On Graduate School and ‘Love’, by William Pannapacker, Ph.D.

Why do so many students decide to seek Ph.D.’s, even knowing what they know about the academic labor system?

No one asks a corporate lawyer whether he protects the interests of his clients for “love.”

by William Pannapacker, PhD • Hope College 

Longfellow Love of LearningGraduate school is often described as a labor of love. But “love” is a troublesome word. It often is applied to undercompensated work done mostly by women.
It’s also typically applied to “soft” academic fields that are “feminized” (i.e., institutionally disempowered), such as the humanities, but not to male-dominated “hard” fields, such as physics or engineering.
No one asks a corporate lawyer whether he protects the interests of his clients for “love.”
The word hovers in the background of salary negotiations in academe:
“Since you are doing this for ‘love,’ we don’t need to pay you more than we currently do. Maybe we don’t need to pay you at all. You should do this work for its own sake. Maybe you should pay us?”
An inviting lifestyle to be sure, but you can't eat love
We would go back to the apartment and read, write, and comment on each other’s papers. In my memory, it’s always early autumn.
We hear the word all the time in discussions of graduate school: “Only go if you love your subject,” which is about the same as saying, “Only do it if you are willing to sacrifice most of your rational economic interests.”
You are, arguably, volunteering to subsidize through your labor all of the work that is not defined as “lovable.”
The love rhetoric that’s so pervasive in academe—and certain other labor sectors—supports the transfer of resources from one group to another, typically from women to men, from minority to majority.
There’s no doubt about it: “Love” is ideological, and it should not be left unquestioned when it is used in relation to work. Here’s why?

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