bio: January 2008 Archives

Hacking the Debtorsphere

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This is one of those posts that I've had brewing for a bit. In some ways, I feel like I've hit a milestone that's even more important than receiving tenure (!!) was for me last spring.

As of this month, I am no longer carrying any debt. No loans, no rotating balances on the credit cards. I am debt-free.

To provide a little context, let me repeat something I said the other night at dinner: I have been in debt for longer than I've been in academia. Yep. My entire adult life. And it's one of the things that grieves me mightily when I hear people talk about the cushy lives we lead. In preparation for a life in the professoriate, I spent 5+ years (and I was fast) earning less than 10,000 dollars a year. In Texas, the big perk I got for my TAship? In-state tuition. I made less than 10K, and had to pay for tuition out of that. Lucky me.

(A side-note: When I completed my dissertation, I had already taken my job at Old Dominion. I no longer had a TAship, and was living outside the state, and had to enroll for a mandatory 9 credits to complete my degree--I didn't need the credits, it was just a rule--and so I had to pay out-of-state tuition for them. I ended up having to pay something like $3500 to graduate. And as I told the representative from UTArlington who called me last night looking for donations, until I get a check for $3500 from UTA, UTA will not be seeing a check from me.)

Now, I'm not great with money. I overtip, I prefer to own the books I read and use in my research, and I generally subscribe to a philosophy of dinner karma, where the meals I buy for friends will roughly equal the number of meals they buy for me. I'd taken pretty solid control of my finances in the time I've been at Syracuse, gradually working my debt down (and correspondingly restoring my dismal credit rating) without feeling too put upon in terms of quality of life. I probably could have done it faster, if I'd really cracked down.

Anyhow, cushy lives. I guess I want to challenge the idea that our earning power offsets the financial hardships we have to endure to get to where we are, as is often the case for other professionals (lawyers, doctors, e.g.). It does eventually, but not nearly as quickly. Many of my friends still struggle with massive amounts of debt that for graduate students in the humanities is all but inevitable. We have the same taboos about talking about it that we do for all matters financial, but most of us still go through it, I suspect. And if their lives are anything like mine has been, graduate school debt is a dark cloud that hangs over each of us for a lot longer than it probably should. It's been a source of some personal shame for me, when in fact, it should be a source of shame for our institutions, who are more than content to exploit graduate student labor without even the mitigating factor of a living wage.

I don't have any grand solution to go with my personal celebration, although I wish I did. I can say that I spent part of this afternoon helping someone figure out some funding strategies for next year that don't involve loans, and I felt pretty good about that. I wish that I were in a position to be able to effect more change than I can right now--when I think of all the anxiety and stress that I experienced over my finances, I can't help but wonder how much more I could have done in their absence.

Guess I'm ready to start finding out. That is all.



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This page is a archive of entries in the bio category from January 2008.

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