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There is a debate going around on the academic blog-o-sphere about faculty salaries and whether or not TT faculty have a right to complain. As far as I can tell it started over at Tenured Radical’s. When folks found out that TR makes over 107K many said she shouldn’t complain or that they themselves don’t feel the need or the right to complain. You can read a few different views: HistoriannDr Crazy, another post by TR, Squadratomagico, and undine.

Here’s the thing folks, from the mouth of someone at the bottom of the academic totem pole…(I make 12-14K depending on whether I get the privilege of teaching over the summer.) If Tenured Radical or other full professors in secure positions are willing to unionize or in any way help organize for better working conditions in academia, I welcome their help. I would be happy to discuss with them what organizing priorities the union should have. Although raises for full faculty wouldn’t be my first priority, I wouldn’t be opposed to organizing for such raises. Certainly we could all agree to organize in opposition to increasing teaching loads and larger and larger class sizes. Unions filled with grad students and adjuncts are weak compared to unions that also have tenured professors as members. There is a campaign happening now at Crunchy U. to unionize the faculty – adjuncts and TT together. It seems that many TT faculty are reticent to join, despite their Marxist leanings.

If you can’t unionize in your state, maybe it is time to start organizing to change that law. There are lots of workers out there who are in worse positions who could use your help. If you can’t unionize legally, maybe it is time to organize. Maybe we should start talking to our students about the conditions we work under. Faculty and students could be allies in organizing for improved education funding.  Civil disobedience could be considered. For that matter, you could do something to help K-12 educators who are struggling under crappy conditions. (Our new roommate is a 1st grade teacher at a low income public school.) Or doing something to help improve the working conditions for preschool teachers. Having well trained (and well paid) preschool teachers would make a huge difference in children’s lives. No one values preschool teachers, yet these are the folks that really need to understand developmental stages and how to provide kids with the foundations to do well in school.

Just don’t expect making change to be easy. I’m just saying.


I have been crazy busy trying to keep up with my schoolwork this quarter. I wrote my first paper for the quarter and turned it in this morning. Then I proceeded to ditch class so that I could go out “in the field” with my adviser on a short research trip. This evening, as a reward for being so productive I decided to relax by watching a little TV and catching up with my RSS feeds. Here is some strange news from the land of academia:

I hate sitting in class, listening to those painful silences that indicate that no one has done the reading or that they tried to read but didn’t understand what they were suppose to be getting from it, or whatever. Breena tends to be willing to say something stupid rather than have to sit through the silence.
One of my classes consists of many painful silences and I’m just making myself the annoying person who talks too much. Yuck! Next class I’m going back to extensive doodling, it gets me in less trouble.

In a recent study from Oxford, a death surge has been linked with mass privatisation during the transition from communism to capitalism in Eastern Europe. The key finding from this study is that a slow transition and more social and governmental safety nets resulted in less deaths. Though we may not like to think of it, this economic downturn may result in an increase of deaths. In the Oxford study the surge of deaths was attributed to factors such as the inability to get health care. I can’t help but think that in the current “economic downturn” many folks will be choosing between their rent and medications/doctor’s visits.

If we want to prevent unnessessary deaths, we need to think about how to provide health care (and food and housing) for everyone.

I listen to This American Life every week, religiously. Last year when Ira explained that it cost WBEZ radio in Chicago millions to put out the podcast every week and that if everyone who listened would just donate $1 it would be paid for, I donated $5 to help out. For someone racking up the kind of student loan debt I am, that was what I felt I could afford. The radio show is worth a lot more. Recently I got another email Ira explaining how the downturn in the economy has effected public radio and asking for another donation. If you haven’t ever heard This American Life, you need to. If you listen regularly, please donate to keep the podcast on the air.

Also, if you haven’t heard it, check out Radio Lab from WNYC.

Dear Bloggy friends,
I’m still alive and sometimes reading other people’s blogs, but feel ambivalent about continuing to write on this blog. All the transitions I have been going through have made me rethink what I want to be spending time on.

I feel vindicated by this article in the NY Times, featuring Barbara Ganley, a friend of a bloggy friend. After experimenting on some other blogs, with writing more regularly, in order to build audience, I have decided it’s not for me. The thing I like about blogging in making connections with people, not thinking up things to write about every day.

I think I write less when I’m confused and more when I have a passionate opinion on a particular topic. Right now I’m more confused than passionate. I think I’m enjoying my new program, but I still feel nervous because I don’t know who is trustworthy and who I need to be politic with.

Also, Beorn has been getting sicker and sicker and I’m not sure what to say about that. It wasn’t until last summer that I realized how disabled Beorn had become, but it started about a year ago, and yet we still don’t have a diagnosis. We suspect rheumatoid arthritis, but still haven’t seen a rheumatologist. Between the joint pain, particularly in his knees, and the sciatica, it’s difficult often difficult for him to get up out of bed or out of a chair. Walking up and down the stairs is a major production. And he’s fatigued all the time, partly from the anemia and partly because the pain wakes him up a night.

The prospect of living with someone with a chronic, painful illness has left me rather speechless.

The good news is despite Beorn not being able to really work, we have medical coverage through my program. Beorn has been seeing a chiropractor and massage therapist, which helps some. Also, we have something here in Crunchy town called a “community” acupuncture clinic, which means that the acupuncturist treats several people a once and charges on a sliding scale. The acupuncture seems to be helping somewhat. Until we know what the problem really is, we are just having to wait. This illness has disrupted the illusion that I had that that it is possible to plan for the future. Right now I’m just enjoying the moments when Beorn is relatively pain free.

Does anyone else out there ever get tired of talking about gender? I’m experiencing feminist fatigue, it’s sort of like chronic fatigue, only caused by having to explain basic concepts of how to treat women like people to someone over and over again.

Right now I have an especially bad case because our roommate, lets call him Viking Boy, is strangely obsessed with gender, as if women were some sort of strange aliens. He will regularly say things like “This is man food!” or “I don’t want any of that girlie salad!” with little or no irony. So I feel the need to try to explain to him that everyday activities like eating or (last night) pumpkin carving are not particularly gendered.

I attended a pumpkin carving party last night and carved a very scary bat into my pumpkin. 

Then again, I feel obligated to point out to other men that gender might be affecting how people interact with them. For example, the professor and two other TAs I’m working with this quarter are all men. I get 6-12 people showing up for my office hour each week and they get 1-2. Now there might be other factors involved like the fact that I chose a time the middle of a Thursday afternoon or that I have emphasized repeatedly to my students that they should ask for help. But considering that I get some of their students too and that another grad student (also a woman) has been helping another female student from the class with her homework, I think there is a good chance that gender might be influencing who students ask for help.

So now I’m wondering if there might be a link between men who can’t seem to notice when the dishes need doing and men who can’t seem to notice how gender influences their lives?

Would it help if they read Finally, A Feminism 101 Blog?

Here’s my basic question – Under what conditions would you (as a grad student) consider applying for welfare programs like low income housing or foodstamps?

Here’s my situation. One of the main reasons that I decided to switch programs and go to Crunchy U. is that they offer the option to buy health insurance for your spouse and dependents. Ever since last summer when we were living in an attic filled with black mold Beorn has been developing unexplained health problems. He is always exhausted and his blood test show that he is anemic. He also has constant joint pain and a high “rheumatoid factor.” We are having more tests done. Needless to say, having continuing health coverage for him is essential.

He feels fairly bad on a day to day basis and so may have trouble working full time unless we figure out what is wrong. In the mean-time, we are living on my stipend and student loans. Last night we discussed applying for disability for him and investigating the possibility of food stamps. I’m having some difficulty with this because if I dropped out of school with my master’s degree I would likely be able to find a job that pays more than my TA stipend, so it seems somehow wrong to apply for assistance. On the other hand, I have no way of knowing what kind of work I might find or whether my new job would offer health insurance for Beorn. Most likely it would be difficult for me to support us on one salary and pay off my monumental student loans.

If I stay in school I know I have a job for the next three years at least and health insurance. Given the unstable state of the economy at the moment taking risks doesn’t seem wise. Mainly, I want to stay in academia. I love my new department and love the privilege of teaching and researching topics that interest me. If I was to quit school I know I wouldn’t find a job I love that would pay me what I need to be paid, at least not right away.

I know many people would never consider applying for welfare while in school, but apparently there is a long tradition of graduate students on welfare, judging by this thread on College Confidential. But here are a couple of vignettes from my week to fuel your thinking about why someone might consider it.

While riding the bus home this week I overheard a conversation between a couple of undergrads. They were discussing the stock market crash. One young guy was telling the other how bad it had gotten for his family. His dad had told him that he might have to get a part time job because his stocks had been so devalued. I sat there shocked that his dad wouldn’t require him to a least work a few hours a week for spending money.

Later in the week I ran into one another woman in my cohort – a woman of “non-traditional student” age who had returned to school to earn a masters degree. She told me a little about her background — how she started living on her own a week after her highschool graduation. She had dropped out of school because her parents hadn’t been willing or able to help her pay for college. This attitude is common in working class families and yet there is no way for students under the age of 25 to prove that they aren’t getting help from their families. So she dropped out of college and went to beauty school. She joked that she should have just got married or “knocked-up” because then at least she wouldn’t be counted as her parents’ dependent. After a number of years supporting herself doing manicure and pedicures she decided that she was really tired of massaging strangers’ feet. Since she was now 26 she could qualify for financial aid as an independent. She went back to school, got her B.A. and a job she really enjoyed. Now she’s supporting herself working as a research assistant in a lab while she gets her M.A.

I also know a number of international students who are in a financial pickle because their spouses don’t have work visas. Back in 1998 in the Chronicle, David North from the Department of the Interior urged universities and graduate students to admit that grad students are the working poor.

It is interesting to compare two populations being supported by Uncle Sam: Buck privates in the Army and graduate students working as research assistants on federal grants. While the compensation packages for both groups are complex, unmarried first-year privates receive an average of $17,000 a year, and married ones about $1,000 more.

In comparison, the median stipend for the 41 unmarried graduate students whom I interviewed (in 1996-1997) was $14,000. Universities do not grant larger stipends for students with families; in fact, the median stipend for the 46 married students I interviewed was actually smaller — only about $12,000.

Most graduate students have to live on their stipends; a few have help from their families or from a working spouse. Many, particularly U.S. citizens, go into debt.

He goes on to advocate that universities should counsel graduate students to use public assistance that they qualify for:

As a policy matter, I believe that universities should pay their graduate assistants at least as much as privates in the military earn — a step that federal agencies could encourage by slight increases in their formulas for calculating research grants.

Failing that, graduate schools should accept the fact that their Ph.D. candidates are members of the working poor and help those students figure out how to use federal assistance programs. Perhaps graduate students in social work could be hired part-time to help the Ph.D. candidates apply for those programs. Why should the working poor among our graduate students continue to lose out on benefits that they are legally eligible to receive?

The issue of graduate students taking public aid has also been extensively debated on MetaFilter. More recently, an article on the US News site reports that the number of college students receiving food stamps in Florida is up 44% when compared to last year. Considering the current state of the economy, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this trend continue. Given the number of low income and working class students that drop out of college should we really begrudge these students some extra help?

In case anyone was wondering, I am still alive. I haven’t felt much like posting since I spent most of the last six months doing web design for the office I work for on campus. This summer was my break from academia and with it a break from my reflections on the academic life. I have been considering the future of this blog, as I’m now a wordpress expert and not sure I want to stay with blogger. Any thoughts my webby friends? I think my blog could have a much nicer look and be more usable if I moved it to wordpress. Actually, I don’t think I would move it so much as start a new blog there and link to it from here. Make sense?

In other news- We are all settled in our new home in Crunchy Town. At least all of our stuff is moved and the piles of boxes have been whittled down a little. I’m going stir crazy here with Beorn and our new roommate, Beorn’s buddy and best man, who I will call the Viking Boy. Neither Beorn nor the Viking Boy have jobs here yet, so they just hang around the house watching sci-fi. Orientation for Crunchy U. doesn’t start until next week and our bank account is down to its last $40, so I’m pretty much stuck in the house as well. Viking Boy will be stay with us for a few months at least, maybe longer if he can find work. Luckily we have gone from paying $790 for a one bedroom apartment, to $775 for a three bedroom townhouse. Too bad my TA salary will also be smaller. The point is, all geek boys all the time is driving me a little insane.

Since I graduated (yay!) I have been filling my life up with getting ready for our move in the fall and avoiding any academically oriented work. Since this blog is often about my struggles with academia, I have been avoiding posting here. But that’s just silly! Kitties and I are all settled in to our summer gigs. We are sharing a largish townhouse with two roommates, who are also somewhat crunchy, so it works out well.

Beorn survived his first three weeks of field school, but just barely. Monday of the second week they were directed to hack through some vegetation to get to a survey point, only no one had brought gloves. Guess what happened next? About a third of the class ended up with poison oak! Beorn had it pretty bad and so was miserable and rightly pissed about it. Beorn is a computer geek, not an outdoorsy type and grew up in the Midwest, so wasn’t familiar (enough) with poison oak. That stuff can be really tricky, it grows in so many different forms and vines itself into the growth of other shrubs and trees that it can be easy to miss. Frankly it never occured to me that the field school organizers wouldn’t have it together enough to help him ID poison oak, that kind of seems like lesson one in these parts.

Luckily he is mostly through it now and we are enjoying his break. Field school starts again on Monday. Until then we are relaxing and heading to the beach for the weekend. I’m trying to get in as many min-vacations as I can this summer. We rarely have enough money saved to take trips and it can be difficult to get Beorn interested in leaving his comfy home and computer. Other than our honeymoon I can’t remember the last time that we have taken a vacation. I do take days off here or there, but those are more like mental health days and involve catching up on laundry or lying in bed with a migraine.

Don’t worry though, our regular schedule of complaints and bitching about how much academia sucks and how crazy everyone is will return in September. Just kidding, I’m very hopeful about my new program.