Karen Kelsky

Founder and President at The Professor Is In

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The Job Market in a New Administration

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What does Trump’s election mean for the academic job market and academia as a whole?

That is the question of the hour. So many readers and clients have written in varying states of dismay, shock, fear, and anxiety to ask: What does it mean for us? I have no particular insight on the question, but I want to answer it because, to not do so — to keep doling out career advice (“be sure and have a firm handshake!”) under these circumstances, as if nothing is wrong — is participating in an unacceptable (to me) normalization of conditions that are absolutely #NotNormal and require #Resistance.

While we are in uncharted waters, there is no question in my mind that they are treacherous, ominous waters indeed. I am one who believes that right now, our very democracy is at stake. I believe that it is time to take to the street and resist the current situation — the resurgence of the KKK and other white supremacist movements, Trump’s neo-fascist impulses, the violence and threats against Muslims, Jews, people of color, women, and the LGBTQ community, attacks on reproductive rights, assaults on our environment … the list goes on.

I plan to devote the next few columns to this topic. For interested readers, I also am running a free “Academic Life Under Trump” webinar with Kellee Weinhold, a productivity coach at The Professor Is In, on Sunday, December 18 at1 p.m., Eastern Standard Time. We are collecting questions from readers, and will respond to as many as we can in the webinar. You can learn more about it here.

In some respects, it’s impossible to say exactly what the future holds for higher education under Trump. The whole situation is so aberrant, bizarre, chaotic, and unprecedented. How will any of our institutions fare under Trump? As observers have pointed out, most of his cabinet choices are people who have been dedicated to opposing or eradicating the very agencies that they are now to head.

At the same time, I’m not sure that higher education is in his and his administration’s immediate crosshairs quite to the degree as some other targets — like K-12 education and the environment. But indirect impacts will be immediate. Republican governors and state legislatures will feel emboldened to further gut higher-education budgets. Federal funding through the National Science Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities, and National Endowment for the Arts will undoubtedly plummet. Will those agencies even continue to exist? That is now an open question.

A major loss of public funding would directly affect tenure-track hiring, of course. In all or most fields, I truly believe there is nowhere to go but down during a Trump administration. One can only assume that the corporatization of universities will intensify and, with it, the dependence on adjunct instructors.

All of which raises the question of academic freedom, and tenure. I am not optimistic about the future of either. We already see the emergence of intensified surveillance of progressive faculty members on the Professor Watchlist. We can expect to see increased political harassment of professors with liberal views. And that is not counting the spike in hate speech across campuses. Earlier this month, The Chronicle published a developing list of such incidents, although it was far from comprehensive.

The greatest worry, of course, is loss of tenure. While I have not heard Trump make threats against tenure to date, it seems likely that newly energized Republican governors will follow the example of Scott Walker in Wisconsin and set out to undermine it. For years I have wondered if we would end up in a “feudal” tenure environment, in which the Ivy Leagues and their (mostly private) peer institutions would retain traditional tenure, while the rest of the nation’s colleges and universities would lose it. That outcome now seems far more likely.

So, in the face of all that, what do we do?

Now is not the time for quiescence. It is a time for every possible act of overt and covert resistance. I urge readers to become active politically, and to do things you may never have done before, which may even feel uncomfortable or stressful. Call your representatives and communicate your opposition. Write letters to the editor. Sign all the petitions. Show up for protests and marches. Use your social media to defend the principles of academic freedom and tenure, and to decry incidents of racism, sexism, misogyny, and hate. In fact, use Twitter to tweet opposition openly at Trump (as this article notes, his thin skin is his greatest weakness). As academics we have many skills — analysis, research, writing, and speaking are foremost among them. Use your skills. There is no time in which they are more needed.

In my next column, I will focus on how to maintain personal well-being and healthy community in a time of anxiety. I’ll discuss ways that threatened communities — women, LGBTQ people, Muslims, immigrants, people of color, the disabled — can protect themselves, nurture each other, and do their work in this new political climate. If you have questions about academic life under Trump, please send them to gettenure@gmail.com. I hope to hear from you.

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