Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Best Of Sarah Kendzior

The following articles are five essential reads by Sarah Kendzior, a recent anthropology PhD graduate, "expert on how the internet is used in authoritarian states," and burgeoning social critic.

I have reaped both knowledge and solace from Kendzior's work. She's a fiercely independent intellectual unencumbered by institutional affiliations and loyalty, and in my opinion, a true public intellectual with a clear-eyed emancipatory politic. Her writings challenge systems of oppression, exclusion and enclosure; unafraid of holding to account the spheres closest to her, she regularly critiques academia and higher education.

As a columnist for Aljazeera English, her forte is probing how the convergence of a "post-employment" economy with systems of prestige, like academia, reaffirm inequality and widen the gap between rich and poor.

If you are struggling to make a living, struggling to pay your way through a college education, struggling with student loan debt, struggling to find gainful employment, struggling to stay true to yourself, struggling to not be corrupted by a mammon-monied world, she is speaking to you. She is documenting your frustrations and giving you the tools to fight back:

"As I have previously argued, higher education in the United States is no longer a path out of poverty, but a road into it - a fact to which administrators seem oblivious. Speakers at the annual meeting of the Council of Graduate Schools blamed the debt crisis on students not "living cheaply enough", a baffling admonition to adults struggling to afford rent and health care on less than $20,000 per year, much less cover the entry costs to academia (in some fields, applicants must pay to see job listings).

"In most professions, salaries below the poverty line would be cause for alarm. In academia, they are treated as a source of gratitude. Volunteerism is par for the course - literally. Teaching is touted as a "calling", with compensation an afterthought. One American research university offers its PhD students a salary of $1000 per semester for the "opportunity" to design and teach a course for undergraduates, who are each paying about $50,000 in tuition. The university calls this position "Senior Teaching Assistant" because paying an instructor so far below minimum wage is probably illegal.

"On March 4, Olga Khazan, the new editor of the Global section of the Atlantic, sent an email to Nate Thayer, a veteran journalist covering Asian political affairs. Khazan had seen an article Thayer had written about North Korea and liked it. She wanted to know if he could "repurpose" it for the Atlantic website.
"We unfortunately can't pay you for it," she wrote Thayer. "But we do reach 13 million readers a month."

Thayer was appalled. He explained that he was a professional journalist "not in the habit of giving my services for free to for-profit media outlets so they can make money by using my work and efforts by removing my ability to pay my bills and feed my children".

Khazan apologised and explained that the Atlantic was out of money. She told him the most they paid for an original story was $100, but they did not have $100 at the moment. All they could offer Thayer was "exposure" to benefit his "professional goals". Thayer's professional goal was to pay his bills. Outraged, he posted the exchange on his blog. It went viral within hours.

"Let's review what life was like for an American of Faust's generation. In 1968, when Faust graduated from Bryn Mawr, tuition and board at a four-year private university cost an average of $2,545. As the scion of a wealthy political family, it is doubtful Faust had to worry about affording tuition, but neither did most members of her generation, since the cost of attending college was relatively low. Today, Bryn Mawr costs $53,040 per year - more than the American median household income.

In 1968, $2,545 was about the most you could expect to pay for college - most schools cost half as much, and many public universities were still free. Faust's generation graduated with little to no debt, unlike today's university graduate, who owes an average of $27,000. After graduating, Faust decided to pursue a life of public service and got a job - an actual, paying job, right out of college - with the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The hippie movement reached its height in 1968, but it is perhaps difficult for the modern mind to comprehend the desire to "turn on, tune in and drop out" when such a novel option as post-college employment was available. Today's graduate seeking a career in government often winds up in an internship, where they work full-time for little to no pay.

"On April 8, 2013, the New York Times reported that 76 percent of American university faculty are adjunct professors - an all-time high. Unlike tenured faculty, whose annual salaries can top $160,000, adjunct professors make an average of $2,700 per course and receive no health care or other benefits.

Most adjuncts teach at multiple universities while still not making enough to stay above the poverty line. Some are on welfare or homeless. Others depend on charity drives held by their peers. Adjuncts are generally not allowed to have offices or participate in faculty meetings. When they ask for a living wage or benefits, they can be fired. Their contingent status allows them no recourse

Bonus! An interview.

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