The National Labor Relations Board ruled that graduate students at private universities are employees, just last month. Now, graduate students – teaching assistants, research assistants, graduate assistants, etc. – have the ability to collectively bargain with their institutions. The NLRB recognized higher education institutions as a place of labor. Sara Matthiesen, writing for the Chronicle of Higher Education, notes that this idea of universities as workplaces is rare in most discourses. Higher education is often seen as a “labor of love,” and not just plain old labor.
I’m in academia, as a librarian-professor; and I must say that I hear the “labor of love” statement all the time. Librarians are notorious for saying “You don’t become a librarian for the money.”
Every time I hear this, though, I want to say, But I did.
If I didn’t care about money, if I didn’t care about job security, if I didn’t care about (relative) career stability, if I didn’t care about healthcare and dental, if I didn’t care about a career that would support having a car and a nice apartment and a horse – then why the hell would I be working in a library? Why the hell would I be working anywhere? If I didn’t care about those things, well, life might be a lot simpler – and I would take way more naps than I do currently.
The most recent time a fellow librarian said “You don’t become a librarian for the money,” I said:
“I wouldn’t be here if they weren’t paying me.”
And though I did not say it, I fully endorse saying “I wouldn’t be here if they weren’t paying me enough.”
I love academia. I love researching. I love having access to all sorts of information, that my institution is paying for (not me). I like the free gym membership. I love knowing my colleagues are working on highly intellectual endeavors. I love working with students (particularly undergraduates) as they stretch their fledgling intellectual wings and try to find themselves and scholarly resources.
But just because I love (or like) many aspects of my job doesn’t mean it’s not a job. Just because I like my job doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be compensated fairly. It’s nearly ridiculous to think that liking or disliking your job should affect your pay. Do you pay someone more because they hate their job? No. If that was so, we should just find a cohort of really nasty and poor academics – then academia will pay better. (See, ridiculous.) Whether or not we like our job should not be the criteria for how much we get paid.
(I’ve found put that even if the IT people like their jobs, a bigger pot of money can pretty easily lure them away.)
So, when someone tells you “You don’t become a librarian (a professor, an academic, etc) for the money,” perhaps think about telling them that since you are working, since you have a job – you are a librarian (or whatever) because it pays you. Don’t let people devalue your career because it might be fun.
For today, I say make work, not love.