#Dispatches From the Frontlines Monday series crowdsources questions to get a broad indication of how our readers are coping with various challenges.
The question right now: Why the f**k don’t we revolt??? (contributed by Kel, lol).
New #Dispatches Question is at the bottom of the post. Please read and respond!
NOTE: Please remember that we invite respondents to list their own identifying details. We mostly do not edit these. Respondents share what THEY feel is significant about their identity.
We’re too busy and scared. (Cis het white female, estranged from family of origin, STEM Grad Student)
In my experience, academics have a hard time seeing themselves as part of the proletariat, providing labor, in a situation where their needs are not in line with the capitalist class, or administrators. They also fail to distinguish between their needs and those of their students, using the discourse of sacrifice and martyrdom to describe unpaid work – i.e. “service to the profession,” when it’s ALL service since we spend a lot of time writing articles for free which are then published in journals owned by hedge funds and locked behind paywalls. Now that it’s life or death? I have no idea why even the best of the Good Little Liberals aren’t up in arms. (private tutor for high school students. I got my PhD in 2015; Social Sciences)
This presumes that everybody is not revolting. (female, white, straight, Humanities Asst Prof)
Faculty aren’t listening to grad students who want revolt. Come to the front lines with us. (straight white male anarchist, Humanities Grad Student)
Aren’t we already in revolt? (34, white, cis male, heterosexual, married, Education, Grad Student)
Academia is based on monasteries and we are now nearly all novitiates. (42 yo white woman, married dual-income with infant, Humanities NTT)
I’m ready, let’s go. Last winter, I asked my advisor for ADHD accommodations and he said no and kicked me out of his lab. Now I have no advisor and no financial support. I’ve been managing to do research through free resources and the literature but its exhausting. Nobody at my current university will take me on as a student (not discrimination. they either have too many students or are retiring) so I have to leave my current university. Through this process, I’ve come to discover that the department doesnt have a system for solving problems like mine. I’m not the first person to have a similar problem, in fact there’s a student 2 years above me who had an almost identical situation to mine but she was lucky enough to find a replacement advisor. however, because she and I are expendable grad students, and have no power, theres no incentive for the department to have a system that weakens faculty control. I’ve also come to see poor mentorship as a systemic issue. Faculty members have to do too much and have training thats too narrowly focused/actively disincentivizes anything but the bare minimum quality mentorship. Professors have like 16 jobs in one and it would be impossible for one person to do it all well, even if they did have time. of course profs are going to prioritize things they are penalized for not doing and will put less effort into things that they can get away with putting less effort into. professors have a lot of people relying on them and a lot of demands on their time. and when the demands become too great, its usually those people who are reliant on them that take the cost. When its a choice between spending an evening thoroughly reading a bunch of undergrad’s lab reports done by students you will never see again or doing a crappy job and coming home for dinner to spend an evening with the kids, I know what choice I would make. Its so easy for upper management to make more and more demands when they don’t have to engage with the consequences. They’re fine putting more responsibilities on faculty members and making professors make the tough calls on what to prioritize. My father is an historian who is currently studying the history of the American University and what he’s found totally makes sense: Universities weren’t designed, they were patched together from different other university systems in Europe, with different philosophies on the purpose of higher education, which don’t work when combined with American capitalism. the whole system is bad and can only be fixed by burning it to the ground and starting over. Here’s my dad’s take on the answer to today’s question: as long as professors, graduate students, and undergrads are beholden to a board of trustees who are trying to make money, nothing will change. Here’s my addendum: The distribution of power is so unbalanced that we’re being pressed almost to our limits. almost. having having nothing to lose gives you power. Having just a little to lose makes you hold on tight. I’m a biologist studying wether or not snakes have necks by looking at the anatomy of legless lizards. (I’m a 29 year old white woman from Chicago. I have a Masters degree in paleontology, a wonderful fiancee, and have been lucky enough to be able to weather COVID with him and his cat. I’m the daughter of an historian and an art therapist/children’s book illustrator and the sister of a Harvard Law student. I also have ADHD. STEM, Grad Student)
In private R1 universities, the deans and provosts have created a star academic system and they engage in individual negotiations to such a degree that faculty are unwilling to join the picket lines. Unions have been busted and solidarities never swell to numbers that a real revolt works out. (45, Asian, Female, Heterosexual, married, non-US and non-EUropean citizen, first generation immigrant and ph.d., Humanities Tenured Prof)
Because I work in public health and my job is important. (37 y/o woman, parent to a 3 y/o, STEM Asst Prof)
Wooofffff because there are too many who are too scared that they will lose the crumbs they’ve been given. Too many students are terrified that their advisors will look down on them. Too many grad students are already too poor, and too busy, to even contemplate something besides “at least if I work through dinner I won’t have to worry about how to pay for dinner.” Too many grad students are grasping for some privilege that they believe they will be gifted after earning a PhD; that ain’t gonna happen after this pandemic, kids. Too many faculty/advisors are so removed from struggle/think it’s just as “bad” as when they went to grad school (it’s not – it’s MUCH worse) that they aren’t willing to lose their privilege (read: big ass house) just to help someone else who doesn’t even have it “that bad.” Too many graduate students have been playing by rules for so long and they’re so afraid of breaking them that they can’t stand up for themselves. If a grad student can’t even say to an advisor “I don’t think that’s professional” when they say abusive shit, how they gonna revolt?? (33 y.o., white woman, hetero/hoe life, divorced; STEM Grad Student)
Because we are afraid to disrupt the status quo. The system select people who accept it and punishes those who challenge it. (40, white, woman, hetero, married, Europe , STEM Tenured Prof)
Because the assholes pretend to be lone wolves but actually they drink together, work together and stick together. (Based in UK; Social Sciences, Asst Prof.)
My dogs need a stable home. The health insurance is good. I am working from home. We suck at organizing ourselves. We are institutionalized.. (White bi married female no minor kids ; Professional Field; Asst Prof)
Because we’re tired. Because 2020 has gone on forever, and what we really just need to do is to take a nap and wake up in January, and hope everything looks a little brighter so that we’re not tempted to burn everything down. And also because we’re out of snacks. (28, white, female, heterosexual, single.; Humanities Grad Student)
We pretend that if we keep our heads down and continue working everything will work out in the end. Don’t disrupt, else be labeled as a disrupter. Well, I’d be a proud revolter. (25, white, male, privileged ; STEM Grad Student)
I don’t want to rock the boat too much because I need the job and income. Collaborations and working with others are necessary at this point in my career. I don’t have tenure so I don’t have the security to piss people off and burn bridges as I stand up for others. It’s unfortunate And privileged but that’s the way it is for the moment. (White, cis, single, straight, 40; STEM Asst Prof)
Having worked PT since the birth of my 1st (while being interviewed on campus at numerous R1 despite my slacker lifestyle) I’ve learnt that people pay you better if you refuse to work for a low salary. Casuals (adjuncts) got extra loading a to compensate for precarious nature of the work. This in turn reduces the # casuals/adjuncts since they cost more. If all adjuncts refused their meager pay and didn’t teach, salary would go up. I’d also reduce PhD intakes, convert into longer term contracts (postdocs with teach/research). 1 postdoc could replace 2-3 PhD stipends. While we’re at it, less funding through supervisors and more through fellowships (stem related grants often request PhD stipends through their grants). Maybe supervisors would take their mentoring jobs more seriously (or have more time for it). One could set max publications that get accessed on grants (quality trumps qty.. less reviewing of crappy papers). (37, white married with 2 kids, STEM NTT)
Because academics (especially tenured) benefit, to varying degrees, from the knowledge systems produced by the enlightenment? Precarious workers aren’t in a position to revolt and non-precarious more likely to have faith in status hierarchies. Also: see Russian revolution in how intellectual class became a stagnant class for the academics out there who talk (and lament for) a good uprising. (I am a cis white male, married with kids and I took a leave from my studies to be the main home caregiver. Social Sciences, Postdoc)
The promise of a reward for compliance. (Married straight white middle aged; Humanities, NTT.)
NEXT WEEK’S QUESTION: How many jobs opened in your field and subfield this year? What’s your plan for an income stream–tread water for an academic opening? Bail out and go postac? Pls share.