Only the elite can afford to teach anthropology in college

by Grace

Anthropology PhD graduates should not be surprised and maybe should not complain if their job options are limited after graduation.

There are too many people with PhDs in anthropology and not enough people studying it, so the universities can hire faculty at lower wages. To make matters worse, the universities sold a bright future of stable employment and a cool job in exchange for tens of thousands of dollars in debt. This generation of grad students simply wound up on the dumping end of a Ponzi scheme.

Blogger at Blackmailers Don’t Shoot asks why “brilliant” academics can’t understand the laws of supply and demand when he reads this from a struggling anthropology PhD:

In May 2012, I received my PhD, but I still do not know what to do with it. I struggle with the closed off nature of academic work, which I think should be accessible to everyone, but most of all I struggle with the limited opportunities in academia for Americans like me, people for whom education was once a path out of poverty, and not a way into it.

The law of supply and demand would seem to be at the root of the adjunct problem.

67 per cent of American university faculty are part-time employees on short-term contracts [AP]

Here’s the harsh reality.

Welcome to the job market. You need them more than they need you….

The market spoke. You’re not as valuable as you would have been 50 years ago, and unless thousands of anthropology professors suddenly drop dead tomorrow, that will not likely change. It’s not personal. It’s not a conspiracy. There are simply too many people who want a job with lots of time off from which they cannot be fired.

Of course, this is also true of many other social science and humanities disciplines.  I suspect most students are waking up to this reality.


3 Comments to “Only the elite can afford to teach anthropology in college”

  1. This would be a better article if the author had dumped the snark. And what is the business about “lots of time off”? I suspect the author doesn’t actually know any of these elite anthropologists very well, because if he did, he would know that surviving to a tenured position in a field like that involves grueling workloads and incessant travel. You are likely to be spending all your summer months doing field work in some godforsaken corner of the world. Forget having a normal family life.

    There is truth, though, that lots of really smart, hard working people want these jobs. And I think looking at the real reasons is useful, especially when trying to figure out how to improve the quality of teachers in K12, an area where you don’t usually see hordes of smart hardworking candidates beating down the doors. It isn’t pay – anthropologists are usually at the low end of the academic pay scale, meaning they are making diddley squat and probably self financing a lot of their travel too. It isn’t the workload because the workload can be crushing. I think it is the chance at respect and professional autonomy. Having the ability to function as a professional, to do the work in the way you think best, is powerful in many fields. Lawyers, doctors, journalists and university professors all have this – and people beat down the doors to get into those fields. Professional autonomy is in short supply for K12 teachers, though, and I think it is a big reason why it is so hard to get top people to go into that field.


  2. Yes, it was snarky. But that reaction is not surprising given what many would perceive as the PhD’s whininess.

    “And what is the business about “lots of time off”?”

    That’s a hard image to shake because of the perceived flexibility that academics have. We don’t see the work that goes on late at night behind closed doors.

    Yes, many workers value professional autonomy.


  3. Most *smart* workers value professional autonomy. So if you want to get more smart people into a field, you have to look at whether that is being provided. The problem in K12 is that we treat teachers like a great horde of unionized factory workers, and then wonder why we don’t get the smartest people.


%d bloggers like this: