The Emergent Academic Proletariat and Its Shortchanged Students

From Dissent:

The phrase “corporatization of the university” captures the reorientation of colleges away from a primarily educational mission and toward one that resembles the financial bottom line. The evidence of this shift is myriad: the growth of for-profit degree-granting institutions, rising tuition and student debt, the pursuit of elevated rankings, disproportionate resources spent on athletic programs and sports facilities, the identification of students as “customers,” assessment of accomplishment in the classroom as that which can be quantified, a small number of highly compensated academic “superstars,” and a swelling cadre of overpaid administrators.

According to Stephen Trachtenberg, former president of George Washington University and an unapologetic pioneer of tuition inflation, success for colleges is measured by continuous new construction on campuses and substantial endowments. The achievement of this never-ending growth requires constantly greater revenue, which in turn, necessitates escalating tuition and fees. As Trachtenberg explained, “people equate price with the value of their education.”

Comparatively little of this money, however, is dedicated to supporting the educational mandate of colleges by, for example, reducing the teacher-to-student ratio or paying the majority of faculty a livable salary. Rather, the burden of these “business-like” endeavors has been borne on the backs of onerously indebted students and low-wage temporary faculty.

Most teachers in higher education across the country lack long-term job stability. Presently, close to 70 percent of all faculty appointments in degree-granting institutions are off the tenure-track, a number that includes over one million people. The label “contingent academic labor” encompasses an array of arrangements, among them adjuncts paid on a per-course basis, one- or multi-year contract faculty, visiting professors, and post-docs. In general, these positions are characterized by low pay, no-to-little job security, and, frequently, no health or retirement benefits. According to the Adjunct Project, the national average remuneration for adjuncts is $2,987 for a 15-week, three-credit course, usually with a high student enrollment, and some teachers are paid as little as $1,000 per class. Currently, nearly 34,000 Ph.D. recipients receive food stamps to supplement their earnings. 

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