Monday, January 25, 2016

Silky in Savannah is Sick of Being Undervalued.

Yay, I'm
an academic!
For whatever reason, while perfectly happily watching football yesterday with several of my non-academic friends, salary and age and accomplishment and respect all came up.

My pal who works for a logistics company was complaining at how his company undervalued him. He went on at length about the pressure of his job, scheduling, planning, etc. He had portions of the year when he worked more than 40 hours. He had a BA from a good school, some managerial experience in the past, and he was disconsolate about his $85,000 salary with benefits, 4 weeks vacation.

I'm an anomaly among my friends, the one who stayed in school forever. I've published two books. I've bounced around in academia because I'm one of the countless glut PhDs in the humanities. I came to age at the same time the peak of the glut.

"I make $30,000 with no benefits," I said at halftime during a lull. "No benefits. I have a week off in Spring, and take about 2 weeks around summer school off. I work about 50 hours on a normal week, teaching 5 sections of freshman writing. I work 60+ hours 5 weeks each semester around essays and final exam grading."

Everyone looked at me stunned.

"I figured you had it made," one of them said. "Don't you have a doctorate?"

"That school," another said. "That place looks like a palace. It costs $35,000 for my kid to go there. Why aren't you getting some of that?"

And it had been so long since I considered it that I just sat there mutely pounding guacamole and hoping the second half would start soon.

I am so used to my particular conditions of employment that I just don't even think about it.

"What about my apartment," I said. "You've been there. It's a shithole. Do you think I'd live there if I made any money."

"I figured you were quirky," one friend said, and that eased the tension.

I talked through it a bit, what I new from this site and InsideHigherEd. I told them that I felt undervalued, disrespected. I was asked to teach more than all of my discipline's organizing committees recommend. I was given the worst classes, the worst times, and asked to do what amount to the job of 2 full time professors for less than half the money.

"Quit," my best friend said. "You're smart. You can do something else. I'd put a pistol in my mouth if I thought I was being taken advantage of that."

"You wouldn't," I said. "Because it doesn't happen all at once."

I couldn't tell them the joy I felt GETTING this job, with some security, some guaranteed classes. I'm better off than half of the people I work with.

It's fucked, is what it is.


  1. That's an advantage of being at Fresno State. The school might be known mainly for sports and our students' disgusting activities with sheep (today I got a student in my intro-physics class who can't get his mind around metric units), but at least we have relatively few exploited adjuncts, since no one will come all the way to Fresno to do that.

  2. I want to get out myself, but I've invested so much damn time into this career, decades. And I'm where Silky is.

  3. You know, generally I can live with the choices. But in these times when I get a fleeting thought about NOT doing this job, I get so excited, then sad, then frightened, then resigned. Like the Anonymous above, I just have worked so hard for THIS. And I KNOW I'm undervalued. I know my college thinks of me as a widget, and that my students see me as an impediment.

    I would quit if there was one other thing I was good at...

  4. "It doesn't happen all at once." that is a really good point. I am feeling like you and a lot of others (and compared to you and many others I have it pretty good) but I feel used and abused. And you are right, it happens a little at a time. I'm being nickeled and dimed out of my joy and my dignity.

  5. I was grumping to my wife how much pay I've lost by switching careers in my 40s. (that was in 2002 when I decided to return to academia) I (stupidly) looked at a pay scale and then my current pay stub and did the math. I've lost over $1,000,000 in pay over the past 13 years. Yes, that's a million. It took me a full decade to make 1/2 of what I made in 2001, and I spent 2 years unemployed, and six years making well under $20,000. (My wife makes a good salary).

    My wife pointed out that..
    1. I love my job (it's true) whereas I had grown to dread work at time in my past career.
    2. I'm not grinding my teeth at night anymore, like I did on my old job. Nor do I wake up screaming from nightmares.
    3. My weight has gone down and I am no longer in danger of having a hyper-tension-inducted heart attack or stroke.
    She asked if that was worth it.
    Yeah, I guess it is.

    1. You made the right choice it sounds like, even if not the best one financially. Loving the job is great. I love mine except for my colleagues.

    2. I have low blood pressure and I'm not obese and I don't grind my teeth at night, but being a proffie has caused me considerable heartache nevertheless. Many times, I have thought about escaping the so-called "life of the mind." Maybe tomorrow?

  6. The REAL pisser about being undervalued is that THERE IS WORK TO BE DONE in academia! Papers need to be graded, solutions need to be gone over, teaching needs to be done, one-on-one tutoring and advising needs to carried out, and NONE of this can be done effectively with machines, as enthusiasts of teaching machines and programmed instruction in the 1960s could have told you, because education has such a prominent SOCIAL component! As I have seen no less than Eric Mazur observe, "the best students will learn no matter what we do," and the worst won't learn no matter what we do, but that 70-80% in the middle DO go on to make significant contributions, and they DO need our help!!!