Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Black Hole of Higher Education


I called a friend last night who I hadn't seen in months to find out how things are going with him. The news wasn't good. Due to budget cutbacks in the state of Kentucky he will be out of a job in the public defenders office in a few weeks, and his options are running out. He's left to search for legal work hours away from home, and considering going back to work as a part-time clerk at a bookstore, but he had another thought- teaching.
My friend has a Master's degree in Philosophy, and thought he could find a job as adjunct faculty since his professional position has been removed. This is becoming a familiar refrain among my friends. They have advanced degrees, real world experience, publications and so on, but have had no luck in finding a meaningful job.
When I was growing up my Dad used to tell me that all I had to do was get a degree in anything, and I would be fine. He was sure that once I had a degree I would be able to earn a living, and have some security. I have a Master's degree myself now, and am sorry to say that I haven't found that to be the case. I teach part-time at two colleges, and have for years, but have been unable to find a full-time job. In fact I still work at a restaurant five days a week to get by.
My friends are no better off. They wait tables, tend bars, and teach at the same time. They move from professions were they have responsibilities and respect to unskilled positions where their educational level is of little value. They email me and ask how the market is in Cincinnati. They are all concerned about the market.
After talking to my friend I am afraid that the system is collapsing on itself. People like myself are spending over fifty-thousand dollars to receive educations that don't deliver a comfortable, modest life. When we graduate the situation gets bleak as time goes on, and we end up heading back to the same institutions we graduated from to make ends meet. When a star dies it slowly collapses into itself, and forms a black hole- a dense spot in the universe where no light can exist.
My situation might be a little different from my friends as I wanted to become a professor and enjoy teaching, but the thought that teaching has become a stogap measure for them saddens me. I hope that in the future the students I teach can make a living with the knowledge they've gained, and that the life that they have imagined becomes a reality. That's is what we were told all along.

Random Thoughts on a Knfie Catalogue

I have been getting stranger and stranger catalogues in the mail lately. I've flipped through pages of novelty birdfeeders, t-shirts advertising Polish pride, and fifty pages of decorative baskets. I don't know how the decision to mail these things to me is made, but they do make quick disposable reading. Today after receiving a catalogue for knives a few questions came to mind.

First, having a commemorative knife made in your honor is the best sign that you've made it. The first page of the catalogue today featured a whole set of Johnny Cash knives. If I ever need to stab a man in Reno just to watch him die, I know which knife to use now.
Secondly, apparently it's ok to sell all manner of Nazi and Confederate paraphenalia if you refer to them as "historical artifacts." I find this more than a little disconcerning, and have trouble accepting that SS daggers are mostly bought by historians.
Lastly, one of the Swiss army knives featured had over thirty tools. One of the tools featured was referred to as a "medical spatula," so apparently if one buys this knife and can't find a rolled up dollar bill or a key they are still prepared. I always had enough trouble getting the knife blade out on those things.