The steps to an academic career include four years of undergraduate study, five to ten years of graduate study, and often a succession of post-doctoral, visiting, and adjunct appointments before the aspiring professor lands at a university that offers the prospect of continuing employment. The training and apprenticeship can last most of twenty years. During that time, many accumulate debt; even those who win the most generous fellowships must long delay the day when they can begin to build equity in a house or a retirement plan.
Compensation for the young professor is like that of a high school teacher of the same age, minus the public school teacher’s pension. How many can afford to follow such a road who do not have the backing of an affluent, supportive, and patient family?
The long gauntlet excludes many who could be great teachers, even while it injects cynicism and bitterness into the outlooks of the survivors.