Since the publication of Ross Perlin's recent New York Times op-ed piece, "Unpaid interns, complicit colleges," online debates have been jumpstarted. This trend is exemplified on the letters page of the New York Times itself, now the arena for a contentious back-and-forth over the opportunities and abuses faced by the world's growing intern population.
The letters represent but a fraction of the overwhelming response garnered by Perlin's article and by Intern Nation, (forthcoming from Verso later this month). The comments deal with a range of issues, from the responsibilities of colleges to the role of internships in establishing careers and shaping the quality of production in intern-dependent industries.
Says one contributor:
Well-run internships benefit everyone. The college supervisor identifies qualified students and suitable environments, doing quality control for sponsors - and for interns. If there are abuses, the supervisor intervenes and advocates on students' behalf.
If all internships had to be paid, opportunities would decline, hurting the professional path for many, especially minorities.
In my own field of documentary television production, the endless supply of willing unpaid interns, with or without college credit, has altered our creative work force, limiting it to those who have had the financial ability to work without pay at the start of their careers.
We will never know what talented filmmakers we've lost because they couldn't afford to make that economic sacrifice.
Of course, Intern Nation deals with far more than college credit, locating internships within a complex historical, political and economic context. Visit the New York Times to read the letters in full. For those in the New York area who would like to hear more from Ross Perlin, he will be appearing with Andrew Ross at NYU on April 26th in a conversation, entitled "Bursting the Internship Bubble."