I have no idea how I got a tenure-track university position. I didn’t network well in graduate school, had few friends, and wrote my dissertation on an author (Houellebecq) whom most academics despise. My teaching-assistant evaluations were subpar, my thesis was insufficiently scholarly (at least according to one committee member), and—unlike many of my colleagues—I had no graduate-student publications. I spent a year teaching as an adjunct before accepting a position that had been offered to several people before me, all of whom had declined. Several times I considered abandoning the profession. I remain convinced that my hiring at a four-year accredited state university was the result of a cosmic miracle.
The difficulties I encountered in finding a job are not unique to academe. Just about every young American enrolled in college coursework today should regard graduation with a certain foreboding. The welcome page of my institution’s Web site recently posted several pictures of students who, as a large caption explained, were “hired before graduation.” Such plaudits serve to attract new students to the university, but seem to me to represent a half-baked institutional optimism.
Students need to be told what their chances are, and educators are obligated—both professionally and morally—to give their students some sense of the world into which they are about to be spat. I passionately reject the notion that a college education is worth only what it pays in salary or hourly wage. At the same time, I’ve encountered enough “liberal studies” majors with GPAs of 2.5 to know that something is seriously wrong. <Read more.>