Academic Combat and Jobs

Thu, 2 Jun 1994 13:10:13 -0700

Having made my first visit to the unemployment office yesterday, I thought I
should add my two cents worth.

First, with regard to academic combat, it all sounds too complicated and too
risky. When I started graduate school in the mid 1980s, I was assured my
numerous sources that there would be jobs when I finished, because there would
be massive retirements starting around 1990. I know from conversations that
many of my contemporaries were told the same things. Yet these promised
retirements have not materialized. I think that, in keeping with the general
American (or should that be armenian) spirit of combat between interest groups
rather than individuals, that everyone who graduated after about 1985, and
those of who have not yet quite graduated should band together to clear out
some of the should-have-retired people who still cling to academic jobs.

As I see it, it would be simple. At the next AAA meetings, we just schedule
some kind of reunion for everyone who was at the 19?? meetings in ? (Fill in
the details, as long as the meetings were at least 25 years ago and some reason
can be invented to explain why they weree so pivotal that they deserve to be
celebrated). Such a meeting should, of course, only attract relatively senior
people. Then either bomb the place or burn it down. If we get them to have
the meeting in a kiva, we could do like the Hopi did when they wanted to get
rid of the Christians at Awatovi -- pull up the ladders and burn the kiva down
(or do kivas burn up, I don't know). In a more convential western-style
meeting room we may have to live with the fact that some will get away.

The beauty of this idea is that, if done right, it would free up so many jobs
that members of the younger generation wouldn't have to fight amongst
themselves. There would be jobs for women, minorities, and white males too.
Of course we would have to be wary of similar assaults from our students. Note
too that there is survival value in reading ANTHRO-L -- no one who reads this
will fall for it.

More seriously, the current job situation raises a number of questions. Surely
the fact that I didn't land an academic job this year is largely my fault, for
not finishing my dissertation. The dissertation is unfinished for reasons that
are again my fault, like having kids before I finished graduate school. But
surely some of it is not my fault.

Why is it that the much promised wave of retirements has not happened? Or has
it? If so, why aren't retirees being replaced? Is it only white males who are
having trouble finding jobs? Is demand for Anthropology professors declining?
This I don't believe for a second -- from what I have seen enrollments are up
after falling during the 1980s. If the market for professors was truly free
(as opposed to being controlled by state legislatures and university
administrations) then demand should be increasing. If state legislatures and
university administrations are supressing demand, are anthropology departments
and professors fighting it? or are the tenured anthropologists secure in their
own position and uninterested in the future of the discipline? (I don't really
believe this either, in general, although I expect we could all come up with
examples of tenured professors who act as though they are uninterested in the
future of anthropology.)

This latter question leads to more serious ones like, does anthropology have a
future given that hardly anyone can find academic jobs? If the promised wave
of retirements materializes ten years late, will there be any new graduates to
fill those positions? The bottom line is that I don't really believe there is
a glut of anthropology PhDs on the market, rather, for reasons mostly
unrelated to demand for anthropology professors, there is an unnatural (in
terms of market forces) shortage of academic positions. Things have been bad
for so long that I wonder if the future of anthropology as an academic
discipline is threatened -- at least I think everyone should be worried,
including those who are personally secure.

One final question that I really need advice on: Since it looks like I am
going to be collecting unemployment this summer while writing my dissertation,
will I need to mention the financial support of the unemployment office in the

Jim Allison
(still hanging out at, but no longer employed by) Northern Arizona University