Scholars live on a lean diet

The story of Margaret Mary Vojtko brought out quite a few adjuncts with their own tales of exploitation by universities. It really is shameful how the current system often takes people who love learning and want to teach and treats them like crap, when they should be regarding them as the heirs to the university tradition.

There were also a few clueless twits babbling in dumb incomprehension: why don't you just get a real job? Meaning, of course, some kind of work, any kind of work, that pays you more money. I come from a blue collar, union family, and I know I baffled my father a bit, too; before I went off to college, he had made tentative arrangements for me in a union apprenticeship in refrigerator repair, which, if I'd taken it, would mean I'd be making twice as much money now, and it would come with long paid vacations and all kinds of benefits, and I would have started earning when I was 19. In the '90s, I had a shot at jobs in software that paid three times what I make now (that was the bubble, though, so maybe it's just as well I didn't take one). In every case, I went for the pittance I'd earn in academia, because I love biology.

If you want to know the sacrifices every college professor makes for his profession, read this summary of the economics of a science career. I tell all my students that an academic career is the most fulfilling, happiest job you can get (if you can get it), but the last reason you should go for it is to make money, because you won't. Especially now that the United States is flatlining its research budget and building more sophisticated bombs, instead.

What you also have to understand, though, is that even now we aren't complaining that we want to get paid as much as an experienced expert in refrigeration maintenance of software development — all we want is a living wage and that our colleagues are treated equally and with respect — I don't want to work in a divided environment where some of us have tenure and the freedom to do more than grade papers all day long, while others are stuck in the scut work of overloads in service courses.

Everyone should think to the future. The professoriate represents the stem cells of an intellectual culture. Starve us into extinction and you won't see the great progress of a sophisticated society; we make poets and engineers and doctors and leaders and scientists. And we do it for dirt cheap because we love our work, so why are people demanding that we do it for less?


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