Things I Learned in Grad School The Hard Way: Academia Is The Real World

Okay, I admit I stole that title from UC English Professor Nathan Brown, whose essay/speech “Five Theses on Privatization and the UC Struggle” has been on my mind ever since I read it a couple of days ago. Everyone should read it and try not to blow their brains out.

Prof. Brown starts by explaining why tuition increases are not a defensive measure that colleges take in order to make up for decreased state funding. Instead, tuition increases are an administrative strategy to increase revenue. They are part of the logic of privatization that has brought higher education to its knees in recent decades. Tuition has gone up 400% since the 1980s, far outpacing inflation or family income. All while the ranks of low-wage adjuncts have grown to obscene proportions.

What do tuition increases and privatization strategies have to do with postacademia?

As I’ve argued on this blog before, the reason so many PhDs can’t find jobs is not because of “natural” market fluctuations or because candidates did something wrong. Many deserving, committed people won’t find jobs (whether they want them or not) because the strategy of privatization beloved by hedge fund managers everywhere has seeped into academe like a toxic sludge.

Here’s part of Prof. Brown’s powerful statement about how deeply, utterly connected academia is to the world.

“The university is not a place ‘cut off’ from the rest of the world or from other political situations. The university is one situation among many in which we struggle against debt, exploitation, and austerity. The university struggle is part of this larger struggle. And as part of this larger struggle, the university struggle is also an anti-capitalist struggle.”

What does it mean to engage in an anti-capitalist struggle as a lowly postacademic set adrift on the currents of privatization and austerity? I think it just might mean taking a stand, once and for all, against student debt.

I’ll be writing more about student debt and the havoc it has wrought in the lives of millions of people who drank the “if I go to school and work really hard, I will have a secure life in a job that doesn’t suck” Kool-Aid because they were thirsty and it was the only beverage available.

For now, check out the campaign some people I know have been working on to gather a million signatures from debtors who can’t take it anymore. Yeah, I know what some are going to say. “How can you pledge not to pay your debts? That is just crazytalk from freeloaders!”

I don’t buy it. This campaign is not about evading debt or responsibility. It’s about fairness and economic justice. It’s about education as a right, not a source of profit.

We should not merely gather, humbly, at the foot of the Powers That Be (you might call them the 1%) and say something reasonable like, “please lower our interest rates!” This is the time for bold action. Academia is the real world; it’s time to reclaim it.

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