Posted by: CJ | February 11, 2010

Apparently, humanities graduate school is a trap.

These three links are to three opinion pieces in the Chronicle of Higher Education about humanities graduate school. Specifically, a humanities professor is advising that no one who needs income or a job should go to humanities graduate school, let alone try to get a job in the field.

  1. Graduate School in the Humanities: Just Don’t Go
  2. Just Don’t Go, Part 2
  3. The Big Lie About the ‘Life of the Mind’

The final article contains this fascinating quote.

The ranks of new Ph.D.’s and adjuncts these days are mainly composed of people from below the upper-middle class: people who believe from infancy that more education equals more opportunity. They see the professions as a path to security and status.

The myth of the academic meritocracy powerfully affects students from families that believe in education, that may or may not have attained a few undergraduate degrees, but do not have a lot of experience with how access to the professions is controlled. Their daughter goes to graduate school, earns a doctorate in comparative literature from an Ivy League university, everyone is proud of her, and then they are shocked when she struggles for years to earn more than the minimum wage. (Meanwhile, her brother—who was never very good at school—makes a decent living fixing HVAC systems with a six-month certificate from a for-profit school near the Interstate.)

Graduate school in the humanities is a trap. It is designed that way. It is structurally based on limiting the options of students and socializing them into believing that it is shameful to abandon “the life of the mind.” That’s why most graduate programs resist reducing the numbers of admitted students or providing them with skills and networks that could enable them to do anything but join the ever-growing ranks of impoverished, demoralized, and damaged graduate students and adjuncts for whom most of academe denies any responsibility.

I do not have much first, or even much second, hand experience with humanities graduate school. But what the author says sounds reasonable and believable, given what I do know.

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