Thursday, December 29, 2005

You're not unemployed, you're a free agent 

University Diaries makes a very good point discussing a tenure case at Yale that didn't turn out well. Anyone taking the time to think about the academic job market -- as most new PhDs must, as they enter it -- knows that different schools have different probabilities of achieving tenure. And anyone taking time to research the question knows that the probabilities of achieving tenure from a tenure-track position at an Ivy League school is quite low. Think of it like the Yankees -- if you are a young player in their system you might wear the pinstripes, but since they can pay so much and their history gives them cachet with every free agent, the chances of being a Yankee regular are small for a Yankee farmhand. On the other hand, if you are a minor league player for the Royals, there's a good chance you'll be a starter if you're good. Ivy League schools have that opportunity to purchase talent -- lots of it -- that's already established. The SCSUs of the world can't.

So I agree with Margaret Soltan that it's hard to feel much sympathy for David Graeber and his story in today's New York Times. He has six years of exposure to colleagues, students and resources that most of us would dream of, and as she says, should have taken advantage of to find a good job elsewhere. It's so well known, you wonder why this is a story. She explains,
...this vague story remains compelling to newspapers because it seems to fit a perennially attractive conflictual scenario -- the one between bold revolutionary spirits and conventional repressive institutions. At the end of its article, the NYTimes trots out Stanley Aronowitz to announce that "places like Yale are not for people like David Graeber. He's a public intellectual. He speaks out. He participates. He's not someone who simply does good scholarship; he's an activist and a controversial person." But there are plenty of such people at Yale.