Image by Eloise Renouf
Currently, I am a PhD Candidate in the Humanities, which sounds more glamorous than it really is for those who inhabit these liminal places.
The Humanities has always been considered the alternative intellectual arena for those who do not deal with the natural sciences. The sciences are labeled as “dealing with the world as it is,” and the Humanities as a “safe space” for those who don’t do too much thinking: socially viewed as a place for people who love books. Unfortunately, the Humanities does not “rake in” the money the way that STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) Nursing, Sports or Business does for universities. Therefore, Humanities programs do not receive the same amount of funding for undergraduate and graduate programs.
Far too often, students who are admitted into PhD programs in the Liberal Arts and Social Sciences are partially or not funded at all. If they do receive funding it is usually to cover coursework, they may be responsible for fees, and are (most always) responsible for finding ways to support themselves during the summer months. Consequently, when the PhD student reaches their candidacy and are only left to write and defend their dissertation that is “original research” they are forced to work as adjuncts or find other means of support. These stipulations force the PhD candidate to make harsh decisions, often related to not being able to devote the required amount of time to write a decent dissertation.
The politics of survival and thriving are not taken into consideration when universities want the prestige of being a doctoral degree granting institution, completely ignoring the timeline to complete Humanities PhD Dissertations– which are supposed to contain original research conducted by the candidate.
Original dissertations require extensive research, and, in some disciplines, data collection must be funded in order to conduct. That means it will take time and money.
Institutions do not consider the amount of physical and psychological toll that PhD programs require of candidates. Instead, the institution only wants the numbers and the recognition, but they do not provide adequate support for their students. A PhD student will not fill the seats of a sports arena, secure funding from a fortune 500 company, gain employment before graduation at the rate of a Nursing, Business, or STEM candidate. Yet, they are expected to dedicate 5-7 years of their life conducting research and teach undergraduate classes that are far too often overcrowded and under-resourced. Courses which are essential building blocks of undergraduate development and success in all fields.
Many institutions in the United States only focus on what brings in money, not what sustains and strengthens the institution.
Humanities students are asked to be interdisciplinary, strengthen deficiencies in the students they teach, publish peer-reviewed articles before graduation, secure external funding, and land a Research 1 job while working 60+ hours a week. It is no wonder that many students that pursue a PhD in the Humanities:
A) don’t graduate
B) don’t pursue jobs in Academe if they do graduate
C) take more than 5 years to graduate
D) suffer multiple health issues
E) Don’t seek medical or mental health services
F) suffer trauma correlated with their programs.
The home department of the candidate and the institution would rather place blame on the current political administration in Washington, D.C. or the local and state government instead of looking at the unjust and inhumane labor practices of the institution. Despite New York State recently granting free tuition to residents to four year institutions, it is only for those that will attend the SUNY (State University of New York School) system. Meaning: only those that will attend SUNY institutions will be supported post graduation, which will only work to serve those who are fiscally, politically and culturally “superior.” There is a 2 and in some cases 4 year, state residency requirement and you must find employment with in 12 months of graduation. It does not grant the same protection and benefits to those who are in graduate programs. Nor does it grant fiscal protection for the adjunct laborer, the backbone to 90% of these institutions. It is the equivalent of placing a Band Aid on a gunshot wound.
It is no wonder that many of those who are in graduate programs, in New York and elsewhere, are considering the dilemma: “why am I doing this?” Many students in doctoral programs are finding alternative careers and ways to market themselves as not being too educated. Candidates in Humanities PhD programs are finding it more lucrative to omit that they have graduate degrees on resumes and CVs and are landing jobs that will help them with their debt and gain a consistent income.
The CEO/PhD is the state of the academy, and the corporatization of intellectual capital that forces those who want to stay within disciplinary strictures of “first comes degree then comes tenure track” left out in the cold. Now, candidates are finding it much more viable to blog and then apply to programs because they get better funding packages. Those who begin while in a program are doing workshops to learn how to become content writers, playwrights, or seeking jobs in corporate because the poverty narrative is too high. The amount of debt that was accrued while on the road to the PhD can be outrageous.
This is not to deter people from entering PhD programs completely. It is to say the system is designed to create an illusion of a surge of PhD degree holders versus the number of jobs available for the number of PhD degrees that are annually produced.
For example, an institution that has an annual endowment of 600 million dollars per year spends it on AstroTurf for the athletic fields and the iconography of the institution. Yet, the library is only two floors. In addition to that, most institutions admit too many students per year which leaves the students that are admitted highly underfunded. Ironically, these students defeat the odds and finish their degree and are now faced with having to enter a market where jobs are often absorbed by administrative cuts and their jobs being done by two faculty members or the real laborers: the adjuncts.
Why? Because it is cheaper to have temporary labor. Administration will not release their annual or semi-annual bonus to support the temporary labor of the student or adjunct. Instead, Freire and other critical pedagogues have highlighted the far too real reality of the University Industrial Complex.
The problem isn’t the student that wants a degree, or in this case an advanced degree, it is the institutions that allow this form of abuse and exploitation to persist.
Resources for further reading: