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Friday, April 30, 2010

Giving Up Half a Million a Year to Teach Literature

ERGGGGHHHH. Why do I even read anything? Everything makes my blood boil or annoys me. I can't figure out why I was annoyed by a story in CNN Money, featuring a fellow who built a biz (earning $500,000/year!), sold the biz (for several million bucks, and now teaches literature as a TA at the University of Chicago. He's now making around $13,000, a year.

I'm at the end of my semester, toiling away, for thank heavens, more than $13,000. So why does this article annoy me? Some things that come to mind.

1. The other underpaid TAs don't have several million dollars in I-Bonds backing them up. They face an uncertain (to put it mildly) future, even as they spend most of their 20s getting their doctorates.
2. Why should people who teach literature be so underpaid?
3. And moms and dads who are shelling out for the University of Chicago: the person who is teaching your kid ($50,000/year for tuition, room, board) may be one of these TAs.

Help me, Readers. Should I be annoyed by this? Are you? Why? Or am I being a crabby person (as my students have been telling me of late) who should be applauding this guy who has given it up for Shakespeare? Who has reached the mythical state of FI (financial independence) to follow his heart?


Funny about Money said...

LOLOLOL! Chicago pays its TAs pretty well! He'd REALLY need to have the bucks to teach at Arizona State. If he could find an assistantship: ASU has dumped virtually all its graduate student support, except in the English department, where they must keep the slaves because each of the university's 80,000 students is required to take two semesters of freshman comp.

Universities are shamelessly exploitive of students and employees. Those who get the deepest and most evil exploitation are graduate students determined to get traditionally "real" education in the liberal arts (as opposed to voc-ed; those students get shafted by higher tuition and fees).

Following your bliss will cost you something, especially in an American university.

Today I'd never advise a student who didn't have independent wealth to pursue a Ph.D. in the liberal arts. The advice I'm giving my son, a poli-sci major who thinks he'd like to go back for the master's and possibly the Ph.D.: get yourself a doctorate in a subject that earns a decent salary at universities (business, math, health sciences) and leaves the door open for careers in the real world. I think he should get an MBA in whatever doesn't choke him and a Ph.D. in business management, which isn't a helluva lot more difficult than an Ed.D. as far as I can tell. Dammit, I know people with degrees in business who START as assistant professors in the six figures!

You can read literature on your own. You don't need an advanced degree and all the exploitation and academic politics that come with it.

Maggie Lou McCook said...

"Following your bliss will cost you something, especially in an American university." (from above comment Funny about Money)

Something high school counselors and colleges are keeping on the low-low. Instead young people unversed in things like debt and employee benefits are told that they should "love" their jobs. That idea leads to a lot of poor decisions.

Not many real-world jobs offer enough independence and creativity opportunities for anyone in their right mind to "love" them. Now loving your job is like a mandate, people feel bad if they don't love it and feel like they should.

So you get people doing strange things like giving up half a mil to teach for $13K, and equally strange, a lot of people competing for graduate school placements where they will make zilch and get crappy benefits. All because they have been told that they must "love" their job.

Love people, love your dog, but keep some kind of neutrality about your job.

FB @ said...

I read the article and was actually inspired rather than angry.

Perhaps you're just annoyed because he earns so little as a TA, but doesn't need to care about it because he's a millionaire??

Maybe you want that same kind of financial independence as well.

Which makes me curious -- would you keep your job if you had that kind of financial independence?

In that case, I'd consider you very lucky to have found your true career :)

Amanda said...

I went back to school this year for a PhD in political science, and I actually think it is a great deal! I get paid 20 grand a year to learn and research, plus I get free tuition and excellent health benefits. Plus, I get 3 weeks off every Christmas and at least 2 months off every summer! I don't have my heart set on a six-figure salary, so I'm not overly worried about job prospects when I graduate.

Shelley said...

I'm sort of scratching my head wondering why you're upset about this. I only come up with the idea that you resent that people who work in your chosen field aren't valued / paid more. The world does seem to have become a far greedier place than it once was and along with that less appreciative of things not directly connected to producing money.

In their defence, Maslow's hierarchy comes to mind. That's what I think this man did, satisfy his financial needs and then set about fulfilling his higher needs. I think I envy him, having his head for business and his heart for literature.

simple in France said...

I can see why you're annoyed. Teaching is a career and it requires training and skill--yet it tends to be a precarious profession (especially these days) and it is generally badly paid. The man in the article sounds like he's decided to take a vow of poverty or do some kindly 'volunteer' work.

And yes, I think that professors are even more exploited than primary and secondary school teachers. Where does all that money go, by the way?

The Grouch said...

Why begrudge anyone success? Teaching will never be a big dollar profession. If big incomes are what you seek, go out and create your own million dollar idea. You live in the land of entrepreneurs.

Frugal Scholar said...

@Funny--You're even grumpier than I am!

@Maggie--There is a great line in Your Money of Your Life--There is no Job Charming. So I think you have a good point.

@FB--Yes--I think I would. I still don't know why I was annoyed by this. Perhaps because it tells the universe that it's OK to underpay teachers and grad students? Not sure.

@Amanda--Wow. You must be in a very generous program.

@Shelley--I don't know either. Maybe as I said above that it seems to affirm that it's OK to underpay teachers b/c they LOVE what they are doing. Surgeons also LOVE what they do...

@Simple--If you mean the undergrad tuition: it goes to the researchers who give the institution its prestige. It goes to the administrators. It goes to senior professors esp in sciences.