Courtney Danforth guest posts at ProfHacker on the topic of Disaster Planning and the Academic Career. It's an interesting use of disaster related perspectives for academics as they face the inevitable fact that disasters happen.
Planning for disaster is good advice for everybody. But I've discovered that when one attempts risk analysis in an everyday setting, people just don't want to think that way and remain unprepared for the things that can go wrong.
I'm mentioning this topic here at Cultural Research not because I want to encourage professors or even everyday people to get into disaster planning. What I want to see is risk analysis and disaster planning in graduate curricula.
For my own part, everybody I worked closely with in my graduate training were incredibly encouraging and supportive, yet none of them helped me prepare for the disaster of not getting a job in higher ed. In fact, once I got beyond writing and research, they appeared to have very little to offer related to anything practical that went beyond the aspects of their jobs that they valued.
Beyond my own education, I also found that many college professors have ways to avoid the topic of their involvement in a system that seems to ensure that a majority of doctoral students will NOT get a job doing what they're training to do.
For example, I remember talking to a faculty member from a different school who generally treated me like a colleague, a reasonably common occurrence given that I was an "adult" student publishing and presenting original, solo research at major conferences beginning in my MA program. I was pointing out some of the shoddy behavior I was encountering in the job application process, including things that seemed to undermine all parties involved. Her immediate response was to say that "not everybody gets jobs." Unfortunately, I was so taken aback that I have no idea what would have happened if I had pushed to clarify that she was missing my point.
But I recognize her response at one level as a pragmatic way of dealing with a very touchy situation. I also recognize the manner in which it was deployed as a coping mechanism that indicated that she wasn't actually hearing what I said. I think she basically slotted my observations into a category that didn't actually fit and then attempted to end that topic of discussion.
In fact I found with most faculty that having an honest conversation about any aspect of the higher ed job situation during the period when I was actively looking for a job to almost always be uncomfortable and to always require me to work them past their initial assumption that I was simply complaining about my own situation. And even when we got past their incorrect assumptions, I never met anyone in higher ed who seemed to have a clue about how to begin to address the situation. At the end of the day, they mostly seemed helpless and in denial.
But my point is not that I encountered clueless people in academia who were avoiding the harsh realities of the system that paid their bills. That's universal given that cluelessness is randomly distributed at all levels of society. My point is that if folks were having honest discussions in grad school about job prospects and that if risk analysis and disaster planning perspectives were included in those discussions, grad students would be better prepared for the actual world and faculty might have a productive basis for looking at what's happening within their own institutions.
But you know what? I believe we're more likely to see the continued destruction of the professoriat as higher education continues its current transformation to the degree that such concerns will overwhelm academics' opportunity to address the underlying issues. And that's unfortunate because when smart people avoid dealing with obvious problems when they're not being forced to address those problems, they won't have the requisite skills to handle the unavoidable disasters when they hit.