Tell Me Again Why I Should Have To Pay Back My Student Debt?

I don’t know what will happen to this blog. The story of my departure from academia is essentially over. ‘Tis a consummation devoutly to be wish’d.

All that’s left to do is everything.

For all of us who studied, worked, and paid tuition for a decade or more only to find that we were sold a bill of goods, this is a personal journey. But it must also be read as a political one: tuition has increased exponentially as the quality of education has declined, there is a lack of well-paying jobs for anyone (including those of us with multiple letters after our names). And some of us must also contend with the particularly painful neoliberal idea that the Humanities and the Arts are not important, that they are useless luxuries, bygones of a more self-indulgent era, and that we should let them go in favor of a higher education devoted to training people to be technicians and middle managers for the ruling class.

Want to study literature, drama, rhetoric, or whathaveyou? Are your rich? Then go right ahead. Not rich? Nope, sorry. You have to study something that is valuable (ie, profitable) to the same criminal class that crashed the economy in which you now can’t find a job, except, of course, a job making the coffee and ordering the sandwiches for those same criminals who crashed the economy in which you now can’t find a job.

Of course, the casualization of labor started well before our current economic woes. It takes decades for an idea – that there is nothing wrong with staffing college courses with low-paid, part-time teachers, for example – to achieve inevitability. Or, at least, to prompt little more than a tired shrug from just about everyone.

There’s nothing we can do about it, so why bother complaining?

I am not complaining. I am engaging in reasoned critique, which is what academia taught me to do. Or maybe it’s simply a matter of pointing out the obvious, even though there is no Wall Street ticker for such an activity on the CNN crawl.

In that spirit, here is a very serious question: Why should we have to pay back our student loans when we have essentially been lied to, hoodwinked, abused, and rejected? Where does the supposed moral obligation come from? What sustains it now that the game is up?

Here is a short video featuring David Graeber, the scholar who literally wrote the book on debt. He makes a compelling case that only the little people have to repay debt. Debt is just a promise. The promise has been broken. And not by us. Is it time for a debt strike?

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12 Responses to Tell Me Again Why I Should Have To Pay Back My Student Debt?

  1. Chris Llano says:

    Wow, this post is such an eye opening! Thanks!

  2. LJ says:


    I hope this isn’t the last we’ll hear from you. If anything, this is where the “post” part of the blog should really start, no?

    Anyway, I’ve been quietly following your blog for the past few months, ever since I quit my own fruitless journey through the PhD and moved across the damn country — all the way to New York — to essentially start my life over (clichéd, maybe, but it’s a long story). Needless to say, I look forward to each new post here, and I would be sad to see you go in any way other than well-earned and triumphant victory, however you may define it at this point. Your experiences and insights have really struck a chord with me, and I am relieved and grateful beyond belief that there is someone out there who can call out this bullshit hayride for what it is. Thank you for that, and for making your voice heard.

    You have at least one stranger on the internet rooting for you. If you’re up for it, please keep up the spectacular blogging. If I had the chance, I’d gladly buy you a drink or two.

    Another post-academic in NYC

  3. Grotesque disgusting moral slime like Donald Trump welch on hundreds of millions of dollars in debt over the course of their lives, but that’s “just business”. Sometimes I hate this fucken country.

  4. Karen says:

    I’m another regular reader who hopes you continue to blog. Your posts on academia and student debt have helped me think and talk about my own experiences. And you’ve done it with a graceful mix of anger and wit.

  5. Djuna says:

    I found your blog a month or so ago by accident after googling “post academic.” I’m currently a lecturer in France – originally from the US. I’m hoping to stay in Europe for many of the reasons you’ve outlined in your posts – the Arts and Humanities are being savaged everywhere but slightly less so in Europe. Anyway, I’ve enjoyed reading your posts a great deal and must say it’s the best blog I’ve come across on this subject with its insightful (and sometimes humorous) commentary on the linkages between the job challenges PhDs face and the economic struggles Americans are facing in general. I would also be sad if you decided to conclude your blog. You obviously feel strongly about these issues and your writing reflects this.


  6. Recent Ph.D. says:

    Yes, it is time for a debt strike but hopefully NOT for you to stop blogging!

  7. post-ac says:

    Thanks, everyone, for the words of encouragement about this humble blog. Djuna, I want to know how to get a job in France! America, I love you, but you’re bringing me down.

    • Djuna says:

      It’s just a two-year post – like in the US the permanent ones are more elusive. If you have some French it’s not hard to find and apply for visiting lectureships/temporary teaching posts. They tend to be advertised in the spring each year…. Of course, once you have a work visa it’s easier to find something permanent.

  8. thedustbiter says:

    Thanks for that link. And for your blog. I’m such a fan of your writing, and of your ability to do smart and clear political analysis of the state of higher education.

  9. Justin Sengstock says:

    You say, “I don’t know what will happen to this blog,” but you answer your own question: “All that’s left to do is everything.” You write with such a sharp edge (your post on interviewing for the temp agency is a sardonic classic) that you’d better keep going because you are way too good at it. The political struggle over the grad-school industrial complex is only just beginning, and it needs insightful, angry analysts who have lived it, like you.

    (P.S. For what it’s worth, my one-time ambition was to get a Ph.D. in theology, but I got warned off by a Biblical studies prof who told me to “take a break first.” During my break I started reading blogs like these. I think my break will be permanent.)

  10. thanks for sharing the video.. very interesting stuff, especially the historical angle.
    What would it take to mobilize the students of america into action?

  11. Pingback: University of Lies- The Big Kahuna Edition « universityoflies

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