Patronizing “advice”

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October 16, 2012 by badacademic2

This recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Ed left me feeling icky. It was just so patronizing. It was filled with those typical “Hedging my bets against criticism by saying, yes but I didn’t interfere!” statements, to shore up something that is so clear, at least to the author — “I’m just giving good advice and totally not a part of perpetuating the system, I didn’t butt in.” Why all the shoring up? Why all the work to make sure to say, “The couple didn’t consult me when they got engaged, and they haven’t asked for my guidance since.” aka, But I get to write about it here, in a public forum. Hegemony takes lots of work, says Stuart Hall.

Why does this silly article bother me? Perhaps because I have friends who, and have myself experienced, the same attitude that underlies this article. “You seem less serious, less committed to our grad program because you are getting married/having kids/insert family life here.” The subtext is, the best people wait, like some of the commenters at CHE say, you know, till they get a TT job/are ABD/whatever other “milestone” your advisor deems appropriate, to propose or get married or have kids or insert important life step. The subtext: You should not have a “life” beyond being exploited grad labor/overworked grad student/whatever your advisor wants unless you get permission/ask for this useful “advice”.

The couple didn’t consult me when they got engaged, and they haven’t asked for my guidance since. They are Midwesterners, and together they radiate a niceness that almost burns your skin. They might consider inquiries about their marital and academic status too forward; or maybe they suspect that my advice might bring them down.

Their romance is really none of my business. Still, I can’t help being intrigued by the trend they seem to represent.

There it is. The caveat. I know it’s not my business, still… It’s in that “still” that he shows his opinion. Still, he has something valid to say, some sort of influence to exert over the lives of his grad student. Because he knows better. He did it (different time, place, context). But it’s hard. So maybe you shouldn’t.

This clinging behavior seems counterintuitive. In times of scarcity, shouldn’t unions be delayed until stable employment is found and resources squirreled away for the future? In colonial New England, young people waited to marry until they could afford a farm.

And this. See, it just doesn’t make sense to him. We should wait til we are stable. Whatever that means. Because, oh no, the system of higher ed is not devolving into adjunctification that relies on underpaid, no benefits grad students. The notion that family, babies, sickness, etc happens, is something we need to ignore. Because the problems alluded to in his piece are these, this is part of why it is difficult to not only be a dual-academic couple, but a single-academic couple. Because we should be thrilled to go anywhere, anytime, middle of nowhere America, and uproot our families, kids, spouses, whoever, whenever, to follow the pipe dream of a visiting or adjunct or post-doc that maybe someday might turn into TT? Just hang in there! As opposed to being realistic and saying, straight out, academia is not just hard for these couples, it is straight out antagonistic to family, health, disability, women, people of color, the list goes on. Why? In part, because of these Grad Advisors who offer such helpful “advice” that does not seek to challenge or break down the structural inequalities in academia, but criticize our life choices and coping mechanisms.

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