Thursday, September 13, 2007

Hope I Die Before I Get Old

I'd meant to get to this a few days ago, but non-blog life got in the way. (Remember my dissertation? No? Don't feel bad. Neither do I sometimes.) Anyway, in case anyone here hasn't already seen philosopher Jon Cogburn's great summary of the entire year-long job market cycle, go take a look. You should read the whole thing, as they say, but I want to highlight something that jumped out at me.

Jon has a great description of the "smoker," something so bone-chilling both PGOAT and I haven't quite been able to find the words to describe it. But beyond the general horror of milling around a loud, badly lit corporate hotel ballroom, trying to make small-talk with a bunch of social retards you want to hire you--besides all that, Jon describes a generational aspect to it I was lucky enough to miss out on at last year's smoker.
During the heydey of the post World War II great academic job market, these smokers were quite different. For one thing, people actually smoked. For another thing, the Baby Boomers actually smoked pot at the smoker. Unless you are a Generation X job candidate who has been stuck at a table with a drunk Baby Boomer during one of these things, and he (it's always a he!) is telling you how great it was "back in the day" when everybody had over ten interviews and there was a "dance circle" of pot smokers in the middle of the room. . . unless you've been through this, you maybe don't even know the meaning of the word "rage". . . .

I speculate that this is one of the main reasons Generation X academics are often so unrelentingly hostile (when talking with one another) about Baby Boomer academics. Baby Boomer academics had a much easier time getting jobs and tenure. Somehow on their watch we not only got Reagan, the two Bushes, and abandonment of cool plans to colonize space, but we also got a university system where now less than half the positions are tenure or tenure-track. And they don't care.

That sounds about right to me. Although my own rage-inducing experiences with this sort of dynamic have involved pre-Boomer philosophers more than Boomers, there's no doubt the earliest Boomers had a pretty easy time on the job market. And that's just not something I want to hear about when all my energy's going into not puking with anxiety into the over-priced, shitty beer I was forced to buy, just to make myself look like the kind of genial junior colleague some asshat Boomer would like to have in the office down the hall.


bjk said...

Let's say the majority of hiring was between 1950 and 1970. And the youngest you could be hired was at 25. That's just on the cusp of being a boomer. So the majority of senior faculty are in fact preboomer, at least those hired in the real boom times, the 1960s. 1930 seemed to be about the right time to be born.

Jon Cogburn said...

Strangely, most of the cultural innovation we associate with baby boomers was pioneered by tweeners (people born between the two world wars that were too young to fight in the second world war). Leonard Cohen, the great figures in computability theory, and the most influential figures in the civil rights struggle come to mind.

My impression was that the market really tanked in the late 70's, after most of the boomers had been hired; albeit this is from talking to boomers who got jobs, not from statistical data. In any case, the execrable job market in philosophy is not just from the general post 70's blight in this country. I think that it is just as much a function of destruction of philosophy departments (by the mid 1990's there were only 2/3ds of the degree granting departments as their were in the 1960's), devolving teaching to the majority of professors who are neither tenured nor tenure track, and the revocation of mandatory retirement. I could be mistaken, but my memory (from John McWhorter's book and the Chronicle of Higher Education) is that all of these things happened on the boomer's watch.

Of course it is silly to blame a whole generation for something. Philosophy itself is so relentlessly oedipal though. We learn by criticizing the thoughts of the previous generation. When select members of that generation are so clueless about the job situation, it makes it easier for us to get angry.

Here's one example of cluelessness in philosophy. My wife is a member of the American Library Association, and has attended their conference twice. Now it is much easier to get a librarian job than a job teaching philosophy, so the financial exigencies involved in going to their conference are not as damaging. In addition, you don't have to go to the conference to get a job. Nonetheless the A.L.A. always gets ridiculously inexpensive housing for people who need it at local universities during their conferences. They also bus people back and forth for free from the housing to the conference center. One time Emily went the A.L.A. actually covered her airfare too. Yet the A.P.A. is set up so that poor graduate students have to attend on their own dime if they want to get a job. The conferences are always in ruinously expensive cities too. When you are at the Eastern as a candidate, you see all these employed people having a blast catching up on old times on the expense account of their universities. During this you are penurious and trying to land a job.

My earlier suggestion was for Leiter to get statistics on placement rankings ten years after matriculation. Here my statistic is for the A.P.A. to raise the fees on employed philosophers and use this money to vastly subsidize job candidates trips. Instead, what you have is exactly the reverse in the case of the Eastern. All of the job candidates staying at the conference hotel at the Eastern guarantees conference rates for job holders at the four star downtown hotels in San Fransisco, D.C., Chicago, etc.

Is it really so implausible to conclude that these people don't care?

Note: my experience on the job market is seven years old now, and I'm at an institution that doesn't grant philosophy Ph.Ds. If the A.P.A. were currently doing something to remediate the injustice above, I wouldn't know about it. Please correct me if I'm mistaken.

Anonymous said...

Some departments used to pay for airfare to the APA, at least for first-time job-seekers. But of course that doesn't help people who come from departments that aren't awash in money.

bjk said...

That makes more sense, because if you look at most faculties today, there is a large contingent of boomers hired in the 70s. And the boomers wouldn't have started in college before 1962, and wouldn't have received a Phd before 1970, maybe earlier. Your also right about the innovators being pre-boomers. Tom Hayden and the people who wrote the Port Huron statement, for instance, were all preboomers. By the way, much of the destruction of philosophy departments is attributable to analytic philosophy and the elimination of traditional curricula. If you look at a department like Rutgers, they have dozens of philosophers on staff and the Intro course is taught with multiple TAs by one of the few historians. The faculty is top ranked and largely useless for teaching undergraduates.

GF-A said...

Mostly seconding anonymous: My department (Pitt HPS) paid for a decent-sized chunk of my trip to the APA.

Himself said...

The APA used to offer scholarships for international people who presented papers at the APA Eastern, which meant that international jobseekers could put in a paper and then that would subsidise them a bit, but the APA got rid of this scholarship a few years ago. Nice going.