Brian Croxall wrote a paper for a session at the recent Modern Language Association Convention, but couldn’t be there himself to read it. And that became, in a way, the subject of the paper:
Again, I’m not at the MLA this year because it’s not economically feasible. I had hoped to be here for job interviews—as well as to speak as a member of this panel discussion. This was my third year on the job market, and I applied to every job in North America that I was even remotely qualified for: all 41 of them. Unfortunately, I did not receive any interviews, despite having added two articles accepted by peer-reviewed journals, five new classes, and several new awards and honors to my vita. According to my records, applying to those 41 jobs cost me $257.54. I was prepared to pay the additional expenses of attending the MLA ($125 for registration, $279.20 for a plane ticket, approximately $180.00 for lodging with a roommate at a total of $584.20) out of pocket so that I could have a chance of getting one of those 41 jobs. I was even luckier than most faculty (remember, most of today’s faculty are contingent) in that my institution was willing to provide me with $200 support to attend conferences throughout the academic year. But once it became apparent that I wasn’t going to be having any interviews, I could no longer justify the outlay of $400.00 out of a salary that puts me only $1,210 above the 2009 Federal Poverty Guidelines. (And yes, that means I do qualify for food stamps while working a full-time job as a professor!)
I teach at a college that sends a great many of its graduates on to further education. I’ve written recommendation letters for students who went on to Yale, Harvard, Stanford, Chicago — you name it. Students that I’ve been particularly close to now teach at a wide range of institutions, for example Washington and Lee and Cornell, and others are doing very well in graduate school now. But it has become increasingly difficult for me to feel good about writing those letters. My default approach is to discourage, though I am always willing to help those people who persist through my discouragement. But at this point I simply cannot believe that the institutional structures of the university that we are all familiar with will last much longer. I just wish I could imagine what it is that will replace them.