I’ve spent so much time writing about technology lately that it’s been a long while since I mentioned the farce/tragedy that is adjunct faculty labor. However, Reason 87 of the 100 Reasons NOT to go to graduate school actually applies to all of us:
When the supply of workers exceeds the demand for labor, workers’ wages tend to fall. This is the situation in academe. There are far too many PhDs produced every year for the academic job market to absorb them all (see Reason 55), and universities fill most of their teaching positions with poorly paid graduate students and adjuncts (see Reason 14). While the “glut” of PhDs seems to be slowly attracting more and more attention, it is in fact nothing new. The problem has existed for decades. Unfortunately, there is reason to believe that the situation is getting worse. In January 2010, under the heading “Another Reason to Just Say No to a Ph.D.,” Gabriela Montell posted an informative graph on the Chronicle of Higher Education hiring blog. It was the work of economist Michael Mandel, who used Bureau of Labor Statistics data to determine that the “real earnings for full-time workers with a doctoral degree” had dropped 10% between 1999 and 2008. Looking at these numbers, Mandel concluded, “there’s no sense of a PhD being a desirable degree.”
Does this mean that we’re all doomed to end up like Julia Roberts’ alcoholic community college instructor in “Larry Crowne?” I think everything’s relative.
I was talking to a friend of mine in our business school the other day (who likes me despite the fact that everyone over there things that I’m a dangerous radical). I mentioned that I don’t begrudge him his higher salary because I know how markets work, yet I can’t believe that the pay gap between our disciplines is that big. I think the people who make more in academia should do more to help the people who make less in academia because their exploitation leads society to undervalue teaching in general. Eventually that will come around to bite even the highest paid among us right on the butt.
Even now, are business proffies really happy? After all, half of them secretly want to be Mitt Romney and the other half aren’t so secret about that goal at all. Certainly the adjuncts among us would prefer the terms and conditions of employment of even the lowest paid tenure track art professor than what they probably face now. It’s a recipe for unhappiness all around.
And that’s before we all get replaced by the superprofessors. [You didn’t think I could get through a whole post without a MOOC reference, did you?]