Monday, January 16, 2012

76. There is a culture of fear.

The worst fears to which graduate school gives rise are fears about the future, which stem from both immediate concerns about funding (see Reason 17) and long-range concerns about the miserable job market (see Reason 8). But there is another fear pervasive in academe that runs counter to a central principle of modern democracy. It is the fear of speaking freely. Reason 75 saw the 2,000th comment posted on 100 Reasons, and all but a tiny fraction of those comments were posted anonymously. There is probably no American newspaper today that publishes more articles by writers using pseudonyms than the Chronicle of Higher of Education. Even Professor William Pannapacker, the patron saint of graduate-school realists (and a Harvard PhD), wrote his first columns warning people about graduate school using the pen name Thomas H. Benton. The author of a recent book about his experiences as a college instructor is known only as Professor X.

Why? Why are academics—of all people—afraid of writing (and speaking) honestly about their profession? Why do so many of those who do express themselves feel compelled to do so anonymously? The answer lies in the staggering power imbalance between academics and the people who employ them. That imbalance is so great because of the crippling realities of the academic job market. The consequences of offending your colleagues and superiors in any way can be dire, because until you have tenure (see Reason 71) your employment is insecure; you are easily replaced. For the same reason, untenured college instructors often endure humiliating working conditions (see Reason 14). For graduate students who have not yet been hired for their first real jobs, developing a fear of saying the wrong thing is an essential success strategy. If you decide to go to graduate school, you should know that it may be a very long time before you will be comfortable expressing yourself about subjects of considerable importance to you.


  1. While it would be nice if the negative influences of the academy ended at the outermost satellite parking spot on campus, sadly, the chilling effect of today's politically-correct academic wackos leaks out into the real world.

    Even those of us who have joyfully escaped to the somewhat saner private sector, but who still have dealings with academic people from time to time (as clients) must be very careful about what we say in public about the academy.

    Thus, the STEM Doctor, though no longer personally enslaved to the academic system, must still use an online handle for blog posting and also engage in a bit of self-censorship from time to time.

  2. " may be a very long time before you will be comfortable expressing yourself about subjects of considerable importance to you."

    I feel like the word "comfortable" could be replaced with the word "important," and the statement would remain true.

    As an example, grad students and profs in my (humanities) program were made to attend weekly seminars in which students got feedback on their work. On the day of the first seminar I chatted with my fellow Master's students and with the PhD students alike, trying to get to know everyone at least a little bit. A few weeks later, one of the professors asked me how I liked the PhD so far. I corrected her, telling her I was just a Master's student. The prof frowned, puzzled. I later found out she thought my behaviour wasn't usual (or appropriate) for a Master's student. In her experience, Master's students meekly kept to themselves, and deferred in all matters to profs and PhD students.

    The worse part is that the Master's students seemed to do just that: stay meek and modest, and belittle their work by pointing out the flaws before anything else. One of them (a good friend of mine), finished his M.A. this past semester, and said he didn't feel like he'd be an adequate PhD candidate. He was toying with the idea of a second Master's instead.

    I've definitely witnessed Reason 76 firsthand. I'm just not sure how widespread this sort of thing really is.

    1. "I later found out she thought my behaviour wasn't usual (or appropriate) for a Master's student. In her experience, Master's students meekly kept to themselves, and deferred in all matters to profs and PhD students."

      I think the MA is really undervalued by professors and students alike. Nearly everyone in my program saw the MA as something to "get out of the way" before the PhD, where the "real" work begins. If you're set on becoming a professor then I suppose this makes some kind of sense - grad school takes long enough, so you might want to get through it as quickly as possible.

      However, I took my time in my MA program and I'm glad I did. I held GA and TA positions, I wrote a thesis, and I presented at conferences, so people assumed I was a PhD student when they still saw me around after 5 years. I feel lucky because in the 5.5 years of my MA program I got a really good feel of what grad school and academia was like, and it's something that helped me realize I didn't want to keep going. All the time I heard things like "you should speed this up or your PhD is going to take you forever", and "you really need to get into the PhD before you're 30 or you'll already be 40 when you're going on the job market." I think this is the culture of fear at work: the assumption that the PhD is your only option, first of all, and then the devaluing of the MA because many MA students don't teach and therefore don't provide labor to the university, and the further belief that it's only PhD students and above who really have any authoritative voice in the world of academia. As a result, we've now got tons of ABDs out there who've never written anything longer/more complex than a term paper. And, I know many more ABDs who say "I wish I'd stopped at my MA" than I do MAs who are thinking about going back for a PhD. Academia doesn't seem to want to let you stop and slow down and figure out your options; it actively punishes you for doing so (i.e. friends of mine who turned down $45K industry/office jobs to adjunct in 3 different places for $20K to avoid questions at interviews about why they "left academia" after graduating).

    2. Oh, and just an afterthought to my lengthy comment above - I'm not suggesting people languish in MAs, or PhDs for that matter. Instead I'm advocating for taking time to constructively explore academia in an MA program, so that you can figure out if a PhD is for you before you jump in after just 2 years in the grad school world. Unfortunately this is easier said than done, because of how little funding and few TA/GA opportunities are available for MAs.

    3. Huh, this is interesting - I agree with you that people should start with a master's and take the time to explore their field without getting immediately locked into PhD hell. However, I think universities do everything they can to discourage that kind of an approach, presumably because a roster of PhD students looks more impressive? Is just getting an MA a real option for people in the humanities?

      I ask because I'm coming at this from a STEM perspective, and when I was looking at programs, a PhD was the only option. You couldn't apply to be a master's student (the exception at some schools: you could apply if you were an undergrad at that school, and you would be continuing straight on to the master's). I was disappointed because I thought it would be much smarter to start with a master's and then re-evaluate, but finally convinced myself I could apply for the PhD and then probably leave with a master's if I hated it. And I probably could at this point. But now that I've been partially absorbed into the culture and mindset it's veeeery hard to 'walk away' without the PhD. The fear culture is pretty insidious! I also know of an undergrad who asked her advisor if she could continue in his lab as a master's student, and he asked "why would you do that when you could do a PhD." Anyway, sorry, enough anecdotes - I think the attitude that master's degrees are inferior is damaging to the majority of students who would probably benefit much more from that experience than from the PhD experience, ultimately, but I suppose the system is not really in place for our benefit. I guess that's more relevant to one of the other reasons though.... the one about schools being a business.

    4. Most programs I know that have a PhD program don't give funding to terminal MA's. They want to encourage PhDs if they have a program for them. Obviously you can get a terminal MA where there is not a PhD program in that subject, and there are a lot more MA programs than PhDs. There are usually at least double the number of schools that award Master's degrees and only a handful of PhDs, compared to the number of large-scale research universities that award numerous PhDs, usually there are only 2-6 of those in a state.

      In Texas, you can get a PhD in history at I think 11 schools, but 3-4 of those only offer very specific ones. You can get a terminal master's at more, maybe 25 or so.

      This is why I don't understand the supply/demand issue. There are 85 4 year institutions in Texas and 50 community college systems. More students want to go to college than ever before, and everyone from your counselor to the president says that college is necessary for success. Yet there no jobs, and I mean NO jobs, despite the legislature requiring every single student to take 6 hours in history for a degree of any kind. I find it hard to believe SO many PhDs are produced every year causing an over-supply, given what demand is. When I go to graduation ceremonies at University of Texas, there are maybe 1 or 2 people listed as having been awarded PhDs in history. Sometimes none. I would like to see actual statistics broken down by PhDs awarded by state and discipline.

      My feeling is that there is massive bloat, corruption, and financial mismanagement in the entire higher education system, if you can even call what it is a "system." We have millions of people desiring a service but we can't figure out how to deliver it efficiently or affordably.

    5. I did find some data for 1996-2006 in the discipline of history, and the over supply over 10 years of PhDs when compared to new positions was indeed about 30%. Generally the # of history PhDs produced was flat, actually declining somewhat, since the early 2000s while the # of positions varies wildly. I would like to see recession era #'s.

      Although that doesn't jive if you crunch data for number of students going to college vs. # of PhDs there are to teach them. You would think there would be a shortage since there are hundreds of students for every history PhD. The system is corrupt.

  3. I don't really know of any job where you can speak your mind negatively about your workplace and retain job security. This is true in almost any workplace culture.

    This post seems redundant, as are a lot of the "reasons."

    I think you can boil the 100 reasons down to about about three: money, culture, and relevance. All the posts have some reference to the job market, opportunity costs of long-term programs or other economic issues, the downsides of the culture in academia be they arrogance, smugness, condescension, gobbeldygook papers or conferences, etc..., and the relevance of the subject being studied or the academic job itself - does anyone really care? etc....

    And really, you could circle my latter theme back to "money." The economic wisdom of grad school seems to be the alpha and omega for most people here. Of COURSE it's not a great economic decision! The economically smart decision is to have a clear career path envisioned by the age of 16, and go to the best program for that career at the most cost effective, but decently tiered, university, take at least 15 hours a semester and a full load every summer, graduate in 3 years, land a good internship that turns into a job, and start putting away for retirement at age 22. Most of us are not that prescient or focused at age 16.

    I bet you a million there are people in dead-end jobs thinking, "I wish I had gone to grad-school when I was in my late 20s." Now I'm 40, have kids and a mortgage, and need my mind-numbing job to support that."

    I've done the military, grad school, and the "real world" whatever that is. In my opinion none of them are that great. In the military they take care of you but you have to go to Iraq or Afghanistan where coke cans on the ground might blow your leg off.

    The real world is not all that great either. I don't know where these dream jobs are where everyone respects you, you get paid great, have job security and never have to worry about getting laid off or being upstaged and passed over. Or being screwed over in whatever way.

    Grad school was probably the best time of my life.

    1. Aaron, you are right that if you diss your job in the private sector you get the sack. But no private sector job offers "academic freedom." In academia that's supposed to exist, but if you are on tenure track and you say the wrong thing, even if it is a legitimate professional statement, your tenure hopes are dead. Academia is the only place where you can lose your job for doing your job.

    2. You can lose your job for doing your job in journalism, politics, and social work as well.

  4. Please forgive my run-ons and grammar errors above. I should proof-read before I click.

  5. I ran into this as an undergrad seeking advisers and mentors as I tried desperately to make my small catholic college recognize their own LGBT* population. Teachers either claimed that had never been connected to us at all once we got controversial or refused to help us outright. People that I knew from personal conversations were absolutely on our side. At first it felt like a betrayal, and then I realized that their jobs were at stake for helping us. It was horrifying. I have very few positive things to say about my college now.

  6. I think that the real problem is that the inadequate lack of money to fund: graduate school, the programme, the faculty, graduate students etc which causes "the rats in a barrel mentality" to develop amongst everyone one. Fear is just of the many symptoms of this mentality.

  7. A little tangential perhaps, but this post reminded me of the 'atmosphere of fear' described @ the end of this article about a Harvard chem student's suicide:

    An older story, but still seems relevant.

  8. "I don't know where these dream jobs are where everyone respects you, you get paid great, have job security and never have to worry about getting laid off or being upstaged and passed over."

    These kinds of jobs are few at best, and one of them is in fact being a tenured professor. But the real problem is that the fantastical idea of a job-for-life of a tenured professor is tacitly extended to all grad students, whereas the reality is that only a very few (but enough to maintain the fiction) will ever have a good job as a tenured professor. Nobody really thinks the "real world" actually offers what they thought grad school offered. And if they do, they're perhaps more delusional than I thought possible.

    I do think the "culture of fear" has money at its root. Much of what goes on in academia, or anywhere else for that matter, does. What I think is galling about this culture of fear is that academia advertises something else. It is supposed to be the place of intellectual freedom (that's what tenure's for, right?) where you can dare to say whatever needs to be said. And there's a lot to be said about the state of academia, it's ideology and it's politics, two things academics love to talk about but in this case must keep quiet about. If an employer encourages you to speak your mind, then you are blackballed for doing so, that is nothing more than a powerful ideology flexing its muscles. If you think its the same all over, and don't mind dealing with this, go to grad school. You are the one.

    When I decided not to go on the job market, I kept it very secret, even from my best friends, for years. I kept it a secret from myself too, I think. When I told people, they were shocked and some had pretty strong feelings about it. Everyone got over it really quickly of course, but it was almost like I was telling people I was defecting and must be convinced to stay or I would be lost for ever (no kidding). You could hear the fear in their voices really. I can still draw this reaction out of some people. The fear is always there for a lot of academics, like a bass note behind their voice. If you know what buttons to press, you can make it play at will (though that would be a cruel thing to do).

    I don't get this from the social workers, lawyers, shop owners, technical writers I hang out with. Maybe a sense of boredom, or drudgery, or the worry that they might have to look for another job if the funding runs dry or their corporation downsizes, but not the fear that they will never get a job, or another job, again and be locked out of the paradise of academic tenure and thrown back down among the hoi polloi...

    1. "the fear that they will never get a job, or another job, again and be locked out of the paradise of academic tenure and thrown back down among the hoi polloi..."

      I never felt like that, but then again I went to an M.A. program at Regional State U. So I find the descriptions of the academic cultures on here quite surprising. It seems to be something more endemic to higher tiered universities. There is a University of State not too far away, and I always got more of that vibe from them.

      "But the real problem is that the fantastical idea of a job-for-life of a tenured professor is tacitly extended to all grad students, whereas the reality is that only a very few (but enough to maintain the fiction) will ever have a good job as a tenured professor."

      This also wasn't what I experienced, at least not from everyone. About half or slightly less than half of the professors I talked to were quite upfront about the state of the job market.

    2. I think there is also a big difference between the experience of being a master's student and the experience of being a PhD student. I suspect that has a lot to do with the differences between your experiences and the descriptions of academic culture here.

    3. Ditto 7:53 above, but one step further. Aaron, in your various posts on various threads, you've talked with some confidence and authority about what grad school is and isn't, especially in comparison to the real world. If you went to a terminal MA program, you probably don't have little-to-no insider knowledge about what "grad school" is. Most terminal masters programs serve a different function and cater to a different pool of folks than doctoral programs do. Some are "easier" than undergraduate studies by far. Invariably, the demands, expectations, and climate are different. The fact that you don't know this, and only 'fess up now ("uh, hey guys...I'm really just a former MA student after all") suggests how very little you know about the topic we've been discussing for the previous 75 reasons.

    4. oops--bad edit--should read:

      "If you went to a terminal MA program, you probably have little-to-no insider knowledge about what 'grad school' is."

    5. "If you went to a terminal MA program, you probably have little-to-no insider knowledge about what 'grad school' is."

      Perhaps. At my program, about 25% of us were "expected" to go on for PhDs and were treated as such. A little unfairly, imo, because we were held to a higher standard, but were also "pets." Most of my negative experiences seem to be much of the same as described on this blog, but far more subtle. It's the extremism in the anecdotes on this blog that surprises me.

      Everyone I know who is working or has worked on a phd describes similar conditions as to what we experienced, just more of it, somewhat more intense, with more competition. So I wouldn't say the program was not rigorous, or "easy."

      It's looking more likely that I may go on for a phd after all, although it's kind of an agonizing decision based on what I've experienced adjuncting and reading on forums like this.

  9. There is a pervasive culture of fear because there is no professionalism in academia - instead, everything is personal. Your research, teaching, publications - these things exclusively define who you are as a person. Your work is your identity, and if you don't treat it as such, you are not taken seriously by other scholars. It's also why so many academics work for free, or nearly so (adjuncting).

    Because everything is personal, the fear of rejection or failure is all the more elevated. Petty disagreements with other scholars become overblown incidents where egos are irreparably bruised and relationships turn dysfunctional - all over what really are insignificant differences of opinion that normal people learn to deal with every day.

    1. A huge issue in academia imho, and one that has taken me years (5) to realize and get over.

    2. I agree, I think this is a major issue. Getting that last experiment to work, or getting that one final piece of the molecule synthesized... your world just narrows and narrows until all your self worth is riding on the completion of these tasks. And if you fail, then your life is a failure and a waste. ...Probably not a very healthy perspective, but I suspect you have to be that obsessed to reach the highest echelons of academic success.

    3. This is especially true in my soft social science program, where research = mesearch, and everything comes back to social location and the politics of identity. Everything is personal because everything IS personal. The whole thing puts me to sleep.

    4. Dr. Who, right on target. On top of this I must say that many professors have delusions about the real world. They actually think their work is relevant. When I was a grad student I had to teach Sociology of Women and Minority Groups, as well as work in a local high school. What sociology accepts as facts about minority girls is not supported at all by what I saw at the school. Maybe my anecote is invalid as too small a sample size, but I would bet it is more truthful than what the sociology texts teach.

      Puncture the soap bubbles of academia and you are never forgiven.

  10. In 2005-2006, I was hired by The University of Washington's student paper, The Daily, to write as a reporter. After a quarter reporting, I moved up to opinion writing.

    At that time, my direct superior was a male, moderate. I wrote what I was interested in; anti-smoking legislation, crime in urban areas, abstinence, homosexual rights and so on. My views lean conservative. As the sole conservative voice in the paper at that time (and to my knowledge, to date), I received the vast majority of published Friday "Reader Responses". Of course, the student body reacted with animosity towards my writing, but my direct supervisor emboldened me because he valued the diversity of opinion in the student paper.

    The next quarter, he was replaced by a female liberal. The day she took charge, she emailed me and requested a meeting. I arrived and she said, "I've been reading your writings. I just want you to know that I'll be watching you like a hawk". I left feeling that I was not free to express my opinion as an opinion columnist. I felt like my voice was expected to conform to the voice of my supervisor and the culture of the school.

    Nevertheless, I wrote what I wanted to write. Every week, the editor would call me and ask for extensive revisions. She edited out any bit of fire I had in me. She edited out anything controversial, bold or politically incorrect. By the end, my columns were no longer my columns, but instead they spoke in a voice I did not recognize.

    At the end of that quarter, I was released from my job as an opinion columnist without explanation. Because my voice was not her voice, my values her values, my life experiences her life experiences, I was fired and replaced by someone who better fit her image.

    I now work in technology instead of scholasticism or journalism, where my opinions are not required for me to feed my family.

    1. When leftists take over, the first thing that goes is freedom of thought. Resistance is futile....

    2. :-(

      whaaaa whaaaa

    3. Two things: 1) the gender of your editors is not relevant to the point you're making. That just shows your own biases, but 2) More importantly, you're talking about what editors do generally in the field of journalism, not the culture of fear in academe.

      Even though you were at a student paper, editors do this sort of thing all the time. It's to be expected. Problematic maybe, but not the same thing described in the blog post. I'm not a journalist, but I have a lot of contact with them in the context of my nonacademic job. The "nonpartisan" organization where I work is staffed by mostly libertarians. Liberals don't have a voice in our publications. At the same time, when our staff tries to get op-eds into HuffPo, even when they're friends with the editor outside the context of politics, their pieces get rejected. Get over it.

      Now, back to the subject of academe's culture of fear. A prime example is my own blogging. On my blog, I criticize both academe and my new nonacademic job. The difference? My nonacademic boss and coworkers read the blog. They know me in real life, and, while something I say occasionally provokes an argument, I don't fear losing my job for satirizing or criticizing. We can agree to disagree and still get our jobs done and work together.

      By contrast, NOBOBY I know or knew in real life as a graduate student knows that I even write a blog. I'm not actively pursuing an academic career at this point but haven't totally shut the door yet either. If academic people knew I'd said some of the things about academe that I've said, I'd be ostracized. My adviser probably wouldn't speak to me, even though I've only said positive things about him.

      And yes, I'm commenting here anonymously.

    4. Maybe she just didn't like you. Ever thought of that?Besides, as the editor, she held the prerogative to publish the kinds of opinion articles she wanted. I got passed over for promotion in a former job because my superior just didn't like me personally and he had the power to make the decision. He disagreed with me politically, but I'm not going to make the jump that was the only reason for the dislike. Unfortunately, this can happen in any workplace.

    5. The student paper is meant to represent the views of students. At the time, I was a student and therefore my voice, or a voice like it, deserved it's place. The paper at the time (and currently, to my knowledge) represents the viewpoints of: The Left; Homosexuals; Muslim-Americans; Asian-Americans; Anglo-Americans and Libertarians. Missing are Conservatives and, after my first editor graduated, Moderates. If the paper was a magazine, this is fine. But as a representative of the student body, it fails.

      I'm happy being rejected due to the low quality of my articles. The first editor I worked for would routinely come back with minor edits to maintain paper standards. The editor that replaced him would call my cellphone and yell at me in anger, not for having a typo, but for the content of my article. "How dare I" say X, Y and Z. "How dare I" hold opinion 1, 2 and 3. These discussions don't take place within the sphere of routine editing, but rather within the sphere of groupthink. My thoughts stepped outside the bounds of the campus cultural group, and therefore I was a pariah. This, I think, ties in exceptionally well with the author of this blog's subject of Fear.

      As for my mention of their gender, I mentioned it for convenience. I'd rather write He and She than Shim, They or Persons. For the sake of convenience, though, feel free to label me Homophobe, Racist, and Chauvinist now, so we can get them out of the way. Throw in baby-seal-clubber for kicks too. I don't embrace such labels, but I have been called far worse.

      It's possible she just didn't like me, but I'll remind you that when she took power, she singled me out for intimidation, before having ever met me, solely based on the content of my opinion articles.

      Last time I checked, "I'll be watching you like a hawk" is not something you say to someone you don't already have a bias against.

    6. For the record, there are more points of view than just "The Left; Homosexuals; Muslim-Americans; Asian-Americans; Anglo-Americans and Libertarians....Conservatives and...Moderates."

    7. Anonymous Persian Rug Jan 18, 2012 06:41 AM vs. Brandon M. Dennis

      “Two things: 1) the gender of your editors is not relevant to the point you're making. That just shows your own biases, but 2) More importantly, you're talking about what editors do generally in the field of journalism, not the culture of fear in academe.”

      Of course, his editor’s sex is essential to the point he’s making. Without that fact, there is no point. If he censored the fact that she was a feminist harridan, what was he supposed to say? ‘At that time, my direct superior was a moderate…. The next quarter, she/he/it (s/h/it, for short) was replaced by a liberal….’?

      If Dennis censors the harridan’s sex, he censors the reality, which you obviously want. But it’s still not enough to censor her sex. (Not “gender,” which is a function of non-English, European languages.) He must then use bad grammar, saying “she/he” or “they,” when speaking of a specific person, a feminist barbarism—pardon the redundancy—one sees constantly at this blog, even though almost everyone is hiding behind noms de cyber.

      “2) More importantly, you're talking about what editors do generally in the field of journalism, not the culture of fear in academe.”

      Wrong again. 1. This was a university student paper, and so it pretended to support greater freedom of speech the mainstream media, just as the antiversity pretends to support academic freedom, which entails greater freedom of speech than civilian life. 2. Student newspapers are supported by involuntary fees paid by students of all political persuasions, and thus do not have the right to tax students they hate, while silencing them; and 3. Dennis was writing an opinion column. If you don’t like a columnist’s opinions, you don’t publish them, but you may not replace his opinions with your own. To do so is to commit journalistic fraud. That rule is fundamental to any sort of newspaper.

      You support the culture of fear. But Dennis doesn’t.

  11. Conservatives in academia (especially those without tenure) are virtually silenced, because they know that expressing their political opinions is one of those things that would offend their colleagues. There are probably more academic conservatives than you would guess, but their self-censorship makes their profile very low.

    There are a couple of very recent stories in the news about what can happen to you when your conservative opinions become known. It looks like a guy named Tom Emmer had an academic job offer from Hamline University in Minnesota withdrawn because certain faculty members disliked his opposition to gay marriage. How do they know he opposes gay marriage? Well, he was the runner-up for governor in 2010 when he lost the election by 0.42 percent. You can read some of the (patronizing) local news coverage of the story here:

    Then there is the case of Teresa Wagner, which has now made it into the New York Times. Wagner just won a case in a federal appeals court that will allow her lawsuit against the University of Iowa Law School to move forward. She alleges that she was not hired to teach there specifically because of her conservative political views. Here is the story:

    The Times notes that only 2 of the 50 members of the law school faculty were registered as Republicans in 2009. There may be more of them than that, but some may not register their party affiliation for fear of being discovered.

    1. I had no fewer than 10 professors who had conservative persuasion. You could tell who's cars belonged to professors in the political science department from the Bush stickers.

      You sound like a talk radio hack. No one cares. Obsessive conservatives have this victim mentality and paranoia involving large, powerful forces that have it out for them because their opinions are oh so taboo that 40% of the country agrees. What we're talking about here doesn't really involve politics. No one, conservative or liberal, should condone the kinds of problems in academia discussed on this blog.

      My experience is that academia is largely self-selecting, especially in the arts, humanities, & social sciences. Conservative people are less attracted to those disciplines generally, since they have different values. There aren't many liberals in southern Baptist churces either. I bet if a liberal went to school to become a southern Baptist pastor, he (they don't allow female pastors) would have to keep his liberal opinions to himself in order to get through smoothly. A person with liberal persuasion would be less attracted to that line of work anyway, so it's also self-selecting to a large degree.

    2. What conservative academics experience because of their political beliefs is part of a MUCH larger problem, which, I think, is the point of Reason 76.

      It's important not to reduce the culture of fear to politics. Liberal and conservative graduate students (and adjuncts) may disagree about who to vote for but share a great deal of common ground in their criticism of academe and the false bill of goods it's sold them (as comments on this blog show). Even if you're a liberal graduate student, pointing out academe's systemic failures and blatant hypocrisies will win you no friends or supporters among your supposedly liberal colleagues and supervisors. Because, in essence, what you're pointing out for them is the hypocritical dissonance between the liberal views expressed in their scholarship and teaching and the undemocratic, hierarchical, unequal, exploitative non-meritocracy that is the 21st century university. If you (however foolishly) want to seriously pursue an academic career, you'd be wise to be afraid to point this out even to your friends and advisers.

      It's one thing to talk about the revolution in your classes but quite another to actively work to change things on your campus and within academe more generally, whether you are a genuine liberal or a conservative.

    3. "the hypocritical dissonance between the liberal views expressed in their scholarship and teaching and the undemocratic, hierarchical, unequal, exploitative non-meritocracy that is the 21st century university."

      Oh, I agree completely. My sense from the institutions I'm familiar with is that most of the administrators are liberal. They're highly educated, so they've all read Marx, I'm sure. Yet that doesn't stop their behavior. Their labor strategies are more exploitative than some of the shrewdest capitalists. Marx would puke. I often wonder if they consider their own hypocrisy. From the ones I've talked to, they usually pass the buck up the ladder.

    4. Aaron, as a conservative academic who has had to keep my mouth hermetically sealed throughout my professional life, I have to say that whatever college you went to where you saw Bush bumper stickers in the faculty parking lot sounds like some kind of mythical Shangri-La to me.

    5. For my undergrad I went to a state university in Texas. There were conservatives in the faculty, believe me, especially in political science, which was my minor.

      You could go to Texas A&M, Baylor, or SMU and meet a whole bunch of conservatives on those campuses if you're interested.

      There are a decent number of conservative instructors at the community colleges I adjunct-slave at.

      Conservatives are a minority in the academia, but they exist, especially in the lower-tiered institutions where those kinds of things matter less. Most of the commenters here seem to be familiar with higher-tiered institutions, which is why a lot of the complaints seem quite over-exaggerated from my perspective.

    6. The real problem isn't whether you are liberal or conservative - it's the fact that professors think that part of their job involves being outspoken political advocates. Whatever happened to objectivity in the classroom?

      Professors should park their politics - whatever their stripe - at the door, and strive to conduct themselves in a non-partisan manner. It'd do more to raise the reputation of academics overall, something which is sorely needed. Students can make up their own minds about how to think and vote without a professor telling them.

    7. Where are these professors that tell you who to vote for? My MA uni was a conservative Catholic institution, and my PhD uni was a liberal public one. Nobody ever told me who to vote for at either place. Possibly that's because I was in literature/languages and not sociology or political science? I dunno. I think some of you people are exaggerating a bit.

      On the subject of fear @Brandon M. Dennis: If you were afraid of saying what you thought, you would have changed what you wrote so that your pieces didn't keep getting rejected or over-edited. Obviously, you weren't afraid to express yourself because you stayed on at the paper trying to do so until the editor fired you. That sucks, and I sympathize. I think conservative views should be better represented on campus. But the culture of fear, as somebody already said, goes way beyond politics.

      If we narrow it down to politics, we miss the bigger picture, which has to do with the subtle ways graduate students interact with each other and with tenure-track faculty, not anyone's political branding or overt differences, although these can certainly factor in. I quote from the post: The culture of fear arises from "the staggering power imbalance between academics and the people who employ them. That imbalance is so great because of the crippling realities of the academic job market."

      Let me reiterate and underscore that last part in my own words: The culture of fear has to do with the exploitative shittiness of the ACADEMIC job market.

  12. ^ big deal. nobody with a half a brain would waste their time voting.

    1. And yet so many with half-a-brain (or less) do. This is why we have the country we have today, and why those who can are leaving or have left already.

  13. Anonymous 6:48 posted a link to an article about a Harvard chemistry grad student who killed himself. It's worth reading. It underscores 1) how all-consuming and messed up grad school can be, and 2) how reluctant grad students are to speak up about anything.

    An excerpt from the end of the article:

    "One possible reason, I suggested, was the widespread atmosphere of fear I had encountered in the chemistry building. Almost every student I interviewed for this story was concerned about being quoted by name, even for the most generic or neutral remarks, and when I asked why, the answer was always the same: they weren't sure how their graduate advisers would take it, and it might affect their careers. Corey said he felt he had a partnership with his students that overrode constraints in communication, but as even he admitted, 'Because lines of communication are there doesn't mean there will be communication.'"

  14. This comment has been removed by the author.

  15. This comment has not been removed by its author.

  16. Politics can surely play into a culture of fear if you are afraid to let people know your views. I cringe whenever I hear somebody make a joke about how stupid conservatives are because that person thinks they are in a room where everybody thinks the way they do.

    But not everybody in academia, even in my English dept, is a flaming liberal. In fact, most of them are moderates that think they are liberal. One of them (before becoming emeritus, he was the highest paid prof in the dept) is the most conservative person I've ever met. He's so conservative, he was recently married not by a religious figure, but by a supreme court justice (federal, not state). And if I told you what school this was at, you would be shocked. We have quite the reputation (well earned too in some ways) for being a "bastion of liberalism."

    The culture of fear is all about having to look over your shoulder not when you're talking about touchy subjects like politics where you expect disagreements and arguments. It's about looking over your shoulder when you are talking about real things that are happening, that are in essence facts. Everybody knows the system is broken, but talking about how it's broken is a touchy subject. The discussion of how its broken is safely contained in anonymous blog posts, statements issued by the MLA, and the occasional panel here and there. Outside of that, it's just accepted reality that ought not to be discussed when serious people are seriously trying to get serious jobs in this market. Why? Because the people that are your advisers and referees are so totally bound up in the system that no matter what their politics or what they say about ideology and resistance (etc ad infinitum), they must preserve the status quo.

    I was talking to a colleague today at a staff meeting in advance of the spring semester. We were talking about how crazy it is that publications are what get you the job, even if the job is ostensibly about teaching. He told us the story about how the book he wrote from his diss one a huge award and that he actually never even thought this was possible because he just thought he wrote the book to get tenure, so he thought of the audience as the tenure committee and left it at that (there's your life of the mind for you!). But after talking about how ridiculous this was, he ultimately bent the discussion into a defense of bogus teaching awards (early in the conversation he said they were bogus) and the hurtling rush to publish your way into a job. By the end of the conversation, he was nearly in full on ideology auto-pilot telling us that we had to do these things because we have to. Ultimately, however much he was speaking directly about how bogus the job market is in the beginning (and he was; I do have a measure of respect for him), by the end of our little conversation the ideology had taken over completely. It's self-censorship at the highest levels.

  17. Something is seriously wrong if grad students in a chemistry lab AT HARVARD have to worry so much about ruining their careers that they won't even make generic remarks to a reporter.

    Something is seriously wrong if it is now common practice for professors to write about their jobs using fake names.

    How did this happen to our universities? This is insanely ridiculous.

    1. Goal #17 has been accomplished, that's why.

      17. Get control of the schools. Use them as transmission belts for socialism and current Communist propaganda. Soften the curriculum. Get control of teachers' associations. Put the party line in textbooks.

  18. International studentJanuary 20, 2012 at 11:29 AM

    You know who really gets stuck in this culture of fear? International students. I'm an international student and I've been reading this blog with great interest. I find that a lot of the sour points of grad school/academic life mentioned here so far (low pay, no guarantee of a job, long hours, taking forever to graduate) are things that international students are very loathe to criticize, because if we lose our funding or our standing within the department in any way, back to our home country we go.

    Studying in the US buys you legal entry into the country (albeit only temporarily), and can really boost your CV or resumé back in your home country. If you want to stay in the US you have some time on most student visas to look for a job after you graduate, or maybe you'll fall in love with an American and get married. Both of these routes are path to US citizenship further down the road. These things are very valuable for a lot of foreign students. So, we keep our mouths shut, teach classes we don't want to teach (lots of scholarships are for US citizens only), do grunt work for profs, volunteer for everything, etc. My foreign student friends do PhDs and MA theses on whatever their advisor works on, because they want to please them as much as possible. We never speak out.

    Another part of the culture of fear is on the university's side though. Many international students don't get funding and so they're paying full tuition (and full out of state tuition at that), which is money that the university desperately wants. Let me say here that the vast majority of international students are very bright, hard working, dedicated students who contribute a LOT to the US university system. However...I've seen international students whose English (written and spoken) was terrible, who refuse to work with other students because it's not how things are done back home, and who contribute basically nothing to classes because they can't understand the readings. On the occasion they are allowed to teach a class, their English is so poor that students can't understand them. Now American students complain far too much about foreign accents, but some of these TAs are simply impossible to understand. But the university admits them and lets them teach, because they fill quotas and pay lots of money. So their is fear on the faculty/administration side too.

    I think the whole system is a mess and that US and international students will continue to be exploited by the system. The US students want a career in academia more than anything so they put up with the bad things. The international students may want a career in academia more than anything but they also want to stay in the country. They are perfect people to exploit.

    1. @International student:

      May I know which country / countries you are a citizen/ citizens of?

  19. Regarding the Left/Right dichotomy on campus, I would say that the Left is much more to blame for the problem of fear on campus. The Left did two things. The first is was the institution of speech codes on campus. Virtually any comment can be taken as offensive, thanks to those codes. The second is sexual harrassment. What started out as a laudable effort to address boorish behaviour has degenerated into guilt-by-accusation in many places. If you are accused you get two choices: accept your guilt and go to "sensitivity training" or quit.

    The Right, for all its faults, has done nothing like this on any modern campus.

    1. Speech codes are unconstitutional on government run schools anyway, first amendment violation.

      But the ACLU is nowhere to be seen.

    2. Are you shitting me? Sexual harassment in grad school is rampant and goes largely unaddressed. Think about it for a second! Here we are talking about a culture of fear in which students/profs are afraid to make even the most innocuous comments, either to each other or to those higher in the academic hierarchy, and you're suggesting that people are regularly (or, at least, regularly enough to be a problem worth mentioning) making frivolous sexual harassment accusations?

      You stink of ideological agenda.

    3. Just went through a total debacle of how a department handled offensive behavior. As a grad student with several years of professional experience before going back for my MA, I can say that without a doubt, the professor at fault would have been fired, sued, etc. Instead, the student was verbally attacked by classmates and told to toughen up. Now she has to be worried about how this will affect the rest of her career.

  20. In my many travels to dozens of college campuses across this great land, I would have to say that Texas A&M truly is the closest thing to a "conservative Shangri-La" that I have ever encountered in academia. Those Aggies down there really have worked a small miracle, taking a desolate flat piece of Texas and carving out a really fun and happy place.

    Signs of conservatism are all over the place down there.

    1) The George H.W. Bush library is there.

    2) Several vibrant churches in the area are heavily populated by students.

    3) An insane subset of the young students voluntarily join "The Corps of Cadets", engaging in all sorts of actions and behaviors designed to promote discipline and good character.

    4) The military tradition is strong there. One of the main buildings on campus is named after Texan Earl Rudder, famous for leading the Rangers up the cliffs at Normandy.

    5) They love football. A lot of them probably like NASCAR as well.

    6) There is sweet tea in abundance at local restaurants.

    About as much heaven as a conservative could want...right there along the Brazos River. I suspect that the amount of fear on this campus lower than the amount of fear in other parts of academia.

    1. I didn't realize that sweet tea is a conservative thing.

  21. Building on a couple of the other points, another aspect of the culture of fear in academia is the intellectual ass-covering that has to take place to get anything published and escape with a dissertation, much less actually get/keep a job in academia.

    I had my first preliminary exam smashed partially for not citing a pet researcher of one of my more neglectful committee members (whose approach had nothing to do with mine which is why I never even saw their work while lit reviewing), and and have had to spend more time making sure that every major/minor author in my field is cited (often irrelevantly) than actual writing. All just on principle of not wanting to piss off one of those brittle academic egos, or ignore a member of their research tribe, should they be on the peer review board for publication or conference acceptance.

    This same brittleness leads to juvenile sub-sub-sub-discipline tribalism that can be found all over campus, even in the sciences and engineering. I've had several instances of talking to a prof who studies algorithm type X, and mention I'm using algorithm type Y to do my work...the disgust or condescension towards my intellect is always visibly obvious.

    The culture of fear in academia doesn't just extend to criticizing academia itself, it insidiously infests even the intellectual foundation of free inquiry that academia supposedly exemplifies. A lot of this is for similar reasons that (Dr. Who? Jan 17, 2012 09:41 AM) brought up; all academics end up having are their intellectual egos and corresponding reputations.

    I'm a PhD student in aerospace engineering, where the stereotype might be that the "math" or "experiments" will settle disputes, but this kind of petty sniping is still EVERYWHERE just couched in different language. I can only imagine how much worse the day to day intellectual life of a humanities student is trying to get anything accomplished.

    Ultimately, there is simply no one as petty as an academic; I've even worked at Department of Defense labs with all the politics and turf wars of the military-industrial complex and academics still take the cake.

    It's this pettiness and lack of anything resembling a real world perspective that fuels the culture of fear the most in my experience.

  22. There is a culture of fear in almost every workplace.

    Dare to speak right wing stuff at a newspaper. Or at a public school.

    Date to speak left wing stuff at a conservative church school.

    Dare to speak against the "reigning orthodoxy" at any place. You'll be seen as a rabble rouser and shown a pink slip.

    The culture of fear exists because we are in a depressed economy and EVERYONE is afraid to lose their jobs. So the only way to survive ANYWHERE is to shut up, do your job and avoid arguments.

    1. I thought we'd get this response, that whatever reason we're discussing happens everywhere based on the crazy idea that the academic job market and the job market in general are comparable in severity, much earlier than this. But academia and "almost every workplace" are not the same and while the things that we talk about here are not unique to academia, they are different in degree and often in kind. I'm sure there was a culture of fear among 10th century English religious (the English church was highly politically charged at the time, and people were losing their jobs left and right...). But just because there was a culture of fear then and there is one now, and because jobs and resources are tight and seemingly random in whose favor they shine on, doesn't mean its all the same everywhere. The analogy is bad, though you can make it, but this blog is not about pretending that academia and everywhere else is the same, it's about working out the specifics of what makes academia so crazy.

      So if you want to talk about everyone anywhere, this might not be the place. This is a blog about academia and the specific culture of fear and the particularities of its particularly brutal academic job market. Academia makes the depressed economy in general look pretty good to someone who, for example, gets a single job interview (and doesn't get a call back for a campus visit) after training for say eight years to do the job, or to the person who doesn't want to move to the middle of nowhere to get worked to death for very little money just to stay in the job market in the first place. Most people who haven't been in the shoes of a humanities phd on the job market don't really understand this, which is fine and to be expected. But if you want to get a sense for the unique kind of insanity that is the life of an academic, read this blog and these comments (and don't wave them away with the idea that it's all bad everywhere: there's bad and then there's bad).

      The reason I'm getting a bit up in arms here is that I think that these kinds comments diminish what many people have been dealing with for years and are legitimately trying to document and make sense of in this blog for the benefit of themselves and everyone else. The culture of fear in academia means that nobody talks about these things, and when you do it's got to be undercover. But there's lots of discussion about other hard jobs: witness the wealth of tv shows about how hard it is to be a doctor, a cop, a lawyer, a bluecollar worker with a wife and kids. But there's really no place for the discussion of the kinds of pressures and the general insanity of the academic workplace and life. That place is here. So saying academia is just like it is for everyone anywhere is not only a trite overgeneralization, it works to shove people back into a culture in which things like the extreme exploitation that's bound up in this system and is at the root of many problems in academia are not discussed and so continue to worsen.

    2. "But academia and "almost every workplace" are not the same"

      My point is that if you're going to give a reason NOT to go to graduate school,
      you have to give a reason that does not exist everywhere else. It has to be
      something someone can avoid by not going to grad school. The culture of
      fear exists EVERYWHERE. Everyone (except the politically connected
      and independently wealthy) are worried about losing their jobs if they
      say the wrong thing. This is a fact of life and something all ordinary
      people have to deal with.

      The question is simple.
      If you did not go to grad school, would you avoid "a culture of fear"?
      The answer is: Of course not, you just go from one culture of fear to another.
      So this reason does not fly.

      "I think that these kinds comments diminish what many people have been dealing with for years "

      I'm not trying to diminish anyone's bad experience. In fact, I can recognize it and relate to it
      since I deal with it outside of academia.

      I'm just saying that the experience is something we all have in common.

    3. "It has to be something someone can avoid by not going to grad school." You're missing the point completely. Just because something is similar, doesn't mean it's the same. Since there is a culture of fear everywhere, well gee, I guess there's no difference from one job to the next. There is a culture of fear among illegal immigrant workers too. But just because I use the words "culture of fear" doesn't mean that my job or yours is just like that of an illegal immigrant workers because we use the words "culture of fear." The words are just shorthand for something more specific and particular and those particularities distinguish one thing from another even if you can call them by the same name. Saying, using my example, that an illegal pecan harvester in New Mexico's job and your job both have a culture of fear therefore are the same in that regard is ridiculous.

      What I'm saying is that there's nothing to talk about if the words "culture of fear" mean the same thing to anyone everywhere. There are cultureS of fear. Sure, you may fear losing your accounting job (assuming from your handle that's what you have). But you can just go get another one. You can move to another town or a city, and find one there. They are everywhere, available to anyone with accounting skills. It's not like that for academics. The process of getting a job, even after you've trained for it for years, is so chancy that you very well might end up working as an adjunct, making $20000 a year teaching 8 classes (that's a whole lot), with no insurance and absolutely no job security, zero zilch nada. Or you could end up with at TT job teaching classes you don't want to teach somewhere you never wanted to live, but you have absolutely no choice outside of turning away from what you've trained so long to do and doing something else. This is what contributes to the particularly weird culture of fear in academia. Is this the experience of an accountant? No, it is not.

      A friend of mine was just given an adjuncting job at my school teaching a huge lecture. He was given the job the Friday before classes start on Monday. Somebody not in academia remarked in disbelief about how crazy that was. But that's what administration can do to you when you are the most contingent of contingent labor. This is just one example, and this guy's also teaching two classes at the local community college and working at a store to make ends meet, while applying for jobs and trying to write his way out of his situation. Is this comparable to what an accountant trying to get a first fulltime job in accounting faces? No, it is not.

      So fine, you want to see a "culture of fear" absolutely everywhere and draw no distinctions between getting a degree in a commonly available job (like accounting, or business, or medicine)that does in fact exist for anyone everywhere (with the right skills, of course) and academia which is totally different. You're entitled to seeing things this way, but it betrays a lack of understanding about what academics face and doesn't add anything to the discussion. Also, you seem bent on arguing semantics (a culture of fear is a culture of fear, "you just go from one culture of fear to another") in a pretty facile way instead of dealing with the points I'm bringing up. That's fine too. But if you want to see how wrong you are, find an academic in something like physics, or English, or history, or sociology, (not something like business or nursing-they are different) and make this argument to them in person, just as you are making it here. They will perhaps laugh at you, or maybe they will get angry at you, or if you're lucky they'll try to explain to you nicely like I'm doing what the situation is actually like.

      The fact is that people going into academia shouldn't think its a job like any other. It's not. That's why this reason is valid. Period end of story.

    4. JML,

      While I get your point, I maintain that the "real w world" is only marginally better, in some ways worse. Also, the "culture of fear" truly is only a difference of degree.

      If it was so easy to move from one job to the other, we wouldn't have the jobs crisis we currently do in the U.S. There are at least 6 applicants for every job in this economy, even crap jobs. Granted, in academia it's worse. Much worse. But still, the payoff is pretty good. You really cannot make the argument that an academic job is not a sweet deal.

      The adjunct situation you describe above happens far too often, and quite frankly colleges everywhere have exercised a remarkable feat of information suppression by keeping that kind of thing on the down-low. No one in any professional organization would be able to keep that kind of practice secret for long, nor would people tolerate it.

    5. Aaron,

      About whether non-academic jobs are better than academic ones is really a matter of what you want. Many of my friends are professors or soon to be professors on the job market right now (some with lots of job talks so they will very likely have a job). It suits them well, and they don't mind moving to the middle of nowhere (though admittedly some of my friends and acquaintances live in great places in general and for them particularly) and cranking out articles and writing books. Most of them paid their dues for a year or two on the adjunct market, some of them with pretty decent short term gigs all things considered. They will get tenure and have a job for life (or until something cataclysmic happens, knock on wood), which is sweet.

      But most of them have sacrificed a lot, to the detriment of their personal lives and even their mental health. Their words, not mine. It's important to know the ins and outs, in excruciating and shocking detail, before going into this profession because it's not pretty and it's not something that you can find out about easily. Many of my friends have gotten jobs, but some of them have languished on the job market for 5+ years, living in places they don't want to live, writing articles they don't want to write, all for the shot of teaching at a uni and getting tenure. It's a serious thing to do when you factor in all the costs, many of which are hidden and which I think this blog does a great job of bringing out (for which I thank its author).

      This blog gives a welcome negative view of academia, and I hope it shows people the many many hidden and unexpected costs of academia. If academia were a house it would be the proverbial money pit, though sometimes one man's money pit is another's fixer-upper. It's also a total crapshoot in many ways, because you may fail and never know why because you've got great evals, published some articles, and would be a good prof yet you don't get a job.

      So if it's for you, great, I say go for it. But if you don't know what it really is, you might not know that it's not for you even if you're a good scholar and teacher. I speak from experience. If I went and told my younger self not to go to grad school, I likely still would have gone because I was cocksure (still am!), stubborn (still am!), and needed to get out of where I was (no longer need that). But in this scenario, I wish that I would have known what I know now. I would have told myself to do anything else.

      So yes there are great jobs out there in academia, but most people won't get one and no one should be deluded into thinking the academic life is anything like working a normal job. From my perspective, saying that just helps this rickety house sell itself because of its gold fixtures, when the foundations in serious trouble which nobody, even its staunchest champions could deny.

      Sidenote: you seem to like academia, and you said you had a great time in grad school. It may be for you, in which case I say go to a really good one and I wish you luck and if you're willing to stick to it and do what this job market asks of you, you will get something. People do get jobs, and some people I know have gotten incredible jobs at some of the most prestigious universities.

      This is a really complicated issue, which is why I think discussion of it is very important. But it boils down to this: it's possible to be successful, but very costly in ways that will likely be unseen to you, no matter what.

    6. Everyone I know who's gone for a PhD and applied themselves did find jobs. But for some it took a long time. It used to take 3-6 months to land a normal, "good," middle class job. In this economy it takes anywhere from 9-15 months. You can basically double that for academic jobs.

      Almost all the full time faculty hired in the last 10 years at the comm. college I work at adjuncted there, or somewhere else, for 2-5 years. A few did so for more than 10 or 15 years, although they did have careers on the outside.

      I would also point out that *education* in America in general is in crisis and districts are laying off teachers at all levels. Unless you teach science, math, bi-lingual, or ESL, you could be searching for a job for a good 2 years, it could very well be in an undesirable place, etc... You can't really have adjunct K-12 teachers, although I'm sure they would if they could.

      I wish I knew what the solution was, but I really think that what infects higher ed is simply a more extreme version of what's wrong with our education system and economy as a whole.

      The "fear" may well be that most people see these problems, but feel impotent to do much about them. Everyone sees it. The tenured faculty see it, the dept. chair sees it, the dean sees it, the president of the college sees it, if he looks, which he doesn't like to. They just don't talk about it if they don't have to, and in my opinion purposefully ignore it.

      At some point SOMEONE is going to have to stand up and say "enough is enough." Who knows when that will happen? But I really don't think you can run a college like a Wal-Mart forever. With 70% adjunct, that is how they are run. It'll fall apart eventually.

    7. Some K-12 schools do practically have adjunts. My housemate last year was a "long term substitute" at a local highschool. She was one of five long term subs working at the school. She worked for a whole year full time and was paid less than what I am paid by my department as a humanities grad student! Plus, she didn't have any health care. The only good thing about her situation was that she had been told, before moving for the job, what it would signify. Some of her colleagues were lured to the school from out of state, led to believe that they would later be hired as actual teachers. She, ironically, was later asked to stay as a permanent teacher... but the offer came with a threat, "Stay or we won't recommend you to anyone else."

    8. Wow Anon 8:54 I didn't know that kind of thing went on in K-12. Not a good sign at all.


      I used to think that something had to break and that it would. My friends and I would talk about how we wouldn't abandon academia, but would be the ones to stay on and be part of the solution. A lot of our time was spent talking about this.

      Since they were all farther along in the program than I was, most of them have moved on and gotten jobs. We know longer talk about being part of the solution, because it's clear that this is not possible. As TT faculty, your job is to get tenure. By the time that happens, you are too tired and have moved on to other things like catching up doing the things that most people do in their twenties and thirties that you never did. Fighting the system doesn't rank so high anymore, and besides by then your so ensconced within departmental politics that working them out is enough. Taking on the system no longer seems like an option. This is one reason the system will not be changed by anyone in it: you got to get yours, and when you do there's little point in trying to beat back the waves. This isn't mere cynicism: I know a lot of professors who would never admit this to their students because they can't, but they talk about it openly. Everybody knows the system is broken, but nobody will do anything about it.

      I was talking to a friend of mine who has a number of job talks to give in the upcoming weeks. He joked that when he got a job, he was going to have to tell his students what a meritocracy academia is because he had a ton of campus visits and got a job (provided he does, knock on wood). It was a little black humor, but there's truth to that. He would always rail against the idea that academia is a meritocracy, and he will, totally unwillingly, become a poster child for that idea. He's not going to rail when he's getting tenure and I wonder what he's going to tell his undergrads and grad students. It's not going to be the same things he says to me, you can be sure of that.

      So, this is all just to warn you of yet another thing. I don't want to throw a wet blanket over your dreams, because you said above you were considering a phd program. But I'm telling you that the reality looks nothing at all like what you imagine, even if you imagine really well. You have to see it to believe it.

      Also, don't go to a school that is not a top 20 rated school. It is absolutely not worth it. From 20 on down it gets even harder to get any kind of job.

      Also, you should know that the community college scene is a bit different in many places than the university/college scene. They care a lot more about experience in community college and an English dept will have only a handful of fulltime faculty, so management of the dept is more important since you'd be doing more of it. The rest of academia's starting to look like that too (have to have a job to get a job) but you can still ride in on a wave of publications, something that doesn't matter nearly as much in comm colleges.

      One more word of advice: get administrative experience while in grad school. Work with the writing center there, become the co-director or asst co-director of some program, etc. Not a nominal position, a real one where you are in charge of things. That will make you 10x more marketable.

    9. JML,

      Thanks for your advice. I don't have any delusions about the state of the job market. It's not a sruggling or difficult job market. It's disintegrating. I get it.

      My goal is to teach at a community college not university. It does seem to be a somewhat different ballgame. What stupefies me is why a PhD is so important to these institutions, since literally not one FT faculty out of the dozens I've talked to said that their publishing record was important for their candidacy. What you learn to do in a PhD program is research, write, and publish. Nevertheless, a PhD is strongly preferred at most community colleges and required by some. Seems like a massive waste of time.

      "Also, don't go to a school that is not a top 20 rated school. It is absolutely not worth it. From 20 on down it gets even harder to get any kind of job."

      I did get accepted to a top 20 but without funding. My interpretation was polite rejection. The other 2 are somewhat lower, but frankly my goal is to get out with as little debt (<$20,000) and as quickly as possible (<5 years, preferably 3.5-4); my remaining acceptances, with the funding they gave me, seem to offer that. I understand that they are probably less rigorous, but community colleges seem to only care that you have a PhD, period, and a regional one seems to work.

      "As TT faculty, your job is to get tenure."

      FWIW, I think tenure will be gone at the community college level in 15 years or maybe even 10. Here in Texas, 40% of the systems either never had it or have abolished it. Soon to be 50%+. The board at the system I work for has basically made the decision to phase it out, it's just a matter of how to do it. I feel bad for the people that just got hired TT. They will probably never get tenure. On the bright side, the systems that don't have tenure have somewhat higher turnover.

      What happens at this lower level will probably trickle up.

    10. Aaron,

      I agree that what school you go to probably doesn't carry as much weight. And the tenure thing is definitely true about community colleges. It really is stupid that you have to get a phd to do something that has nothing to do with that. It's hard to write a dissertation when it seems meaningless for your future.

      One thing that remains true is that if you can get any kind of administrative experience in grad school, do it. All of the people I know who've gotten good positions at community colleges had boatloads of admin experience. One even started his own program at the school he was at, and then directed it (it was a community writing program). He is now catnip to small and community colleges and even an Ivy is looking seductively in his direction.

      You seem to have a good plan and a reasonable understanding of what to expect. (If only blogs like this existed when I was entering grad school. I probably wouldn't have read them anyway but nevertheless...) If you go in with a clear view of what you want and a good bit of knowledge about what to expect, you'll do well. Just don't believe the hype! And good luck!

  23. I’m a retired history professor. My experience with fear and freedom of expression was a little different from that reported by most of the commenters here:
    (1) In terms of political views, the problem was not so much fear of being non-conformist as the homogeneity of views. In my department, there were no heretical views. This I found intellectually stifling and began searching for intellectual stimulation outside the university.
    (2) The sources of fear of expression actually came from the students. They had two sources of power. The first was sexual harassment law. Women students were very adept at exploiting this. A grievance would automatically trigger an investigation at the university level, something highly costly to the department and the faculty member and the woman could level accusations with impunity. The second source was the student grievance procedure. A grievance could take a year and a half to resolve, and this would cost a considerable amount of time for the faculty member and the administration. On the other hand, the grieving student had very little to lose.
    (3) The consequence of (2) was that we all began to teach defensively, and many (especially male) instructors, myself included, had as little to do with students as we thought we could possibly get away with. And I left teaching as soon as I possibly could.

    1. “A grievance would automatically trigger an investigation at the university level, something highly costly to the department and the faculty member and the woman could level accusations with impunity.”

      There is no “cost” to a department when a student levels formal accusations of that nature against a professor. Universities actively solicit such accusations from students precisely to avoid ever having to pay out. See, in order to formally complain about a professor a student has to first sign a waiver stating that, no matter what the outcome of the university’s investigation, they will not sue.

      If, given this fact, you or your colleagues felt threatened by a few girls… well, you obviously didn’t know how to work the system.

      To your credit, this probably means none of you were actually predators. Or if you were, that you were amateurs.

      Or maybe it just means that none of you were important enough to your institution to receive the unconditional protection that many truly great minds do.

    2. I cannot take seriously the so-called “fear” neo-conservatives in academia claim to live with. I have been at an Ivy League university for three years now and I know academia to be profoundly conservative. In fact, I would compare being an academic at an Ivy League university to being a cleric.

      To begin with, as a graduate student, the chief thing that is demanded from you is faith. I have never seen a graduate student expelled from a program (in the humanities) for lacking discipline or talent – although, in fact, many students routinely take incompletes and turn in poorly conceived and poorly executed papers. Nor have I seen a graduate student expelled for being an ineffective or irresponsible instructor - although, in fact, many students despise their own pupils and do the bare minimum to prepare for the classes they teach. Every single person that I have ever seen expelled, or, more accurately, persecuted to the point that they had to “voluntarily” withdraw from a program, was targeted because they were perceived as having doubts about their department or about academia in general.

      Many people don’t understand how graduate students are evaluated. In my program faculty meet once a year (at an undisclosed time and place… curiously, often at night) and discuss all of the students. Some are discussed for only a minute. Some are discussed for an hour. No records are kept. During the discussion professors share their subjective opinions about students. The conversation almost never turns to the students’ work. Instead, professors speculate about students’ respective loyalty… to the department or to academia in general.

      Virtually anything can be taken as a sign of weak faith. This includes, asking for more feedback on one’s work or progress, giving feedback to professors on the state of department, declining to drink with one’s professor, making plans to get married, making plans to adopt, publishing outside of one's field (even something a innocuous as a short story or a poem).

      Sometimes faculty will stick up for their own students… but untenured faculty never have that option. Also, being liked by a professor can be as dangerous as being disliked by another professor because rival professors often go after one another’s students.

    3. I think the "dungeon meetings" are fairly universal, although the tone may change from department and institution. The ratings are completely subjective, and dictate how you'll be treated and what benefits you will get (assuming there are any to give out).

  24. thanks for these disclosures. school blows.

  25. It doesn't stop when you are employed. My college maintains hidden files on all employees. There is a "public" file that the employee can see. The hidden file contains all sorts of unsubstantiated stuff. They bring that file out only in cases of sexual harassment or something similar.

  26. i am in grad school. i just started it, and i already kind of hate it. i felt the opportunities were better and it would be totally worht it, but really im finding the out id rather be unemployed than in grad school. i just created my own 1st blog tonight because of the procrastination it caused.

  27. dont start another grad school blog... what's the point. that's half the problem... all of these grad and law students think they're so damn special and unique.

    1. Thank you. No one one is shocking anyone. We all went to grad school knowing what was coming. We know the payoff and market is worse than, say, medical school, but I'm not going to sit around all day depressed because I don't have the perfect job, with perfect security, perfect pay, and perfect work conditions because that doesn't exist anywhere. I prefer to take a reasonable, realistic look at the stats, the ratio of jobs to Ph.Ds granted and not believe the apocalyptic tones of how we're all gonna be slaves or living in boxes.

  28. A bit of wisdom from the movie The Incredibles (yes, there can be wisdom in pop culture):

    "Everybody's special, Dash!"

    "... which is another way of saying that no one is."

  29. I've been through almost all 76 reasons posted so far and really appreciate the posts and the variety of comments.
    That said, after 3 years of federal gov work right out of undergrad, the greenness of the grass seems to be about even on both sides. Virtually everything said to dissuade the wary soul from grad school, can be said about any career.
    We so happened to have our sexual harassment/political involvement meeting today. Any job, of any responsibility, will have expectations and restrictions regarding what you can do and say. If you can't talk freely about what you're passionate about, you need to move on. Find your place.
    Through reading this blog, I'm starting to believe the real fear, is fear of risk, of change.
    It's easy to bemoan the risk of debt, the state of the system, the black chasm that is the future, but those problems are constant. My cushy, well-paying job makes me a miserable, passionless cog in the machine. I could buy a house, a car, and a white picket fence to line my cubicle, but I can't buy happiness, can't force my surroundings to suit me, can't promote myself to a better job (to reference a few of the reasons not to go to grad school). Just like in all the comments I've read of people being disappointed with grad school, I am disappointed with "the career." I'm willing to give grad school a chance as a means to a more fulfilling end for me. At this point (this point being the point in Office Space where the printer is mercilessly bashed to pieces) I am willing to do anything to pursue, not just a life of financial comfort, but a life of fulfillment. To all those who find their pursuit of the PhD leaving them nonplussed, I would recommend a similar tactic -if you're in a system where you don't want to move upward, move the hell out.

  30. Anon 7:27, you seem to think that grad school is a job; it isn't, it is a preparation for a career. The problem we all have is that after all the preparation we find that there are no jobs.

    Yes, all jobs have restrictions on expression--but academia is supposed to be free of those restrictions. Worse, I bet no one at your job expects you to believe that your job is going to create some kind of utopia. We all have to pretend that we are "undermining the dominant paradigm" and "subverting the white male patriarchy" or "toppling the capitalist power structure." If we do not pretend, our careers are dead.

    Also, we are not fulfilled. Grad school is full of worthless study. We are expected to learn things that are just passing fads and then treat them like they are gospel.

    If you are miserable, passionless cog in a cushy, well-paid job, thanks your stars. We can only dream about that. We are miserable, passionless cogs in poverty, working soul-killing jobs. So try to be happy.It's like the Arab guy says in Office Space: "It would be nice to have that kind of job security."

  31. @Socrates, I think you just made my point, again. You are not "fulfilled," you are wasting your time with fads and hierarchies, etc - all that stuff, it is everywhere. You work and slave and at the end of the day, you do try to be happy. If you've given it a good go at grad school or in "job security" land and it's still not working out for you, then change to the other side. But don't think it's going to be all roses one way or another and don't be afraid to try just because others have failed.
    That's why I like this blog, because it offers so much perspective. But it also offers a lot of room for people to get lost in nice, cathartic self pity party (including me).
    There's 100 reasons, but there is no one answer. I thank my stars I still have the desire and will-power to test my own boundaries (in a thoroughly planned out way of course).

  32. Anon: no worries. I'm not fulfilled. But if you come over here, you won't be either. I'm looking to get out of academia. You are looking to get out of the job-security land for the same reason. At least you get paid and have a chance for advancement. You can forget about those things over here.

    If you insist on going to grad school, do yourself a favor. Don't quit your job and pay for your grad school out of your wages. You'll be happier in the long run.

    Good luck to you.

  33. @Anon 7:27, you said "just like in all the comments I've read of people being disappointed with grad school, I am disappointed with "the career." I'm willing to give grad school a chance as a means to a more fulfilling end for me."

    So you think the grass is greener on this side? And you, like many others in these comments sections that aren't or haven't been grad students going for an academic job, you think the grad students here suffer from a terrible case of myopia and are naive to think that their situation is so unique because they've never been in the "real world."

    Like Socrates, I wish you well in grad school. But you might want to think about the fact that it seems in this case that you are actually the one who thinks the grass is greener, when everybody who's here is telling you it's not. Perhaps you have the single-mindedness (that is in my view a species of naivete in many) that many successful academics have.

    But notice this: nobody who's been to grad school on a track to go into an academic job who changed their mind and did something else agrees with you in these comments. They know that it's not the same as any other job. But if you persist in sticking your head in the sand about this, then maybe you're just stubborn enough to go to grad school for 7 years, adjunct for 2-3, get a job where you don't want to live and "write yourself out of it" for 5-6 years...Unless you think you're special enough that this won't happen to you.

  34. @ Anon Jan 23, 2012 02:46 PM: I love you. You really hit the nail on the head there.

    When I ran into problems with my department (you know, speaking out against the fraud, pointing out the different ways students were treated and the mistakes professors made), they happened to be doing call-backs for a tenure-track position. I was told directly (even though I hadn't left yet and was still teaching an undergrad course), "You are not to be at any of the student meetings with the candidates." You might say that fits well with the whole culture of fear and trying to silence anybody who doesn't see the "Academia is paradise" POV, but when I emailed one candidate and said I was sorry not to be able to meet him because the professors told me not to, and that in a small field of 18 students, 3 of us were leaving at the end of the year; I offered to talk with him about any of the issues the 3 of us leaving had so that he could have a full picture of the workings of our environment.

    His response?

    "No thanks. I don't want to know."

    He ended up being the one they picked. Not surprising, is it? Now I wonder how he feels having packed up and moved his family from a secure job in a wealthy European country to a education system falling apart and dealing with serious budget cuts left and right.

  35. Attic, you ought to send him an email:

    "Welcome to America!"

  36. A thought-provoking idea. Made me think about my own little corner of the academic world, and left me to wonder if it is in fact a culture of fear, or just a culture of the fearful--which is essentially the title of my post in partial reply at Stillwater Historians.

  37. I noticed that very few of the people posting comments mentioned what school attended.

    I'm a disgusted MS from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

  38. Replies
    1. It was chemistry. Chemist grads from UIC are not the most employable.

    2. Dennis, can't you get a job in industry?

    3. I'll answer for him - the job market in industry for chemists is *always* bad. There is some discussion about how the ACS has been misleading people for years and under-reporting unemployment in the field.

      Part of this has to do with the broad scope of the area of knowledge (chemistry) vs. the narrow scope of various industry sector demands. In a bygone age chemists could hop from one specialization to another - and consequently could develop rich skill sets and resumes, but these days if you haven't spent the last five years doing *exactly* what the position requires, you won't even get an interview. This is a broad HR hiring practices issue that affects many industries. The nation's economy will self-destruct before this idiotic mindset goes away - so be it.

      Another issue is that some chemistry-related sectors have been laying off. Pharmaceuticals was a popular career choice for many, but big Pharma has been laying off like there's no tomorrow for years (although there has been an uptick in visa program hiring at places like P&G - and this is another set of issues, namely, the aggressive offshore outsourcing of R & D and the aggressive importation of labor). All those people are now looking for work - and although they are probably applying outside their specializations, they do have big-name corporate experience on their CVs.

      So, provided you have good timing, and somehow manage yourself into a specialty that's hiring when you wrap up your program, you can get a job in chemistry in industry. But you can't take it for granted that the jobs will be there where and when you are, and you can't expect the jobs to last.

    4. One thing I discovered upon earning a Bachelor's in Physics at Cal is that there are few openings in Physics, and certainly none for a mere Bachelor's. I could have chosen something more marketable if I knew this sooner.

  39. David Rubinstein from UIC said it well in the NYT. The old faculty at large universities are getting big fat pensions and they are still shuffling around their departments with all the time in the world to lobby and agitate their polident to continue these benefits. They do this at the expense of turning over these posts to younger faculty (who are beyond lucky to land one) and whose tenure-requirements are way beyond their older counterparts. The new salaries are lower comparatively and the pensions will be non-existent.

  40. Woe to the graduate student that stands up for themselves. Be prepared to grovel and kiss major anything that warrants kissing to maintain a good standing. Recommendations, nominations, and placements depend upon it. All of the self-confidence you built up during your undergrad will be demolished within your first two semesters.

  41. I would like to thank the anon poster who works at an ivy league university, and the others who wrote about secret meetings and secret files. This all sounds so damned much like the files the FBI keeps on dissenters and also smacks of the German Stazi era. Remember that old slogan, "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem?" Academia is an institution, and as such, cannot be expected to police themselves or to make changes from within. For better or for worse, these institutions reflect the values of the dominant culture (i.e. the powerful and the wealty).

  42. This is interesting. I suspect it's also true that most at-will employees (not just university workers) would choose to be equally anonymous if they were writing critically in the press or for publication about their workplace and its conditions. It's just that most workers' opinions are not as sought-after as academics. (And that academics have spent a lot of money and time to get where they are--a lot to throw away).

    Which is not unsurprising or even wrong. And it is a terrible influence on the academy as a whole (as well as the people in it) that it is not a space for free thinking and free speaking. I just have a feeling that that's not actually that special. I'm trying to think of people who have written books or been quoted in articles that are extremely critical of their source of income.

  43. hmmm. Can't find anything realistic or pertinent in this blog or comments, though certainly there's a lot of issues to discuss. Guess I'm not free to speak in this forum, as a tenured professor. But as someone who did an MA and Phd at two different institutions with no expectations of the job I was lucky enough to get, I'm wondering about the attitudes here. It's really about humanities. We don't tell undergraduates we are training them for a job, though the media since the recession have been rabid in their denunciation of the lack of functionality of humanities. I don't know why anyone in grad school thinks they will certainly get a job, though of course there's no reason not to hope. Why not learn life-long skills and spend 5 years or so immersed in what you love, even if there's no job in the future? It's a privilege to be a grad student, usually supported financially to do it to boot. The other big unspoken issue here is meritocracy. Graduate school is not blog-writing; it's not anybody with something to say is equal. The disciplines are disciplined sciences of thought; you have to work. My field is language-based. When I was the only one of ten students in an introductory language course to continue on, I realized it was a competitive field. Not in the sense of an unfair field. But the smart and hard-working survive, and I don't think all of the haters and whiners on this site could look in the mirror and judge themselves high for the combination of both. The job market is too crazy to be called meritocratic, but the studies are. A majority of students are not going to make it. Or be handed a job if they do. Happily so, we don't have a corrupt system in N. America, like in Italian academics or elsewhere in Europe. I would have happily and proudly walked away from academia with no job.

    1. I'd love to know when you completed your degrees and earned your professorship. I also genuinely have no idea how, as a tenured professor, you find NONE of the content of this blog pertinent to the troubles associated with grad school.

    2. Probably this proff either comes from a very rich, powerful academic family. Or this proff went to a no name school and is now a proff at a no name university who exists in a bubble. That's the only way this person can have the believe system that he does.

  44. The people who think that the culture of fear means that you are afraid to voice your political conservative opinions don't understand anything about academia.

    You don't even talk about politics when you have a group of friends who have very differing political views, if you want to have good time.

    On the other hand in Academia... you don't voice your opinion, because well you are a nobody unless you are a tenured professor aka god. Who the fuck are you to even think you have a right to voice your opinion? Oh you think you're so smart and mighty. Well you certainly need to be put into your place. So prepare to be humiliated and degraded, and then you'll know your place. You will bow down before gods, and pretend like you don't know anything. You will brown nose. And you will know that you are nothing. Therefore any favors granted by gods, are favors granted by gods to a nobody, and you should be grateful for the spending human decencies on you.

  45. While attending graduate school part-time to get a master's degree, I had a professor who wanted to be listed as co-writer on a paper that I wrote to submit to a conference. He had encouraged me to write the paper but had not otherwise contributed. I was pursuing the degree mainly because I am interested in the field, and I was making a good income from my full-time job in private industry. If I had been a full-time graduate student or if I really needed the degree, I would have been tempted to comply out of fear. However, he had no real hold over me, so I had no difficulty refusing.