Hey, Professor, Can Ya Spare a Job?


A blogger for Inside Higher Education has written a sad tale of her year-long quest for a tenure-track position in a college or university English department.  Needless to say–at least to those familiar with the hiring situation for faculty wannabes–hers was a fruitless search. She did not get a single job offer, and, she says, was one of 500 applicants for a particularly coveted vacancy.

The blogger’s story is understandable.  The Economist quotes research from Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus as finding that America produced more than 100,000 doctoral degrees between 2005 and 2009. In the same period there were just 16,000 new professorships. Couple that with all of the usual villians–shrinking endowments and budgets, dwindling interest in various disciplines, and, of course, Republicans–and a perfect storm of unemployment rains down on newly and semi-newly minted PhDs.

Wah! I-I-I ca-a-a-n't get a get a job because Profes-s-s-sor Methuselah woon't re-ti-ti-re.

Wah! I-I-I ca-a-a-n’t get a get a job because Profes-s-s-sor Methuselah-lah-ah wo-on’t re-ti-ti-re. Sniffle, sniffle.

But there is yet another reason for diminished opportunity for the young fry.  Remember all of those baby boomers who way back when vowed never to trust anybody over 30?  Guess what?  They’re easily double that in age now, and the academics among them are safely enconsced in their jobs-for-life, enjoying the double protection of tenure and no ceiling on the age at which they must retire. (Full disclosure: I am a baby boomer.)

Occasionally, some misguided optimist will point out that boomers will be retiring in droves similar to the numbers by which they were spawned. Their departure from the classroom will open up all kinds of opportunities for Gens X and Y and Millennials currently shut out of the academic job market. My advice to the hopeful? Don’t hold your breath waiting for the geezers age 65+ to quit chowing down at the faculty club. Those boomers are hanging on to their sinecures for dear life.

Dye job? Check. Lifestyle lift? Check. AARP member in good standing? No way!

Dye job? Check.
Lifestyle lift? Check.
AARP member in good standing? No way!

Some will tell you they must keep working because they are barely making it on their professor’s mite, which ranges between the 86th and 97th percentile of US labor force salaries.

Some will tell you that teaching keeps them young, and they love being around the next generation of scholars.

Some will tell you that their department needs them, because their specialty is, well, special.

It’s all a crock.

They stay because it’s an easy gig.  Extreme seniority brings many perks: the choice schedule, the best office, lowered expectations for service and scholarship, and diminished (if any) accountability. And  let’s not forget about that 97th percentile salary, awarded for nine months’ work and topping out at well over $100K.

FF Piven, born 10/10/32 and still going strong at CUNY.  Baby boomers aren't the only ones at fault.

FF Piven, born 10/10/32 and still going strong at CUNY. Baby boomers aren’t the only ones at fault.

So, the next time a struggling adjunct looks hang-dogged to you, or a teary PhD ’12 in English shows up at your doorstep, gently explain to them why they cannot get a job. Tell them that the altruism of the 1960’s lives on in the geriatric flower-children-professors, whose occupation of Academic St. has lasted some 45 years. Yeah, tell them that.

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