Have you been following Doonesbury for the past few weeks? It’s been all about the progressive destruction of the American university, as the old model is replaced by the for-profit university, a hideous scheme in which state and federal support for higher education gets siphoned off to support lousy schools that grind through massive numbers of students, offering low tuition, flexible hours, and a fast-track to a degree…and with abysmal retention rates, low success, marginally qualified ‘faculty’, and an education that is worth less than you paid for it. These are the colleges you see advertised on cheesy commercials on television, in which some guy proudly testifies about getting his fancy diploma working only a few hours a week at night over two years, and never having to step away from his computer to do it.
The assault is occurring at multiple levels, not just with dumbass MBAs and lawyers in congress shunting off cash towards their Libertarian ideal of a university. Anyone involved in academia has been watching the slow erosion over the last few decades…a period during which university faculty have been blamed and cheapened and discarded, replacing institutions of learning with factories churning out quotas of tuition-paying customers. You want to know How The American University was Killed, in Five Easy Steps? Here’s one of them.
V.P. Joe Biden, a few months back, said that the reason tuitions are out of control is because of the high price of college faculty. He has NO IDEA what he is talking about. At latest count, we have 1.5 million university professors in this country, 1 million of whom are adjuncts. One million professors in America are hired on short-term contracts, most often for one semester at a time, with no job security whatsoever – which means that they have no idea how much work they will have in any given semester, and that they are often completely unemployed over summer months when work is nearly impossible to find (and many of the unemployed adjuncts do not qualify for unemployment payments). So, one million American university professors are earning, on average, $20K a year gross, with no benefits or healthcare, no unemployment insurance when they are out of work. Keep in mind, too, that many of the more recent Ph.Ds have entered this field often with the burden of six figure student loan debt on their backs.
I’d like to mention here, too, that universities often defend their use of adjuncts – which are now 75% of all professors in the country — claiming that they have no choice but to hire adjuncts, as a “cost saving measure” in an increasingly defunded university. What they don’t say, and without demand of transparency will NEVER say, is that they have not saved money by hiring adjuncts — they have reduced faculty salaries, security and power. The money wasn’t saved, because it was simply re-allocated to administrative salaries, coach salaries and outrageous university president salaries. There has been a redistribution of funds away from those who actually teach, the scholars – and therefore away from the students’ education itself — and into these administrative and executive salaries, sports costs — and the expanded use of “consultants”, PR and marketing firms, law firms. We have to add here, too, that president salaries went from being, in the 1970s, around $25K to 30K, to being in the hundreds of thousands to MILLIONS of dollars – salary, delayed compensation, discretionary funds, free homes, or generous housing allowances, cars and drivers, memberships to expensive country clubs.
Yeah, that’s the reward for earning a Ph.D. Most of you won’t get employed in academia, and most of you who do will get the terrifyingly fragile job of adjunct. And if you do manage to get a real tenure-track position, after 4-6 years of graduate school and a post-doc or two, you’ll get paid $40-50K/year, and be damned grateful for it.