The academic sweat shop

Young PhDs are scrambling for a few tenure-track jobs, working as poorly paid adjuncts for years on end and getting very, very angry, writes Megan McArdle on Bloomberg.

Rebecca Schuman’s “naming and shaming” of UC Riverside’s interviewing process set off an angry online debate, including Job Market Rage Redux and How the Tenured Are to the Job Market as White People Are to Racism.

“Academia is now one of the most exploitative labor markets in the world,” writes McArdle.

It’s not quite up there with Hollywood and Broadway in taking kids with a dream and encouraging them to waste the formative decade(s) of their work life chasing after a brass ring that they’re vanishingly unlikely to get, then dumping them on the job market with fewer employment prospects than they had at 22. But it certainly seems to be trying to catch up.

. . .  it’s not surprising that so many academics believe that the American workplace is a desperately oppressive and exploitative environment in which employers can endlessly abuse workers without fear of reprisal, or of losing the workers. That’s a pretty accurate description of the job market for academic labor … until you have tenure.

The academic job market won’t improve until graduate programs admit fewer students, she writes. “A lot fewer.” Some PhD programs should “go out of existence.”

But of course, this is saying that universities, and tenured professors, should do something that is radically against their own self-interest. That constant flow of grad students allows professors to teach interesting graduate seminars while pushing the grunt work of grading and tutoring and teaching intro classes to students and adjuncts. It provides a massive oversupply of adjunct professors who can be induced to teach the lower-level classes for very little, thus freeing up tenured professors for research.

Only a third of university professors are tenured or on the tenure track and only 19 percent of non-tenure-track teaching jobs are full time.

Desiree Robertson teaches sociology part-time at Southwest Tennessee Community College in Memphis while working full time at a foundation. The adjunct’s life is a balancing act, she tells the Chronicle of Higher Ed.


POSTED BY Joanne Jacobs ON January 7, 2014

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