This post by Tenured Radical is really important to read.
Here’s the part that struck me the most:
I find it staggering, for example, that we clearly have a generation of scholars (many of you) who may not be able to send their own children to college without taking out loans because tuition, even at public schools, keep rising exponentially but their own salaries don’t even keep up with the cost of living over the long term. I find it staggering that college teaching may soon, except for a sliver of the population, be something that a person can only afford to do if s/he has inherited wealth or a spouse with a good income. I find it staggering that many of you who have worked so hard to get where you are could easily be bankrupted by a serious illness, because your benefits are probably as $hitty as your salaries. For this you went to school for 10-15 years? For this you took out loans? Aren’t you angry at someone other than me?
Ouch. And yeah. And ouch.
The thing is, I feel like this acceptance and expectation of near-poverty is drilled into us early on. Admittedly, I’m a bit of a weird case, having come back to grad school from an actual career that pays me a decent salary (and having done school part-time rather than doing work part-time while getting my MA). But my fellow grad students who are working on their MA and who have accepted TAships? They get $3K per semester. (PhD students get $6K/ semester.) It’s downright insulting. You can’t pay utility bills on $6000 a year, much less rent, transportation, food, and god forbid, books. I don’t understand how they do it. Actually, I do–they take out exorbitant student loans, in the hopes of finding a well-paying tenure-track position upon graduation. But the notion of a well-paid tenure-track position seems to be more like a unicorn sighting than a foregone conclusion these days, despite what I am specifically *not* hearing in graduate school. (Hence the importance of following blogs, I argue.)
So, when graduate students are mined as a cheap labor resource by universities supporting them only a minimal amount, then of course they (we) are eager to accept a position–any position–in such a flooded job market, and we are happy to do so for a barely-if-that living wage, with no benefits, possibly adjuncting at four different colleges (as one of my classmates is doing), because to teach is such an altruistic pursuit and we are such good people and it’s all about teaching and we are living a life of the mind!
Of course, living a life of the mind isn’t hard, when you can’t afford to do anything else.