Sunday, July 26, 2009

Are we expected to fail?

As I was writing my first post, I came across this article which attempts to paint a sunny picture of a bleak situation. What I found more interesting than the article, though, was the comment titled "The System Loves Attrition", which states that:

"The academic labor system relies on this high attrition rate. It produces a continual, renewable supply of a) cheap "student teachers" and b) persons who are unenrolled, intermittently enrolled, or enrolled on a dissertation-maintenance fee schedule, who serve as contingent faculty."

Am I naive for believing in the purity of academia? Sure there are some impure traditions - publishing solely to prevent perishing, networking to enhance one's career, tenure and some of the actions that come with it - but I also believe that there are not wholly dark motives behind these. People are in academia to contribute by publishing, there just happens to be a little bit of pressure to prevent laziness. Networking is just a dirty way to say "making friends", and who wouldn't want to be friends with their peers? Tenure is meant to protect freedom of speech and thought...there are just a few black sheep who abuse it.

But this statement about using us as student teachers with the hope that we'll drop out after providing that service (the comment continues by pointing out that if we all stayed there wouldn't be nearly enough full-time positions for us) - I can't accept my beloved academia would do this to me.

I have been wondering, though, how attrition rates could be so enormous and why schools aren't trying harder to lower them. Why is no one more worried about this? Why are there not more safeguards put in place to weed out those who are ill-suited for pursuing a doctorate prior to admitting us? Or, once admitted, why are there not more programs in place to help us get through the process without such pain and agony? I'm really not one for conspiracy theories, but it does seem strange that year-after-year PhD students leave their programs in huge quantities and it's not considered the top priority for schools who often display with pride their graduation rate for the undergraduate program

Do you think this could be true? Are our schools really hoping we'll leave after a few years of cheap service?

Or are these just the paranoid words of a man selling a book on the topic?