Thursday, February 25, 2010

Three points about the academic job market

by J J Cohen

We are all, I think, very much aware of what a terrible year this has been for recent PhDs seeking academic humanities employment. Most of us have friends and colleagues seeking such jobs. Most job seekers, smart and accomplished as they are, did not get positions. OK, all years seem to have been terrible years in academia, at least for the last several decades (back in 1987 I was told I was insane to go to graduate school because unemployment would be my destiny). But 2008 and 2009 have been especially dire. What this means and whether the state will last are uncertain. Most of us are concerned about what the future of advanced humanities study will be: everything seems in peril. I'd like to make three observations, all of which take as a point of departure recent blog posts elsewhere.

(1) Describing the admitting of students into humanities PhD programs as "unethical" in no way advances the conversation. Unethical would be a PhD program tricking students into thinking that they are guaranteed a full time position with tenure and good pay at the end of the road. I have not encountered any would-be graduate students who are quite so easily duped. Those seeking to undertake doctoral study tend to pretty damn smart. They know the risks, and have been frequently reminded of them by those who mentored them as undergraduates, wrote their recommendations, by their incredulous parents and friends. Dean Dad recently wrote “we owe it to the next generation to steer them away from grad school whenever possible. The path is legible, but it doesn’t lead anywhere good.” In general I agree: most students should not go to graduate school, especially if they can find a course of life that will make them just as happy but will provide a more secure future. But I wouldn't presume to choose on behalf of a student. I know I did not appreciate it when my elders tried to do that for me. Read all of Dean's Dad rather paternalistic post, and tell me that he doesn't underestimate the intelligence of those younger than him.

(2) Michael Drout composed a piece partly about the job market by way of reflection upon tenure in the wake of the Amy Bishop murders (thanks, Steve, for calling it to my attention via FB). What I most agree with is Drout's observation that calls to reduce the number of PhDs "come in part from a desire to remove competition from people from humbler backgrounds who want a professorial job." These calls are silently calculated "to have the effect of making certain elites have an even greater advantage than they do now." In other words, I can't tell the difference between the oft-repeated demand that the number of PhD granting institutions be greatly reduced and good old fashioned elitism. Let's face it, when most people declare that there ought to be fewer doctoral programs what they mean is that outside of Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Cornell, Brown, Princeton, Columbia no advanced humanities diplomas need be minted. Where I disagree with Drout, though, is his equation of working hundreds of hours (like his dad, an MD) being the equivalent of doing good work, that a dedication to working such manly hours is essential to the tenure process, that most academics are dutiful rather than talented and that this -- combined with some bad luck -- is why they don't get jobs. Please. Spoken with any graduate students or recent PhDs lately? And I mean spoken with, not spoken to.

(3) Recent PhDs don't get jobs because colleges and universities do not hire the full time teaching staffs they in fact require. The demand is there (read Marc Bousquet,* why don't you?), but our profession is being adjuncted to death. Tom Elrod makes this point forcefully in his critique of Drout's post, "Academia is not American Idol." Elrod writes:
The majority of higher ed teaching these days is adjunct teaching. There would, in fact, be enough full-time positions in this country for most Ph.D.s, if all the adjunct positions became full-time jobs with benefits. Most adjuncts are working full-time hours for part-time pay. If they become positions appropriate for people with careers, the huge job gap in academia would shrink ... There is not an oversupply of Ph.D.s as much as there is an undersupply of full-time jobs.
The answer to the horrible market is right there, and it is a simple one: the postsecondary education labor system is broken. Administrators, many of whom are or have been faculty members, choose the cheapest way to staff courses rather than the best (paying someone $2K-$4K and no benefits on a per course basis is so much less costly than hiring someone into a position they might hold for decades, their salary rising -- rising slowly, but rising -- all the while, their health care and their life after the job a university responsibility). The winner in this system: the bottom line. The losers: students, graduate students, faculty, the future of advanced study in the United States.

*E.g. "What’s really happening is restructuring of the labor market from a “market in jobs” to a market in contingent appointments. Throughout the economy, we have substituted student and other temporary labor for faculty and other more secure workers. The name for this restructuring is casualization, the making-temporary (and cheap, and controllable) of work that used to be secure (and more expensive, and more difficult to manage). This restructuring has been in place since 1970, when roughly 3/4 of faculty were tenured or in the tenure stream."

46 comments:

Karl Steel said...

Hell yes, especially on #3. Anyone who talks about the lousy academic market without citing Bousquet or, at least, doing work like his, is making a bad argument. Thanks much.

Holly Crocker said...

Thanks, Jeffrey. Well said.

best, h

Eileen Joy said...

Thanks for this post, Jeffrey.

Rob Barrett said...

I'm going to personally have to call shennanigans on Mike's rhetorical question asking "aren't two excellent articles better and two innovative classes better than one excellent article and one innovative class?" Yes, he's a workaholic publishing machine, but that level of production should not be the tenurable standard. (I'm sort of surprised to see Mike make the point anyway, given other comments of his about the low quality of much of the material being pumped out to fit college executive committees' ever-increasing standards for tenure. Can't eat your cake and have it too, dude!)

Another Damned Medievalist said...

nice.

Allan Mitchell said...

Not nearly as good as your post, but a recent jeremiad to add to add to the list of online discussions:

http://chronicle.com/article/The-Big-Lie-About-the-Life/63937/

Laura Saetveit Miles said...

I wish administrators would have this kind of logical clarity.

http://www.yaledailynews.com/news/university-news/2010/02/05/bracing-grad-school-cuts/

... All as Yale freezes tenure lines and increasingly relies on adjunct teachers, taking away the very jobs they expect their own PhDs to find after being unexpectedly denied sixth year funding.... ah the irony.

And then don't forget this!
http://www.insidehighered.com/views/2010/02/22/asch

Will Stockton said...

I still think there’s a good argument to be made that reducing the number of PhD-granting humanities programs is the ethical thing to do. The fact is that we (by which I mean tenured and tenure-track faculty who direct such programs) contribute to the very superabundance of labor responsible for the two-tiered job market that most of us find troublesome (or “unethical”). Perhaps we can work to change the conditions of the market by working to affect supply: if PhDs aren’t a dime-a-dozen, they’re more valuable (worth retaining, worth paying better, etc).

It also seems true that a number of PhD programs exist not because their students get jobs, or even because their students get good training irrespective of getting a jobs, but because institutions need those students to staff composition classes (again, they need cheap labor). Of course, many tenured and tenure-track faculty don’t want to teach comp – comp being somehow “beneath” them. The PhD program then works to support what is an elitist position on the part of the faculty.

I wouldn’t take it upon myself to dictate who can and can’t have a PhD program, but I would note that the arguments for having one are often just as elitist as the arguments for eliminating them. And if we really do oppose the two-tiered market, we need to take seriously our own role in supplying that market with cheap labor.

Karl Steel said...

very superabundance of labor responsible for the two-tiered job market
This is precisely where you need to read Marc Bousquet.

eugyppius said...

The bourgeois professionalism afflicting the academy is mildly sad. It's not a big deal, but still. For example, and in response to Will Stockton: How does it make sense to bottle up access to the Ph.D. because jobs are scarce? It's a research degree, it's not a become-a-professor degree. I know we're long past the era of the gentleman scholar, but still: Some people go for the Ph.D. because they want to become researchers in their chosen field, WHETHER OR NOT THERE ARE JOBS. It's not like schools are out there actively misrepresenting the wonderfulness of the job market, after all.

Otherwise: Yeah there are loads of adjuncts, but what kinds of classes are all those adjuncts teaching? At my university, the humanities adjuncts don't teach all across the curriculum. They mainly handle stuff like basic writing requirements -- the stuff that the university only started teaching when it realized that various kinks in the public education system were feeding it flocks of undergrads who were increasingly underprepared.

So.... You could make all those adjuncts into professors, sure. But I'll just take a wild guess and posit that that's never going to happen (at my school anyway), because you can buy boatloads of remedial writing instruction (e.g.) on the cheap.

Finally: What if the real problem is tenure? Tenured profs are expensive and they're hard to get rid of even if they prove ineffective, incapable of attracting students or publishing anything significant, etc. etc. If there were no tenure, the job market would suddenly be a lot more flexible.

Tom Elrod said...

Thanks for making point #1, as well, Jeffrey. I read these pieces a lot (there was a recent at the Chronicle of Higher Ed, too) and as a grad student never really know how to respond to them. Am I being unethical by being in grad school? Of course I don't feel that way, and no one in my program has illusions about what the market is like or what their chances are in getting a job. But if you read pieces like this you'd think all grad students are a bunch of naive, bookish types who dream of ivory tower utopias.

Will Stockton said...

I will, but can I get a preview? I realize causality is certainly more complicated than my comment implied, but on the face of it I don't see how the fact that we're being "adjuncted to death" isn't in many ways a basic supply and demand problem: universities have access to the pool of cheap labor we continue to fill (without demanding the real reform to the system that might affect the kind and number of classes we teach -- i.e, putting us in the classes that many adjuncts mostly teach).

I would add that the "demand" for full-time TT staff may be there, but the money to fund those positions often simply isn't. Of course it makes financial sense to hire two (or more) adjuncts instead of a TT faculty member, especially when you're not concerned about the difficulty of replacing those adjuncts when they leave (no half-year-long job searches, no fly-outs, etc). I agree entirely that what's cheap isn't the best for students or faculty, but we can't simply will the transformation of adjunct positions into TT positions in the absence of huge influx of money.

BTW, Karl: I'm a big fan of your work. This post is a random place to insert notice of my fandom, but I've never had the opportunity to correspond with you before, so there you go.

Derrick said...

eugyppius says: "It's a research degree, it's not a become-a-professor degree. I know we're long past the era of the gentleman scholar, but still: Some people go for the Ph.D. because they want to become researchers in their chosen field, WHETHER OR NOT THERE ARE JOBS."

Wow--I need to de-lurk to answer that one. Isn't that precisely what a gentlemen scholar (what a term!) is? The only person who would spend some 9 years in grad school if not looking for a job would need to be independently very wealthy or a spouse of someone independently very wealthy (or gluttonously enjoy levels of debt, I guess)--which returns us right back here: advise students not to go at all unless they are the elite of the elite--advice which illustrates a broken system that can't fulfill much of what we've worked for. A graduate degree in any field is a become-a-professional degree.

Karl Steel said...

What if the real problem is tenure?
It's not.

If there were no tenure, the job market would suddenly be a lot more flexible.
That's for sure. And that would hugely benefit my rapacious administration. There are other, less extreme solutions to entrenched unhelpful tenured professors.

what kinds of classes are all those adjuncts teaching?
At Brooklyn College, all kinds. Generally not graduate classes, unless we need a last-minute fill-in. Depends on the department, though. My department's adjuncts are largely MA graduate students, who teach English 1 and 2 for a couple years and move on. Other departments have more stable adjunct populations.

Thanks Will for the kind comments about my work. In re: "preview": this post, this, and this strike me as a good introduction to Bousquet's work (and, for better or worse, his rhetorical style).

Karl Steel said...

For a detailed discussion, with long responses from Drout, see Tom Elrod at Wordisms.

eugyppius said...

Derrick delurks and writes:

The only person who would spend some 9 years in grad school if not looking for a job would need to be independently very wealthy or a spouse of someone independently very wealthy (or gluttonously enjoy levels of debt, I guess)

I always find these debates rather depressing, but anyway. To reiterate in expanded form:

A lot of Ph.D. programs are currently funded, which is why the era of the gentlewoman scholar is past. You can get paid to study something that interests you. For a lot of people -- for me -- that's reason enough to spend time in graduate school. A research degree may have become de facto career preparation for the professoriate while the baby boom was kicking up demand for an enlarged academic apparatus, but that was an unusual time. If you wall off the Ph.D. for the interests of the career-only crowd, you're basically burying the idea of a research degree. Which is cool for some people in the careerist set, but not so cool for anyone with a genuine interest in whatever it is that they study.

Karl Steel: How amazing that you think tenure isn't a problem.

Look at it this way: There's a given amount of resources on offer for whatever is that you and I teach. Society is only going to shell out so many clams.

Tenured professors get outsized slices of these resources. Adjuncts get undersized slices. People who complain that their field is being adjuncted to death and that there should be more tenure-track appointment essentially want MORE RESOURCES for their field. But the resources on offer are limited by a complex array of forces -- social, economic, political, administrative, on and on. It's not easy to inflate, in other words.

SO. Isn't it easier to abolish the outsized tenure slices and divide the whole pie evenly? Yeah, you no longer get a lifetime sinecure. Yeah, you get paid less. But you get to study what you like, and you get paid more than you would adjuncting.

In other words, different schools use adjuncts in various ways, but they all use them because they are cheaper than the (actually quite expensive) tenured/tenure-track professor option. Saying that schools should hire more tenured faculty is essentially demanding that they pay a lot more for their teaching labor. Yeah, schools have "rapacious" administrations and they squeeze the faculty pretty hard, yeah it sucks. But the plain fact is that a lot of their "rapaciousness" derives from the outsized resource shares they have to farm out to the tenured set. There's less to go around that way.

Why should schools pay more for teaching that they can buy on the cheap?

Karl Steel said...

Sinecure?

Isn't it easier to abolish the outsized tenure slices and divide the whole pie evenly
? No. I don't see how that would be easier.

actually quite expensive
Yes, I get more than adjuncts. But compared to many things, no. here is the salary schedule for my institution.

Saying that schools should hire more tenured faculty is essentially demanding that they pay a lot more for their teaching labor.
Precisely.

Society is only going to shell out so many clams
Well, it would be interesting to try to find that upper limit rather than abandoning the field.

eugyppius said...

Yes, sinecure. Forgive my impatience with apologists for the tenure system as we continue to hover at near ten-percent unemployment.

I'm not sure what I'm supposed to do with the salary schedule for your institution. You earn more than adjuncts, and until you persuade society to redirect millions of dollars to mediaevalia, it's a zero-sum game. You could earn less, they could earn more. You could have less job security, they could have more. I don't see why that would be such a crisis.

Exploring the upper limits of financial support for higher-ed? We're there. Right now, most of higher ed (in America anyway) is just a glorified credentialing system. Our capitalist society, which has been gleefully trampling public secondary education underfoot for the last several decades, needs us for our measuring tapes.

We hand out assignments and issue grades so the bigwigs can compare the relative stamina, obedience and intellectual ability of their potential workforce, in other words. Obviously a hefty dose of fantasy permeates this arrangement. I suspect that the grades I hand out measure but poorly my students' relative aptitude and readiness for the financialist project.

Anyway, the demand that currently exists for education in humanistic fields is fueled by this concatenation of convenient fictions. How robust do you think these fictions are? Your plan to tenure the adjuncts would seem to place a lot of faith in them.

Administrations seem rapacious because they're caught between a rock and a hard place. The tenured set suck up a lot of the budget and they don't teaching nearly enough. What to do? So far, the answer has been: Hire part-time workers. Your answer is... Approach society and ask for more money for general peace of mind? Because we all spent a lot of time in grad school?

I, for one, am betting that the head boys are already paying all they're willing to for our services.

tenthmedieval said...

This, to me, is the core question it always comes back to, with this as most other political questions: yes, but where's the money coming from?

I guess the pro-active answer to that is, we need to work less on cutting and more on raising funds, and in this day and age I think that most probably means by public subscription since any government is going to have better uses for its tax income than humanities research, alas. (And I would feel slightly weird about a government that put humanities research before healthcare, though rather less about one that put it before the defence budget.)

Jeffrey J. Cohen said...

Folks, it isn't "society" (whatever that is) that hands out the clams. It is not a question of persuading this impersonal "society" to give us more or tenure adjuncts. Even during times of scarcity, there are resources -- fewer at public schools, more at private, I realize. It is not society that is hoarding them: it is the decision makers who are sometimes us and who are always at least to some degree answerable to us.

Easy way to free up millions at nearly every university: de-fund all sports programs and have the institution concentrate upon the mind, not the football and basketball teams.

Jeffrey J. Cohen said...

PS eugyppius, to find a community of the likeminded (people who think that tenure is the problem, having caused everything from Amy Bishop's insanity to the current scarcity of FT benefit paying jobs), go here. Lots of similar thoughts.

Tom Elrod said...

We hand out assignments and issue grades so the bigwigs can compare the relative stamina, obedience and intellectual ability of their potential workforce, in other words. Obviously a hefty dose of fantasy permeates this arrangement. I suspect that the grades I hand out measure but poorly my students' relative aptitude and readiness for the financialist project.

That is an incredibly cynical and depressing view of things. I don't think every student who steps foot on campus is there for pure intellectual stimulation, of course, but I do think the university is more than just a cog in the capitalist machine.

Administrations seem rapacious because they're caught between a rock and a hard place. The tenured set suck up a lot of the budget and they don't teaching nearly enough. What to do? So far, the answer has been: Hire part-time workers.

Sorry if I innately distrust people in power to do the right thing for the good of the whole. Administrations are not the victims here, and removing tenure is certainly not going to make things more equitable.

Jonathan is right, as he said over at my place as well, that there is a money problem, and perhaps we need to rethink how to fund the humanities in order to survive. But the "tenured" are not causing the crisis, and insinuating that they are is not going to get us anywhere.

Jeffrey J. Cohen said...

Tom, well said, and here's the thing: beginning with the assumption that tenure itself is the main issue -- that it ties up tremendous financial resources that if disbursed through more flexible modes of employment would better the postsecondary educational landscape -- is to have already bought the argument for adjunctification.

The argument is an easy one to make if you are a CFO who wants to be able to build a new engineering complex and refurbish the stadium, but it starts with all kinds of problematic premises: that the amount of money expended upon faculty salaries due to tenure is extraordinarily high, that it is not a good investment in pedagogy and institutional prestige, that most tenured professors sit on their duffs most of the day and don't care about their research, service, and teaching. Again, a convenient vision to buy into if you want to underpay casual workers, but a vision with little basis in fiscal reality.

And here's the second thing: deflecting a serious talk about the job market into a cynical dismissal of the tenure system as the culprit behind every college and university ill deflects attention from where it ought to be placed: how to invest more of the educational budget into the full time benefited longterm positions that are actually needed, and how to move away from the exploitative system of at-need PT employment that is at the root of the moribund FT job market.

Jeffrey J. Cohen said...

OK, a last PS: Bousquet's work is not revolutionary; in a way it is deeply commonsensical. And researchers have been making a similar point for quite some time: look, for example, at the 1999 issue of minnesota review on Activism and the Academy.

Jeffrey J. Cohen said...

PPS And then I really need to prep for the independent study I am about to: read the Coalition on the Academic Workforce brief here (download PDF from left hand side). The end of the brief contains a compelling collection of charts and statistics, including this one: "In 1970, part-time faculty members represented only 22.0% of all faculty members teaching in
US colleges and universities. By 2007 the percentage of part-timers had increased to 48.7% of
faculty members in all institutions (fig. 1). In four-year institutions the percentage of part-time
teachers in 2007 was 41.2%."

If you go on and read the rest of the appendix, you'll see the situation is actually much worse than these percentages when contingent FT positions and TAs are added in.

Karl Steel said...

Thanks Jeffrey.

"sinecure": TT faculty at my institution teach 21 credit hours a year. Since classes default to 3 credits, that's 3/3 + advising + an expectation of committee work. Sure, tenured faculty can stop publishing, and, sure, certain faculty can get very soft committee assignments, but I've never had a job, in or outside the academy, in or outside the public trough, that didn't have a cord or two of deadwood.

I'm not sure what I'm supposed to do with the salary schedule for your institution
In part, I wanted you to observe that our adjuncts are part of our bargaining unit. When I do work for the union, which I do, I'm also doing work for the adjuncts.

And, Eugyppius, if you want to engage in an unschooling pedagogy, fine. Eliminating tenure, however, would make the instructors more, not less, beholden to the bottom line. The workings of the pedagogical/financial/capitalist machine would be strengthened, if anything.

Getting more money for CUNY wouldn't be too hard: bring taxes on the New York State's rich back to 1993 levels. See the budget testimony here. Problem solved.

eugyppius said...

Part I:

...to find a community of the likeminded...

Yeah, the academy is big on finding communities of the likeminded.

And here's the second thing: deflecting a serious talk about the job market into a cynical dismissal of the tenure system as the culprit behind every college and university ill deflects attention from where it ought to be placed: how to invest more of the educational budget into the full time benefited longterm positions that are actually needed, and how to move away from the exploitative system of at-need PT employment that is at the root of the moribund FT job market.

Your rhetoric is riotous. There are seriously exploited workers in this world; our glorious capitalist project screws a lot of people over. Adjuncts? I'm sorry, but they're far, far down on the exploited list.

And the full time benefited longterm positions that are actually needed? Needed by whom? Us? If the system needed them it would pay for them. Adjunctification is a symptom of financial stress, tenure, and the expansion of higher ed at the community college level. If all the job money is locked up underneath the asses of middle aged tenured types, how do you think that's going to work out in the long run, as budgets get tighter, endowments shrink, and the basic project of higher education is retooled to function more or less like the German Gymnasium system (again, as secondary ed disintegrates)? And you still think tenure is your friend, as schools across the country begin to feel increasingly insecure and unable to pay for even the tenured faculty they have? The tenure system means that a lot of schools have teaching staff leftover from the seven fat years in the middle of an epic stretch of seven lean years. The results are all around us.

Easy way to free up millions at nearly every university: de-fund all sports programs and have the institution concentrate upon the mind, not the football and basketball teams.

Because that's like totally going to happen. It's statements like this that I find just completely unbelievable. The mind? We've obviously been operating in parallel worlds. Universities in the US have a specific social role to play. Like it or not, part of that role is tied up in sports. If schools shut down their sports programs, they'll suddenly be a lot less donor interest. And since when, in our post-WWII world, have any critical mass of universities "concentrate[d] upon the mind"? Not many people have ever been interested in minds, mine our yours or our students'. Power and money are what they're after.

Our schools cater to donor demand, pure and simple. I don't have much money, I'm betting you don't either. Wealthy donors, government, and assorted characters, however, do have money and our schools dance to their tune. That will never, ever change. And if it were to, there would only be less money, fewer jobs, and more adjuncts -- because there would be less money. Bureaucratized institutions like universities aren't your friends, and they never will be. But if you're realistic about how they work and why they're here and why they want you around, you can use them to get by and free up some time to think now and then. Which is a precious, precious thing in this imperialist overcommodified world that we inhabit.

eugyppius said...

Part II

The argument is an easy one to make if you are a CFO who wants to be able to build a new engineering complex and refurbish the stadium,

As with the sports programs: What do you think motivates those building projects? Do you honestly think your local CFO is EVER going to say, hey, to hell with all these new buildings -- let's hire more medievalists? Honestly? Part of what universities do is build stuff; ever thus with large institutions dependent upon donor largesse. Cf. medieval cathedrals and monasteries.

Eliminating tenure, however, would make the instructors more, not less, beholden to the bottom line. The workings of the pedagogical/financial/capitalist machine would be strengthened, if anything.

The machine is already all-powerful; the adjunctified merely bear more than their share of the burden. And if your definition of "not too hard" is bringing taxes on the New York State's rich back to 1993 levels then I really don't know what to say to you.


I do think the university is more than just a cog in the capitalist machine.

Sorry, it's not. Our capitalist machine has refashioned the world into cogs. The university was especially fit for this refashioning. It had originally been a cog in the ecclesiastical machine (training clerics for roles in the church bureaucracy).

eugyppius said...

P.S. What is an "unschooling pedagogy"? Is that how you characterize realism?

letty said...

Thank you. Number 3 is happening to me and 4 adjuncting colleagues in the same English Department right now.

Work a-plenty (medieval literature courses so overenrolled that extra classes have to be added), but no permanent contracts allowed. Under the law here, our contracts cannot be renewed more than twice or they become permanent, so we are being dismissed despite good evaluations, good staff relations, etc. With a bit of luck, we will actually be forced to train our successors even though we'd love to have their jobs...

Karl Steel said...

What is an "unschooling pedagogy"?: it's the argumentative field to which some of your proposals belong. I've had a look at your blog; given your rhetoric, here and there, I'm surprised you don't know about it. You may also find it useful to read these.

I'd find this all less tiresome if you cited some actual numbers, Eugyppius, as numbers are requisite for any 'realistic' (your words) discussion of trends in academic finances and employment. I pointed you to a few: the salary schedule for CUNY, and my union's testimony to the state in re: budgetary recommendations for fixing the CUNY budget. Jeffrey's pointed to some other figures. You could also check out the data assembled by protestors against cuts to California higher education: there's a lot of data there, if you decide to look at it, concerning ballooning salaries of administrators and their staffs even during times of supposed fiscal crises.

You, however, have provided nothing but rhetoric. Rhetoric's fine, but since we're in the realm of arguing about numbers, it'd help you provided, well, numbers rather than just framing. Without that, I don't really see the point of continuing this conversation with you.

Karl Steel said...

The university was especially fit for this refashioning. It had originally been a cog in the ecclesiastical machine (training clerics for roles in the church bureaucracy).
By the way, although I'm far from an expert on medieval schooling, I believe the story's a great deal more complicated than this. This is true, to a degree, after the twelfth century; but prior to the development of universities, the Cathedral Schools (at Chartres, Orleans, etc.) were more involved in this role. And, at any rate, trained scholars would sometimes go on to work in state rather than ecclesiastical bureaucracies. Who staffed the exchequer, for instance?

eugyppius said...

I don't understand generic exhortations to use "numbers," absent the disputation of any factual point. And I don't understand how the numbers you and Jeffrey have cited support the argument that it is at all realistic to expect anyone to spend more money on teaching labor. Even if you could restore taxes to 1993 levels.

Administrative salaries are indeed ballooning -- or at least holding steady from the boom times. The overlarge and cumbersome administrative apparatus, like the tenured faculty (christ, like a lot of the building projects), was set up during the fat years and now we're stuck with them in lean years. We should get rid of them, or deal with increasingly smaller pie slices for everyone else. But I'm betting the administrators will be nearly impossible to dislodge. Maybe the tenured faculty are too, but good god, the last thing we want is more of them.

Oh, and you're right about universities. I used "originally" loosely. As soon as they were organized bureaucratically (within a generation or two) the universities went to work for the head boys. Primarily the church, but of course they assumed secular positions too (often both; often the distinction seems blurry to me).

Jeffrey J. Cohen said...

I'm betting the administrators will be nearly impossible to dislodge. Maybe the tenured faculty are too, but good god, the last thing we want is more of them.

Don't include me in that "we." I want many, many more tenured faculty, as countless as the desert stars, each one of them impossible to dislodge.

Karl Steel said...

being realistic For example.

If you'd like to butt heads with the numbers and realism of my union's arguments, by all means, do so. Elsewhere. Given, however, that we won substantial pay raises 3 years ago, and have won a number of victories since then against a corporatist state government, and are entering into contract negotiations again this year, I prefer to fight, with an eye towards both future victories and the memory of past successes, rather than to abandon the field altogether and call that 'realism.'

You've made your point, repeatedly, that eliminating tenure, taking all the money now not tied up in professors making...how much? where are your numbers?...and splitting that "equally" up among...how many adjuncts and newly born adjuncts, and freeing up (how much?) money by cancelling facilities projects, would be easier than asking the rich to pay the taxes they did in 1993.

And I'm the one who's unrealistic?

At any rate, yes, eliminating tenure would lead to a more equitable working environment for academics. We'd be as equal as we all will be in death.

theswain said...

Interesting discussions....as a contingent employee having to teach more classes than my tenured colleagues just to make ends meet, when I can catch up on Chronicle, Inside Higher Ed, and blog posts on the topic, I have many thoughts few of which have been mentioned here why a man from the lower economic class of this country thinks grad programs not only are not going away but should not, why an undergrad would want to go to grad school even with little hope of professionalization in traditional terms, why tenure is good and necessary, and who the culprits are beyond the obvious financial (i.e. one reason why there is no money, beyond "it's the economy, stupid!"), and why even with my worst case scenario when I started the journey now my reality I would make the same decision to go to grad school, get a degree in a field I love....all these thoughts ramble about the ol' brain box. Someday I'll write them up. Till then, keep up the discussion!

Dr. Virago said...

Here are some numbers. At my regional public university, salaries for tenured/tenure-track professors account for 13% of the academic budget and only 8.6% of the total operating budget. I'd link to my union's web page with those numbers, but Dr. Virago is a pseudonym, and on the web I'd like to keep it that way.

Meanwhile, to argue that adjuncts do what TT faculty do, but cheaper, is to misunderstand TT faculty as classroom teachers only, or to value them only as such. Or worse, to think of the classroom and its instructors (TT or adjunct) the way my university's administration thinks of it: as a "content delivery system."

Jeffrey J. Cohen said...

Something encouraging.

Jeffrey J. Cohen said...

As if we need more evidence:

The humanities continue to play a core role in higher education and student interest is strong, but to meet the demand, four-year colleges and universities are increasingly relying on a part-time, untenured workforce. Those are among the findings from the Humanities Departmental Survey, conducted by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (AAAS) and a consortium of disciplinary associations

Aidan Conti said...

I'm enough of a cynic to believe that the university is a cog, but enough of an idealist to think that it can serve to make the whole machine more humane.

It's chilling to read some of the assertions about tenure being the main issue in light of the situation at King's. The Principal there recently suggested the possibility of cuts twice as bad as the Thatcher cuts of the early eighties. (And someone has paid PriceWaterhouseCoopers to produce a document suggesting the specter of 30%: "Real cuts of between 5 and 30 per cent are now unavoidable.")

Thatcher's government ended tenure in 1988.

For a time, you might (and people did) argue that it worked okayish with arguably more opportunity at the lower rungs, more possibilities for moving from temporary to permanent contracts, fixed-term posts being on the same pay scale as permanent staff and so on.

But 30% cuts (and we see that the cuts are marked for productive academics while upper admin salaries rise and recruitment is underway) for financial exigency at a institution that boasts a top 25 global ranking..looks like a plan, with no tenure and weak labour representation, for a race to the bottom.

Derrick said...

Of course we can make it more humane: unionize, people. As with Dr. Virago, I'm in a union (mine is APSCUF--you can read the contract on the homepage). Collective action does not directly help hiring--only more money can do that--but it does indirectly. Our contract, for instance, caps the number of credit hours which adjuncts can teach. My dept. has almost twice as many tenure lines (30) as some PhD granting institutions which feed their comp programs with graduate students. Some academics react with shock to a 4/4 load (the shock arises from an elitist bias, frankly, which grad schools too often teach to their students; it's just not that bad), but pity goes both ways: I really, really feel for the stresses friends on non-union campuses have to endure that we don't.

Matthew Gabriele said...

Dr. Virago said: "to argue that adjuncts do what TT faculty do, but cheaper, is to misunderstand TT faculty as classroom teachers only, or to value them only as such. Or worse, to think of the classroom and its instructors (TT or adjunct) the way my university's administration thinks of it: as a 'content delivery system.'"

Thanks for this. Bingo.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

Late coming back to this, but glad I did. I work at an institution that did away with tenure many years ago. We now have a system akin to the non-tenured, but 'permanent' system you might see in other countries. Several faculty members have tenure from the old days. Most of them teach 4-3 or 4-4 loads (some were hired when publication was not required, as we are a 'teaching' school, and they don't want a course release for research). All of them but one still serve on committees, etc. The one who doesn't still makes what could be argued as valuable contributions to the university's reputation.

Getting rid of senior people guarantees only one thing: being able to replace them with adjuncts or cheaper junior people. Tenure doesn't make a bit of difference, financially. I've worked at unionized campuses with tenure, and it didn't prevent tenured faculty being RIF'd in recent cuts nor, more importantly to Eugyppius' badly thought out arguments, it didn't prevent tenured faculty who did not do their jobs from being fired.

I'm all for tenure reform, but there is no sensible reason that tenure can be held responsible for a lack of positions. Perhaps mandatory retirement ages would help, but considering the number of very productive scholars I know who are in their sixties and seventies and are magnificent researchers, teachers, and mentors to junior faculty, I'm not about to suggest that. Not to mention that I am not about to encourage any sort of discrimination.

Jeffrey J. Cohen said...

Thanks, Dr V and ADM: very valuable, from the trenches contributions.

Kavita Rao said...

Great post, Jeffrey. Your conclusion says it all: ultimately, it is the quality and future of higher education in America - world reknowned, at least now - that loses out because of these hiring practices.

Anonymous said...

Not saying you're altogether wrong, but I think the admitting of students into humanities PhD programs has been unethical. It's only been in the last five years that people have begun to openly talk about the dire job situation and adjunct racket. But this has only come to light because people with real scholarly records (by that I mean publications), finding themselves in their tenth year in part-time work have begin to kick up a row. In other words, Universities are only now beginning to acknowledge this issue and are starting to come (semi) clean.
I'd also add that it isn't good enough to complain about "administrators" being responsible for the adjunct scam. If you're tenure track or tenured and you allow your department to use adjuncts you're as guilty as any administrator.
But an excellent post.