Your Family Or Your Job, Professor?
Fordham’s Michael Peppard says that academics who want to have families have it especially rough. Excerpt:
While it’s true that work-family balance is a challenge in many careers, I still think that academia is almost unique in the coupling of (1) extreme length of apprenticeship years and (2) very little money relative to educational level and age bracket. Many other careers have one or the other, but not both. It’s the combination that makes it a difficult path to choose for a single person, much less one desiring to have or adopt children.
That factor also plays into the dearth of conservatives in academia, Peppard contends. In an earlier essay, he writes:
Four conservative traits in particular would, I think, severely discourage a person from pursuing an academic career—independent of any external discrimination. If you are a young man or woman who (1) values the maintenance and passing on of intellectual tradition, (2) plans to marry and have children, (3) wants as much individual freedom as possible, and (4) avoids irrationally risky behavior, then you’re not likely to undertake a PhD and even less likely to finish one. At some point during or after college, you will decide against this career path. If you possess only one or two of these traits, you might still make it work—I myself have two of them. But if you have three or all four of them, you will almost certainly choose to do something else for a living.
Read the whole thing. As someone who never considered an academic career (I don’t have the temperament for it), I had no idea that the financial facts of life for academics are so horrible. Similarly, I had never considered this factor cited by Peppard:
If we set aside the professional schools (for example, those of law and medicine), it’s clear that the contemporary research university rarely emphasizes the maintenance and passing on of traditions. Sure, one may still teach Shakespeare, Locke, and Darwin to undergraduates, but one cannot get to that point by honoring traditions. In order to receive a PhD from an excellent academic department, and thereby earn the privilege to teach the classic texts someday, one must have demonstrated a willingness to challenge a core aspect of a disciplinary tradition. It is difficult enough to pass the originality test in the sciences and social sciences, where new data are experimentally produced. In the humanities new data are rare, and so originality involves revision rather than discovery. Most dissertations from elite humanities departments try to shatter—or at least “complicate”—some traditional idea. Such departments are not natural homes for conservative temperaments, but they are the primary sources of tenure-track professors.
No wonder the humanities are in such trouble!