Perhaps the largest source of shame — the exploitation of graduate students
This post is a hybrid examination of a recently-posted job (and more about why I believe that we should all be thinking of academic fellowships as jobs in a bit), and cribbing from a volume that I think everyone in the academic labor market should read — Marc Bousquet’s How the University Works: Higher Education and the Low-Wage Nation.
First, the job:
The School of Information and Library Science (SILS) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is seeking applicants interested in Digital Archiving and Curation and in earning a Doctoral Degree. These Fellowships are funded by the Institute for Museum and Library Services.
The two-year Fellowships offer:
· A 20 hour a week position as a Research Fellow in Digital Curation
· An annual stipend of $19,000
· In-state tuition and health coverage
· Extensive opportunities to meet key leaders in the Digital Curation research and practice arenas through workshops and symposia to be held at UNC at Chapel Hill
About DigCCurr II
The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS)-funded project, “DigCCurr II: Extending an International Digital Curation Curriculum to Doctoral Students and Practitioners” seeks to develop an international, doctoral-level curriculum and educational network in the management and preservation of digital materials across their life cycle. This project will prepare future faculty to perform research and teach in this area, as well as provide summer institutes for cultural heritage information professionals already working in this arena.
I have to point out that “DigCCurr” is pronounced “dij – seeker.” Too cute by half, but that’s hardly a substantive criticism.
And before I start the shaming, let me say that I was encouraged when I saw this, because I’ve been thinking it over for a long time (since evaluating the Bryn Mawr and Haverford computer science departments when I was on the curriculum committee in college), and I think that more of us need to be willing to acknowledge that we have a big, fat gender problem in computing, even computing for libraries and archives.
Let’s say I have a young professional on my staff who is smart, has an MLS and is interested in library software development (or even in just using digital library tools). S/he knows metadata principles and is a competent consumer of digital library/archives technologies. What are the steps between where s/he is now and being able to implement Hydra or XTF or JHOVE2 or any of the other cool tools I saw last week at the DLF?
I actually brought this up when I was out for dinner with some really wonderful folks who do software development for academic libraries. Most people told me that the first step would be to find colleagues who knew these technologies, and have my staff member ask a lot of questions, or to travel back in time to when s/he was 14 and just spend a lot of time screwing around with computers. Well, thanks.
But if we’re relying on social networks, a lot of social justice problems get in the way. Maybe my bright young thing doesn’t want to wear the coder t-shirts and listen to the dude jokes at social events. Maybe s/he just isn’t friends with coders. And I’m unwilling to believe that learning to program is radically different from anything else a person learns, that this reasonably smart young person can’t do it another way. As a manager, I must be able to provide something better than “go make friends with someone who might be willing to teach you this.”
But there just aren’t good models. In my experience (and in the experience of many of my colleagues), library schools do a terrible job of this and their technical education is absolutely gendered. They think that the way CS is taught is the way that it has to be taught, and stick with same curriculum despite knowing that it tends to disfavor women. And I knew that it doesn’t have to be this way, because I know that Bryn Mawr found another, better way of serving students who are motivated to be strong computational thinkers and computer scientists. Who is being serious about this at the graduate level? For whom is this a real priority?
And this isn’t just a problem for women — it applies to anyone who doesn’t currently have access to these careers. Wouldn’t we see more and better ideas if we saw more women, more minorities, and more first-generation college grads creating tools to meet our digital needs? And wouldn’t we be better able to connect with the diversity of our user communities?
So hooray, yes, how wonderful it is that we have an educational institution devoted to teaching these theories and practices to future library school faculty, who will be in turn able to relay them to practitioners.
And yes, I see that for DigCCur I, a proposed activity/outcome is:
6. Attract a diverse student population through widespread advertisement of the program and fellowship support.
And here we are. I suppose that the nature of our disagreement may have to do with the terms “diverse” and “support.” Oh, and probably “widespread.”
Because here’s the deal. Graduate students are workers too, and they deserve the rights of workers. Just because they enjoy their work or because their brains are involved doesn’t mean that they should have to give up a fair wage, good job prospects, and fair relationships with management. And the university doesn’t see them as future colleagues — it sees them as current workers. Graduate students will only be able to gain leverage on the situation if they begin to think of themselves that way.
The promise that a worker has to do his time by being a graduate student and making numerous sacrifices until the gleaming Ph.D. comes is patently false. As of 2000, it was difficult to find any sector of higher education where tenure-stream faculty taught more than 30% of course sections — even in the Ivy League (71).There are fewer tenure-track jobs because there are more graduate students. They want it to be this way. And guess what — this isn’t making higher education any better. The universities that rely on cheap labor have horrendous learning outcomes and graduation rates. Duh.
Indeed, any approach that emphasizes a supposed excess of Ph.D.s misdiagnoses the problem, which is not a surplus of Ph.D.s but a scarcity of tenure-track positions: “The concrete aura of the claim that degree holders are ‘overproduced’ conceals the necessary understanding that, in fact, there is a huge shortage of degree holders. If degree holders were doing the teaching, there would be far too few of them” ( Bousquet 41). This is because the point of graduate programs is to produce contingent labor — cheap researchers and instructors to teach undergraduates or masters’ students, so that universities don’t have to hire tenured or tenurable laborers.
As an undergraduate, I was one of the rare few students out there who was only taught by tenure-stream faculty, and I remember being appalled when I arrived at library school and my sections were taught and work was graded by Ph.D. students. And my masters’ colleagues, who hadn’t attended a small liberal arts college, thought that this was both normal and okay. This despite the fact that frankly, these doctoral students were pretty terrible teachers, didn’t yet have significant research experience to impart, and their allegiances were to their own coursework and research rather than to our development as librarians.
But back to this job.
Let’s just start with the obvious. A yearly stipend of 19K fucking sucks. It just does. It. Fucking. Sucks. It’s shameful. It’s below the poverty line for a family. Do we as a profession say that it’s reasonable that a scholar should sacrifice a family in order to be a scholar when s/he very likely already has debt from his/her professional degree and is being expected to be a full-time student and work twenty hours each week as a research assistant?
And sure, the student could apply for other aid from the university — but s/he is already working twenty hours and is a research assistant, and there really are no free lunches in the world of financial aid these days. S/he simply doesn’t have time to teach a section or do someone else’s research. So what happens is that students who are in either pretty okay financial circumstances, or who have financial safety nets, apply for these kinds of positions. And students who might be willing to take a risk and enter a profession that traditionally hasn’t embraced them might not be willing to take the double-risk of financial hardship and an uncertain job future.
Frankly, I don’t see anything here that shows real concern for “diversity” or fairness or changing the way we think about technology.
I look forward to comments on this post, but before you comment, evaluate how critically you’ve really thought about the academic labor market. Challenge your assumptions. You may have a vague sense that professors and graduate students have a pretty good life — but is this true for everyone? Does the system make it true? Visit Marc Bousquet’s blog and learn for yourself how bad it really is out there.