Love is a Drug

It’s a variation on a theme that has developed alongside “quit lit”—the notion that the humanities Ph.D. is a multitool, and it will serve its holder well in any number of nonacademic jobs. The idea that frustrated humanities Ph.D.’s should abandon the broken adjunctification of higher education in favor of the alt-ac path is even picking up institutional steam: The American Historical Association recently received a $1.6 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support its efforts to expand career tracks for history Ph.D.’s.

Encouraging people to think creatively about their career paths is, of course, just fine. And humanities Ph.D.’s can and do find jobs outside of the academy all the time. But we shouldn’t start pretending that that’s what we’ve been training them for all along. Turning a solution that may work for some individuals into a systemic fix isn’t easy—and it’s not necessarily appropriate.

“Alt-Ac Isn’t Always the Answer,” Jacqui Shine.

I suppose it’s a sign of aging or something but I really dislike “Alt-Ac.” It’s one of those ugly instant clichés that obfuscate far more than they reveal. Let’s hope it dies a quick and well deserved death. That said, I think this is a nice piece. My only issue with it is that it– or the writer– seems to have no sense of teaching as a compelling vocation. Perhaps it is simply that she doesn’t want to seem sentimental or soft.

Many of us stick to teaching, not simply because it is what we have trained to do, but because we love it. It’s our great strength as teachers and our great political weakness. The U.S. higher education system works because there are so many of us– the majority– who are willing to fight one difficult uphill battle after the other, again and again, year after year, to pursue what we feel we were born to do.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn’t want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so.

I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and Smarthinking.com.

I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that ‘at’ symbol] writinginthewild.com

One Thought on “Love is a Drug

  1. Hi! No, I do think teaching is important and what we’re trained to do–though not as HIGH SCHOOL teachers, another alt-ac reroute. But I don’t generally talk about labor in terms of one’s “vocation” or what one was “born to do” because I don’t find that formulation useful. (I write about that in some of my other columns on Vitae.)

    Thanks for the nice comments!

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