Monday, December 3, 2007

Mary from Minneapolis Has Been Defeated. And She's Not Alone.

Where I go to graduate school, the senior faculty members have an abysmal publishing record, yet advise the graduate students to ‘publish or perish.’ They take a year’s worth of sabbaticals, while graduate students teach three first year composition classes and attempt to write a dissertation in their ‘spare time.’ My alcoholic dissertation advisor lives in another state, and I've been left without any sort of faculty mentorship.

The reality is this: perhaps at other Universities, graduate students are brought in to actually be trained as scholars. However, my people (the defeated, the disillusioned) know that we are cheap labor, period, doing the jobs no one else wants to do. I’d be far less defeated if I felt I received an actual education: just one-quarter of what I give to my students.

At my University, the course selection is narrow, the faculty is unavailable to confer and rarely leave comments on our exams and projects, and professional development is unheard of. This is because we’re not being trained as scholars, and we’re defeated because we know this. We signed on to receive an education, and instead we received 60 first year students. Without any training, we waltz into classrooms and attempt to teach these oftentimes difficult freshmen, for a pay rate of less than five dollars an hour (but you’ve heard this story before; I won’t go on).

In our free time, we field criticism from the faculty, such as ‘you’re teaching too much content’ and ‘you’re not getting through the program fast enough.’ Graduate school, at least in my experience, is not about the quality of one’s research: it’s about efficiency. I was even advised, in one of those rare moments in which I received something that vaguely approximated mentorship, that I should switch my dissertation to multicultural studies because it’s 'hot right now.'

We are defeated because we came in the door, with the love of our discipline fully intact. We are then told to ‘give up the individuality thing and package yourself, because it’s a corporate world, baby.’ It’s the corporate world and we graduate students are the bottom feeders. In my discipline, there are very few jobs available and in all likelihood, I will be working at Sears next year. I’m defeated, because I’m a devoted, good teacher. I’m defeated because I see faculty members with twenty-times my income spend a year on sabbatical, while I write countless letters of recommendation on behalf of my students. I ask one student, “why aren’t you asking an actual PhD for this recommendation to law school,” to which he responds: “I don’t know them, they don’t know my name, they’re never around.”

These same faculty members shoot off emails, telling the graduate students to ‘hurry up and get out,' because we’re an abstraction, and there’s a whole line of new students ready and eager to replace us.

We leave graduate school defeated because we’ve been force fed the corporate model of higher education. We leave graduate school defeated because we realize there’s no such thing as professional integrity. Our faculty members bicker and wage war on other faculty members, and in term, all the graduate students with Stockholm Syndrome start cutting each other’s throats to incur the favor of distant, unappreciative faculty members.