Marc Bousquet’s uber-post.

19 05 2010

Marc Bousquet has written what must be his uber-post about academic labor. It’s been a while since I read his book, How the University Works, but I think all the key themes of it are in there. I’d quote the good parts, but really you should just go read Marc now and come back. I’ll add a few additional observations when you return.

1. As I hope you saw, Marc is reacting to a post by Megan McArdle that quotes an Inside Higher Ed article that includes the fact that 73 percent of employees in higher education are contingent or off the tenure track. Follow the link back to its source and you’ll see that’s a figure from the American Federation of Teachers. But notice that’s a percentage of total employees in Academia. Since non-tenure track faculty always teach more classes than people like me the percentage of the total classes they teach (if such a number is even discernible) is going to be significantly higher.

Try telling that to the typical parent who’s about to shell out thousands to send their kid to college and watch all that high-priced marketing go up in smoke.

2. Check this out from the New York Times:

The recession seems to have penetrated a profession long seen as recession-proof: superintendents, education professors and job-seekers say that teachers are facing the worst job market since the Great Depression. Amid state and local budget cuts, cash-poor urban districts like New York City and Los Angeles, which used to hire thousands of young people every spring, have taken down the help wanted signs.

Yes, they’re doing it the restructuring thing to secondary school teachers as well.

3. McCardle wonders why a bunch of leftist academics let such horrible labor conditions occur? Why have a bunch of more-leftist-than-the-general-population secondary school teachers let such a horrible labor conditions occur DESPITE BEING UNIONIZED? It’s easy: Because they don’t control the terms and conditions of their employment and neither do professors.

To quote Marc:

Regular readers know that structured demand means that work formerly done by persons with doctorates is now done by persons with an m.a. or less. This revolutionary shift was accomplished intentionally, by university management, all without much opposition by the guild of tenured faculty.

Of course that’s right, but for those of us at state schools massive budget cuts in recent years have only increased the pressure to move in the direct of contingent faculty. Here in Colorado, it’s cuts in state funding that go back fifteen years now that have led to an increasing reliance on contingent faculty. I may be naive, but I believe that my administrators would actually prefer to hire tenure-track faculty if they felt they had the money to do so yet from their perspective they feel they have no choice.

I think they’re wrong, but budgetary shared governance would have to be the topic of a whole ‘nother post.

4. I agree that we faculty know next to nothing about labor law. To me, that’s a much better explanation for why they have acquiesced in the emergence of an evil two-tiered employment system than the notion that we’re all a bunch of fatuous hypocrites.


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