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Noah Smith

Too Many People Dream of a Charmed Life in Academia

Brilliant colleagues. Curious students. High status. Earning less than half of what a kindergarten teacher makes.
Better pay.

Better pay.

Photographer: Gabe Souza/Getty Images

The academic dream is a powerful thing. To be surrounded by brilliant colleagues, working on discovering new insights for the betterment of society, is a heady prospect. To enjoy ironclad job security, to rest easy deep into middle age as your peers in the private sector grow anxious about being laid off, would be an almost unimaginable relief. And to enjoy both the company and the respect of smart, energetic youngsters, not to mention free gyms, lots of time off and good health care -- well, it’s no surprise that for many, academia is an ideal job.

But for most, that dream never becomes a reality. U.S. universities are seeing the rise of a growing underclass of poor, overeducated college teachers known as adjuncts, clinging to low-paid insecure jobs with little hope of advancing to the coveted ranks of the tenure track: