Thursday, May 10, 2012

A different kind of federal funding for scholars

Credit: The Chronicle of Higher Education
A lot of people having been linking and Tweeting this article on adjunct professors on food stamps at The Chronicle of Higher Education (3 people on my Facebook feed in one day!), so I might as well.

I think Derek Lowe has the right statistical take on it:
  • There are more people with advanced degrees in the general population. 
  • Times are hard, and there are more people on public assistance (1 in 7 families?)
  • Therefore, we shouldn't be surprised when there are more people with advanced degrees on public assistance. (After all, readers of this blog should know that a Ph.D. does not guarantee protection from bad economic times.)
I dislike these sorts of articles. (An apology in advance to my reporter friends.) Whenever reporters report on poverty, it seems they need to humanize the issue by having subjects. By picking out individuals as an example of the problem as a whole, they open up the individual to ridicule for their unfortunate or unwise choices (in this case, the standard liberal-arts-degree-fries-with-that stuff.) I guess I see this as a case where the individual subjects gain little and risk some level of public scrutiny and the reporters lose little and get a story and make their editors happy. Doesn't seem like a good trade to me.

I felt particularly sorry for the man who is a teaching assistant at a community college, while he's pursuing his doctorate in film studies and working odd jobs to support his family's income:
"I'm grateful for government assistance. Without it, my family and I would certainly be homeless and destitute," he says. "But living on the dole is excruciatingly embarrassing and a constant reminder that I must have done something terribly wrong along the way to deserve this fate." 
As he sat in the WIC office with his family, Mr. Stegall blamed himself. He made a choice, he says, to earn a graduate degree even as he saw the economy collapsing, the humanities under assault, and the academic job market worsening. 
"As a man, I felt like I was a failure. I had devoted myself to the world of cerebral activity. I had learned a practical skill that was elitist," he says. "Perhaps I should have been learning a skill that the economy supports."
That last line is particularly painful, and I'm sure there are a number of chemists who might feel the same way.


  1. I brought up that exact line over on In the Pipeline as well. It is, indeed, food for thought when it comes to thinking about what college and/or graduate school is supposed to accomplish. Is it to make individuals educated thinkers or is it to give them job skills?

    I'd spent a couple of years on my college's Alumni Executive board discussing this very issue in the context of trying to increase enrollment as a way to keep the school financially afloat. Administrators and professors had very different opinions on how to accomplish this, especially as to how it would impact the type of students that would enroll.

    The decision was to tap into a market need, namely nursing students. Many professors didn't like this idea because it wasn't going to bring in the 'scholar' type student, although I'm not sure I was that type of college student either, unless beer and pretty girls were scholarly pursuits...

    Is this the model that colleges, especially small colleges need to go in the future? Will it make them glorified trade schools? This was another fear that the professors where I went to school brought up.

    Which brings up the bigger question: Should we have more trade school graduates rather than college graduates?

  2. In the particular example you mention, the guy is 51 and getting a PhD when he can't afford it? While I have friends (PhDs) on welfare, and I can envision circumstances under which I would need food stamps to provide for my family, I'm more confused than sympathetic in this case.

  3. I could see that you put so much effort in what you are doing. Not only that, your writing style is really unique. I do hope you make more articles such as this.

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looks like Blogger doesn't work with anonymous comments from Chrome browsers at the moment - works in Microsoft Edge, or from Chrome with a Blogger account - sorry! CJ 3/21/20