A Lament on Academic Spec Work: * Cry Cry *

Here is a piecemeal rant about the unpaid nature of so much (all?) academic work. (Here I am referring to the Humanities as I know it, though I am well aware that science is full of its own never-ending-post-doc-fueled nightmare job/less scenarios.)
A friend, HH, recently sent along a great comic about asking for free or “spec” work:
spec
(Excerpt respectfully linked back to Maki Naro’s full piece, “What Happens When You Ask a Cartoonist for Free Work?” from 17 August 2015.)
The email immediately following hers in my inbox was from a list-serv and included the following call for — perhaps you guessed? — academic spec work:
grad
I removed the name of the society because it’s not particularly relevant. This kind of call for submissions, blog posts, and other forms of academic labo(u)r go out All. The. Time. but nobody has made a great comic explaining why this is a crappity crap method of exploiting intellectual work.
The FAQ at nospec.com reads, in part:

What is spec work?

Basically, spec work is any kind of creative work rendered and submitted, either partial or completed, by designers to prospective clients before taking steps to secure both their work and equitable fees. Under these conditions, designers will often be asked to submit work under the guise of either a contest or an entry exam on actual, existing jobs as a “test” of their skill. In addition, the designers normally unwittingly lose all rights to their creative work because they failed to protect themselves by means of a contract or agreement. […]

Why is spec work unethical?

The designers in essence work free of charge and with an often falsely advertised, overinflated promise for future employment; or are given other insufficient forms of compensation. Usually these glorified prizes or “carrots” appear tantalising for creative communicators just starting out, ending with encouraging examples like “good for your portfolio” or “gain recognition.”

Their questions regarding the pursuit of unpaid labo(u)r fit academia quite well with only a few tweaks (underlined – changed from artists and visual creativity to academics and written expression):
  • Will I equitably pay a researcher for the work rendered as if they were hired under contract to do the same thing?
  • Will I negotiate proper compensation for the usage rights commensurate to the scholar’s level of skill?
  • Will I return the working files and usage rights to all submitted writing?
In conclusion… maybe all academic work is spec work. I say this not only because of the competition mentioned above from some academic history society, but because a scholarly CV (or at least a so-called “good” scholarly CV) includes lots and lots of unpaid writing. Better yet, it sometimes includes your writing that you have to pay to see.
I don’t even have access to an article that I wrote!
access
TL;DR (too long; didn’t read) is now BPW;DR (behind pay wall; didn’t read)
Laments about graduate work are prolific and painful. As medium.com commentator EC so succinctly and articulately wrote:
grad fuI’ve pointed this out elsewhere, but it is hilarious when schools post positions for adjunct instructors to teach courses on Social Justice.
come on
Are you kidding me? You’ve got to be kidding me. Even the Jesuits are doing this! Come on!
Plenty more ranting on the topic of unpaid academic labo(u)r as spec work is possible, and likely necessary, but perhaps scratching the surface here will help others be a bit more aware of the issue and–perhaps–encourage some pushback to the many list servs, calls for papers, employment hopportunities (where you have to hop to it with little or no compensation), and journal submission processes that favo(u)r those who are unpaid and otherwise ill-served by the practice of spec work.
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