Saturday, May 28, 2011


"Thank you, Illinois taxpayers, for my cushy life."

After 34 years of teaching sociology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, I recently retired at age 64 at 80 percent of my pay for life. This calculation was based on a salary spiked by summer teaching, and since I no longer pay into the retirement fund, I now receive significantly more than when I "worked." But that's not all: There's a generous health insurance plan, a guaranteed 3 percent annual cost of living increase, and a few other perquisites. Having overinvested in my retirement annuity, I received a fat refund and--when it rains, it pours--another for unused sick leave. I was also offered the opportunity to teach as an emeritus for three years, receiving $8,000 per course, double the pay for adjuncts, which works out to over $200 an hour. Another going-away present was summer pay, one ninth of my salary, with no teaching obligation.

I haven't done the math but I suspect that, given a normal life span, these benefits nearly doubled my salary. And in Illinois these benefits are constitutionally guaranteed, up there with freedom of religion and speech.

Why do I put "worked" in quotation marks? Because my main task as a university professor was self-cultivation: reading and writing about topics that interested me. Maybe this counts as work. But here I am today--like many of my retired colleagues--doing pretty much what I have done since the day I began graduate school, albeit with less intensity.


What I describe above is not so exaggerated as one might think. It is, in fact, very much like what I experienced during my last year in graduate school, and doubtless much like what many other graduate students in the humanities have dealt with during the last three years after finishing their degrees: depression and anxiety at the prospect of not finding work, feelings of scholarly worthlessness, and, perhaps most pernicious of all, the ominous realization that now, Ph.D. in hand, you have become an obscure subaltern, fated to roam the university landscape from one adjunct appointment to another.

All this I had to find out for myself — no one at my home institution wanted to level with me about my chances, if they were even aware of them. My fervent hope is that in writing this I will spare next year’s Ph.D.s some of the suffering I have endured — suffering which, I believe I can claim with some confidence, I hardly deserved.

Just how bad is it? It used to be that graduate students in their final year, if they did not find a tenure-track position in the fall or winter before they graduated, at least were able to nail down a postdoc that would give them a decent salary and time to publish a few articles or a book. This system, as far as I can tell, has completely collapsed. For instance, my thesis director informed me in January — after the MLA convention, let’s bear in mind — that not a single institution was hiring A.B.D. in 2011.

You have to wonder how long the conditions for the first quoted professor can exist along side the second quoted grad student. And you have to wonder how long those students are going to keep protesting to keep public employee union benes when the young are the ones getting the shaft.

The sad thing is that it isn't just post docs that have been ripped off by the university system. It is every young man or woman who goes through the system designed to separate you from your parents money. (Please watch Crack Baby Athletic Association to fully understand that college athletics is slavery.)

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