Friday, February 03, 2012


I got another comment from Foxessa, which is worth reading. (See below. The comment on the most recent MFAs post.) I think the conclusion is, I don't know what I'm talking about re the merits of getting an MFA; and I suffer from prejudice in this area.

Which is useful to know.

Foxessa talks about people who go into the academic world fairly late, with experiences already acquired and work already done. I've known people like this. The two that come immediately to mind for me are Harley Shaiken and Marty Glaberman. When I knew Harley, he was a steel worker. When I knew Marty, he was an unemployed auto worker. Harley became a Professor of Social and Cultural Studies, having only a BA in economics from Wayne State University (a very good blue collar school in Detroit). Marty ended as a professor at Wayne State, I think in Labor History. If I remember correctly, Marty went back to school and got a PhD.

These were people who brought considerable life experience to the academic world.

Foxessa would have to write about how difficult it is to make this transition today. Harley and Marty made it in the aftermath of the 1960s.

I am probably justifying my own life. I quit graduate school to find out what the rest of the world was like, and I never went back. When I have tried teaching writing, I have been uncomfortable and bad. So that route was never really open to me. Instead, I ended up making a living doing accounting, which I like and am fairly good at.

At this point in my life, in my late 60s in a godawful economy that does not look to get better, I advise people to think about money and retirement. I lucked out in a lot of ways. It was easy to find jobs and make a living in the 1960s. I sailed through the 70s, 80s and 90s, always getting by.

Then I hit a wall in the current century. I'm still lucky. I hit the wall when I was old enough to retire, and I ended -- through no planning of my own -- with enough to retire on.

So maybe one has to do a cost-benefit evaluation. Is an MFA worth enough to justify going into debt?

Maybe, looking down the road, it is. But watch out for those programs that end you owing $100,000.


Blogger Foxessa said...

The debt is an enormous issue that has to be very carefully considered and -- shall we say, accounted?

Debt, particularly academic debt, is a very different thing now than it was in the 60's and 70's, and even through th 80's and part of the 90's.

Things changed very rapidly, beginning with allowing the same private institutions that brought you the sub-prime mortagage crisis, and all the rest of our current economic catastrophes to get into the student loan game while the federal money was used to secure them.

Even before that student loan money was excepted from the bankruptcy rulings, i.e. even if a person filed for personal bankruptcy, the loans would not be forgiven with other debt.

At the same time, because of the underwriting with federal money all those private lending institutions such as banks and others, tuition and other costs went sky high. Higher education became as much a financial bubble as the sub-prime mortgage ponzi scheme was.

When my husband left school, with grad degrees in hand, he had NO student loan debt. When I went back to school as an adult to get another grad degree in a field that wasn't what my previous grad degrees were for and in which there were no jobs, there was no way one could do that without enormous debt. And the jobs in every field are contracting and ever contracting.

As for the MFA in particular for writing, you need to be sure you love teaching writing. I hate it. I love teaching other things, like what I'm teaching this term, The American Western Hero: Violence, Political Memory and Mythos. But teaching writing per se -- I can't stand it.

Though of course you will be teaching writing in some form or another if your courses involve papers and so on.

Also getting these positions late in life is not a shoe in. There are departmental and campus-wide politics. The competition for adjuncting and the few positions that open for older, not- previously in academic are also very competitive. It really comes down to -- who do you know and who loves you?

That sounds really icky, but it is true.

It also has to do with where you live. Can you move?

Where we live there are many, many institutions of higher learning. There are many departments that are filled with students of color, and departments that are specifically focused on what we research and study, and where the reputation established outside academia fits well -- so well, they work at sponsorship at times, almost.

Cities like Boston and Minneapolis-St. Paul are also filled with them. But if you live in a city with few or none -- can you move?

Now, however, MFA -- if you have good reputation outside academia, you can do very well coming in late in the game. Creative writing programs are profit centers. Unlike say, straight up English and Literature depts., which is why those departments are continually contracting, and even being closed out in a lot of schools. So the MFA for somebody like you -- not that you personally are considering it or need it, even -- thank goodness! -- could be a very good move.

And thank you, for recognizing I'm blowing hard here, but speaking out of extensive personal experience, as well as the experience of many others. I'm going to be honest here -- academia has saved our bacon despite all the things that are wrong with it, so far.

IOW, writing and publishing books STILL MATTERS!

Love, C.

2:26 PM  
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6:01 AM  

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