12 December 2005

This started as a simple observation, then it got away from me.

What a rude awakening it is to have to go to work. After Friday's "snow day," in which the weather was so awful that my son decided to ride his bike on the sidewalk in front of the house, I was getting used to staying home while other people had to work.

I may start playing the powerball again.

Stanley Aronowitz, the prolific sociologist and activist, wrote an essay entitled "The Last Good Job in America," which is collected in the volume Post-Work and became the basis for his full-length study The Last Good Job in America. Basically the argument goes that tenure-track academic employment should be the model, not the exception, for workplace employment -- the classic tenured faculty member has little intrusive managerial supervision, a flexible work schedule, and job security. As that small enclave came under increasing attack in the late 90's, Aronowitz argued that conservative attacks on the academy were outgrowths of the ideology of global capitalism and the corporatization of the university. Even the "last good job" was being overwhelmed in the face of profit-based models being imported to the realm of education.

Anyone who has ever held a job as a TA or an adjunct should see at least a bit of truth in Aronowitz's charge. At Land Grab University, the adjuncts in a certain department I'm familiar with were being paid $2000 per course. That wage had been in effect for around 8 years. The adjunct wage in that department now stands at $2500, mainly because a threat of unionization drove the university to a more conciliatory stance. However, it doesn't take an economics PhD to figure out that even at $2500 a pop and no healthcare, the university saves a good bit of money by hiring 3 adjuncts rather than 1 full-time professor.

I won't discuss what the university loses by doing that, because it's complicated and frankly this particular university doesn't really care about intangibles like institutional memory and professionalism. The future of academic work, should the MBAs ever take complete hold of the system, is bleak indeed. Much like factory workers toiled over piece-work, the corporate university's future is a top-heavy administration, with academic departments gutted of their institutional oversight and scholarly identities and filled with interchangeable, replaceable lecturers. More rigorous institutions may pay for a few "academic superstars" -- like Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Harold Bloom, Cary Nelson, or Judith Butler -- but they won't need the expenses of these $40K to $70K plus benefits hangers-on. Not when $15K flat buys them the same 6 courses they'd get out of one full-time appointment.

Welcome to McUniversity, do you want fries with that course content?


DC Cookie said...

Is it me, or do the adjuncts also put more energy into their lessons and classes (in an attempt to chase that tenured dream)?

Washington Cube said...

Insitutional memory has been sadly devalued in the work force, no matter what your career. It's those people we can turn to for SO much information.

Momentary Academic said...

I want to write a post about value and education and the trend towards consumerism and the move towards customer service in the University education for Hookers and Blow. You've given me the push I need Mass.

I will certainly cite you.

Lonnie Bruner said...

As usual, interesting post, Mass.

Does he say that all jobs should have the security of a tenured professor? I think if that were the case, the economy would collapse in a week. But that would be one hell of a party, don't you think?