prospective students any favors.

Hi clf, I am in agreement with you - this will hurt her. But that's exactly the point -- the system is set up to reward students who say "I want to be an academic too" and rewards profs who produce as many PhD students as possible, even if this makes no sense externally. The siege mentality created by continually scrambling for papers, grants, funding, students ensures that (mostly) monomaniacs will make it through and will be rewarded for perpetuating the existing system.

There are an awful lot of older profs who will eventually retire.

Yes, and as long as they produce only one academically-bound PhD student in their lifetime the system will be at equilibrium.
posted by benzenedream at 11:54 AM on August 18, 2010


You Can't Tip a Buick: "Schools that run on overworked, underpaid instructors are destroying themselves. Like, literally. Actually bulldozing every building on campus and having students meet in tents would do less damage to a school than this contingent labor scheme does."

Have you by chance read "A Response to The New Faculty Majority"? A relevant quote:
I’ll start with a really basic fact. Over 80 percent of my college’s budget is labor, and instruction is the single largest part of that. The college’s operating income -- that is, the money that we can use to pay for salaries and ongoing expenses -- comes from exactly two sources: tuition and the state. If you push through a drastic increase in labor costs, how, exactly, do you propose to pay for it?
posted by pwnguin at 11:54 AM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


You Can't Tip a Buick is spot on throughout this thread; people spouting off about how tenure or unionsare the problem are only parading their hilarious ignorance of the actual working conditions that prevail in higher education. (And seriously? we're pulling the horseshit FOX News "entrenched teachers' unions" talking points into higher-ed debates now? I'm used to hearing the tenure-blaming position, though it's equally nonsensical, but this is a new one.) The oversupply-of-PhDs myth is hard to kill off, but it needs to die, and die now; there is no such thing.

As I keep saying in threads on this subject, if you're going to prattle about market conditions in higher education, you're obligated to go read Marc Bousquet's How the University Works first (to say nothing of Stanley Aronowitz or Cary Nelson's similar analyses.
posted by RogerB at 11:55 AM on August 18, 2010 [4 favorites]


I’ll start with a really basic fact. Over 80 percent of my college’s budget is labor, and instruction is the single largest part of that. The college’s operating income -- that is, the money that we can use to pay for salaries and ongoing expenses -- comes from exactly two sources: tuition and the state. If you push through a drastic increase in labor costs, how, exactly, do you propose to pay for it?

The same way schools paid for it before the contingent adjunct labor scam was born.

In any case, it's clear that oversupply of new PhDs is not the problem with the so-called job market, and that any adjustment to the supply of new PhDs will fix precisely nothing about the so-called job market.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:05 PM on August 18, 2010


Yes, and as long as they produce only one academically-bound PhD student in their lifetime the system will be at equilibrium.

The population is increasing. The population of universities is increasing even more than that.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:07 PM on August 18, 2010


They have to keep accepting people or there will be no TAs.

Eh, maybe a few for upper-level courses that really require graduate students as TAs (and require at most 1 TA per course), but for the large 100-level intro courses which require half a dozen or more TAs, those spots can often be filled by bright upper-level undergraduates. And before you get apopleptic over that notion, allow me to add that in my experience the undergraduate TAs are often better than the graduate students, as they tend to be more enthusiastic about teaching, while some (not all) graduate students view teaching only as an unwelcome distraction from their research.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 12:11 PM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Schools that run on overworked, underpaid instructors are destroying themselves. Like, literally. Actually bulldozing every building on campus and having students meet in tents would do less damage to a school than this contingent labor scheme does.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:34 PM on August 18 [4 favorites +] [!]



aaaaaaaaaaand, that's where the money's going; opposite-wise, that is. Look at any college or university that's taking a machete to tenure-track faculty and what do you see? An exploding physical plant. In Florida alone, the schools I can personally keep track of (UF, USF, HCC, CCF and SFC) have all crunched their tenure-track rosters and poured hundreds of millions of dollars worth of vertical concrete. All with naming rights, natch.

Because let's face it - those meat-slaves will be gone in a few short years, but a performing arts center/aquatic center/veterinary hospital/etc. is forever-ish.
posted by toodleydoodley at 12:15 PM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


At the college I attended, the term "teaching assistant" was considered dirty.

Professors taught their own courses. In some cases, an upper level undergraduate might assist in a lab for a science class and some upper level psych students might assist with a research project.

But only professors taught. There were no TAs.

Back when I was thinking of getting a Ph.D. in a field that I still love to this day, I wanted to go to a teaching institution, not a research institution. I was accepted into some of the top programs for my field and for my particular interest in my field. But I was overwhelmed by the finances and the job prospects that I chose not to pursue it. I don't have any regrets, though I do have the occasional passing wistful thought.
posted by zizzle at 12:16 PM on August 18, 2010


*teaching institution after completing the Ph.D., not for the Ph.D.
posted by zizzle at 12:17 PM on August 18, 2010


Postroad asked: The suggestion here that many profs are well into their 70s and above strikes me as simply wrong. Any statistics to support that claim?

I don't have statistics, but I am one of two tenure-track people in my department (14 in all) under the age of 50. I'm 32, and the other is tenured and just turned 40. Perhaps that number is greater (we may be the only two under 60!) but I have not been able to figure out how to politely ask colleagues "So, how old are you?" I do know that my situation is not exceptional, in that other young faculty are seldom surprised by the described age distribution. So, I have anecdotes, but not data.

I would also like to second You Can't Tip a Buick's observations. We (the department I am in) also hire a lot of contingent faculty (everyone does - we're less bad than most, but still worse than I think we should be) and I think the adjuncts don't get treated nearly as well as they should, either in salary or benefits or respect. This is a classic case for unions - the only reason grad students usually get health care now is because of unions! Now it's time to unionize the adjunct and contingent faculty - they are getting screwed, and have no individual bargaining power. Therefore they should band together and engage in collective bargaining.
posted by pmb at 12:19 PM on August 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


As others have said, a lot of this comes from the fact that universities want to do a lot of teaching but don't want to pay for it: so the slack is taken up by adjuncts and graduate students. Lots of PhD students are admitted because the departments need them to do the teaching work. The departments could hire more faculty (even full-time, non-tenure-track instructor-types, rather than adjuncts), but they prefer to have lots of graduate students. The situation in the sciences is similar: labs need lots of low-paid researchers, so they market the research positions they need as "training positions." But they're "training" for full-time jobs that don't actually exist. In part because professors prefer to pay "trainees" rather than fulltime staff.

There's also a cultural note that needs to be said: there's nothing wrong with giving up. By 30, you'll know whether you're going down the academic superstar track or not. And if not? Well, there are plenty of other possible jobs out there, and in most fields, they probably pay better than having a PhD. But no one wants to say they are a grad school dropout and will stick with adjuncting while being ABD still hoping that one day you'll be one of The Chosen. Or you'll simply settle into your prison, identifying as a perma-adjunct or perma-postdoc rather than doing something completely different.
posted by deanc at 12:20 PM on August 18, 2010


Help me out here. This idea, that the primary purpose of professors is to teach, has been repeated in this thread. Yet we know that the main purpose of a PhD is to learn to perform research. No amount of TA'ing will count towards your degree that I know of. So why does the number of undergraduates enrolling matter for PhD holders?

Most schools are in fact not R1 research institutions. The vast majority of academic jobs (real-secure-tenure-track and otherwise) are not primarily research jobs. Some few professors, especially in the hard sciences, can get away with pretending that professors are kept around to do scintillating research, but really? Society puts up with us because we teach the undergrads. When talking about work in the academy, especially work outside of the hard sciences, talk about research is a red herring.

Admittedly, It's a red herring with a long pedigree; way back when the K-12 teachers unions were first forming, university professors and their professional organizations were approached as potential members but refused because they self-identified as researchers rather than mere teachers. This is part of the long story of university professors badly screwing themselves over with their own sense of elite status. And yes, you're right — the training in PhD programs does in fact deprivilege teaching, even though teaching is the job that the PhD qualifies you for. This is true. Brutally stupid, but true.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:21 PM on August 18, 2010 [7 favorites]


The same way schools paid for it before the contingent adjunct labor scam was born.

In public higher ed, that would be collecting enough tax to pay for the services provided. As an example, it's my understanding that Prop 13 in California "helped" to gut funding for CA's higher ed system. It used to be amazing quality, incredibly low tuition. Not so much now. As horrible as the system is, I have some sympathy for administrators attempting to do more with less -- a LOT less. (One of my former co-workers mentioned something about a 10-20% budget cut this year.)

In a tax-averse populace, that's a serious problem.

Dean Dad also mentions the problem of health care costs, which are a substantial portion of that 80%, and which have gone up insanely since the good old days. Our crappy-ass health care "system" has all sorts of nasty ripple effects. This would be one of them.
posted by epersonae at 12:27 PM on August 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


Keep in mind that there is not just one "academia."

Different fields are really different. In math, we are looking at a brutally depressed job market for new Ph.D.'s. And what that means is that unemployment rates for new graduates might approach or even exceed the highs of 10-11% that they reached in the last big recession. For the last year we have data (2009 hiring season) the unemployment rate was 5%. (See this report from the AMS for relevant data.) The large majority of these were academic jobs, and of those, I'm guessing that the majority were tenure-track (because the majority were in non-Ph.D. granting departments, which rarely offer postdocs.) There is little sense in math that the aim is to clone ourselves -- lots of our graduates go into industry, and lots go to teaching positions in four-year colleges, which is a pretty different job from being a professor in a research-oriented, Ph.D.-granting department.

MarshallPoe says he's never encountered a history Ph.D. who didn't want to be a professor, and I don't doubt it. But that's certainly not true in math, and I'll bet it's not true in psychology. (For certain it's not true in clinical psychology, where lots of graduates go into practice as psychotherapists.)

From the article: "Churning out Ph.D.s is one of the major metrics of departmental “success.” "
Certainly not true in math. What funding agencies care about is that you produced a lot of graduate students who wrote good papers and got good jobs.

There are also big differences between departments. I teach in a top-20 math department, and most of our graduates get jobs they like. The situation might look quite different for Ph.D.'s graduating from a department ranked between 50 and 100. (Though the AMS data, now that I look at it, doesn't support the thesis that unemployment is radically higher for students from "group II" as against "group I" departments.)

None of which is to deny that lots of people start Ph.D.s in the humanities with unrealistic expectations, that those expectations are sometimes encouraged by faculties whose incentives aren't well aligned with those of students, and that the lack of secure work for English professors is in many respects a result of administrative choices, not just an inevitable fact of nature.
posted by escabeche at 12:30 PM on August 18, 2010


Look at any college or university that's taking a machete to tenure-track faculty and what do you see? An exploding physical plant.

Wanna know something really f'ed up? It's massively easier to get a state legislature to approve a new building -- or donors to help fund one -- than it is to get ongoing money for profs to teach in it. (Or janitors to clean it, for that matter.) And in my state, those pots of state money were entirely separate, no substitutions. Totally infuriating.

I was the web manager for a community college for 6 years.
posted by epersonae at 12:31 PM on August 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


Which industry? Hard sciences, sure, but I don't know any Liberal Arts Ph.D.s who are aimed at anything outside of an academic career.

Usually the liberal arts docs end up editing press releases for Faceless Co., Inc. or writing copy for Banal Ads, LLC.

We (the department I am in) also hire a lot of contingent faculty (everyone does - we're less bad than most, but still worse than I think we should be)

Don't be intellectually dishonest. They hire contractors. And the grad students teaching the classes? That's outsourcing. Except you don't call it outsourcing because the nice fellow from India has a student visa instead of an H-1B but it's all the same bullshit.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:53 PM on August 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


You land a job teaching at a university. vs. You can't get one of those jobs teaching at a university, so you have to take a low-paying job... teaching at a university.

Your version of success and failure focuses entirely on the ability to land a job where you teach; you're forgetting the research component. Many grad students want the full package - teaching and research - or are more interested in the research component. Unfortunately, their options currently suck too: industry (in the fields where industry is an option) is firing, not hiring, there aren't that many government labs, and there are very few real research scientist/academic positions in academic labs. In my field, failure looks like this:

You get a PhD.
You spend the next decade in 3 or 4 low-paid, temporary postdoc positions - all in different cities - while applying for academic positions that aren't teaching only.
You give up and leave the field.

Of course, in many ways, this does go right back to your point - namely, institutions not paying their employees a reasonable wage. After all, they're choosing to support ill-paid temporary postdoc positions - perhaps the research analogue of the adjunct? - rather than long-term fully paid researcher positions.
posted by ubersturm at 1:05 PM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


ubersturm: Thanks for that. I'm in the humanities, and most of the writers mentioned upthread who talk meaningfully about academic labor are in the humanities (likely because the humanities have been screwed the hardest for the longest), so it's easy for me to forget that the casualization of academic labor is happening over in the sciences, too, but in a somewhat different way.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:13 PM on August 18, 2010


Part of the problem in estimating the number of non-academic PhDs in your field is that non-academic PhDs rarely talk about having a PhD. So, you've got to look pretty close.

I'm working on PhD apps right now, with the intent of entering the non-academic research world (education policy). Here's the reason why I'm getting a PhD instead of a masters: programs pay for their PhD students, so I can go for free.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 1:16 PM on August 18, 2010


Continuing my thought:

The problem with academia is the same with all native industries. Cheap labor. If you had to be a citizen to teach a class, the school would have to actually go out an hire people from their local/national labor market to do the work. "But you'd never get international celebrities & Nobel laureates!" Sure you would: as speakers.

Universities get around this the same way they get around all sorts of other shit: "Oh, but we're an institution of mental enrichment and not subject to all those non-ivory-tower problems that get your fingernails dirty like paying taxes."

And on that tangent, it is fucking criminal what American universities get away with financially.
A college could be situated in prime Boston real estate, pay the city close to nothing, and still receive municipal services. In Boston, Emerson College pays the city $139,000 annually, while its property is worth roughly $178 million. Meanwhile, with property valued at $1.3 billion, Northeastern University pays only $31,000 per year for city services used. [source]
$1.3 BILLION but only pays the equivalent of ONE STUDENT'S TUITION for city services!? How on God's green earth can these fuckers cry poverty when it comes to tenured positions? In conclusion, to quote my least-favorite Nobel prize winning professor: fuck academia.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:27 PM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


The rise of adjuncts was not a scam. It was and is a way of addressing budget shortfalls. It's neither a cruel trick nor an administrative featherbedding stunt. Do the math.

COSTS: Tenured faculty get more expensive every year, per the standard raise mechanisms of academe. Health insurance costs skyrocket along with it. So the cost of simply maintaining faculty without anyone else rises each year. The cohort hired around 1970 or so is largely still there in a lot of campuses, so that's a lot of expensive talent. They were supposed to start retiring in large numbers in the nineties, but that didn't happen. Per the Supreme Court, you can't force a tenured academic to retire, either.

Then factor in the joys of technology. New tech has to be provided for students on a regular basis, and the rate is increasing. In education, new tech is entirely lost money. You don't get returns on increased efficiency with it. It's just gone. Those costs are bad and growing worse, as high tech becomes more and more necessary in more and more fields.

Administrative bloat is inconsistent. Some schools have it, some do not. Yet all are in the same bind. Moreover, what constitutes "bloat" is a bit hazy. When it comes to specific cuts, the cries of "bloat" become cries of necessity, even from faculty. Charging the problem to administration is just casting about for an easy villain. It's the wrong target.

INCOME: As DD points out, there are two sources for most places: the state and tuition.

State support for higher ed has been plunging for decades, and the descent shows no signs of slowing, as people are accepting more and more that education is a private, not a public, good. (Argh.) So that income source is drying up.

Tuition is touchy. Particularly if you're dealing with a community college, where low tuition is rather the point of the institution. Raising it to match the state shortfalls fully would (a) defeat the purpose of the institution -- it ain't a business; (b) make life harder for the lower-income students; and (c) drive away those the institution is designed to help.

Income for improving the physical plants comes from an entirely different source than the operating budgets, and they can't touch each other. Nature of the beast. State legislatures and donors are always more willing to support building a new chem lab than paying for chem professors. You can't move money from one pile to the other. And don't think that administrators aren't pushing the state for more operating funds. They just aren't getting them.

THE PROBLEM: You've got more and more students. You don't have a lot of money. Tenure track and fully tenured faculty are expensive. You have sections to fill. Aaaand...there's a huge, huge pool of eager, highly educated suckers with Ph.Ds out there eager for any chance to work in academe.

And thus, a miserable, cruel, stupid system of exploitation is born.

The adjuncting economy is nasty bullshit, without a doubt. But don't pretend it's because administrators are a bunch of meanies or greedy or whatnot. That's just creating a mustache-twirling bad guy and pretending it's all one person (or one group of people's) fault. It's the result of the fallout of the boomer hiring binge, the nature of pay raises in academe, the rise of ubiquitous and expensive technology, and the shift in national priorities away from higher education. The oversupply of Ph.Ds keeps the hamster wheel in motion, as per basic economics. Tons of applicants, very few jobs...yeah, shitty wages and worse conditions will ensue, as night follows day.

It's a goddamn mess.
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 1:39 PM on August 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


Yeah, Goodstein'a article nails the problems, benzenedream. Yet, I feel he's extremely over optimistic about our chances for "teaching science to non-scientists", possibly inspired by Carl Sagan. I'm curious what he'd say now, like 16 years later.

In fact, we've another more realistic solution : retask science PhDs as qualifications for the higher paying industry jobs, like Wall St. Ironically, academics themselves are the principle obstacle here.

For example, UCLA's Math Dept. was recently given an Exemplary Program Award by the AMS in part for making their graduate students spend one summer working with an engineer. Yet, we've seen no other departments follow suit, afaik. And the AMS will not even compile statistics from mathjobs.org that might support such endeavors.
posted by jeffburdges at 1:43 PM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is why, since my own time in a PhD program, I have advocated strategic poisonings in all academic departments.

Ah, somebody who misses the old Unseen University, I see.
posted by kmz at 1:56 PM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Postroad: "The suggestion here that many profs are well into their 70s and above strikes me as simply wrong. Any statistics to support that claim?"

I actually do have data from my institution. I can't give you age, but I can give you how long tenure track people been here. The average is 20 years, but crunching the data in excel shows a long tail. 2 people who started when this place was founded still teach here. So probably not many profs well into their 70s, but people over 50 represent 15 percent of tenured faculty that haven't been promoted to Dean or other administrative positions.

Given what I suspect is a slant towards the old, I think a case can be made that admitting more younger staff will reduce average health insurance costs.
posted by pwnguin at 2:10 PM on August 18, 2010


Civil_Disobedient, are you saying that this is a bad use of taxpayer money, to subsidize higher-education? A quote from this link: "the OECD pegs the social return on investment in higher education at 13.7% for the US." That seems like pretty much a no-brainer.
posted by Mental Wimp at 2:12 PM on August 18, 2010


THE PROBLEM: You've got more and more students. You don't have a lot of money. Tenure track and fully tenured faculty are expensive. You have sections to fill. Aaaand...there's a huge, huge pool of eager, highly educated suckers with Ph.Ds out there eager for any chance to work in academe. And thus, a miserable, cruel, stupid system of exploitation is born.

The adjuncting economy is nasty bullshit, without a doubt. But don't pretend it's because administrators are a bunch of meanies or greedy or whatnot. That's just creating a mustache-twirling bad guy and pretending it's all one person (or one group of people's) fault.


This is disingenuous. No one is proposing that it's the fault of a mustache-twirling bad guy rather than a failed system. That said, there are a bunch of different ways university administrators could deal with the (bad) situation. Just because there is an opportunity for short-sighted, self-destructive exploitative practices is no excuse for short-sighted, self-destructive exploitative practices. Administrators could cut back on admissions. They could skimp on technology, rather than labor costs. They could spread the pain of lowered salaries more evenly. They could establish a system of pay and job security based on seniority, rather than the system where your first job determines your entire academic career and where there is absolutely no way for a member of the exploited class to gain tenure-track status. They could lobby a lot harder and a lot louder and a lot more publicly to get funds shifted from physical plant upgrades to things that actually matter.

I'm sure there are a lot of lovely people with decent politics working in university administration. But nevertheless, university administrators are the only group directly responsible for the mismanagement of their universities — mismanagement above and beyond the pain inflicted by budget cuts outside their control. And just incidentally, they're also the only group not experiencing direct pain as a result of their mismanagement. Administrators (like their executive counterparts in the commercial world) have been faced with a series of choices over the past 30 years and have consistently chosen to take the most personally easy, most exploitative, and most long-term destructive options.

So, yeah, like any good little Marxist I agree with you that the system is the problem, rather than some hypothetical villain operating within the system. Nevertheless, administrators are just as much obligated to work toward building a better system as everyone else involved is, even though, or especially because, they're not the ones being exploited by it — but, go figure, the people who are actually talking the most cogently about the systematic problems are the laborers caught up in them.

(and just because it's what the thread is about and I haven't beat that particular dead horse hard enough yet, these problems have precisely nothing to do with an oversupply of PhDs.)
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:30 PM on August 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


There are vast qualitative differences between research academia and teaching academia, but the underlying problem is too many temporarily employed young PhDs, i.e. adjuncts teaching and postdocs doing research. In both cases, we must replace temporarily positions by permanent faculty positions because all those temporary positions screw up people's lives.

Adjuncts are currently soo cheap that creating permanent positions will cost significantly more, money with must come from increased class sizes or increased tuition, more state funding isn't an option. A practical step towards this might be for faculties to pledge to not hire anyone more than three years out of graduate school, thus forcing out the people who'll never make it sooner.

Postdocs are paid almost a living wage now, but the NSF grants that fund them are simply not stable. We might replace those NSF grants with CNRS (France) style quasi-permenent research positions and fixed laboratory funding, but that's a very radical change.
posted by jeffburdges at 2:47 PM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Administrative bloat is inconsistent. Some schools have it, some do not. Yet all are in the same bind. Moreover, what constitutes "bloat" is a bit hazy. When it comes to specific cuts, the cries of "bloat" become cries of necessity, even from faculty. Charging the problem to administration is just casting about for an easy villain. It's the wrong target.

Sorry, but this is bullshit (as I've said here before). Empirically speaking, spending on administrative staff has something like doubled at most higher-ed institutions over the last ~10 years, while spending on (non-adjunct, non-casual) instruction has not even nearly kept pace with enrollment growth. Here's a full report from the Center for College Affordability.
posted by RogerB at 2:51 PM on August 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


In fact, we need a much earlier and stronger separation between the exploited and tenure-track classes, like say universities pledging they'll never make a new tenure-track hire for anyone more than three years after their PhD. Young people will simply get on with their lives if they get kicked out earlier.
posted by jeffburdges at 2:52 PM on August 18, 2010


From RogerB's linked article:

The growth in support staff included some jobs that did not exist 20 years ago, like environmental sustainability officers and a broad array of information technology workers. The support staff category includes many different jobs, like residential-life staff, admissions and recruitment officers, fund-raisers, loan counselors and all the back-office staff positions responsible for complying with the new regulations and reporting requirements college face.

My old job did not exist 20 years ago. (My career did not exist 20 years ago.) In fact, I'm pretty sure my job first came into being 10 years ago. Does that make a college webmaster "bloat"? I also have a pretty good recollection of several jobs springing into existence specifically from grant requirements: we got a grant, and we had to hire someone to administer the program that came out of the grant. :\

Of course, looking at the PDF, it looks like my old "sector" is the one doing the most with the least. Alas, we were also a major employer of adjuncts/part-timers.

Which I guess leads to this thought: there is not a higher-ed system in the US, there are many higher-ed systems. For the community college, adequate state funding is pretty much the crux of the problem. This may not be so for a Boston College or Compass Point State U.
posted by epersonae at 3:10 PM on August 18, 2010


are you saying that this is a bad use of taxpayer money, to subsidize higher-education?

For for-profit schools? The guys that have no qualms with putting Johnny Liberal Arts into debt for the next twenty years of his life while he jumps from job to job trying to keep a roof over his head with a piece of paper that was supposed to open a door or some-such bullshit? No, fuck them. They can earn their keep and pay their taxes like all the other companies out there just trying to make a buck.

State University of Whatever can have whatever subsidizing they need. I've got no beef with them.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:05 PM on August 18, 2010


You Can't Tip a Buick: "Administrators could cut back on admissions.
Which would hit adjuncts first and dramatically. And students.

They could skimp on technology, rather than labor costs.
Which technology should we cut? Campus internet? Campus Wifi? Blackboard? Scantrons? Quality Assurance? (As if we ever budgeted for that!) The truth of the matter is that hiring one new position at 50k equals roughly 100 new computers a year. Software and other "enterprise" crap though, does trauma to the budget. Like many government enterprises, vendor lock-in turns the screws on us. Banner, Oracle, Sun (now oracle), PeopleSoft, Blackboard are all difficult to move away from and when colleges do move, they buy the competitor you switch to. We could develop software in house, but there's no room in our brand new building for more staff, and IT staff salaries aren't cheap either.

They could spread the pain of lowered salaries more evenly.
So we're going to cut faculty wages? Oh, I'm sure the unions would love that proposal. "Union busting," a phrase trotted out in this thread, comes to mind.

They could establish a system of pay and job security based on seniority, rather than the system where your first job determines your entire academic career and where there is absolutely no way for a member of the exploited class to gain tenure-track status.

So you want admission to the faculty union, who won't represent adjunct, allowed adjunct to exist at all, and wouldn't consider a sympathy strike. And furthermore, how do you organize a group to strike when the outcome will be fulltime jobs for some and firings for others?

They could lobby a lot harder and a lot louder and a lot more publicly to get funds shifted from physical plant upgrades to things that actually matter.
The benefit of capital investment is that you get to keep it. You buy a building and you get a building that you can sell in an emergency. Its status as an asset improves your bond ratings. You can also use the buildings to hold classes in, instead of renting space at the local strip mall. You can also rent them out to other people and conferences. This doesn't make it any less frustrating when you can build the new nursing building but not staff it, but at least explains how owning things matters too.

But let me get specific. We're overseen by a Board of Trustees, unpaid elected officials who use the service as a spring board into state and federal politics. It's painful; I've watched a Trustee refuse to vote to accept a travel grant to study Muslim culture in Morocco. Trustees are the ones who hire the lobbyists and levy local taxes. Trustees have stated that there will be no raise in taxes as a matter of policy, and even though the area dramatically supports taxation for education, any trustee introducing a mil levy increase would lose every Republican state primary for life.

That is the failed system. It's political in nature, and not something a low level administrator can "fix." In fact, college policy explicitly prevents this: "Employees shall not use time for which college pay is received, nor college property, students, school equipment or materials for the purpose of solicitation, promotion, election, or defeat of any candidate for public office or of passage or defeat of any election issue."
posted by pwnguin at 4:06 PM on August 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


In the UK here, and talk is of contingency for 40% cuts. The institution I work for is "too big to do anything except wobble a bit" they say, but services will be taking a real nosedive this term. At least the principal of one major University got a 17% raise this year, nevermind that everyone else got 0.5%.
posted by yoHighness at 5:15 PM on August 18, 2010


clf -- I'm sorry if I wasn't clear -- I just mentioned zoology as a branch of the biological sciences that (as far as I know) doesn't have a lot of industrial jobs, but primarily academic and government based research. Please correct me if I'm wrong.
posted by jb at 5:21 PM on August 18, 2010


You just misunderstand what "zoology" means these days.
posted by grouse at 5:25 PM on August 18, 2010


thank you, pwnguin. I wrote a snarly rant covering most of the same stuff and deleted it.
posted by epersonae at 5:37 PM on August 18, 2010


I was basing my thoughts on someone I knew who studied bird mating habits, and called herself a zoologist -- as an example that not all sciences have direct industrial applications. Other areas of zoology might.

That's not to say that they don't have indirect applications. I have a friend with a math PhD in set theory who now programs; he gained his programming skills during his PhD, but he's not doing maths. My research has given me spreadsheet and database skills that would be good if I wanted to take up bookkeeping; too bad that I'm not interested in spreadsheets, but how they can be used to analyse landholding.
posted by jb at 5:40 PM on August 18, 2010


Oh man. If all the colleges did that, there might be a nasty outbreak of academic ethics!!!
posted by Twang at 7:25 PM on August 18, 2010


Should we stop admitting undergrads, too? They're entering an incredibly depressed job market too, and are unlikely to find work in the field they trained in...unless they go to grad school. Yeah, they're treated better on the whole, and can party more, but grad students (at least in my field) not only get a free education, we get paid to be there. Not a terrible option to keep me busy, sheltered, and fed for 6 years. And hey! At the end, I'll have a chance of doing what I've always wanted to do, which is, yes, an tenure-track position in psychology, plus a range of marketable skills (e.g., teaching, therapy, community-based interventions, statistics, program evaluation, research methods, time management, working under high-stress conditions).
posted by emilyd22222 at 8:17 PM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yes, I am just trying to justify my life choices. This thread depressed the shit out of me.
posted by emilyd22222 at 8:19 PM on August 18, 2010


For for-profit schools?

Private schools ≠ For profit schools
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:41 PM on August 18, 2010


The problem is not tenure. That's hilarious.

The problem is tenure, because it ties up the resources that could be shared more equitably by all the workers. As it is, the number of adjuncts is mushrooming because:

-student demand for classes is large and growing
-professors at many universities teach 2/2 loads
-university budgets are extremely inflexible
-when it comes time to add up the number of classes the school has to offer, the number of courses available from the T/T staff, and the amount of money left over, it makes sense to hire extra teachers to teach the additional necessary classes

Dean Dad has said it all much better than I can. Tenure and adjunctification are not only linked but are two sides of a seesaw on a fucking fulcrum.
posted by ms.codex at 12:07 AM on August 19, 2010


You've cited an article by the dean of a community collage, ms.codex. Yes, community collages should pay the bare minimum academic salary because inexpensive tuition is their whole reaison d'etre. Yes, that bare minimum academic salary should match the salary of high school teachers, hell they teach exactly the same material.

In fact, there isn't much reason for hiring PhDs at community collage in the first place, a master's degree has always sufficed, often a master's degree in only a loosely related field. Fine, but you're talking basically high school, not higher education. And the thread was about a psychology professor refusing to train more research level psychology PhDs.

Goodstein's The Big Crunch identifies the underlying problem as the end of a phase of exponential expansion of the sciences and higher education. We must therefore either retool the PhD towards providing high level talent for industry, or else reduce PhDs. We might for example end the extreme grade inflation for graduate courses, hopefully pushing more students out earlier.
posted by jeffburdges at 12:50 AM on August 19, 2010


zazzle:"Ph.D. programs are far worse for anyone who wants or has a spouse or wants or has children. "

YMMV, apparently. In the three departments I worked with, there were lots of social opportunities (many hosted by the professors themselves), quite a few of the PhD candidates ended up married or pregnant during the process of earning their degrees (to the extent that we joked there must be something in the water in our building) and I didn't have any real difficulty setting limits on how far my work life intruded into my personal life. At no point was pursuit of my degree more important to me than maintaining a healthy marriage.

mr. roboto: "I personally have never had so much personal flexibility as when I was doing my Ph.D. The only person who was relying on me was myself, and I could plan my own time, so long as I made sure things were progressing. It was a great time [...] Sounds like your husband just had a shitty advisor."

I completely agree with mr. roboto's assessment here - your choice of adviser makes a huge difference. To be fair I knew (and still know) plenty of people who hated life while in grad school, and 95% of that can be pinned down to advisers who just plain didn't give two damns about their students or the workloads their students had to bear. But you know what? There are other advisers out there. It can be hard to switch labs, but it isn't impossible. I know people who have done it and the general feeling seems to be that political repercussions of the switch < mental anguish and stress of working with their former adviser.

As for postdocs, yeah, terminal postdoc mode can be depressing. I know people who have been doing postdocs for way too long. On the other hand, some universities (such as the one where I did my postdoc) have a deal going: 5 years max, no more than 3 of those in one lab, and if the lab wants to keep you on past that point they need to pay you real wages and offer you real benefits as a staff scientist rather than a postdoc. This is to stop exploitation. It also is great encouragement for faculty to work hard to help people with talent find the funding to stick around - which is also why I am still employed. My mentor likes me, thinks I do decent work, and was instrumental in supporting my grant applications. But that goes back to the original point, doesn't it? If your mentor/advisor is shitty, find another one who isn't.
posted by caution live frogs at 8:24 AM on August 19, 2010


as people are accepting more and more that education is a private, not a public, good.

now there's a pernicious belief that needs to be stamped out with all prejudice. how is it not a public good to have an educated populace?
posted by toodleydoodley at 8:06 AM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


The problem is tenure, because it ties up the resources that could be shared more equitably by all the workers.

You do realize that without tenure there would be no academe as we know it today, right? Throughout history, existing powers have always opposed the discovery of new knowledge that threatened their existence. It was only by creating a well funded institution whose primary goal was the discovery of knowledge staffed by workers who couldn't be fired for the type of knowledge they created could these forces be resisted. This has led to the explosion of knowledge that has, well, just look around you, and compare it to what was available in 1200. People are still concerned today about protecting the folks who create new knowledge and those without tenure often suffer for the truth, so it may be too soon to give up on the idea.
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:28 PM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


how is it not a public good to have an educated populace?

Well, for one thing, an educated public won't swallow memes like "Ground Zero terrorist mosques" or "scary negroes of the New Black Panther Party" or "OMGZ Muslim Illegal Immigrant Babbies Are Killing Us!", so how are we supposed to trick them into voting for our rich guys' party?
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:00 AM on September 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


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