What is the Purpose of Grad School Anyway?

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There is an interesting conversation about the role of faculty in the demise of academic jobs and commitment to graduate education going on at Historiann’s. The comment section in particular asks some pretty critical questions about the point of graduate school and the exploitation of labor that may supersede the needs of students. You can guess what my comments are but basically they go something like this: for most students who study diversity issues or come from marginalized communities academe has never really been a place they can count on for jobs or tenure. Most departments after all only have 1 woman, 1 person of color, 1 queer person (usually non-trans), and if they can get all three for the price of 1 they will. At the same time, these questions are relevant to all types of students because in this economy no one is really fairing well in the academic job search and some disciplines, including 2 of mine, are practically closed up when it comes to hiring. What does that mean for women and people of color who are entering the university at much higher numbers than others? What does it mean for the intellectual diversity of the university as a whole if everyone who cannot afford to spend 5-9 years on an advanced degree and go home happy they are smarter but unemployed stop attending or stop getting help from the faculty? These are huge issues and I think you all should wade into the water and see what washes clean. Read the post and especially the comment thread here.

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2 thoughts on “What is the Purpose of Grad School Anyway?

  1. Interesting. I’ve posted about a similar set on questions on Historiann’s before, though not this time. I do find it fascinating when you write “for most students who study diversity issues or come from marginalized communities academe has never really been a place they can count on for jobs or tenure.” I don’t disagree but the prevailing wisdom is completely different. I was scolded by a friend for not going to enough conferences for women of color when I questioned her sheer confidence/certainty that she was going to get a job at a major university in her field and teach something like a 1/1. So it’s refreshing to read something that strikes me as a more likely description of what’s ahead that doesn’t involve special perks for being a person of color.

    • I think that there is a reason people invest in the myth of “special perks” for people of color on the job market that is the same as why they think students of color are all diversity admits. Ultimately, the thinking serves to (1) continue the marginalization of intellectuals of color and their contributions to the university, (2) to ghettoize their knowledge both in terms of underfunded departments that higher them the most & because if you are brown your expected to teach about Latin@s/Latin America, black about slavery/civil rights/ or critical race theory, etc. regardless of your real field & (3) mask the realities of discrimination in the hiring and tenure process that anyone actually looking at the numbers can see plainly. I also think the myth serves to continue antagonisms amongst white faculty/students and poc faculty/students because the former are taught to resent the latter especially in this economy in similar ways that people outside of academe claim immigrants are “stealing their jobs”, we are just more genteel about it. What’s hardest about it, is that the discourse is so hegemonic that everyone repeats it from the time students of color arrive, so that both liberal or diversity supporting faculty and even students of color themselves believe it as much as the people who consider it “blatant reverse discrimination”.

      I always say, you may see a job for Latin@ Studies every year but how many Latin@s do you think apply for that 1 job vs the 3 or 4 available in someone else’s sub-field? Then I ask and how many of those 3-4 available jobs do you think are unofficially considered to be positions for white heterosexual men? Because while we mark the jobs for traditionally marginalized identities out loud, we also do silently for the rest of the positions. I’ve been on hiring committees where people have actually eliminated female candidates because “this job has nothing to do with women’s history” or black candidates because “well, I thought we were going to hire more Latin@s in the department this year; I mean X can apply to the AfAm job we have open” even when scholar X studies Spanish colonialism.

      The sad thing is, as much as this has always been about systemic oppression and the history of academe as an institution (let’s not forget the rules about who could and could not go to school when this country was founded) but newer issues have now started to take place within communities of color that I find disturbing as well.

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