I got into this profession for the money. Not that I ever thought I'd make "real" money or get rich, but yes, money was a factor. Like I never cared that I'd make above a decent middle-class wage where I'd be able to pay my bills and never have the phone shut off. But seriously: when I decided on graduate school, part of what I considered was that if I got a tenure-track job, I'd make on my own per year what my parents made combined, if not a bit more. And I'd be doing something that I loved to do, but no, I wasn't some martyr to a profession that wouldn't pay me.
When people note that "nobody gets into this for the money" they're basically saying that in choosing a field that they "love" they have sacrificed money they would have made elsewhere, money that other people that they know make.
I've got exactly one friend/family member outside of the academy who makes more per year than I do. So yes, I suppose, I got into this for the money.
So why am I writing about this? Well, one of the threads that ran through DD's comments to Friday's post especially was this idea that workers who choose an academic path somehow have "chosen" love over money. I agree that we've chosen love over lots of money, but seriously: I make more money than many people I know. I didn't choose to do what I loved without regard to money. I chose to try to do what I loved if I could be compensated adequately and if I could have greater job security by not seeking more than adequate compensation. That's not the same thing as having no regard for money.
Fact: the only people who have the luxury of choosing a career path with no regard for compensation are people who have money already. Whether it's family money or a spouse's money or money that they saved up before embarking on the love-path. And that's not a discipline-specific fact, but rather it is a universal fact. A truth, if you will. And I believe in very few of those, but this is one of my exceptions to my general rule that there are no universal truths.
Now, this is something that BFF and I have talked a great deal about, because she got the "Nobody gets into this profession for the money" argument when she was offered her new job, and they tried to offer her less than she was offered to start at my institution - even though she'd already been on the tenure track for five years. Her response to them ultimately was, no, I'm not in it for the money but I don't expect to take a pay cut to accept your position (a pay cut that would have been close to 10 grand, with identical cost of living in both locations). Ultimately, she got them to hire her in at just about her current salary, and that worked for her. She didn't make money on the deal, but she didn't lose money either (except if you count the time she's lost on the tenure clock, the cost of moving, etc.). But the whole "you should just feel lucky to get a job" thing totally wasn't where the conversation stopped. Why? Because that's bullshit.
My concern, when people make this argument, and I'm thinking about this with my specific field in mind, is that it increases the class uniformity of the professoriate. And yes, I think it's valuable that people from a variety of backgrounds - class, ethnic, whatever - can choose this profession and try to succeed in it. New ideas come from people who have differing backgrounds, life experiences, and worldviews. What a commenter to Dean Dad's most recent post, Joe, writes, is true:
I recognize that society benefits by having people study the classics, whether or not there is an immediate need. But society also benefits by filling in pot holes, funding the public defenders office, and not taxing me so damn much that I might have to move just to keep out of bankruptcy.The question is, who is going to decide that filling in potholes is an option? To be a hair-dresser (the career I thought I'd have if I wasn't able to go to college)? To dig ditches (a profession that a real jack-ass in my high school European history class used to like to reference when talking about the unwashed masses)? To work construction, to work in crappy office jobs as my mom has done throughout her working life, to work in a steel mill (as my dad did throughout my young life), to work in a factory (as a cousin of mine and a kid I went to grade school with do) to work in food service or retail? I'll tell you who: it's people whose parents didn't save a dime for them to attend college, people who don't know anybody who has gone to college, people who, ultimately, don't know that NPR exists before they attend college (if they do) and people who don't have the material or cultural resources to know that you can choose something that you love even if it means a "pay cut" - a "pay cut" that still will give you more than your family and friends make.
It's not that all of the jobs that I've listed don't have value. Obviously they do. But I really bristle at the idea of limiting a whole class of people to those jobs if they could succeed in others that would be more fulfilling to them. And I know that my students do benefit from the fact that I, coming from where I come from, teach them, if only because I don't think of them as lesser human beings because of where they come from (as some of my more privileged colleagues do).
When we think about restructuring the pay scale and professional structure of higher ed and even before that the funding structure of higher ed, we've got to think about those students - and potential workers - whom the new structure might exclude. If we don't, we only replicate and perpetuate fucking injustice.
Now, all of that being said? Had I not secured tenure-track employment in my first year out, my plan was to have them to convert me to an actual full-time employee at the job that I was temping at for the months leading up to my defense (which they wanted to do, and which would have given me benefits), to adjunct one or two classes a semester in addition to that in order to keep my teaching current, and to write a shitload and to attempt to publish hardcore. I never considered adjuncting full-time because I didn't have the money to consider doing that. And if that hadn't worked after three cycles on the market? The plan was to say fuck off to the profession and to find a real fucking job. Because you know why? I needed the fucking money and I'm not a total idiot. Just only a little bit of an idiot, for otherwise I'd not have chosen this path in the first place.
The point here, for me, is it's not about love or money. It's about love and decent money and job security. So don't tell me that I didn't get into this for the money. Dude, I'd have made more money than adjuncts make, and with benefits, working as a transcription typist, and I'd have been living in my hometown with tons of support networks. I could read in my spare time, and I'd have had spare time to do it with. Seriously. Even I can do that math.