The closing of American academia
It is 2011 and I’m sitting in the Palais des Congres in Montreal, watching anthropologists talk about structural inequality [ketdksamaan,ketidakrataan].
The American Anthropological Association meeting is held annually to showcase [memamerkan] research from around the world, and like thousands of other anthropologists, I am paying to play [menggunakan]: $650 for airfare, $400 for three nights in a “student” hotel, $70 for membership, and $94 for admission. The latter two fees [biaya] are student rates [harga, tarif]. If I were an unemployed or underemployed [setengah menganggur] scholar, the rates would double.
The theme of this year’s meeting is “Traces [bakat], Tidemarks and Legacies [warisan, peninggalan].” According to the explanation on the American Anthropological Association website, we live in a time when “the meaning and location of differences, both intellectually and morally, have been rearranged”. As the conference progresses, I begin to see what they mean. I am listening to the speaker bemoan [meratapi, merintihkan] the exploitative practices [praktik eksploitatif] of the neoliberal model when a friend of mine taps [menepuk] me on the shoulder. “I spent almost my entire salary to be here,” she says.
My friend is an adjunct [penata gol 3c/d, pembantu]. She has a PhD in anthropology and teaches at a university, where she is paid $2100 per course. While she is a professor, she is not a Professor. She is, like 67 per cent of American university faculty, a part-time employee on a contract that may or may not be renewed each semester. She receives no benefits or health care.
According to the Adjunct Project, a crowdsourced website revealing [memberitahukan, membeberkan, mengungkapkan] adjunct wages [gaji, upah] – data which universities have long kept under wraps [tersembunyi, hidden] – her salary is about average. If she taught five classes a year, a typical full-time faculty course load, she would make $10,500, well below the poverty line. Some adjuncts make more. I have one friend who was offered $5000 per course, but he turned it down and requested less so that his children would still qualify for food stamps [kupon, cap, perangko].
Why is my friend, a smart woman with no money, spending nearly $2000 to attend a conference she cannot afford [memberikan, menghslkan]? She is looking for a way out [jln keluar]. In America, academic hiring [memperkerjakan akademik] is rigid and seasonal [menurut musim]. Each discipline has a conference, usually held in the fall, where interviews take place. These interviews can be announced days or even hours in advance, so most people book [memesan, mencatatkan] beforehand, often to receive no interviews at all.
The American Anthropological Association tends to hold its meetings in America’s most expensive cities, although they do have one stipulation [ketentuan, penetapan, syarat]: “AAA staff responsible for negotiating and administering annual meeting contracts shall show preference [pilihan] to locales [tempat terjdx s/ peristiwa] with living wage [upah gaji] ordinances [tata cara, peraturan].” This rule does not apply, unfortunately, to those in attendance [yg hadir].
Below poverty line
“The adjunct problem is emblematic [bersifat lambang] of broader trends in American employment: the end of higher education as a means to prosperity [kesejahteraan], and the severing [memutuskan, membedakan]of opportunity [chance, kesempatan] to all but the most privileged [yg diberi hak istimewa].”
In most professions, salaries below the poverty line would be cause for alarm [kegelisahan, anxiety, tanda bahaya]. In academia, they are treated as a source of gratitude [perasaan bersyukur]. Volunteerism is par for the course – literally [secara harfiah, benar2]. Teaching is touted [menggembar-gemborkan] as a “calling”, with an compensation [penggantian] afterthought [renungan]. One American research university offers its PhD students a salary of $1000 per semester for the “opportunity” to design and teach a course for undergraduates, who are each paying about $50,000 in tuition. The university calls this position “Senior Teaching Assistant” because paying an instructor so far below minimum wage is probably illegal.
In addition to teaching, academics conduct research and publish, but they are not paid for this work either. Instead, all proceeds [hsl, pendptan] go to for-profit [nirlaba, bersifat tidak mengutamakan pemerolehan keuntungan] academic publishers, who block [menghadang, menghalangi] academic articles from the public through exorbitant [terlalu tinggi/beasr] download and subscription fees, making millions for themselves in the process. If authors want to make their research public, they have to pay the publisher an average of $3000 per article. Without an institutional affiliation, an academic cannot access [mengakses, meneruskan] scholarly research without paying, even for articles written by the scholar itself.
It may be hard to summon [memanggil, mengetengahkan] sympathy for people who walk willingly [dg rela] into such working conditions. “Bart, don’t make fun of grad students,” Marge told her son on an oft-quoted [sering dikutip] episode of The Simpsons. “They just made a terrible life choice.”
But all Americans should be concerned about adjuncts, and not only because adjuncts are the ones teaching our youth [pemuda]. The adjunct problem is emblematic [bersifat lambang] of broader trends in American employment: the end of higher education as a means to prosperity, and the severing of opportunity to all but the most privileged.
In a searing [yg membakar] commentary, political analyst Joshua Foust notes that the unpaid internships [magang] that were once limited to show business have now spread to nearly every industry. “It’s almost impossible to get a job working on policy in this town without an unpaid internship,” he writes from Washington DC, one of the most expensive cities in the country. Even law, once a safety net for American strivers, is now a profession where jobs pay as little as $10,000 a year – unfeasible [tdk layak] for all but the wealthy [org kaya], and devastating [sangat efektif, menghancurkan, merusak]for those who have invested more than $100,000 into their degrees. One after another [satu demi satu], the occupations [kesibukan, jabatan, pek] that shape [membentuk] American society are becoming impossible for all but the most elite to enter.
The value of a degree
Academia is vaunted [me-muji2] for being a meritocracy [memberikan penghargaan kpd yg berprestasi]. Publications are judged on blind review, and good graduate programs offer free tuition and a decent [layak, pantas] stipend [gaji]. But its reliance [kepercayaan] on adjuncts makes it no different than professions that cater [melayani, mengurus] to the elite through unpaid internships.
Anthropologists are known for their attentiveness [perhatian] to social inequality, but few have acknowledged [mengakui, membenarkan] the plight [keadaan buruk/sedih] of their peers [sesama]. When I expressed doubt about the job market to one colleague, she advised me, with total seriousness, to “re-evaluate what work means” and to consider “post-work imaginaries”. A popular video on post-graduate employment cuts to the chase [pengejaran]: “Why don’t you tap into [memasuki] your trust [kredit, piutang] fund?”
In May 2012, I received my PhD, but I still do not know what to do with it. I struggle with the closed off [tertutup] nature of academic work, which I think should be accessible [yg dpt diperoleh/diterima] to everyone, but most of all I struggle with the limited opportunities in academia for Americans like me, people for whom education was once a path out of poverty [jln keluar dr kemiskinan], and not a way into it.
My father, the first person in his family to go to college, tries to tell me my degree has value. “Our family came here with nothing,” he says of my great-grandparents, who fled [flee, mengungsi] Poland a century ago. “Do you know how incredible [luar biasa, ga masuk akal] it is that you did this, how proud they would be?”
And my heart broke a little when he said that, because his illusion [khayalan, fantasi] is so touching [yg mengharukan] – so revealing [yg membuka pikiran] of the values of his generation, and so alien [berbeda, bertentangan] to the experience of mine.
Sarah Kendzior is an anthropologist who recently received her PhD from Washington University in St Louis.
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