Combat, jobs, and where's it all going?

mike salovesh (T20MXS1@NIU.BITNET)
Thu, 2 Jun 1994 17:00:00 CDT

Did somebody say something about the grass is always greener . . . ?

I'll tell you why this particular old fart hasn't retired, and has no
plans to do so in the foreseeable future: I'm paid about $3000 per
year more than starting salaries for fresh Ph.D.'s without teaching
experience. Since we're not part of the Social Security system, if
I were to retire now I'd have to live on an income of about $300
mostly taxable dollars a week. And that would last only until the
Illinois State University Retirement System goes bankrupt, which is
to say sometime around the year 2005.

Of course, if I did retire nobody would gain much. We will have a
department member retire next year. When he goes, so does his posi-
tion. When I go, my slot will disappear, too.

Enrollments do not determine what happens about teaching positions.
They are too subject to manipulation. The Illinois Board of Higher
Education, for example, is leading a headlong retreat from public
support for higher education in this state. (The budget figures
make that clear. Although it is supposed to be IBHE policy that the
state should pay two-thirds of the instructional cost per student,
the IBHE budget for next year will, for the first time in history,
have tuition account for more than half the instructional costs.)
Part of that move consists of frontal attacks on graduate programs
throughout the state. Not even the main campus of the U of I is
exempt from demands that some grad degrees be eliminated. Another
way to cut support, or balance the budget, or get leaner and meaner,
is to demand that all but the U of I limit enrollments. In effect,
they're demanding that lower division undergrads go to community
colleges. As tuition goes up and financial support goes down, they
get their way: more and more students find college costs beyond
reach unless they go to community colleges. Ominously, there also
is strong pressure to allow junior colleges to teach upper division
courses and to force four-year state institutions to accept those
credits in the advanced levels of BA majors.

Why whould we, in anthro, care about all that? Look at the facts.
Anthro'sbiggest enrollments have always been in introductory courses.
(Documentary support for that, around 1960, is in the two AAA memoirs
on teaching anthro, edited by Mandelbaum, Lasker, and I forget whoall
else.) Limit freshman enrollments at state universities, and anthro
is disproportionately affected. Cut out the large enrollments at the
intro level and give upper division credit for junior college work
and you just don't need expensive anthropologists. Particularly if
you cut out graduate degree programs in anthro.

Please don't misunderstand what I'm saying as an attack on anthropolo
gists who teach in junior colleges. The point is, few community or
junior colleges have enough anthro courses to justify hiring full-
time anthros to teach them. Part-time junior college work is the
absolute bottom of exploitation in the academic world. And, if you
do want to do it, your competition comes from grad students who
didn't get a TAship at the closest anthro department. They are so
desperate that they work for next to nothing--certainly not enough
to live on! What's even worse, JC's aren't really under any obliga-
tion to have those who teach anthro courses know anything about
anthro at all. So a sociologist or a historian or a political
scientist who needs one more course to make up a fulltime work load
takes on introductory general anthro without knowing anything about
human biology or archaeology or linguistics, and without having any
experience of any culture but US academia.

>From a bean-counter's point of view, all of this is effective policy.
The fact that its longterm consequences are absolute educational
disaster gets answered with the political equivalent of "in the long
term, we're all dead": that is, "in the long term, some other poor
sonofabitch is going to have to pay the unbearable costs. In the
meantime, THIS governor and THIS legislature can balance the budget."

Now let the old fart talk about the old days. When I started grad
school in the 50's, of the 80 grad students in my department that
year just 10 had financial support. There weren't any academic loan
programs to speak of. (Some of us had Korean GI Bill benefits, but
that wasn't enough to pay tuition, let alone support you.) Since all
this was before the great expansion of anthro departments of the 60's
we couldn't count on any jobs at all when we started. Big depart-
ments--Chicago, Columbia, Berkeley--expected about three quarters of
their entering grad students to drop out before the Ph.D. I was the
envy of my classmates when I got a $600 SSRC fieldwork grant for a
planned three month field trip to Chiapas. That was supposed to
include transportation, equipment, and support for me AND my wife.
I know this all sounds alien. You have to have been there to
realize how deeply alien it was.

So why were we so crazy as to stick it out and go into anthropology
at all?

Because, for some of us, anthro is more desirable than anything else
we could possibly do. (It's better than anything except, maybe,
sex, chocolate, and daytime baseball games in Wrigley Field.) Sure,
the pay stinks. Sure, you wind up paying out incredible portions of
that pay to buy books and computers and subscribe to journals and
get back to the field for this year's fantastic developments. But
what the hell, some of us would do anthropology if it didn't pay
anything at all.

DO anthropology. BE an anthropologist. You don't have to earn your
living from anthropology to do it or to be an anthropologist. Do
what you have to to put bread on the table, because otherwise you
die--but stick with anthropology, bread or no bread, because if you
don't you might as well be dead.

And who said that ACADEMIC employment is the only place for an anthro
to be? (Your professors, that's who--and what the hell do we know
about any other way to be an anthropologist?) Don't listen to that
crap! Why do you think that more than half the professional anthros
in the US earn their livings outside academia?

mike salovesh anthro dept northern illinois univ
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