One of the hotter pieces floating around and linked to in the higher ed and academic labor blogospheres of late has been Thomas Benton’s piece in the Chronicle, “Graduate School In the Humanities: Just Don’t Go.
We pass on the link for you to check out at your leisure. Note that it refers back to an historical piece Benton wrote as well, which you can find here.
While the narrative centers upon grad school in the humanities, the points he makes are relevant and can be extrapolated to grads in social sciences, natural sciences, and engineering. Though it is tough to find short pieces that weave together all the disparate elements of the changing (and changed) nature of academia and the forces driving it (though longer pieces are in no short supply), Benton’s piece from the Chronicle encapsulates many of the sentiments we hear from fellow grads at times.
Of course, most of us do not think that grad school was a bad decision. We’re committed to the idea and ideals of academia — many of us are just frustrated with what we find and the all-too-often sense of powerlessness we feel to do anything about these frustrations.
The TAA has a long and proud tradition, stronger at times than others, of positioning itself and acting as a vehicle to address some of the systemic problems in academia. Unions among academic workers like grads are systemic responses to these problems, capable of being countervailing institutions not only on instrumental, ‘transactional’ concerns like wages and benefits for “casual” academic workers but also the ‘transformational’ concerns like a broader system-change, be it the casualization of academic work, the commodification of higher learning, and the market pressures on teaching and research. Unions provide agency for us as academic workers to no longer be powerless subjects of the forces swirling around us — our union is our vehicle for collective action.
Now is the time for larger conversations to be happening among academic workers about the realities we face in a crisis economy, diminishment of the academy, and the nature of who we are and what we do. Pieces like that linked to above are part of the conversation, and ideally, are a spark for further concerted action to build the kind of space we want for the university and the academy-at-large.