When I was in graduate school, we talked about professional ethics a lot. Would it be acceptable to take a job with a company that developed chemical warfare, that polluted, that destroyed the natural environment, that trashed communities? We veered between two extremes; one in which scientists were basically hired guns, and society got to set the tasks they were hired to do (who were we to make society’s ethical decisions for it?) and one in which we had an obligation to ourselves and the world to refuse to work in industries we thought unethical.
I felt very smug about these debates, because I intended to teach undergraduates and therefore the question did not trouble me. Teaching undergraduates would be ethical by both proposed standards. And it is. I teach nurses, and it is Right Livelihood.
But not all college professors can say the same, in the adjunct era. I’ve been particularly acerbic about graduate faculty, their responsibility for the overproduction of PhDs, and their silence about it, and recently I actually got to tax one of them with it — a person I know to be personally ethical and honorable, and who admitted that many of their program’s PhD students would have a very hard time getting jobs.
“Why are you producing them, then?” I asked, and the grad prof made one of those helpless, hand-spreading gestures.
“We need to keep our graduate program going.”
I’m betting that’s the answer I’d get from most graduate faculty. They’ve taken the job in a program, and they need to keep it going. They never expected that they would find themselves atop a pyramid scheme. I applied for plenty of university jobs back in the day, and if I’d gotten one of them I would be in these folks’ position. But no matter how sympathetic I feel, these graduate programs are destroying the vocations they claim to support.
“Why do you need to keep your graduate program going?” I asked. “The country’s projected to graduate 5 times as many PhDs as there are jobs for them.”
My grad prof friend shuddered and put their hands over their ears. Literally.
And that’s the way it is as of this graduation day, 2019.