How The American University was Killed, in Five Easy Steps

A few years back, Paul E. Lingenfelter began his report on the defunding of public education by saying, “In 1920 H.G. Wells wrote, ‘History is becoming more and more a race between education and catastrophe.’ I think he got it right. Nothing is more important to the future of the United States and the world than the breadth and effectiveness of education, especially of higher education. I say especially higher education, but not because pre- school, elementary, and secondary education are less important. Success at every level of education obviously depends on what has gone before. But for better or worse, the quality of postsecondary education and research affects the quality and effectiveness of education at every level.”

In the last few years, conversations have been growing like gathering storm clouds about the ways in which our universities are failing. There is talk about the poor educational outcomes apparent in our graduates, the out-of-control tuitions and crippling student loan debt. Attention is finally being paid to the enormous salaries for presidents and sports coaches, and the migrant worker status of the low-wage majority faculty. There are now movements to control tuition, to forgive student debt, to create more powerful “assessment” tools, to offer “free” university materials online, to combat adjunct faculty exploitation. But each of these movements focuses on a narrow aspect of a much wider problem, and no amount of “fix” for these aspects individually will address the real reason that universities in America are dying.

To explain my perspective here, I need to go back in time. Let’s go back to post World War II, 1950s when the GI bill, and the affordability – and sometimes free access – to universities created an upsurge of college students across the country. This surge continued through the ’60s, when universities were the very heart of intense public discourse, passionate learning, and vocal citizen involvement in the issues of the times. It was during this time, too, when colleges had a thriving professoriate, and when students were given access to a variety of subject areas, and the possibility of broad learning. The Liberal Arts stood at the center of a college education, and students were exposed to philosophy, anthropology, literature, history, sociology, world religions, foreign languages and cultures. Of course, something else happened, beginning in the late fifties into the sixties — the uprisings and growing numbers of citizens taking part in popular dissent — against the Vietnam War, against racism, against destruction of the environment in a growing corporatized culture, against misogyny, against homophobia. Where did much of that revolt incubate? Where did large numbers of well-educated, intellectual, and vocal people congregate? On college campuses. Who didn’t like the outcome of the 60s? The corporations, the war-mongers, those in our society who would keep us divided based on our race, our gender, our sexual orientation.

I suspect that, given the opportunity, those groups would have liked nothing more than to shut down the universities. Destroy them outright. But a country claiming to have democratic values can’t just shut down its universities. That would reveal something about that country which would not support the image they are determined to portray – that of a country of freedom, justice, opportunity for all. So, how do you kill the universities of the country without showing your hand? As a child growing up during the Cold War, I was taught that the communist countries in the first half of the 20th Century put their scholars, intellectuals and artists into prison camps, called “re-education camps”. What I’ve come to realize as an adult is that American corporatism despises those same individuals as much as we were told communism did. But instead of doing anything so obvious as throwing them into prison, here those same people are thrown into dire poverty. The outcome is the same. Desperate poverty controls and ultimately breaks people as effectively as prison…..and some research says that it works even MORE powerfully.

So: here is the recipe for killing universities, and you tell ME if what I’m describing isn’t exactly what is at the root of all the problems of our country’s system of higher education. (Because what I’m saying has more recently been applied to K-12 public education as well.)

First, you defund public higher education.

Anna Victoria, writing in Pluck Magazine, discusses this issue in a review of Christopher Newfield’s book, Unmaking the Public University: “In 1971, Lewis Powell (before assuming his post as a Supreme Court Justice) authored a memo, now known as the Powell Memorandum, and sent it to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The title of the memo was “Attack on the American Free Enterprise System,” and in it he called on corporate America to take an increased role in shaping politics, law, and education in the United States.” How would they do that? One, by increased lobbying and pressure on legislators to change their priorities. “Funding for public universities comes from, as the term suggests, the state and federal government. Yet starting in the early 1980s, shifting state priorities forced public universities to increasingly rely on other sources of revenue. For example, in the University of Washington school system, state funding for schools decreased as a percentage of total public education budgets from 82% in 1989 to 51% in 2011.” That’s a loss of more than 1/3 of its public funding. But why this shift in priorities? U.C. Berkeley English professor, Christopher Newfield, in his new book Unmaking the Public University posits that conservative elites have worked to de-fund higher education explicitly because of its function in creating a more empowered, democratic, and multiracial middle class. His theory is one that blames explicit cultural concern, not financial woes, for the current decreases in funding. He cites the fact that California public universities were forced to reject 300,000 applicants because of lack of funding. Newfield explains that much of the motive behind conservative advocacy for de-funding of public education is racial, pro-corporate, and anti-protest in nature.

Again, from Victoria: “(The) ultimate objective, as outlined in the (Lewis Powell) memo, was to purge respectable institutions such as the media, arts, sciences, as well as college campus themselves of left-wing thoughts. At the time, college campuses were seen as “springboards for dissent,” as Newfield terms it, and were therefore viewed as publicly funded sources of opposition to the interests of the establishment. While it is impossible to know the extent to which this memo influenced the conservative political strategy over the coming decades, it is extraordinary to see how far the principles outlined in his memo have been adopted.”

Under the guise of many “conflicts”, such as budget struggles, or quotas, de-funding was consistently the result. This funding argument also was used to re-shape the kind of course offerings and curriculum focus found on campuses. Victoria writes, “Attacks on humanities curriculums, political correctness, and affirmative action shifted the conversation on public universities to the right, creating a climate of skepticism around state funded schools. State budget debates became platforms for conservatives to argue why certain disciplines such as sociology, history, anthropology, minority studies, language, and gender studies should be de-funded…” on one hand, through the argument that they were not offering students the “practical” skills needed for the job market — which was a powerful way to increase emphasis on what now is seen as vocational focus rather than actual higher education, and to de-value those very courses that trained and expanded the mind, developed a more complete human being, a more actively intelligent person and involved citizen. Another argument used to attack the humanities was “…their so-called promotion of anti-establishment sentiment. Gradually, these arguments translated into real- and often deep- cuts into the budgets of state university systems,” especially in those most undesirable areas that the establishment found to run counter to their ability to control the population’s thoughts and behavior. The idea of “manufactured consent” should be talked about here – because if you remove the classes and the disciplines that are the strongest in their ability to develop higher level intellectual rigor, the result is a more easily manipulated citizenry, less capable of deep interrogation and investigation of the establishment “message”.

Second, you deprofessionalize and impoverish the professors (and continue to create a surplus of underemployed and unemployed Ph.D.s)

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.

There was recently an article talking about the long-term mental and physical destruction caused when people are faced with poverty and “job insecurity” — precarious employment, or “under-employment”.  The article says that, in just the few short years since our 2008 economic collapse, the medical problems of this group have increased exponentially.  This has been the horrible state of insecurity that America’s college professors have experienced now for thirty years. It can destroy you — breaking down your physical and emotional health. As an example:  the average yearly starting salary of a university professor at Temple University in 1975 was just under $10,000 a year, with full benefits – health, retirement, and educational benefits (their family’s could attend college for free.) And guess what? Average pay for Temple’s faculty is STILL about the same — because adjuncts now make up the majority of faculty, and earn between $8,000 to $14,000 a year (depending on how many courses they are assigned each semester – there is NO guarantee of continued employment) — but unlike the full-time professors of 1975, these adjunct jobs come with NO benefits, no health care, no retirement, no educational benefits, no offices. How many other professions report salaries that have remained at 1975 levels?

This is how you break the evil, wicked, leftist academic class in America — you turn them into low-wage members of the precariat – that growing number of American workers whose employment is consistently precarious. All around the country, our undergraduates are being taught by faculty living at or near the poverty line, who have little to no say in the way classes are being taught, the number of students in a class, or how curriculum is being designed. They often have no offices in which to meet their students, no professional staff support, no professional development support. One million of our college professors are struggling to continue offering the best they can in the face of this wasteland of deteriorated professional support, while living the very worst kind of economic insecurity.  Unlike those communist countries, which sometimes executed their intellectuals, here we are being killed off by lack of healthcare, by stress-related illness like heart-attacks or strokes.  While we’re at it, let’s add suicide to that list of killers — and readers of this blog will remember that I have written at length about adjunct faculty suicide in the past.

Step #3: You move in a managerial/administrative class who take over governance of the university.

This new class takes control of much of the university’s functioning, including funding allocation, curriculum design, course offerings. If you are old enough to remember when medicine was forever changed by the appearance of the ‘HMO’ model of managed medicine, you will have an idea of what has happened to academia. If you are not old enough – let me tell you that Once Upon a Time, doctors ran hospitals, doctors made decisions on what treatment their patients needed. In the 1970s, during the infamous Nixon Administration, HMOs were an idea sold to the American public, said to help reign in medical costs. But once Nixon secured passage of the HMO Act in 1973, the organizations went quickly from operating on a non-profit organization model, focused on high quality health care for controlled costs, to being for-profit organizations, with lots of corporate money funding them – and suddenly the idea of high-quality health care was sacrificed in favor of profits – which meant taking in higher and higher premiums and offering less and less service, more denied claims, more limitations placed on doctors, who became a “managed profession”. You see the state of healthcare in this country, and how disastrous it is. Well, during this same time, there was a similar kind of development — something akin to the HMO — let’s call it an “EMO”, Educational Management Organization, began to take hold in American academia. From the 1970s until today, as the number of full-time faculty jobs continued to shrink, the number of full-time administrative jobs began to explode. As faculty was deprofessionalized and casualized, reduced to teaching as migrant contract workers, administrative jobs now offered good, solid salaries, benefits, offices, prestige and power. In 2012, administrators now outnumber faculty on every campus across the country. And just as disastrous as the HMO was to the practice of medicine in America, so is the EMO model disastrous to the practice of academia in America, and to the quality of our students’ education. Benjamin Ginsburg writes about this in great detail in his book The Fall of the Faculty.  

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.

Step Four: You move in corporate culture and corporate money

To further control and dominate how the university is ‘used” -a flood of corporate money results in changing the value and mission of the university from a place where an educated citizenry is seen as a social good, where intellect and reasoning is developed and heightened for the value of the individual and for society, to a place of vocational training, focused on profit. Corporate culture hijacked the narrative – university was no longer attended for the development of your mind. It was where you went so you could get a “good job”.  Anything not immediately and directly related to job preparation or hiring was denigrated and seen as worthless — philosophy, literature, art, history.

Anna Victoria writes, on Corporate Culture: “Many universities have relied on private sector methods of revenue generation such as the formation of private corporations, patents, increased marketing strategies, corporate partnerships, campus rentals, and for-profit e-learning enterprises. To cut costs, public universities have employed non-state employee service contractors and have streamlined their financial operations.”

So what is the problem with corporate money, you might ask? A lot. When corporate money floods the universities, corporate values replace academic values. As we said before, humanities get defunded and the business school gets tons of money. Serious issues of ethics begin to develop when corporate money begins to make donations and form partnerships with science departments – where that money buys influence regarding not only the kinds of research being done but the outcomes of that research. Corporations donate to departments, and get the use of university researchers in the bargain — AND the ability to deduct the money as donation while using the labor, controlling and owning the research. Suddenly, the university laboratory is not a place of objective research anymore. As one example, corporations who don’t like “climate change” warnings will donate money and control research at universities, which then publish refutations of global warning proofs. OR, universities labs will be corporate-controlled in cases of FDA-approval research. This is especially dangerous when pharmaceutical companies take control of university labs to test efficacy or safety and then push approval through the governmental agencies. Another example is in economics departments — and movies like “The Inside Job” have done a great job of showing how Wall Street has bought off high-profile economists from Harvard, or Yale, or Stanford, or MIT, to talk about the state of the stock market and the country’s financial stability. Papers were being presented and published that were blatantly false, by well-respected economists who were on the payroll of Goldman Sachs or Merrill Lynch.

Academia should not be the whore of corporatism, but that’s what it has become. Academia once celebrated itself as an independent institution. Academia is a culture, one that offers a long-standing worldview which values on-going, rigorous intellectual, emotional, psychological, creative development of the individual citizen. It respects and values the contributions of the scholar, the intellectual, to society. It treasures the promise of each student, and strives to offer the fullest possible support to the development of that promise. It does this not only for the good of the scholar and the student, but for the social good. Like medicine, academia existed for the social good. Neither should be a purely for-profit endeavor. And yet, in both the case of the HMO and the EMO, we have been taken over by an alien for-profit culture, our sovereignty over our own profession, our own institutions, stripped from us.

A corporate model, where profit depends on 1) maintaining a low-wage work force and 2) charging continually higher pricers for their “services” is what now controls our colleges . Faculty is being squeezed from one end and our students are being squeezed from the other.

Step Five – Destroy the Students

While claiming to offer them hope of a better life, our corporatized universities are ruining the lives of our students.   This is accomplished through a two-prong tactic: you dumb down and destroy the quality of the education so that no one on campus is really learning to think, to question, to reason. Instead, they are learning to obey, to withstand “tests” and “exams”, to follow rules, to endure absurdity and abuse. Our students have been denied full-time available faculty, the ability to develop mentors and advisors, faculty-designed syllabi which changes each semester, a wide variety of courses and options. Instead, more and more universities have core curriculum which dictates a large portion of the course of study, in which the majority of classes are administrative-designed “common syllabi” courses, taught by an army of underpaid, part-time faculty in a model that more closely resembles a factory or the industrial kitchen of a fast food restaurant than an institution of higher learning.

The Second Prong:  You make college so insanely unaffordable that only the wealthiest students from the wealthiest of families can afford to go to the school debt free. Younger people may not know that for much of the 20th Century many universities in the U.S. were free – including the CA state system – you could establish residency in six months and go to Berkeley for free, or at very low cost. When I was an undergraduate student in the mid to late 1970s, tuition at Temple University was around $700 a year. Today, tuition is nearly $15,000 a year. Tuitions have increased, using CA as an example again, over 2000% since the 1970s. 2000%! This is the most directly dangerous situation for our students: pulling them into crippling debt that will follow them to the grave.

Another dangerous aspect of what is happening can be found in the shady partnership that has formed between the lending institutions and the Financial Aid Departments of universities.  This is an unholy alliance. I have had students in my classes who work for Financial Aid. They tell me that they are trained to say NOT “This is what you need to borrow,” but to say “This is what you can get,” and to always entice the student with the highest possible number. There have been plenty of kick-back scandals between colleges and lenders — and I’m sure there is plenty undiscovered shady business going on. So, tuition costs are out of control because of administrative, executive and coach salaries, and the loan numbers keep growing, risking a life of indebtedness for most of our students. Further, there is absolutely no incentive on the part of this corporatized university to care.

The propaganda machine here has been powerful.  Students, through the belief of their parents, their K-12 teachers, their high school counselors, are convinced by constant repetition that they HAVE to go to college to have a promising, middle class life, they are convinced that this tuition debt is “worth it” — and learn too late that it will indenture them.  Let’s be clear: this is not the fault of the parents, or K-12 teachers or counselors.  This is an intentional message that has been repeated year in and year out that aims to convince us all about the essential quality of a college education.

So, there you have it.

Within one generation, in five easy steps, not only have the scholars and intellectuals of the country been silenced and nearly wiped out, but the entire institution has been hijacked, and recreated as a machine through which future generations will ALL be impoverished, indebted and silenced. Now, low wage migrant professors teach repetitive courses they did not design to students who travel through on a kind of conveyor belt, only to be spit out, indebted and desperate into a jobless economy. The only people immediately benefitting inside this system are the administrative class – whores to the corporatized colonizers, earning money in this system in order to oversee this travesty. But the most important thing to keep in mind is this: The real winners, the only people truly benefitting from the big-picture meltdown of the American university are those people who, in the 1960s, saw those vibrant college campuses as a threat to their established power. They are the same people now working feverishly to dismantle other social structures, everything from Medicare and Social Security to the Post Office.

Looking at this wreckage of American academia, we have to acknowledge:  They have won.

BUT these are victors who will never declare victory — because the carefully-maintained capitalist illusion of the “university education” still benefits them. Never, ever, admit that the university is dead. No, no. Quite the opposite. Instead, continue to insist that the university is the ONLY way to gain a successful, middle class life. Say that the university is mandatory for happiness in adulthood. All the while, maintain this low-wage precariate class of edu-migrants, continually mis-educate and indebt in the students to ensure their docility, pimp the institution out to corporate interests. It’s a win-win for those right wingers – they’ve crippled those in the country who would push back against them, and have so carefully and cleverly hijacked the educational institutions that they can now be turned into part of the neoliberal/neocon machinery, further benefitting the right-wing agenda.

So now what?

This ruination has taken about a generation. Will we be able to undo this damage? Can we force refunding of our public educational system? Can we professionalize faculty, drive out the administrative glut and corporate hijackers? Can we provide free or low-cost tuition and high-quality education to our students in a way that does NOT focus only on job training, but on high-level personal and intellectual development? I believe we can. But only if we understand this as a big picture issue, and refuse to allow those in government, or those corporate-owned media mouthpieces to divide and conquer us further. This ruinous rampage is part of the much larger attack on progressive values, on the institutions of social good. The battle isn’t only to reclaim the professoriate, to wipe out student debt, to raise educational outcomes — although each of those goals deserve to be fought for. But we will win a Pyrrhic victory at best unless we understand the nature of the larger war, and fight back in a much, much bigger way to reclaim the country’s values for the betterment of our citizens.

I am eager to hear from those of you who have been involved in this battle, or are about to enter it.  We have a big job ahead of us, and are facing a very powerful foe in a kind of David and Goliath battle.  I’m open to hearing ideas about how to build a much, much better slingshot.

About junctrebellion

'Junct Rebellion was established to raise awareness of the corporate colonization that has taken over our U.S. universities, beginning in the 1980s and growing more and more dire with each decade. Our state universities used to be free, or very low-cost; they used to employ full-time faculty; they were run by faculty for the purpose of disseminating scholarship, to fellow academics and students and to society at large. Now, stratospheric tuitions and crippling student loan debt have been normalized, 80% of faculty across the country are hired on "adjunct" contracts, usually lasting one semester at a time. Classes are designed and overseen by administrators who have never taught. Administrators outnumber both faculty and students on most campuses across the U.S. In short, our academic system has been hijacked by for-profit "business models" and corporatist values. Education is a social good and should be seen, valued and supported as such. It is not a commodity. Our students are not sacrificial lambs. Our scholars are not untouchables, to be starved out of existence. Please join us in our efforts to restore high-quality academia to American society.
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756 Responses to How The American University was Killed, in Five Easy Steps

  1. Sinner says:

    Reblogged this on Academic Sins and commented:
    A must-read.

    • Jon Wright says:

      The number one cause of the reduction in public education funding is public union salaries and pensions. Do I need to repeat? The number one cause of the reduction in public education funding is public union salaries and pension.

      • Jon, you can repeated it until your teeth fall out. Repetition of an uninformed and biased falsehood doesn’t make it true.
        This is a situation which has existed for decades across all universities, whether they are public or private. The lack of unionization for most faculty is part of the reason their professions have been all but destroyed. I would hope that your anti-union bias, whether well-grounded or not, wouldn’t inhibit your ability to understand the discussion taking place here. It’s about the loss of high-quality education in our country and what we can do about it.

      • sethkahn says:

        This is so misinformed it doesn’t even rise to the level of a lie. Unions don’t have jack shit to do with cuts in public funding–witness

      • David Cooper says:

        You are spot on, Sethkahn. Unions have nothing to due with the cutbacks. Cities are short of money because of the shrinking tax base in this economy and high unemployment. We are all going to suffer from having fewer teachers, firefighters, and police officers.

      • sethkahn says:

        Sorry for the angry language, by the way. I’m just sick and bloody tired of seeing that hunk of propaganda getting thrown around in 2012.

      • And, David, the shortage has to do, doesn’t it, with the redistribution of the available money?

      • Jim Hutton, PhD says:

        To Junctrebellion and others of you criticizing Jon Wright’s post:

        You need to call “time out” and examine the facts. I don’t know if Wright is correct in stating that public union salaries and pensions are the #1 cause in the reduction of public education funding, but certainly they have been a major scandal for a long time, depending on what state you live in, and no doubt such excesses have contributed mightily to cutbacks in public services, including education. In places like California and New Jersey (where I live now), public-employee salaries and especially pensions (for cops and many others, not just teachers) are outrageous and unsustainable. Rutgers and New Jersey Institute of Technology have two of the seven highest paid public-university faculties in the country, and my local community college in a recent year had the highest paid community college faculty in the U.S., even though none of those instutitions would rank anywhere near the top in quality rankings.

        In New Jersey, as in many other states, public-union employees have plundered and pillaged the system in exchange for supporting Democratic candidates for local and state public offices. I am generally a Democrat, myself, and I think that our Republican governor Chris Christie is mostly just a big, fat bully, but he was right to take on the teachers unions. The problem was that Christie didn’t have the courage to take on police unions and other unions, which are an even bigger problem than the teachers. Cops in my little township average well in excess of $100,000 a year, not to mention all the money they make in other ways (moonlighting, overtime, early-retirement options, pay for unused sick leave, etc. Taxpayers’ future obligations to pay the pensions of public employees are one of the great scandals of our time, and are going to be a huge financial burden for the U.S. for at least the next 25 years, maybe much longer.

        I am not necessarily suggesting that unionization of adjuncts is not a good idea. Perhaps it is. In fact, I might well be an advocate for unionizing my own private-university’s faculty, if the Yeshiva U. court decision did not effectlvely prevent it. But anyone considering the unionization route needs to understand that unions, while potentially a part of the solution, are, without question, a major part of the problem. Ironic, eh?

      • I’m an old hippie chick, so I retain a fairly constant distrust of police and authority figures. But aren’t they risking their lives in a society with increasing violence – why shouldn’t they receive a good wage, and the possibility of early retirement? Second and third year associates in big law firms across the country are earning, on average, $150K a year, with benefits and year-end bonuses in the tens of thousands of dollars. But attorneys who work in the D.A.’s offices can barely make ends meet. It’s another one of those systems that will exploit wherever possible. And isn’t it fairly obvious that underpaid people in those positions are much more easily drawn into corruption? Wouldn’t we rather have police (and D.A.s) earning healthy wages and actually doing a great job than have them earning poverty wages and getting bought off, working in league with the criminals rather than for the community? As for Christie and police — didn’t Camden, one of the deadliest cities in the whole country, just announce they were laying off their ENTIRE police force?

      • Jim Hutton, PhD says:

        Actually, some of your premises are off-base:

        * I agree with you that soldiers, especially, but also cops should be paid well if they are at-risk of violence. But that’s not the way the system works. Soldiers, of course, are rarely paid well, and cops working in safe suburbs often make more money those in violence-plagued urban areas. The cops in my town make as much or more than cops in terribly violent neighborhoods just a few miles away, even though I can’t remember a violent crime in my little township in the 10 years that I’ve lived here.

        * It isn’t obvious at all that paying public officials (e.g., district attornies) better salaries will reduce corruption. The judges and district attornies where I live now are by far the best paid of anywhere I’ve ever lived, but they are easily the most corrupt. I filed civil and criminal complaints against a contractor who stole $5,000 from me, and he was convicted in both civil and criminal court, but the judicial system here is so thoroughly corrupt that the contractor has paid virtually nothing in restitution or jail time, even though he has at least two criminal convictions for theft and at least 17 civil judgments against him totaling more than $100,000.

      • Jim Hutton, I also live in New Jersey and work as a college adjunct, making about $2200 per course and working at three different schools to try to make ends meet. In one of the counties, they have cut county spending on the community college by 96% over the last five years, from $12 million to 1/2 million. In that community college, 91% are adjuncts. Did you include adjuncts in your equation?

      • Dahn, I think those numbers that Jim uses must be averaging full-time faculty salaries ONLY. They are far too high, given that we now have over 70% of faculty hired as adjuncts with the kinds of salaries you receive. Just a quick review of those salary averages must indicate those poverty-level wages for 70% of the faculty force are not being factored in.

      • Jim Hutton, PhD says:

        Adjunct on Foodstamps,

        No, adjuncts are rarely included in such statistics. Offhand, I don’t know where salary statistics for adjuncts are reported. It would make little sense to report them in most salary surveys since most adjuncts are part-timers, creating an apples-to-oranges comparison with full time faculty. The standard salary reports (AAUP, CUPA) tend to report only full-time faculty, sometimes including instructors.

      • So Jim, why do you only mention the salaries of full-time workers when part-time workers are the majority and becoming the norm? I have noticed that this operational definition is used as a talking point by ALEC and ALEC-related groups.

      • Jim Hutton, PhD says:

        Adjunct on Foodstamps,

        There seems to be a highly questionable premise running throughout the discussion on this blog — that people have ever been able to make a decent liviing working as adjuncts, or that they will ever be able to do so in the future. Given the economics of the situation, and the enormous hurdles to unionizing or organizing in any meaningful way, the primary goal should be to reestablish a greater number of full-time positions. The harsh economic reality is that most community colleges will probably never be able to pay adjuncts enough to make a living, and most decent four-year colleges will not pay adjuncts a decent wage because they don’t have to.

        A fundamental problem for adjuncts, especially in professional fields like law, business, engineering and communications (but also in many other fields), is that decent colleges have an almost endless supply of people willing to teach for non-economic reasons. My university generally pays adjuncts $2,000-3,000 per course (depending on the field) and basically hasn’t raised adjunct pay in at least 15 years. Some other local colleges pay even less than we do. It’s embarrassing and shameful. Yet we have a queue of people ready and willing to teach courses for us. Many of them are retired and looking to stay active intellectually; some are successful professionals wanting to “give back” to their alma mater; still others are wanting to add a brownie point to their resume by being associated with a university. Virtually no one does it for the money. This is not a new phenomenon. Almost thirty years ago, when I was a businessman and taught as an adjunct, I considered my adjunct teaching at the University of Hawaii to be a public service, and I donated the money (about $2,500 a course, even then, as I recall) back to the university for student scholarships.

        Somewhere along the line, some people got the idea that one could make a living teaching as an adjunct. I don’t think that’s realistic. In fact, it will probably become increasingly unrealistic, given the education model that many universities are exploring (video and internet lectures in which “master” professors will teach thousands of students in basic courses, leaving more time for full-time faculty to teach upper-division and graduate courses and to conduct research). So my advice to people who can’t get a full-time teaching job is to get some other full-time job, outside of academe. In the meantime, I would highly encourage them to moonlight as adjuncts and continue their efforts to organize or unionize if they feel that’s the best solution. But I think a far smarter strategy would be to focus on restoring full-time positions that would pay a living wage.

      • Jerry says:

        Pure poppycock

      • Jan says:

        Tell that to the 1 million adjuncts.

      • Sorry, Jon Wrong, but that is utter bull. It is not even possible, because only about 10% of the U.S. workforce is unionized, so the effect of some unionized public workers, and not all public workers are unionized, is not great enough to “cause” a “reduction in public education funding.” There are some public employees on the east coast that are well paid, but that is not universal, Public employees include police, firefighters, teachers, cafeteria workers, janitors, bus drivers, etc, and the staff of public educations facilities, including colleges. The staff are not often unionized, and often qualify for food stamps on their full-time salaries. When I helped unionize the staff at my University workplace, we had to lobby the state legislature for a one-time across-the-board pay increase for all employees to get many of them out of poverty-level wages. As a union, we could not force the University to increase wages, but concentrated instead on how people are treated by the University. Our greatest successes were helping competent people, unfairly treated, to keep their jobs, and making sure that they received the benefits promised them, like free classes at the University where they worked. It was always a struggle just to make sure staff got treated the way the University promised them when they were hired. Reductions in public education funding are not a response to unions, but to the many things detailed in this article, which, I am certain, you did not even read in its entirety. For the most part, such reductions are “caused” by legislative reductions in funding for the reasons of lowering taxes, but it is mostly just the lowering of taxes on the extremely wealthy, who benefit the most from tax cuts.

      • ShueA says:

        You are wrong. In my state, we are not unionized and our benefits are horrible. Yet, our state appropriations have been slashed by nearly a third.

      • D. Ames says:

        The number one reason for the entire educational system to be in a failed state is the bureaucracy of administration in funding. It costs $32000 annually to provide a child one year of education and of that money, the student and teacher only receive less than 10%. The bulk of the money is spent from the federal level down; now look at higher ed, and you will see that that percentage figure is lower. The only high-paid positions for faculty are in fields that utilize the position to make gains in patents sales not education. The rest of the money as in the primary education is spent on administration of funding and again this is a top down model that results in the least amount of dollars spent in the classroom. Someone has to ask why the model can’t be excised completely and distribute funding by enrollment to any child or adult instead of having three levels of bureaucracy, three levels of credential guidelines, etc.
        An example of a large college system that is always in a “fail” position is Hillsborough College in Florida who relegates most instruction to be delivered by less than .50FTE, thus exempting most instructors from accumulating any benefits, and who has now moved over to the Wal-mart / McDonald position of paying employees with Chase debit card account since as they say, many of their instructors do not work regularly, do not have permanent addresses nor checking accounts.
        Cut out all the middle men and move back to accreditation to an agreed upon federal standard, restrain institutes from private deals with corporations privatizing research, and move towards permanent full-time at rate paid by how many classes and/or years of instruction at the post-secondary level, while in conjunction fixing the model of primary/secondary ed and the system will find its center and focus on the student.
        You can blame a 30k problem for a 3.4b flaw.

      • Lisa Ebert says:

        My pension is privately funded through our state, and my college doesn’t contribute to it. All of the funding comes from my paycheck. My salary? Pfft. After 20 years and 3-1/2 degrees, I am earning in the high 40’s. I now must make the final choice on my PhD…. do I sell out and get it in higher ed administration, so that I can earn more? Or do I get a useless PhD in my discipline. Sigh.

      • Bob Calder says:

        How do you respond to the fact that charter schools that have the same cost to the public per pupil experience only average results despite having all of the advantages of not having unions?
        Do yourself a favor and don’t engage in rhetoric posturing.

      • Bob Calder says:

        That was intended for Jon Wright. Sorry Lisa.

      • Charles Twombly says:

        Let me do some repetition of my own: Junctrebellion has hit the nail squarely on the head.

      • professorM says:

        Too often, professors and unions are made the scapegoat for the increasing college costs. But colleges and universities are not hiring full-time professors and those that do (aside from some elite four-year institutions) are not paying exorbitant salaries. However, they are hiring administrators-with much higher salaries than professors. Yet rarely to you hear administrators blamed for increasing costs. Why is that?

        “Over the past four decades, though, the number of full-time professors …increased slightly more than 50 percent. That percentage is comparable to the growth in student enrollments during the same time period. But the number of administrators and administrative staffers employed by those schools increased by an astonishing 85 percent and 240 percent, respectively.”
        Administrators Ate My Tuition by Benjamin Ginsberg

    • Nobodaddy says:

      This is for Jim Hutton. The 70%+ who are now adjuncts are not doing it for fun, and donating their salaries, as you were. Without them, a purposely-developed underclass, colleges would collapse. Your long line of do-gooders does not exist. You are completely out of touch with reality.

      • Jim Hutton, PhD says:


        You seem to be living in a parallel universe.

        I have been hiring adjuncts for many years, and I assure you that I have far more people willing and qualified to teach than I have courses to assign. Of the approximately 15 people in my pool of adjuncts, over the past eight years or so, only four of them chose to stop teaching: one who was dying of Lou Gehrig’s disease, one who moved to another state, one who quit because his growing consulting business was so successful the he traveled too much to teach, and a professional speaker who quit teaching because she preferred to spend her time making $10,000 a speech. I did lose one other adjunct before she even started teaching: a former employee of an elite consulting firm who was working her way back into the professional world after a pregnancy, who backed out of teaching at the last minute when she realized that she might actually LOSE money teaching as an adjunct because what we would pay her might not even cover her transportation and child-care expenses related to teaching.

        Among the core group of adjuncts who remain part of the pool, probably only one of them is motivated at all by money. The others – the “do-gooders,” as you called them – include a former executive of a major telecommunications company, with a masters from Northwestern, who took early retirement; a former executive of a major corporation, now a freelancer whose clients include Fortune 500 companies; an executive who is also a city council member; two consultants who are also authors of highly successful books; and another consultant who writes a nationally syndicated newspaper column. Their most common motives for teaching are probably a desire to “give back” to students and the university, as thanks for the knowledge and skills they gained from their own education, and (in the case of the consultants) an association with a university that gives them a bit more credibility in their work. Despite the fact that the college and the university have shown them little respect, the group has remained loyal to me, to each other, and to their students because I treat them with great respect, because we have created an atmosphere of supreme professionalism, and because they can see the difference they make in students’ lives. (It’s important to note that these people are very much a part of “the 70%.”)

        Please note that I am embarrassed and ashamed that my university and other universities pay so little, and I am deeply disturbed by the existence of the huge underclass of part-time and non-tenure-track college teachers that exist in this country. But you are sadly mistaken if you think that even if half of “the 70%” were to quit or strike next semester that colleges would collapse. The 300-student freshmen sections at major state universities would become 500-student sections; community colleges would shift their focus to huge sections of on-line and video courses; and most private colleges and universities would just issue greater appeals to their alumni as potential adjuncts, given that those alumni have a vested interest in maintaining the quality and reputation of their alma maters. All of us like to think that we are indispensable, but that’s rarely the case. Organizations adapt. Someone picks up the slack. Life goes on.

        “Pride goeth before … the fall.”
        — Proverbs

        Again, if you are one of “the 70%,” by far your best chance of ever making a living wage is to elicit the help of those who reside a level or two above you on the food chain. Tenured faculty are mostly sympathetic to the plight of the 70% and, while tenured faculty often have little power themselves, they are at least on the inside and likely to be the catalyst for helping to restore more full-time positions and/or increasing the wages for adjuncts. If you are one of the 70%, it is totally self-destructive for you to alienate people who are trying to help your cause. They represent your best – maybe only – hope.

        “Do not be angry with me if I tell you the truth.”
        — Socrates

      • Jim, sadly, I believe your analysis of the situation has some validity. There are many people who will adjunct for little or no remuneration. But higher education institutions are not charity organizations.

        Personally, I spent several years to get a Ph.D. and expected to find full-time work, but it hasn’t happened, and I am indigent. For seven years I worked as a prison guard and caseworker to make ends meet (and actually attain a middle-class lifestyle). Why should I make 60K (with benefits) as a prison worker but only expect 16K as a community college teacher at three schools?

        I know other administrators who feel the same as you do yet go along with the exploitation of labor and the taking of surplus value. You know in your heart that you are complicit in the slow unraveling of higher education in the US.

      • Jim Hutton, PhD says:

        Adjunct on Foodstamps,

        Some questions for you:

        * Why would anyone possibly think that getting a certain degree automatically entitles them to a certain kind of job? (Tell that to the hundreds of thousands of students who are have graduated in recent years who are unemployed or underemployed. )
        * How oblivious would one have to be to spend years working on a PhD without understanding what the job prospects were for that degree?
        * What kind of self-delusion and self-entitlement would it take for a person to think that just because they spent years doing a certain thing that the world somehow owes them a living wage for doing that thing? (Every human being on earth would love to get paid well for doing something they love. But not many of us are so naïve that we think we are good enough to make a living wage playing basketball, playing golf or taking travel photographs – my preferred occupations. )
        * How could anyone who has spent time in the academy not understand that good colleges and universities are, in numerous respects, charitable organizations? (Benefactors give billions of dollars to higher education, just like other kinds of charities. Hundreds of thousands of people volunteer their time and money to colleges as guest speakers, sponsors, advisors, fundraisers, etc., just like other kinds of charities. And thousands of people like me give up lucrative professional careers to teach – while most of our former colleagues are getting rich and retiring early – because we believe that education is something worth devoting/donating our time and energy to, even though we receive pay that is far below what we could earn in our previous jobs.)
        * Why should adjunct college professors be exempt from the laws of supply and demand, while almost everyone else in the country is bound by them? (If you are so unhappy with the laws of supply and demand in the U.S., why don’t you just move to a communist country where such laws don’t apply so much?)
        * Where were you (or others like you) 30 years ago, when I was raising hell about the inappropriate formation of an adjunct/non-tenure-track underclass? (There was a real opportunity to address the problem then, before it became the intractable problem that it is today.)
        * Where were you (and others like you) when I stood up in an all-faculty meeting, with virtually no support from my faculty colleagues, and told the president of my university that he needed to resign because the central administration’s incompetence and greed were destroying the finances and educational integrity of my university?
        * Where were you (and others like you) when I was giving speeches and writing academic articles and a book on the dangers of treating universities like businesses instead of like educational organizations?
        * What are you doing now (besides whining), while I am engaging the trustees and central administration of my university in an attempt to pressure them into getting rid of the silly business model that they are using to run the university, which treats adjuncts as nothing more than a cheap source of labor?
        * Why should I continue to care about the plight of adjuncts like you, when you blame innocent people for your own problems, when you refuse to listen to basic facts and logic, and when you insult the very people who are probably the best hope for solving the problem?

        In no way, shape or form am I complicit in unraveling higher education, as you so incorrectly suggested. Nor do I know in my heart that I am guilty of any such thing, as you so dishonestly stated in your posting. My job is not to ensure that you have a job. And I cannot help you at all, if you are too thick-headed to act in your own best interest by first understanding the problem and accepting responsibility for your role in helping to create the problem in the first place.

      • David Cooper says:

        A person who prepares himself or herself by getting a college degree should get a job that matches his or her education. Until recently, college educated people earned more and suffered less unemployment. If you take the time to finish college and incur the expense, you should earn more than minimum wage. It is not entitlement; it is justice.

      • Jim Hutton, PhD says:

        David Cooper,

        First, I fear that you are going to have a very sad life if you believe that there is justice in the world. The World Health Organization reports that about 19,000 children under the age of five die every day on planet Earth. The most common causes are pneumonia, diarrhea, malaria, measles, HIV/AIDS and malnutrition. Most of the deaths could be easily prevented with simple sanitation and proper nutrition. (Justice? I think not.)

        Second, the glut of adjuncts is not really a case of justice, but much more a case of simple supply and demand. Of course, there are additional political causes and complications, but for the most part there are simply too many people chasing too few jobs. Note that the adjunct situation stands in stark contrast to, say, the plight of nurses 30 years ago. In the case of nurses, supply and demand could not explain why nurses were making so little money when there was also a significant shortage of nurses. In my opinion, it was a case of exploitation by hospitals and the healthcare industry, and it seemed suspiciously gender based – an injustice. Eventually, nurses organized and developed some leverage, so that today most nurses are paid relatively well. More power to them.

        At least one person on this blog has suggested that adjuncts need to follow the path of nurses. That may be a partial solution, but the adjunct situation is a very different and vastly more complicated situation, very long in the making, which will require a combination of several strategies to resolve. Among the solutions, though, must surely be a recognition on the part of adjuncts that supply-and-demand is at the core of the problem, and that no one is entitled to a job just because he or she has a degree in that particular field. Everyone needs to face the cold, hard reality that most itinerant adjuncts who got advanced degrees with the expectation of guaranteed employment fell prey to the same scam that millions of undergraduate as well as graduate students today are falling for. Only today it is worse because the level of student-loan debt is generally much higher.

      • David Cooper says:

        Just because there is injustice in the world does not mean that we should not fight for justice and equality. I agree that the adjuncts should form a union, such as the American Federation of Teacher, and fight for better pay and benefits. They are exploited by colleges and universities around the country. You missed my point: the people who sacrificed and earn college degrees have done all the right things. It is not their fault that you are not properly compensated for their hard work.

      • Jim, I agree that I was ignorant about the job prospects in my field in 1998, when I received my Ph.D. I should have known better. Perhaps we should limit the number of people who get degrees in particular majors, like the medical profession does, to avoid an oversupply.

      • When I earned my bachelors in natural science at the elite Harvey Mudd College in 1973 and then slogged through full-time to earn a Ph.D. in Biophysics at SUNY Buffalo in 1984, I had very little idea that by choosing to earn a Ph.D. in America that I had taken a vow of poverty. Colleges and Universities had very carefully cultivated via public relations approaches that the years of economic hardship were over once a doctorate was earned. However, the salary statistics that were presented in publications were of the small subsample of Ph.D. holders with full-time employment. My actual compensation in the years that I had a full-time job were typically less than the salary reported for just-graduated bachelor’s degree holders.

        I chaired and organized symposia for the 1983, 1984, and 1985 annual meetings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science regarding the career problems that young Ph.D.s were having. In 1996, I traveled to Washington, DC at my own expense to present a short talk at the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) regarding the career plight of young scientists titled. “We’re All in This Lifeboat Together!” – search for it by the title of the talk and my name, Gene Nelson. I raised the issue of class warfare in that talk, as economic elites tend to get the “good” jobs, leaving the poorly-paid positions to the middle and lower classes. In the 1998 NAS publication, “Trends in Early Research Careers,” I was merely mentioned as a participant in Appendix B, and my employer is given as “Microsoft.” I was earning $11.06/hour as a Microsoft contractor providing telephone tech support then. (I had more than a decade of relevant corporate employment after earning my Ph.D. by then.)

        There appears to me to be a concerted effort by most colleges and universities and most college administrators to keep the business model of (ab)using adjuncts under wraps so that students and taxpayers don’t know about it until too late. A couple of personal examples come to mind. When I authored an article in the student paper revealing that the adjunct faculty only received about 3.78% of the operational budget for teaching about half of the contact hours, my adjunct teaching load was slashed from teaching 15 credit hours that term to teaching 3 credit hours the subsequent term. Circa 2002, at the University of Dallas, there was a presentation by some Nobel prize winning scientists about the great career prospects in science with the target audience being high school senior honor students. With permission from the magazine, I reprinted 100 copies of the 05 December 1994 Sharon Begley article from Newsweek, “No Ph.D.s Need Apply.” (This article draws from my experience.) After distributing almost all of the copies to people in the audience, I went to the front of the hall and handed a copy to the professor on the dais who was going to introduce the speakers. He quickly skimmed the article and said, “This does not look good!”

        I label this harmful process a scam and appreciate that websites like this are finally available that document the dire career prospects of Ph.D.s However, only an extremely tiny fraction of the activist community understand that in 1976 many colleges and universities made a bad situation untenable to further enhance their profit margins. This large group of colleges and universities via their trade association, The Association of American Universities, (AAU) lobbied a corrupt legislator named Joshua Eilberg to allow colleges an universities to import unlimited numbers of professors and researchers – and they designed a work visa that legally allowed the institution to pay the imported workers substantially less than most comparably employed American citizens were paid. That legislation was called the “Eilberg Amendment.” To learn more about this, search on the phrase “Eilberg Amendment” and “H-1B”. (The second phrase is the name of a very large work visa program created by employers in 1990 that cited the Eilberg Amendment as a legislative precedent. The H-1B Visa program effectively extended the access of the pool of poorly-paid high-skill immigrant labor from colleges and universities to the private sector.) It is important to understand that in 1969, the National Academy of Sciences had published the report, “The Invisible University” by Curtis. This report documented the glut of Ph.D.s in science and engineering fields that already existed in the U.S. Seven years later, the corrupt legislator Joshua Eilberg sneaked through the “Eilberg Amendment” using once-in-a-lifetime parliamentary tactics. These work visa programs pit the billions of the world’s poor against the American middle class. The employer dangles the prospect of residency in America to recruit them – and to compel the immigrant to accept low wages and poor working conditions. These work visa programs, summarized by Nobel economics laureate Milton Friedman as “government subsidy” programs in a 2002 ComputerWorld article (because they give employers access to highly-skilled labor at below-market wages) have become incredibly bloated with 37.160 million visa admissions between FY 1975-2010. Search for this 2012 reference by choosing the PDF version of the results of the search of both phrases “Joshua Eilberg” and “37.160” The unprecedented size of these work visa programs extends their adverse wage impacts to a very large portion of the skilled U.S. workforce.

        I hope that websites like this serve to disseminate knowledge of the dire situation facing adjunct faculties in most American colleges and universities. This knowledge could lead to repeal of “bad laws” such as the Eilberg Amendment and the H-1B Visa program, increasing wages for Ph.D.s serving as adjunct faculty.

        P.S. I appreciate the activism that James Hutton, Ph.D. writes about in this blog. Sadly, I believe that far too many faculty and administrators have been intimidated into silence by the elites that benefit from the status quo.

      • I’m pleased to observe that OpEdNews dot com has reprinted the original article. Here is part 1 of my comment:

        When I earned my bachelors in natural science at the elite Harvey Mudd College in 1973 and then slogged through full-time to earn a Ph.D. in Biophysics at SUNY Buffalo in 1984, I had very little idea that by choosing to earn a Ph.D. in America that I had taken a vow of poverty. Colleges and Universities had very carefully cultivated via public relations approaches that the years of economic hardship were over once a doctorate was earned. However, the salary statistics that were presented in publications were of the small subsample of Ph.D. holders with full-time employment. My actual compensation in the years that I had a full-time job were typically less than the salary reported for just-graduated bachelor’s degree holders.

        I chaired and organized symposia for the 1983, 1984, and 1985 annual meetings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science regarding the career problems that young Ph.D.s were having. In 1996, I traveled to Washington, DC at my own expense to present a short talk at the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) regarding the career plight of young scientists titled. “We’re All in This Lifeboat Together!” – search for it by the title of the talk and my name, Gene Nelson. I raised the issue of class warfare in that talk, as economic elites tend to get the “good” jobs, leaving the poorly-paid positions to the middle and lower classes. In the 1998 NAS publication, “Trends in Early Research Careers,” I was merely mentioned as a participant in Appendix B, and my employer is given as “Microsoft.” I was earning $11.06/hour as a Microsoft contractor providing telephone tech support then. (I had more than a decade of relevant corporate employment after earning my Ph.D. by then.)

        There appears to me to be a concerted effort by most colleges and universities and most college administrators to keep the business model of (ab)using adjuncts under wraps so that students and taxpayers don’t know about it until too late. A couple of personal examples come to mind. When I authored an article in the student paper revealing that the adjunct faculty only received about 3.78% of the operational budget for teaching about half of the contact hours, my adjunct teaching load was slashed from teaching 15 credit hours that term to teaching 3 credit hours the subsequent term. Circa 2002, at the University of Dallas, there was a presentation by some Nobel prize winning scientists about the great career prospects in science with the target audience being high school senior honor students. With permission from the magazine, I reprinted 100 copies of the 05 December 1994 Sharon Begley article from Newsweek, “No Ph.D.s Need Apply.” (This article draws from my experience.) After distributing almost all of the copies to people in the audience, I went to the front of the hall and handed a copy to the professor on the dais who was going to introduce the speakers. He quickly skimmed the article and said, “This does not look good!”

      • Part 2 of 2
        I label this harmful process a scam and appreciate that websites like this are finally available that document the dire career prospects of Ph.D.s However, only an extremely tiny fraction of the activist community understand that in 1976 many colleges and universities made a bad situation untenable to further enhance their profit margins. This large group of colleges and universities via their trade association, The Association of American Universities, (AAU) lobbied a corrupt legislator named Joshua Eilberg to allow colleges an universities to import unlimited numbers of professors and researchers – and they designed a work visa that legally allowed the institution to pay the imported workers substantially less than most comparably employed American citizens were paid. That legislation was called the “Eilberg Amendment.” To learn more about this, search on the phrase “Eilberg Amendment” and “H-1B”. (The second phrase is the name of a very large work visa program created by employers in 1990 that cited the Eilberg Amendment as a legislative precedent. The H-1B Visa program effectively extended the access of the pool of poorly-paid high-skill immigrant labor from colleges and universities to the private sector.) It is important to understand that in 1969, the National Academy of Sciences had published the report, “The Invisible University” by Curtis. This report documented the glut of Ph.D.s in science and engineering fields that already existed in the U.S. Seven years later, the corrupt legislator Joshua Eilberg sneaked through the “Eilberg Amendment” using once-in-a-lifetime parliamentary tactics. These work visa programs pit the billions of the world’s poor against the American middle class. The employer dangles the prospect of residency in America to recruit them – and to compel the immigrant to accept low wages and poor working conditions.

        These work visa programs, summarized by Nobel economics laureate Milton Friedman as “government subsidy” programs in a 2002 ComputerWorld article (because they give employers access to highly-skilled labor at below-market wages) have become incredibly bloated with 37.160 million visa admissions between FY 1975-2010. Search for this 2012 reference by choosing the PDF version of the results of the search of both phrases “Joshua Eilberg” and “37.160” The unprecedented size of these work visa programs extends their adverse wage impacts to a very large portion of the skilled U.S. workforce.

        I hope that websites like this serve to disseminate knowledge of the dire situation facing adjunct faculties in most American colleges and universities. This knowledge could lead to repeal of “bad laws” such as the Eilberg Amendment and the H-1B Visa program, increasing wages for Ph.D.s serving as adjunct faculty.

        P.S. I appreciate the activism that James Hutton, Ph.D. writes about in this blog. Sadly, I believe that far too many faculty and administrators have been intimidated into silence by the elites that benefit from the status quo.

      • Jim Hutton, PhD says:

        Gene Nelson, PhD, has added some very important new information and insight to this discussion that goes to the heart of the original essay. His post is the first to address the important role of immigration laws/policy in the adjunct issue.

        A little background: Traditionally U.S. immigration policy was based largely on two core philosophies – that we should open our arms (a) to those who were seeking freedom from persecution in their homelands and needed a refuge (“give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”) and (b) to those who had special skills or knowledge that the U.S. needed. The balance of selfish and humanitarian motives created a functional and generally effective immigration policy.

        At some point, however, the U.S. stopped enforcing its immigration laws, allowing a mass of foreigners to enter American higher education, mostly concentrated at the upper echelons of college faculties and mostly in fields such as business, sciences, engineering and technology, even though there were already more than enough Americans to fill the jobs. When I started my PhD program, there were two jobs for every PhD graduate in my field, but four years later when I was looking for a job, there were two candidates for every job (mostly because of the lack of enforcement of immigration laws). If memory serves, the state of Washington was one of the very few U.S. states that was actually enforcing immigration laws when it came to the hiring of faculty members. Decades later, international PhD students/faculty continue to flow into American universities in fields that are already experiencing a glut.

        Over time, as Gene Nelson points out, old immigration laws were actually changed and new ones enacted in order to benefit private interests at the expense of the public interest (and at the expense of American citizens graduating from PhD programs).

        Few would argue that the presence of international faculty members doesn’t add important new talent and perspectives to American higher education. But there is no doubt that the failure to enforce immigration laws in years past, along with subsequent changes to immigration laws and policies, has added significantly to the glut of faculty members in many fields, helping to create the massive underclass of adjuncts in the U.S.

      • I appreciate Jim Hutton’s response to my comment (which appears twice as a consequence of vagaries of the moderation process.) The 14 April 1993 Wall Street Journal article on page B-1 “Black Hole Opens in Scientist Job Rolls” by G. Pascal Zachary recognized the imbalance between supply and demand – and the role of immigration in exacerbating the supply glut – search for the article by title. You may also review my 1999 U.S. House of Representatives testimony on this topic via the Google search “Gene Nelson” (Hint: I’m not the country and western singer with the same name.) The legislative history of the 1976 Eilberg Amendment receives more attention in the PDF version of my 2005 article, “Career Destruction Sites – What American colleges have become.” Please search for it by title. The link to the missing table regarding foreign hiring preference via the H-1B Visa program is found in the version archived at the CWAlocal4250 dot org website, which also provides unique documentation about Microsoft’s hiring of “Team Abramoff” to help procure 3 “Microsoft friendly” changes to H-1B Visa legislation between 1995-2000 via a 2008 legal filing, Exhibit 40 in the case USA v Abramoff.

        One of the astonishing aspects of the legislative history of the Eilberg Amendment was observed by one of my activist colleagues, Rob Sanchez. Colleges and universities modified a 1952 program to import up to 500 unskilled workers per year (Basque sheepherders) into one allowing them to import unlimited numbers of college professors and researchers in 1976. The National Science Foundation played a key role in expanding the 1976 program to the private sector in 1990. I am very indebted to the pioneering legal research of MIT mathematician Eric Weinstein, Ph.D. whose research appears at the NBER dot org website.

  2. VanessaVaile says:

    Your article opens an important discussion we can’t afford not to have. Good resources too. I’ve marked the links.

    Chris Newfield, author of Unmaking the Public University, runs a great multiple author blog, Remaking the University on the subject.

  3. dawn says:

    The point that has been overlooked is that public K-12 education has so declined that colleges
    must remediate students without admitting they are doing so. Students are clients who vote with their feet and adjuncts dare not displease them by offering demanding courses. Adjuncts do a huge amount of uncompensated mentoring and advising while a lot of permanent faculty collect their checks and are out at five pm. Sorry but it’s true at my school.

    • David Zeeman says:

      With respect, K-12 has not declined. In fact, our middle-class and upper-middle class public school students are en par with or outperforming their counterparts in other countries. Only in schools where there’s a high poverty ratio are our students failing or falling behind their foreign peers. And child poverty has been rising steadily for the last 30 years. Universities are now trying to educate a larger cross-section of American students (more so than ever before), and this obviously includes students from deeply impoverished backgrounds.

      The “our public schools are failing” meme is a myth designed to foster privatization of our public schools. The real problem is child poverty – now 1 in 4 American students.

      Please consider reading, also:

      • Jesse Holiday says:

        I have children in K-12 schools. They are failing. In the last 6 years I’ve seen the budgets slashed so hard that all they can afford to do is teach the basics. Gone is art class and hands on science and the quality music class where everyone learns an instrument. The No Child Left Behind act has left the teachers focused more on test scores & prep than on critical thinking & problem solving. They may be working to privatize our public schools, but they aren’t doing it with a myth. It is happening.

      • Robin Brownfield says:

        Courses do no necessarily need to be “demanding” to inspire students to think, question, and learn for themselves. “Demanding” often implies learning for the sake of a test, to “earn” the grades. I have always opted to challenge students to think outside the box, and enjoy that process, rather than making it a task. Given that most students will never become academics, the approach is to determine what it is they need to know to live life as intelligently as possible, including the possibility that they may have to fight the status quo and/or oppressive system. You don’t think about those things if you are mired in memorizing for tests, or making sure you dot every “i” and cross every “t.”

        It really burns me up when colleagues claim “Well I have standards,” when what they really mean is that they don’t give a rat’s ass about the lives of their students. I never expect them to do any more than I ever did as a student (which meant I was at the top of my graduating class, but I also was allowed to have a life outside of school). My education included learning to understand all the possibilities in a situation, and to think strategically.

        You don’t teach strategic thinking by demanding they make you the ultimate overlord and complying with your every whim. This is how you teach fear and blind obedience. It’s why adjuncts fail at the test in life, because most are too afraid to challenge and increasingly oppressive system.

        For the record, I have standards, too. My standards involve helping students function better in life. My standards involve letting students know they don’t have to blindly accept the whims of people in authority. My standards include teaching them beyond the textbooks, or the minutia in pedantic articles by tenured or tenure-bound academics.

        In the end, are we creating more good, compliant, “factory” workers, or more fully-functioning human beings? It’s a hard to be both, so I prefer to help people achieve the latter.

      • Jim Hutton, PhD says:

        With respect, K-12 education in the U.S. is a disaster. The idea that “public schools are failing” is not, in any way, a myth. Every international study of K-12 students clearly shows that the U.S. has fallen from an undisputed #1 in learning outcomes 40 or 50 years ago to the middle or bottom of the pack (among developed countries). If you are not aware, public schools stopped teaching grammar more than a generation ago, and other skills (math, sciences, etc.) are no better. As a college professor, I have to deal with the fall-out every day. There are many reasons for the massive problem, perhaps the most prominent being that for the past several decades, college education majors (those who become K-12 teachers) are among the very worst on campus. Even 15-20 years ago, the average S.A.T. score of an education major was about 800, while the average engineering major’s score was about 1,200. I know many fine, smart, dedicated K-12 teachers, but we need to face reality: The people teaching our kids are just not very smart, on average. And, frankly, a large percentage of them are simply government bureaucrats who care little about their students and are most concerned about preserving their positions. We desperately need to support the teachers who DO care about students, who ARE smart and qualified, and who ARE totally dedicated to excellence. Unless we make fundamental changes to our K-12 system in the U.S., American education will continue to erode and undermine our economic, cultural and democratic future as a nation. American colleges and universities (at least the best ones) are still the envy of the world, but that will no longer be the case in the future unless we take radical steps to shore up the K-12 system.

      • Bob Calder says:

        Where does the “40 or 50 years ago” top position information come from? I suspect what you see is a result of your institution expanding enrollment by lowering standards combined with the effect of high stakes testing that de-emphasized good writing in favor of simply more writing.

        You may not be aware of it but if you visit NCES you can see that MA and MN are among the top ten “nations” as they opted to be tested that way.

        It’s not like NCES and the rest of is that track this stuff are unaware of what should be done. There is no political appetite for deviating from the conservative agenda for cranking up the volume of what we know doesn’t work.

      • Jim Hutton, PhD says:

        I’m not really sure what point(s) you are trying to make, but with respect to MN and MA being among the world’s K-12 leaders, that is a very misleading comparison. I lived in Minnesota for nine years, and taught at both the largest private university and the largest public university in the state. The reason Minnesota has such high test scores, relative to the rest of the U.S., is that it has only a tiny minority population, and very little immigration. I am not knocking Minnesota, but people there tend to operate under the delusion that they are somehow responsible for their supposed educational superiority, when in fact the numbers are almost entirely an accident of geography (especially relative to coastal or border states like Texas, California and Florida, which have to deal with huge immigration issues that significantly distort statistics on educational performance). In “Prairie Home Companion,” Garrison Keillor captures what locals call this “Minnesota smug” in his description of Lake Wobegon (his fictional small town in Minnesota), “where … all the children are above average.”

        More important, the numbers don’t capture what is really happening in the schools. Fifteen or twenty years ago, in teaching an undergraduate class at the largest private university in Minnesota, composed of students who attended private schools and the best public K-12 schools in Minnesota, I posed a simple question: “Who was the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean?” The question was supposed to be a give-away, a set-up for my real question, “Who was the SECOND person to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean?” (I was making a point about how important it is to be #1, whether in business, science or history. In fact, I had used this exercise repeatedly over the years, and had no problem, in the early years, with the large majority of students being able to answer the first question.) Unfortunately, not a single student could tell me the answer to my set-up question, including a student sitting in on the class who had a master’s degree in English literature from the University of Michigan. A few students offered answers like “Kitty Hawk” and “Howard Hughes” as the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic, but not a single student came up with the correct answer of “Charles Lindbergh,” who happened to be the most famous person in the world at one point in history, as well as the namesake of the main terminal at the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport, and the most famous person to ever come from the state of Minnesota. I could give you countless other examples of my experiences there, including a senior in college who did not know what fractions were, and a student who informed one of my faculty colleagues that he could not be required to read the textbook for the course because reading was not part of his “learning style.”

        I ask you now, as I asked myself then, “How could anyone think that our schools are not failing?” and “How can we run a successful democracy with a citizenry so devoid of basic knowledge?”

      • Jeremiah Reagan says:

        It’s more that public schools in poor areas are failing because our current policy of funding schools using taxes on local property values is absolutely insane.

      • Ahmie says:

        Professor Hutton, I am 35 years old, graduated (public inner-ring suburban) high school in 1995 following a majority public education in the Cleveland and Denver suburbs (other than one semester in middle school in an absolutely horrid Denver private religious school before moving back to the Cleveland area) earned my BA from Case Western Reserve University in 1999 with honors, and could have told you anytime from about 1990 onward that Mr Lindenburg was the first to fly solo across the Atlantic, and I’ve never taken a single breath in Minnesota. It is possible that the class you refer to happened to be an outlier class, statistically. Oh, and I’m also dyslexic and a thesis away from earning my MA (this time from a public university, since as a physically disabled mother of soon to be 4 I couldn’t manage an assistanceship in addition to coursework) with plans to go on for my PhD from another public university after taking off spring semester for maternity leave. Not only did my schools have relatively high poverty levels throughout my youth, my family was on public assistance for a good portion of it. I’m not saying that in the “if I can do it, anyone can” or the “look how exceptional I am” ways, just illustrating my own personal history.

        I am also married to an inner-city public high school teacher with more than a decade of experience (we met as undergraduates and married soon after graduation, so we’ve been together longer than he’s been a teacher). He’s had 9th grade students enter his science class with 3rd grade reading levels – products of social promotion, many of them coming from for-profit charter schools or religious schools (there are more of those at the k-8 level than at the high school level, so many of their students re-enter the public school system at 9th grade). Yes, our public schools have many failings, dedication of the teachers is generally NOT part of it. As Jeremiah points out, the way of funding the schools is a big part of it. The push for social promotion instead of switching from one grade to the next based upon demonstrated ability is another. Yet another is the lack of diagnosis and proper intervention for dyslexia and other barriers to learning. Dyslexia is often misdiagnosed as ADHD and the kid medicated into behavior compliance (or an all-out stupor), even though they continue to fall further behind in their reading abilities, then promoted on because they managed to behave good enough (or the teacher is just at their wit’s end). My impression that this is even more the case in alternatives to public school (charter, religious, home) where the instructors might be even less qualified to recognize the issues the child is actually having. Throw in the way our society treats children in general as a burden to be put aside as much as possible (by parents, teachers, general public, etc) along with the easy political points to be scored by parties with suspcious motivations, and it’s rather a perfect storm, wouldn’t you say?

        In addition to all this, I am a mother of children in an inner-ring public school system. My elder two start 3rd grade and Kindergarten in the coming week. My eldest was diagnosed in 1st grade with audio processing difficulties (which I also have, possibly genetic) that are strongly linked to dyslexia (which I have – mild to moderate dyslexia not severe – but he hasn’t been diagnosed with yet, he’s getting re-tested tomorrow afternoon due to my own efforts not the school’s, as I watch him make the same reading errors that I do if he’s forced to read out loud something he hasn’t had a chance to practice silently several times). The meeting with school staff when he was in 1st grade he was determined not to be “disabled enough” to need an IEP, but we came up with an intervention plan that was in place for the last month of that school year, and he blossomed. His 2nd grade teacher refused to follow it, instead complaining about his bad behavior and lack of ability to focus, repeatedly suggesting he has – surprise! – ADHD instead of adapting her own teaching style to better fit the needs of her students. I asked her how many students she’d taught with dyslexia or audio processing issues, and she told me less than one per year, which tells me immediately she’s not recognizing it when it’s literally staring her in the face – current estimates are that 20% of all students are mildly or more dyslexic. As more and more students are pushed to go to college because you “must” in order to attain/retain middle class or better status, more of these undiagnosed dyslexics are going there and making it look like our school systems are failing, when really they just weren’t bothering with college in such high numbers previously (i.e. before vocational education was so frowned upon).

        My education has done exactly what this article states as the original goal of higher education – it has shaped the way I think and engage with society, the way I evaluate information (including yours) for veracity, and not least of all how I raise my children. I will be just as proud of my children if they follow me into academia (though worried about their financial health!) as I will be if they grow up to be carpenters, plumbers, electricians, mechanics, sanitation workers, etc. What I *don’t* want to see them grow up to be is miserable at jobs that sap the life out of them while they try to earn a livelihood, in constant fear of having their job outsourced to some even worse-off country (or state). I am in academia because I am a researcher – that’s not my job description, it’s my personality. My husband and I (and pretty much anyone who has known me during my “motherhood detour” years away from high involvement in an academic environment) know that academia isn’t my vocation, it’s my mental and almost spiritual home. I take the attacks on that home very personally, in much the same way I would take them on my private residence. Finding the source of those attacks and undermining them is a priority to me, for myself as well as for my children and all my children’s peers. It has little to do with my earning potential in that particular environment.

      • The children living in poverty include children of adjunct faculty.

      • Bruce E. Woych says:
        Sarah Kendzior
        Sarah Kendzior is an anthropologist who recently received
        her PhD from Washington University in St Louis.
        “The closing of American academia”
        The plight of adjunct professors highlights the end
        of higher education as a means to prosperity.
        The CORRECT question really concerns the “closing” of liberal arts academia by
        de-financing processes that have dismantled much of the Public Interest
        Institutions towards a private market agenda as a matter of business expedience and basic greed among the Harvard Model MBA sociopaths cloaked as saviors to the system.
        This is MARKET COLONIZATION…pure and simple.
        The power is in the brokerage of careers not in the educational prospects of advancing mankind. It is time to truly revolt, and revolt aggressively against the fallacy of institutional as an appeal to administrative authority. Break the sales model and the profit incentives drawn from a moral hazard of a corrupted monetary vision.

    • KDP says:

      It might not be the case that K-12 has declined (though I wonder), but I would say my experience lines up completely with what dawn cites. As an English Composition adjunct, I was faced with two sets of students in each classroom: the poor kids whose presence was more or less a joke (because they simply weren’t prepared in any way at all for university level work), and the middle class kids who were more interested in figuring out what kind of paper to buy online than in learning anything or honing their thinking and writing skills. When you are getting perhaps $500 a month, per class, it is difficult to muster the motivation and dedication to surmount such obstacles.

    • Dr.H says:

      “A lot of permanent faculty collect their checks and are out at five pm. Sorry but it’s true at my school.”
      Dawn, this kind of comment only serves to divide the faculty – – adjuncts and full time permanents alike work hard and are underpaid. From my 22 years experience as a permanent faculty member and 4 as an adjunct, this is just not the case at MY school, a state community college. I can say I log more hours on campus than many adjuncts; I work 5 days a week on campus (not on-line) AND spend most of my weekends grading all 4 classes worth of papers (which I give intensive commentary, sometimes spending 45 minutes to an hour per paper). Given the number of students in each class (as high as 45) and the number of papers (in Composition and Literature courses) over the course of a 17 week semester, that’s a lot of grading I do at home – no scantron or t/f quizzes- not to mention the office hours on campus, the escalating number of meetings full time permanent faculty are required to attend, and the various other work we do to prepare for class, stay current in our field, serve on hiring committees, review boards, and respond to student e-mails/texts. If I get to leave by 5 pm, I usually have more than enough to finish up at home. (Most semesters I teach 3 night classes a week until 10pm),
      And I’m not the only permanent faculty on my campus to work this much for so little pay. I live pay check to pay check, like most of my colleagues, and do not have the safety net of summer work – we have a rotation system to teach in the summer, and If you end up on the bottom, you don’t teach, regardless of adjunct or permanent status.

      • ChrisTS says:

        This is an important comment. I believe that most tenured/full-time academics recognize the miserable conditions imposed on our adjunct/par-time peers. And, we recognize that this is an arrow in the war to destroy higher ed. Dividing us is another arrow in that war.

        Full-timers/tt track and tenured academics have a different set of demands on their time: committees, the inevitable “would you serve in this ad hoc capacity” [non]requests from the President and Provost, advising, rec writing, search committees, and research demands. I do not claim that no adjuncts have these tasks, but they typically fall most heavily on the shoulders of those aging slackers we see parodied in some screeds.

      • Levedi says:

        Thank you. I sympathize with our adjuncts’ situation, having been one myself, and I agree that the universities exploit their labor to put money into admin jobs. But to suggest that full time faculty don’t pull their weight is just wrong. Since getting my full time job I have worked multiple 13 hour days on campus – starting with meetings, teaching all day, and staying for student advising and events. Last semester I started a new rule for myself – leave campus by 5:30, go home and cook dinner no matter what – because my health was declining from stress, lack of exercise and sleep. It’s not slacking to insist that I have a right to eat a minimum of one non-fast food, home cooked meal a day. I still work long hours and take grading/lesson planning home. Since getting my first promotion, my workload has increased, not decreased. I also live paycheck to paycheck and I have huge student loans to pay off. Adjunct and full time faculty need to ally with one another, not see each other as rivals.

      • David Cooper says:

        Faculty should leave by 5 p.m. Why would they stay longer if they have taught their two or three classes for the day? We have to take work home, especially English faculty who grade mountains of poorly written papers. Faculty also have to read books and articles. College is different from K-12 where the faculty can’t leave the building until 3 or 3:30.

    • The remediation issue is a very large one, and worthy of an entire conversation on its own. I have several friends, all extremely high-quality K-12 educators, who are heart-broken at the situation in primary and secondary education right now. Far too often, their time is tied up with required “drill and kill” activities, because of this shift to constant testing. Another aspect of this is found in the socio-economic inequalities of our society. Diane Ravitch speaks well on the issues of inequality in public school education, and the effects of poverty on our abilities to educate.

      • Amanda says:

        Mike Rose’s Lives on the Boundary is essential in discussing, as he calls it, “the politics of remediation”. The text would come in handy for supporting your stances on this blog which, as a comp/rhet adjunct myself, I think about often. Thanks for all of your words on academia.

    • I agree with this assessment. Having taught full time for ten years in a community college system and even in a four year state college, the remediation required for US based students to get through such courses as Trig or Calc I & II, and then on to computer programming is monumental. Compare these US educated students to the foreign students I taught who were light years ahead of their US peers and often became bored with the slow pace of the courses.

      • Ahmie says:

        you’re not comparing apples-to-apples when you compare your local students to the foreign ones – the foreign ones are generally the ones who scored just low enough to not make it into the highly competitive schools in their own countries – which often are free to those who score high enough to be admitted – and not only did these students score very highly on the tests, they have families that can afford to send them overseas for their education. My husband is an immigrant and we’ve sponsored some of his cousins coming here as they neared college age. Tracking is much more intense in other countries. If in your early teens you’re not scoring well enough on the tests, you don’t get to go to the college prep school for the rest of your compulsory education, you get sent to vocational education instead, and you’re unlikely to be seeing THOSE students in your classes.

      • nufio says:

        That is patently false. Even if you dont consider students from asian countries like, china, korea, japan and india, even the students from Europe start off college at a much higher level than those from the US. In fact I would argue that the level of high school math in most european countries is a lot higher than that in india or china.
        I grew up in India, and I know the society there well enough to say that its not the students who just did not make into IIT that come here. Its mostly the wealthier students and their academic level has nothing to do with it. Any high school graduate from India starts off college with a much higher academic grounding than most high school graduates in the US unless they take a lot of AP courses. You cant graduate high school india without studying integral calculus something which is taught in college in the US. The US/Canadian students have a giant leap between high school and college. For the rest of the world, its a gradual step.

    • DW says:

      Exactly right. At mine, too.

    • Dr. G says:

      Dawn, your “out at 5 pm” comment is divisive and short cited. Most faculty, if not all bring work home on a regular basis. My second shift of the workday often starts after my son is in bed. Second, the goal should be that faculty should be able to leave at 5 pm and have a life outside of work, not that everyone should work daily until midnight in the office.

    • Jeff Bailey says:

      I agree with much of what you have to say but have to disagree with you regarding full time faculty. I have been both and am currently employed as full time faculty. Where I work, full time faculty are in a similar position in that the number of full time faculty has decreased dramatically over the past twenty five/thirty years. The needs of the students have not however, so every year we do more and more and no we are not compensated for that extra load. We get our cost of living pay increases but that does not nearly cover it. At least where I work, faculty work their asses off, both adjunct “and” full time.

      • David Cooper says:

        Both top administrators, who are well paid, and the ceos at corporations view faculty as highly paid, skilled labor. They believe that all faculty are replaceable, so when a full time faculty member retires, dies, or leaves for any other reason, they hire adjunct that they can exploit more than full time tenured faculty. Adjunct faculty are the contemporary “share-croppers.” As the author of the article explained various people did not like the political activism on college campuses in the 1960s and 1970s. They have found a way to silence both students and faculty. In quite a few places there is no tenure, so that even full time faculty serve on year-to-year contracts. There is little or no academic freedom and faculty who speak out are let go. In the words of an old school rap group, Public Enemy, we have “to fight the power!”

  4. Excellent! I have been saying this for years about the arts and of course many many artists work in this precarious sector. No need to round them up, just starve them out.

    • VanessaVaile says:

      In the UK artists, writers, performers and “insecure lecturers” are together in the Precarious Brigade (precarious knowledge workers). So many artists and writers have university affiliation of sorts, usually as adjuncts. Plus higher education is a major patron of the arts. Making common cause makes sense.


      • I agree. As we build our network across the U.S., it might be time to think seriously about how to build bridges across nations. The activities in Quebec, for instance, with the student uprisings, the on-going protests in Chile, in England, in Spain — and certainly in the Middle East! — there are student uprisings everywhere that are connecting through the world-wide Occupy Movement. We really must consider ways to join our voices with theirs.

      • VanessaVaile says:

        One step (among surely many) is to cross-post this and similar articles to student and international groups. Occupy pages too. Set our seedlings and see how/where they spread. Other disciplines and professions too. The ivory tower is not the only information silo

  5. Dan says:

    I think that K-12 education has always been sub-par according to most professors. They complained about that issue 20 years ago, and 100 years ago you can read the same complaints. You don’t need kids that know what a gerund is to teach them to think and function in a complex modern democracy. I think you need more required liberal-arts in business, economics, and science programs. But, even these programs failed to facilitate ethical businessmen & economics in the 1920s, and scientists in the 1940s when scientists developed the a-bomb, and then dropped this bomb on two civilian centers in Japan.

    Unlike most conspiracy theorists, I don’t believe in an idyllic & flawless past. Nostalgia will get us nowhere. We need to work now for returning more administrators to faculty positions, getting university sports programs to pay their way, and establish beneficial budgets at the state level.

    Most of our administrators are trained professors, and could easily be moved back into faculty jobs they vacated for higher paying administration jobs.

    • marecascada1 says:

      I think many/most administrators were never faculty to start with. Administrative jobs require bachelor’s degrees (and probably greasing some one’s palm)

      • This is not actually fair or helpful. Let’s be clear: the board of regents is usually composed of non-academics, and who knows how they get those jobs (but providing lots of personal financial support to the university probably can’t/shouldn’t hurt). But at my large state university, I’ve met a lot of the administrators. Uniformly, they seem to be decent people promoted from the faculty, who are doing the best job they can under the circumstances. The problem seems to be that, in general, the number of their staff has metastasized over the years as the university expands into areas that are very far beyond our core mission of higher education. Should we be running a counseling center? Hosting our own webpages? Our own professional (let’s be honest here) sports teams? A giant fitness center for the students? These are certainly all “good things to do”, they keep plenty of people employed, and I understand why people like them, but all that money eventually comes out of education.

    • says:

      I dont know where you go to school, or went, but my university’s athletic department not only pays their way but constantly bails out other sectors of the university

      • andrew says:

        Most athletic departments, especially large ones, lose money quite consistently for the university. The primarily reason they are supported is in the long-term hope that alumni will be more willing to give bc of their memories of the team.

      • This is another discussion requiring more time. I’d love to know if someone has done a breakdown of what these athletic departments bring in, vs. what they pay out in coach salaries, etc. I know that the players themselves are often woefully abused. The situation that exploded at Penn State shines a light on the kind of secrecy and obfuscation that these sports programs can support.

      • AnonGradStudent says:

        Some of the information you are looking for can be found at by hovering over “schools” at the top menu, and then clicking on the school who’s information you’d like to see. The financial data is unfortunately limited to men’s basketball, but it might be enough to get a sense.

    • Will Smith says:

      Unfortunately many administrators now are careerists who have never been through the tenure process or been evaluated by their peers. They frequently have degrees in things like “Higher Education Administration.” They make on average 10 times the salary of the FTE at their university, and much of what they do is to invent busywork for teachers to do rather than teach. It’s complete bullshit.

    • Most administrators I’ve come across have never set foot in a classroom. In fact, some of them actually turn their noses up at the “classroom”. Jason, I’m a bit disconcerted by your statement that “they seem to be decent people promoted from the faculty.” Promoted? Do you see how this idea has become so entrenched? Who says that an administrative job is a promotion from the responsibilities and role of faculty? That it is now seen as the superior role within the university structure is something I find maddening. The scholars and intellectuals who spend their lives teaching and researching in a university setting do not need to be a “managed” profession.

      • If you’d prefer another word to “promoted”, that’s fine with me. How about “selected”? Seriously, our last Dean (now the Provost) was a psychology professor (and quite a good one) before taking the Dean job. The current Associate Deans include professors of Romance Languages, English and Plant Biology. All of them have plenty of scholarship and teaching.

        You can debate the proper role of “management” at a University, but in the end, somebody has to make unpleasant decisions such as “we have the money to hire 10 faculty members and we have 35 departments, each of which passionately feels that they are understaffed: who gets to hire?”.

        Do you want to allocate these things by popular vote? Because I can tell you that what’s going to happen is that a few large departments will realize that they can band together to win the vote every time, get more lines, and hence more votes, then proceed to crowd out every other department at the university.

        I’m not saying that the current system works perfectly, or even terribly well: it’s way too easy for the administration to allocate money to itself, for example. But I am saying that demonizing the people you have to work with is not the way to create positive change.

      • Steven Clarke says:

        I have a similar experience as Jason. In fact at our university administrators on the academic side of the house almost universally have PhDs (there are a few lower level admins with Masters, but this is rare). On the other side of the house, Student Services it is mostly Masters level administrators, except at the top levels. And yes about half have degrees in Higher Education, but they are also only paid between $35k and $45k.

        Also, most management positions do not manage faculty or the classroom. They manage infastrucure and services for students. You must realize, the university is a small city and there is much that needs to be done to keep the place running so students can learn. I can understand that maybe we don’t need to house, feed, exercise, provide counseling and medical care, deal with misbehavior, and educate about life skills and all the other things no longer taught in the classroom. But that is where we are now, and the services that are expected by both parents and students. Without these services universities can not compete.

        Also, most of these services are not paid for by tuition, but by auxiliary fees. So they dont steal from the education of students, although they do add to costs.

    • Leon says:

      Wait a minute there Dan. Scientists didn’t drop the A-bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They developed it, but it was the military (specifically the commander-in-chief) who chose to employ it. Don’t fault scientists for someone else’s judgement.

      And in any case, dropping the bomb on those two cities was arguably the right thing to do. Yes both sites were horrific scenes, but bombed-out cities are always horrific, and a LOT of cities were bombed out in WWII. If we hadn’t dropped the bomb, we’d have had to starve the Japanese out, or invade (which the Army estimated at a million dead). I’m not saying that using them was *good*, but which of the three alternatives would you have chosen? There aren’t a lot of good decisions in war.

      • hugh says:

        This is unfortunately, the conventional response (ie “…if we hadn’t dropped the bomb…” etc etc. It’s an old tired argument that is completely fallacious but keeps getting resurrected to justify & rationalize away the guilt involved. There has been enough literature exploring the issues around the “dropping the bomb on those two cities” to repudiate the argument concerning their necessity.

    • Dana says:

      My dad was born in 1951 and attended K12 when presumably it was “better.” I had to explain to him, a few years ago, what kidneys do. Experts have been complaining about “why Johnny can’t read” for generations now. And I don’t buy that it’s all “learning disabilities.” Kids are not being taught basic skills anymore because it has been long believed that teaching children skills kills their creativity. I have some modest artistic talent and have been recognized for such since I was five years old. I can’t do much of anything with it because I don’t have the skills to express myself creatively. No one bothered teaching me technique. They just handed me supplies and said, “here you go.” I can check books out of the library and follow instructional videos, but it’s a frustrating process.

      The same is happening with intellectual skills. They hand you a pencil and they say “here, write an essay.” At most, they teach you grammar skills first. That’s all and, in case you were wondering, it’s not enough. Math instruction is abysmal too, and has been for generations. I was appalled to find, for the short time I attended college, that I was able to do algebra after all. How much less would I have been frustrated with math in K12 if I’d just had better teachers? I wasted so much time worrying for nothing.

      I’m homeschooling my daughter. She couldn’t read at age three like they’re saying kids should do now but, by the time she’s eighteen, I intend that she’ll be *thinking.* Which is more than I’ve been seeing from the average college graduate out there.

  6. dawn says:

    Dan, the lack of college preparedness goes far beyond knowing what a gerund is. I encounter many students who cannot read college-level texts and don’t particularly want to. Also, colleges must shoulder the failures of the job market; if students can’t find jobs, obviously, something is wrong with their education. Thus, we see for-credit courses in marketing yourself, finding a job, writing a resume. There is an increasing lack of patience with any course of study that isn’t skill-centered. Given the debt load these people are taking on, it’s understandable. When I went to school many years ago, I didn’t feel, nor was I made to feel, that I was wasting my time by studying the humanities. Nor did I encounter any difficulty in finding a decent job when I graduated. And I graduated with no debt whatever, courtesy of my parents, who insisted I go to a state university they could pay for. From what my students tell me, the idea of studying what interests you and then finding a white collar job that utilized some of those skills is unimaginable. The past wasn’t idyllic and didn’t seem so then. I went to college under the shadow of the Vietnam war. But I wasn’t under the pressures people are now and didn’t have to make the financial sacrifices they will be making for years to come.

    • ciotogist says:

      It’s our job to teach them how to read college-level texts. If they already could, then what are we there for?

      • james says:

        i was reading on a college level halfway though high school…. and i assume most students were about there. The issue is not reading level, if you can read at a 10th grade level you can struggle through college level texts until you can actually read on that level. Many students fall short of even that.

        As for the promise of college being a ticket to middle class, it is a dream. The greed of america over the past 50 years has been so terrible that they actively have destroyed everyone under 30. there are no jobs, only debt.

      • Jaycee says:

        Should I have to teach them what is a thesis statement and how to identify it? Should I have to teach them to identify the main idea of the piece? These are things we learned in middle school and I am teaching them now. In my last job, I had students that confused where with wear and there with their. I had an MA student who actually wrote this sentence: Their they where there vails. If we are now teaching them things they should have learned in middle school, we have less time to teach them to think critically about the material.

    • Dawn, I agree that the past was far from idyllic — and I, too, came of age during the 1960s, the Vietnam War, the social and cultural upheavals of those times. But the universities, in those days, were a place where people could gather and engage in discussions, in demonstrations, in push back. I mourn the loss of the university as a center for public discourse and intellectual searching. In these last few decades, the value of the university has been diverted from those activities into job training. The loss of the public spaces in this country continues until today, and with that loss comes the limited ability of citizens to gather in protest.

      • Dr. E says:

        Right on! Those were great days, especially when the professors joined the students in discussing what was going on and what to do about it.

      • MM3 Greenberg says:

        Also, with legislation like the “Patriot Act,” you have to start being concerned with speaking out against the government.
        There were a few classes at my college that promoted intellectual discussions; Philosophy, Sociology, and Intro to Politics. All of these classes had the bare minimum amount of tests, but instead looked to frequent debates about current and historical issues, discussion on scholarly readings, and essays with freedom of choice on what to write about. I loved all three of those classes and they really opened my mind up a lot. Nearly all of the other 15 or so classes I took, were taught by the syllabus, and lacked student interest and participation. Intellectual debate amongst people with different viewpoints and opinions is one of the most powerful tools. There isn’t a whole lot of point to everyone believing and thinking the same things.

      • Vallehombre says:

        Looks like you have hit on ther essential point – eonomic security promotes demand for participation. Damn pseky middle class upstarts. They must have mistakenly believed they were living in a democracy.

  7. Disclaimer: the above is a clip of George Carlin.

  8. gintaraskgz says:

    I’m a full-time, tenured prof at a community college outside Chicago. What you’re describing is endlessly worse where I work, as we draw from the very bottom of the destroyed-student barrel. Whatever corporate money in our college works simply to sell textbooks (usually to students who cannot read them). The college itself gets nothing out of it, besides a small profit to the self-sufficient bookstore; we are not producing students who will later donate something to us. If anything, the corporate sponsored political machine has accelerated the destruction of the students, primarily by complicating access to birth control. It’s an absolute mess.

    • I’m very familiar with the situation in the Chicago area. We were there, shooting the documentary and interviewing faculty, during the NEA and AWP conferences this past winter. The kind of union-busting that has been taking place is horrifying. What I love about Chicago, though, is that people are fighters, and not afraid of getting a bit bloody in the battle for right. We’re hoping to head back there at some point soon.

    • Dr. E says:

      Harper Junior College, by any chance?

  9. rivardau says:

    Very good article! I think you hit most all point right on the head.
    You neglected to mention, however, another sign of these actions — college students are now being expected to complete degrees within designated times, ie undergrads in 4 yrs (or maybe 4.5 yrs at most). There is expectation that they need to stay on track every semester to finish in 4 yrs, thus precluding the taking of non-core/non-required courses. In fact, I have seen some financial loan plans now that offer discounts after graduation if you complete degree “on schedule”.
    That, to me, is further proof of “assembly-line” education. Not disallowing liberal arts studies or courses per se, but in effect disapproving of students taking extra “knowledge” courses that are not part of their core (ie business students should not be “wasting time” or add a semester to their degree by taking social or science classes not relative to business classes, etc).

    Another point not mentioned is that high schools are now becoming victims to the same defunding methods, and in fact, corporate sponsorship of some high schools is happening. Or if not outright sponsorship of high schools, then certain “vending machine companies” are getting exclusive rights within the schools, of course with some payback for the school board to approve these exclusive contracts. If these actions are successful at the college level, then watch for them to be tried on high schools next. “Trickle-down economics” at its classic right-wing conservative fiscal definition!!

    • It’s been my experience that more and more schools are making it impossible to graduate in four years — too many core courses that the students can’t get access to because of the limited number of course times, which fill and lock them out. The other reason is often very bad advising (again a kind of assembly line process). Students tell me that they are struggling to get out in SIX years – and that seems to be the average across the country. The responsibility for this should fall on the universities (see my previous blog about what you should be demanding of universities), but instead, students are being called lazy, unfocused. This is a classic corporate tactic — they externalize the suffering and the blame.

      • Robin Brownfield says:

        My kids are going through this now. The course options have been severely slash in their first year of college. Their older sister had the benefit of having many more course options open to her, both in her major field, and in terms of electives. We discussed this very issue last week in my last course (ever), and students are reeling from the lack of administrative support, or course options – which is forcing them to take additional semesters, and will plummet them into more debt.

        And, as you know, I am one of those full-time adjuncts (8 classes/semester on average) whose health has been severely compromised by the job, the low income, and the lack of health care coverage or other benefits. When you get sick, you not only go into debt to pay medical bills, but you lose pay for daring not to teach class with a raging fever, or a highly contagious pneumonia.

      • Robin, you and I have talked about this a lot before. The issues of working with no healthcare and benefits, the struggle to survive financially while raising a family on these humiliating salaries. The shrinking course options has been an issue for my students, too, and you are right, it forces them to stay in the program (because to take a leave means to begin repaying the debt), taking classes they don’t need, paying money they don’t have, hoping that by the following semester they will be able to force their way into one of the “required” courses.
        We should talk privately about your plans now that you are leaving teaching, but certainly not unhappy that you are leaving adjuncting – I really feel heartbroken for you that you’ve had to make such hard and unfair choices.

      • mgshamster says:

        I’ve seen many instances of bad advising in colleges (I went to a community college and a state university); some to myself, some to others. I learned early on at the community college that I couldn’t trust advisers. I would usually do all the research myself to figure out what classes to take and when (often planning out my schedule for the next few years), then I would take it to the advisers to get their required signatures. Many times I would get told I was wrong about one thing or another, and I would have to prove I was correct by referencing the student catalog.

        A friend of mine at the cc had the same major as I did, was transferring to the same uni as I, and was planning on entering the same major at the uni as I did. CC’s in California at the time were around $20/unit, and well over $200/unit at the uni. The academic plan I had created for myself kept me at the cc for a year longer than my friend’s plan (which an adviser made). I completed all my lower division work at the cc, then transferred. My friend did some lower division work at the cc, and completed the rest at the uni (following the adviser’s plan). We graduated from the uni at the same time, but I spent thousands of dollars less by spending an additional year at the cc; of course, my friend was taking the same exact classes I was that same year, just paying more for classes that had on average 200 more students per class than mine did.

        I met my wife at the uni; her adviser once told her to take the wrong o-chem series, and my wife ended up spending an extra year there that she otherwise wouldn’t have, costing her over $10k in tuition, plus living expenses. I should count myself lucky; if she hadn’t have retaken the classes, I would likely have never met her.

        At the uni, I constantly had problems with my transferred classes transferring correctly, not because the coursework didn’t match up (my cc was a feeder school to this uni), but because many of the advisers and admin wouldn’t read past the first page to see that yes, these classes do count as the major’s class as well as the non-majors class. Non-major’s qualification was listed on the first page, major’s qualification was listed on the second. Almost every time, they would see it listed as non-major’s and declare that I couldn’t take a certain upper division class because I didn’t have the pre-reqs, or declare that I couldn’t graduate. If they would have simply looked at the second page of the document, all of it could have been avoided.

        My alma mater has a unit cap: 225 quarter units. If you reached that cap, you had to get permission to take more classes (it’s what I did in order to graduate as a double major). In almost all cases, a simple academic plan detailing how many more classes you needed until graduation would suffice to obtain approval. Many of my classmates were told by their advisers that the cap was a hard cap, and there was no possible way to go above it (despite the fact that the student catalog said different; students: know your rights!). One friend of mine was majoring in physics and minoring in economics. Her adviser told her that she was nearing the cap, and that she would not be allowed to take any more if she hit 225, thereby preventing her from getting a degree at all. She was instructed by this adviser to drop the physics degree and get an econ degree, just so she could graduate and at least get some degree out of all her hard work. “You don’t want to pay for 4-5 years of school and then not be able to get a degree, do you?”

      • VanessaVaile says:

        I was a late returning student and my daughter, who had enlisted to get college money, gave me the best possible advice: “Mom,” she said, “read the regs. Don’t trust anyone else to tell you what’s in them.” 


      • Dr. E says:

        I actually encourage students to take five years, if they can afford to do so and if the extra time means they get to explore subjects in which they feel interest, whether the subjects fit into the chosen major or not. Education should be more about expanding one’s mind and less about finding a job.

  10. Pingback: The Sorry State of Higher Ed | Sophia Waits

  11. Higher Ed Staffer says:

    Don’t forget about the staff! Same issues apply. And many of us have postgraduate degrees, and the debt to go with it.

    • VanessaVaile says:

      I agree about making common cause with all faculty, students and staff. Indeed “delicate,” as an earlier comment put it, perhaps even more as groups add on, but necessary. fyi United Campus Workers in TN represents staff and faculty


    • Vallehombre says:

      Question from a non academic – if you guys can’t get your act together when things are as bad as you describe what is the real value of advanced education? Where were the critical thinking skills when all this was being done to you?

      • Vallehombre, were doctors able to hold back the HMO tide? Have K-12 public school educators been able to stop the growing charter school movement? Have IT professionals been able to stop the outsourcing of their jobs? Critical thinking skills, no matter how highly developed, will not be able to overcome a lack of legislation or oversight that protects workers’ rights, especially if those workers are not in professions that have traditionally organized for greater power in bargaining and negotiating. The reason I established ‘Junct Rebellion a few years ago was to join a growing number of voices from around the country to raise awareness of this particular area of professional exploitation. There are simply too many ways in which it negatively impacts our country’s educational quality.

  12. Nkv says:

    The schools where the elite prefer to send their kids are precisely those where no fear of this whole-scale demolition exists eg Princeton Harvard etc. The humanities are thriving there.

  13. Pete says:

    With all due respect for the need of an already struggling majority of academics to preserve their basic survival, my immediate thought is that old-school labor organizing tactics and activism should be a part of this conversation. Your fantastically informative and well-argued essay makes clear that the vast ranks of precarious university faculty constitute a sleeping giant without which the university system cannot function. The challenge is organizing an often transient group for effective public action and activism, and that challenge is considerable. I am by no means a professional expert in labor organizing, but I can think of some basic goals that can be accomplished behind the scenes. The first step, as ever, is being vocal among one’s compatriots about the problem and the need for action and building community through the lens of shared struggle. Building solidarity among tenured faculty should be an essential component of any organizing as well, given that tenure provides a measure of freedom for your colleagues in academia to serve as supportive advocates. Although this is fundamentally a delicate proposition, I think it would be worth at least considering ways to build support among student populations, particularly at institutions heavily focused on undergraduate teaching (small liberal arts colleges for example). Specific tactics for pushing back against this system must necessarily come out of dialogue on the ground and local culture and issues, but I repeat that looking to labor history and precedents for effective action is essential. I will not presume to suggest specific tactics, but the first step is always to open a frank discussion of the need for change and build mutually supportive networks among peers and community members. As a person who nurtures a strong interest in joining the academy, but is scared and discouraged by the trends you so compellingly outline, I hope to see poverty academics rising up in the future. I will be with you if you do.

    • Gormongous says:

      Teaching assistants and adjunct faculty are often forced to join their institution’s teaching union as part of their hiring. Only problem is, those organizations are totally compromised by the administration and often serve only to allow dissidents to be identified before they can influence others.

      • Pete says:

        Yes, that is certainly an issue. I never suggested that established teaching unions were where this organizing should take place, precisely for the reasons you outline. Unfortunately, established unions in general have become co-opted by entrenched political interests to a large extent, and the rank and file have become disenfranchised within their own unions. Just as this is true for dockworkers it is true for educators. Hence my emphasis on ground-up organizing as a basis for action. Given that, as you point out, these teaching unions have become complicit in the perpetuation of this state of affairs, any systemic change must necessarily come from outside established institutions within the corporatist university. However, that does not mean that labor history and tactics originated by unionizers can not inform the present struggle, which is the point that I intended to convey. I certainly did not intend to suggest that working within established unions was the solution. I refrained from suggesting specific modes of action out of respect for the fact that I am not a professional academic and they know their own situation better than I do. I simply intended to say that, as a group, struggling academics have the potential for powerful direct action and that it would be worthwhile to start thinking in those terms. I also intended to suggest that they would have outside support from activists and community members if they go in that direction, using myself as an example. In other words, if you build it, we will come.

    • Joe Berry, in “Reclaiming the Ivory Tower” speaks of the need for organizing, and has been deeply involved for years in the unionizing effort for adjuncts across the country. Some of the issues making this so difficult have already been discussed here – the difficulty of building a network among adjuncts, who are fearful for their jobs and hard to find, the pushback from universities to prevent the unionizing, the laws that prevent unionizing on some private campuses. There are also requirements, through the NLRB, that communities of “common interest” must be represented by the same union — and our struggle is to prove that adjuncts have little “common interest” with the faculty who receive better pay, job security, benefits, professional supports. The other issue here is that faculty are trying to organize school by school — in the 25 years of this misery, that has proven again and again to be a failed model.

      My experience, as we’ve been shooting the documentary and traveling the country, is that it is often with the larger unions, the SEIU in the D.C. area for instance, with their “metro strategy”, or the United Steelworkers in Pittsburgh, that adjuncts find more solid and determined support.

      My position on this issue is that we need a national union – something akin to the Actors’ Equity — which takes into consideration the fact that many of us are migrant workers – often teaching at more than one university a semester. There should be high, national standards in pay, in benefits, in professional development, in governance, that are established nationwide. Otherwise, you have a situation where faculty might be represented by AFT at one school, by AAUP at another….and the most financially challenged are paying dues to more than one union for less representation.

      Of course, all of this misery and exploitation could be dealt an effective blow if our federal legislators would pass something like a Workers’ Bill of Rights, addressing this low-wage disease that has taken over our country, across all disciplines and professions.

      • drihtengled says:

        The national union, honestly sounds like the most workable idea. And it might make it easier to catch people like me and my colleagues who work at online universities. Talk about schools where organization is next to impossible . . . the only contact I have with most of my colleagues is on university-sanctioned forums, and I can’t imagine what would happen if we tried to talk about organizing there . . .

      • Ana M. Fores says:

        I agree, and that’s something we could work toward, something positive; moreover, we have models already, as you say, with the nurses, or with the larger unions or the Steelworkers, and we can look to them for help and support. Yes, we’re getting there.

  14. Mary Lenard says:

    One thing that you fail to mention is that many full time tenure-track and even tenured faculty are also underpaid. Here in the University of Wisconsin system, we haven’t had a raise–even a cost of living adjustment to our wages–in almost ten years. Not only are our salaries not keeping up with inflation, but we have now had a 15 percent pay CUT because of actions taken by our politicians. Our previous governor Doyle cut our pay by about 5% with “furlough” days, and then Scott Walker demanded that we pay more for our health and retirement benefits, ignoring the fact that we had agreed to put up with cash salaries that were already on the low end in exchange for generous benefits (this is called “deferred compensation”), and the effect of his changes basically served to cut those already low salaries by another 10%. I know that many of us are now struggling to meet our basic financial obligations and expenses under these new conditions, and to add insult to injury, the demeaning comments from Walker supporters have implied that we are to blame for the state’s financial problems. And to make matters worse, the administration on our campus has now suddenly decided to take away our research/service release time & increase our teaching load so that we will have to work harder to earn our reduced salaries.

    I do understand that adjunct faculty have much the shorter end of the stick in every possible way: my department has worked hard to put as many instructors as possible in full time renewable lectureships with benefits instead of adjunct positions. I’m just trying to make the point that full time faculty have also suffered under corporatism. Basically, we no longer have much power or voice at our institution: decisions are handed down from the administration. We’re always told that all the changes they’re making are intended to save money because the state’s cutting our budget, but somehow they always have money to hire more and more administrators and to fund their trendy initiatives that produce nothing except a line on their administrative vitas–and more and more paperwork for us to do. In fact, I often wonder if the barrage of paperwork, mostly related to the current mania for “assessment,” is designed to keep us so busy that we don’t have the time or energy to push back.

    • Tamara says:

      So important to be aware of those things that keep us exhausted and unable to think or push back.

    • While I understand that full-time faculty is under attack as well, I’d like to point out that, across the country, the pattern in the last 20 or 30 years has been for the full-time faculty to look the other as this adjunct epidemic grew. If push-back had started when the over-use of adjuncts began, we might not have been able to prevent the growth entirely, but I feel certain we could have limited it. Now, because the percentage of faculty who are privileged to be full-time has been so effectively diminished, of course your role in governance and in issues of carrying out the work of your own profession are under serious attack. Of course your salaries will now come under attack. The solidarity that would have been a possible strength in refusing the abuse has been destroyed.

    • aaakim says:

      I am tenure-track faculty in Georgia and the experience is eerily identical. Including the craze for assessment, which I thought was a local thing.

      • VanessaVaile says:

        That’s another good thing that comes from these discussions ~ learning how widespread conditions and that what we thought was local is not ~ and, conversely, when another place is doing something differently (so much for having been told it can’t be done that way!)


  15. Reblogged this on Great Ape Thoughts and commented:
    This is a must read. Our education system is falling apart, and this post can give you a good idea about how and why that is happening. I highly recommend this blog,

  16. drishism says:

    At the college I teach at (as a grad student), some students have told me they are scared. They are scared because they went to college mainly because their parents told them to go. They are scared because they know the job market is currently bad and may still be bad when they graduate. They are scared because out-of-state students are paying around $24K per year for tuition… and mostly they are scared because they know they are accumulating a lot of debt but don’t know what degree they want to get. They are in college because that was the “logical” next step for them… but unlike when I was an undergrad they will accumulate a huge amount of debt while “figuring it out.”

    • james says:

      but that has been reality for the past 20 years. It is one of the core problems since there is no time in college to find your passion, and when you graduate most just take the first job offered since there are no better options out there and they need a job with all of the debt.

      We will have an uprising soon as more college grads realize their future is going to be miserable since older generations have forced them into servitude

      • The uprising is already beginning. It is starting within the Occupy movement. Here in Philadelphia, there are several very active working groups dealing with issues of education, and across the state, there is an Occupy Colleges effort that connects everyone. This is a building national network of college students, recent graduates, and faculty. They’ve been reaching to connect with the student protestors in Quebec, in Chile — anywhere that these voices are being raised. I’d say that you should check out the activities in your area in the Occupy Colleges working groups as a start.

  17. marecascada1 says:

    While faculty at Research 1 universities have long been forced to serve as the whores of industry, faculty at smaller institutions used to be able to focus on teaching. In an effort to ensure a dumber citizenry who will put up with the corporate take-over (as you mention) and incarceration of America, the new ‘No Professor Left Behind Act” offers funding to (now former) teaching institutions who can show that a significant percentage of their faculty have ‘2 peer-reviewed publications’. No adjustment made for any of the other job duties, hence this additional workload forces time away from teaching and other professional responsibilities. This ensures lower quality education for students (producing a dumber citizenry), fewer possibilities of doing quality work in the local community (also a requirement of faculty at teaching colleges), and faculty that are too busy to make any significant contributions to the world. Oh, and more worthless paper crap/data in cyberspace masquerading as research.

    • So true! When I was interviewed for a tenure-track position at the regional school from which I just retired, I was told “This is a teaching university; you will not be fired for not publishing, but you will be fired for not teaching.” I smiled at the dean and said, “I feel like I just came home.” Unfortunately, in the following years there were changes in administration which allowed the “publish or perish” people to devaluate our dedication to teaching. Once that bit of deconstruction of academe had been accomplished, we were given an administration devoted to PR–forget about teachers’ salaries, but put up statues and courtyards and have as many photo ops as possible. During this entire process, the university continued to promote its major advantage over other, larger schools to be its faculty, dedicated to teaching and always willing to take time out to chat with students. Ironically, that’s exactly what we continued to be, in spite of increased demands for publication and refusals of support for proposed programs that would only educate students but not provide lots of photo ops. I understand that at the most recent university-wide meeting,a couple weeks ago, we were told would would now be following the model of “customer-service corporations like Coca-Cola.” Luckily I have a fatal disease which caused me to go on disability retirement just in time.

      • Mark says:

        Please give me a break. I am a research professor and an excellent teacher. The ability to publish does not devalue anybody’s dedication to teaching. There are hundreds of wonderful young postdocs, with great abilities at teaching and research, who are being left out by established faculty who can only teach, complain, and take forever to retire.

  18. S K Graham says:

    One of the side effects of the universities serving their “customers” (i.e. students) rather than being responsible to the state has been a dramatic increase in student amenities, at substantial cost to the students, which are not optional. Fees for these amenities are frequently nearly as expensive as the classes. Previously, housing and other facilities at state universities were comparably limited, but significantly reduced costs for both students and the state.

    And this focus on keeping revenue generating customers (students) attending has also magnified the watering down of academic standards and been a source of grade inflation.

    Having graduated from a rigorous engineering school in 1990, we had 30-40% of the students fail out or transfer from the freshman class. While not the best result for the student, the relatively low costs kept the investment more to the time expended, rather than huge student loans. And I think the school produced better overall graduates as well.

    • james says:

      you can no longer drop out…. good luck finding a job without a degree to pay down the 10k a year in loans

      • Nan says:

        My son dropped out and subsequently found a job as a software engineer with a reputable company – starting pay was $65,000. His reverse engineering skill was all self taught when he was a teenager. He spent ten years of his life struggling to finish school while working at low paying jobs trying to support himself, and incurred a lot of student loan debt. The company was looking for someone with at least a masters degree, but took him anyway when they interviewed him and realized he’s quite brilliant. Ironically, he manned the table at a job fair this past summer at the same university he dropped out of, and told the bewildered grad students that he didn’t finish school. More companies should stop demanding that people have those precious letters after their names. Then maybe people like James wouldn’t feel so trapped. Schools are loaded with people who are afraid not to go to school for fear they won’t find work.

    • Kathleen says:

      In the K-12 “business model” introduced 15 years ago in the large school district in which I teach, the “customers” in the model are NOT the students (to my surprise at an early professional development training) but the “business partners” in the “community”. Passion for learning and teaching is no longer even part of the discussion.

  19. Magda Amaya says:


  20. Kathy Stockman says:

    As someone who has worked (for little to no money) in the arts I can add this result: the arts (artists, art historians like me and others in the humanities) continue to be exploited for the corporate class.
    With an advanced degree from the Univ of Chicago, I’ve never been able to land one interview for a paying job in the city of Cincinnati. This city claims to value the arts, but only as a tool for corporate wealth. No artist in this city has a livable wage or benefits, yet many are “employed” to market the corporate structures of the city and the corporations collect the winnings.

    • As a writer and playwright myself, and as the Founding Director of an arts organization (Hidden River Arts), I completely agree, Kathy, with everything you say. Here in Philadelphia, we have a vibrant arts community – an interdisciplinary and friendly group of creatives who are truly wonderful. But earn a living? Fat chance. The PA Council of the Arts has cut all grants to individual artists. The grants left are nearly impossible to get. The jobs within the arts community, when you can get one, are low-wage, and often precarious now (not full-time). My own life has been one of precarity, both in my art-making and in my role as an educator — so I completely resonate with the situation in Cincinnati — and I would assume this exists everywhere across the country, too. It’s as I said in the blog, the corporate colonization has been effective in ruining academia AND the arts — because the role of the intellectual and the artist are too dangerous in a society that is bent on creating an ill-informed, easily manipulated, low-wage work force.






  21. Ryan Sprague says:

    Here is my slingshot, may it be worthy.

    Considering the very large number of individuals sporting Ph.D.s I would like to make a modest assumption that there are enough of them who have very little actual work throughout the year that they could tackle a very large group project to establish a new university. This would be a completely online university. No brick, no mortar, very little to no administration. It would be like shopping at except potential students would simply pick and choose the courses they wanted from a catalog of sorts. Of course we would need some tech savvy computer programmers to help create the site that would run this, and some folks to manage it, with its databases, etc. But I think it would all be done in such a way that the majority of cost of a course went directly to the professors teaching that course.

    The real problem would be accreditation. I don’t know much about accreditation, how political it is, or how difficult it would be for an association of professors to form a new online college, but I imagine it could be done. Moreover, since the university would be under the direct control of the professors who came together to create it the issues of underpaid faculty, and overcharged students wouldn’t exist. There wouldn’t be any sports facilities. I suppose you would just have to expect your students to get off their asses and go for a jog. I don’t really see how that has anything to do with higher education anyway. This kind of solution also removes all potential corporate sponsorship, which means more interesting discussions in classes. Cheaper classes mean more students will be interested in attending this university, and probably continuing to take classes there long after they have “graduated”.

    At some point when the university has acquired enough additional capital they could begin to acquire physical space around the country to have live classes as well. I don’t really see this as necessary considering the way that humans have been increasingly more integrated with internet-based communications, but some people enjoy the real. Of course, if people wanted to study the sciences, including doing lab work, then a physical space would be necessary.

    Given the demand for college degrees, and the large supply of people who can provide lectures on a multitude of disciplines I see the main obstacle to be the entrenched institutions that have become infected. A surgeon of course knows when to amputate a leg. I think getting rid of the middle man, the administrators, and the sports interests, and presidents, is the ideal solution. A truly democratic university with no president, but instead of fellowship of professors who guides the institution.

    If this were to be attempted it would need some financial backing. It would also need many willing hands. How to acquire those is somewhat beyond the scope of this rambling,as well as beyond my personal expertise. I imagine there are probably a lot of regular people who would be very interested in seeing this kind of project come to fruition. Many people like myself who are deeply in debt, but want to continue to educate myself cringe at the thought of going back to school. We need a new kind of university. A new American university.

    • Isn’t this Coursera? I like this idea a lot, but it’s going to be tough to get students to chip in for “Hypothetical Online U” when they can already take a Stanford CS class (for free) from Coursera.

    • While I think online university courses are certainly worth including as we build the new paradigm, I don’t think they are the only method of “delivery”, largely because the in-person, face to face exchange still has value, both psychologically and intellectually. A lot is being written about the value of these MOOC platforms, and MITx, Coursera, iTunes University, etc. This is absolutely part of what we should all be talking about, envisioning, creating. I would love to hear from others who have a vision for what a new institution for intellectual development might look like. One that rescues what was best about the traditional and ancient university functioning, and brings it up to new millenium realities. I caution, however, that any new model will only rise above what is happening now if it is committed to be non-exploitative. Currently universities exploit not only their faculty, but their students. A new model can’t exploit any portion of their population, or, as Ann Larson has pointed out in her blogs, it will simply be mirroring the neo-liberal model that has destroyed our system of higher education. See her articles:

    • Bob Calder says:

      Ryan, Glen at the Florida Higher Education Accountability Project website, has a lot to say about the intersection of accreditation. Mostly that it’s degenerated to worthlessness.

      @Homeless – I wonder how the commercial universities think they can balance profits and affordability since declining enrollment has to be a problem. Perhaps somebody at DeVry could explain the lay of the land, being in the business but outside of the Goldman Sachs club.

    • Larry Moran says:

      There is much, much, more to a university than just teaching courses to undergraduates. But let’s consider that role in isolation and assume that there are professors who are only interested in undergraduate teaching and not in having graduate students or carrying out scholarly activities.

      Universities are supposed to teach critical thinking. We know from decades of study that the best way to do that involves some form of student centered learning. We know that just standing up in front of a classroom pontificating about something or other doesn’t work. But universities do it anyway.

      What you’re suggesting with an online university is that professors take the worst possible way to teach critical thinking and turn it into the ONLY way of teaching.

      Why in the world would any responsible professor do that unless they had no clue about what and how they are supposed to be teaching?

  22. schurmane says:

    Thanks for this. I teach inner city high school kids, trying to get them motivated and prepared for college, while chipping away at my own huge loan debt. I know I got a worse deal than my parents– all of us attended public universities, but they were able to pay for theirs with entry-level jobs. My students will likely get an even worse deal from public higher education, but there are few other paths out of poverty for them.

  23. Jeremy says:

    Reblogged this on Kind Avenue and commented:
    Although I love (LOVE!) academia, this article is one of the most poignant articles I’ve ever read criticizing the American university. Give it a read!

  24. And people wonder why I think college is a waste of time… and I went to college.

  25. Bud Goodall says:

    Reposted on Facebook. Thank you for writing this article and for giving a nod to the broader handshake between right wing political and economic alliances that further the attack not only on higher education, but on progressive ideas in general. I offer one suggestion to consider that is an unspoken but vital part of your general critique – we have lost the narrative war to the politics and simpleminded narrative of the right – 1) taxes are bad (hence legislatures have smaller and smaller sources of revenue); 2) regulations are bad, and 3) anything done to promote “the public welfare” is socialism (including support for public universities and colleges and all K-12 public education). Hence, after 30 years of brainwashing via repeating the same simple message (which we didn’t successfully challenge, often because we were taught as good academics that we were “above politics,” the right has convinced most Americans that they should be responsible for paying for their own education, regardless of cost, but that cost is too high because professors only work a couple of hours a week for salaries out of line with those in the public sphere (untrue, but widely believed) and get tenure, which guarantees lifetime employment, which doesn’t exist anywhere else. We cannot “take back” this narrative – trying to reverse brainwashing is tough and requires years of work – but we can offer a new one that is based on promoting the value of the “public good” and that emphasizes the innovations taking place in higher ed. I’ve written on this topic, and if you want to read more, please see H. L. Goodall, Jr. Counter-Narrative: How Progressive Academics Can Challenge Extremists and Promote Social Justice ( Sorry for the self-promotion. And good luck! We have a lot of work left to do …

    • Thanks for posting this. I’ll check out the book. I think everything you say is right – and appreciate you saying it — since my “blog” turned into an article of 8 pages, I thought I’d best shut up and stop expanding my points! Your point about the narrative being successfully (and sadly, you may be right, permanently) hijacked is really at the heart of our failure to get the right message out about what we do. So often, with this sort of attack, those busily working in their profession, struggling privately to do their best work, aren’t aware that they have to defend their very existence, their profession, to the general population. The “lazy professor” model has so permeated the culture that people simply mouth it without having the slightest clue what the role of an academic is in our culture — or perhaps I should say, what the role COULD be?

  26. I hate to say it again, but when all my colleagues were shuning and badmouthing me because I foresaw this 25 years ago, where were all of you including the author of the article? I was a lonely voice at Harvard speaking of the “Administrative Class” doing this in the likes of Catherine Stimpson in the 1980s.

    • VanessaVaile says:

      not old enough to read or perhaps even not born yet?


    • 25 years ago, I was a young grad student, not at all aware of what had begun to happen in the profession. I think, in fairness, many of my professors didn’t see it as clearly as you apparently did. I went back to one of those professors about a year ago, to interview him, before his own retirement, and ASKED him this question for the documentary. By the time many of them realized the scope of the danger to their profession, it felt like a run-away train. My own story — I had to leave my own academic pursuits because of family obligations — and by the time I returned, the adjunct exploitation was well established, the administrative class was in full power, and it took me a while to realize that, no, I was not working as an adjunct until a full-time job could be found — I was working as an adjunct and would be doing so for the rest of my “career” — meaning that there would BE no real career. That’s when I began ‘Junct Rebellion — in the belief that if I didn’t do SOMETHING positive with my own personal despair that I would go insane. In getting vocal, I learned just how many of us were out there suffering — and I’ve been really gratified to see that over the last few years there is finally a rising chorus of voices. While is may well be “too late” for the greying population of that first generation of career adjuncts, let’s all pray that it isn’t too late to save the profession and the university from this corporate colonization.

      • VanessaVaile says:

        eek… my arithmetic was way off… for some reason I was thinking much earlier.  I left and returned to college at different times between 1961 and present (though not really *there* now except virtually), which made changes all the more noticeable, like a presentation slide show. I recall a geography professor in the late 80s lecturing an undergraduate class about it, really laying out the changes in detail as well as implications for the future. Bang on too. Dr Umpierre’s warning sounds similar. I wonder how many others… and sure would like to read anything she and other has to say then.   ~ love the title “I’m still standing” too

        I may have been the only one really paying attention and not blowing, although as a non-traditional returning undergraduate, It stuck with me though as a caution in graduate school, even not enough of one to warn me off.  It was a reminder to do my homework, keep up with the “state of the academy,” and kept me from being surprised (or believing everything grad advisers told me).


    • Vallehombre says:

      Been to college a couple of times – about 18 years apart for a career change. Both of my children are educated. How is that the best and the bightest educators allowed themselves to be forced into this situation? Looks like a lack of critical thinking or possibly translating theory into action was equated with getting one’s hands dirty and just not fitting for an elite group. A lot of whining here from those who apparently lacked the gumption to unify and promote their interests much less those of society in general. As a group nurses have and coninue to not only address substantive issues but create change in healthcare while still managing to keep a larger picture in focus. There can be no democracy without education. Really folks, quite whining and start kickking some ass. If you don’t reclaim what is yours who can you blame?

      • Jim Hutton, PhD says:

        Great post! You points are well taken (time to stop whining and start kicking ass). In slight defense of educators, however, it is much harder to organize the disparate interests of graduate assistants, adjuncts, tenure-track, tenured and Research I university professors than it is to organize and unite the interests of nurses. Also, the Yeshiva court decision puts significant limits on university educators’ ability to unionize or engage in collective bargaining. Most important, educators have less bargaining leverage than nurses because we don’t have the power to save or kill students on a daily basis. Actually, we do have the power to save or kill students, but only intellectually and perhaps psychologically, but no one will know until after the statute of limitations has expired. 🙂

      • Another comment here, to you and to Jim, is that the NLRB, at least in certain states – I’m not sure if this is a federal requirement – will not permit more than one union to represent what they see as one group sharing a “community of interest”. The faculty, whether full-time, part-time, tenured or non-tenured, are seen as one community of interest. This is extremely problematic. In schools where there is union representation of all faculty under one umbrella, it is the contingent faculty which gets thrown under the bus on a regular basis during contract negotiations. In other schools, the unions representing the full-time faculty have shown less than active interest in organizing the adjunct faculty. When those adjuncts look outside for their own representation, they face some mighty stiff obstacles, including the burden of proving that they are not a “community of interest” with the full-time faculty. And, within the university itself, those adjuncts often fact job loss once they are identified as pro-union.

  27. Grammar Foo says:

    126 words per paragraph! Too much passive voice. Use italics instead of capitalization. Needs a rewrite to tighten the argument. Consider removing the world “should.” C+

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  29. KDP says:

    In my English Composition classes, I saw evidence of this every single day. It was frustrating to see students admitted who were clearly not in any way able to keep up with the intellectual demands of college work. I also worked in the writing center and had a fair amount of one-on-one time with a good cross-section of these students, many of whom could barely read or write. It became increasingly clear that I was aiding and abetting a racket which was exploiting the poor and underserved members of the community. It did little for most of these kids but it increased the university’s enrollment numbers and, not so coincidentally, let them rake in the funds from students whose outcome was almost certainly going to be “drop out.”

    On top of that, as an adjunct, I was getting $500 a month per class. I don’t have to tell anyone here what that looks like if you want to pay off student loans and have money to live decently. Four classes nets $2K a month, or $24K a year – less than half of what I made working (without a degree) for a telecommunications company as a troubleshooter before being laid off. The work load required for four college classes is fairly substantial, particularly in a composition class (if you want to give actually useful feedback on student writing). I returned to school with high hopes, but the outcome (with an M.A.) was barely-improved job prospects and an income equal to what my mother made as a secretary in the ’80s.

    I admire anyone who persists in that environment. I did not, but scouted around for work (after six years of hard labor in the Educamps) as a technical writer and editor. This has meant that I remain in the precariat. Although the pay is somewhat better, it is still intermittent. It’s no way to run things.

    • I love the phrase Educamps — this should become common usage! I call it the Edu-Factory, as do some others — but these phrases are so apt, we should be using them more. I, too, have supplemented what little I earn with adjuncting by freelance writing and editing — another career that has all but disappeared since the bottom dropped out in 2007 or so, and the overseas writers of “English” have all but destroyed our ability to earn a living wage.

    • Dr. E says:

      Too true on the disservice done to students. While working on my M.A., I had a friend in the Writing Center who told me about a student who signed up and asked her to teach him how to read. Yes, how to read. He had gotten social passes through grade school, had turned into a football star in high school, and had been recruited by my university. He was majoring in photography, so he didn’t have a lot of writing to do, and he could always get someone to take his tests for him. What happened is that he got religion and wanted to be able to read the Bible. At the same time, he realized that having other students take his exams for him was wrong, so he started doing his own work and very soon flunked out. I fear this kind of tragedy is not uncommon for other students involved in team sports for large schools.

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  31. Loretta says:

    Thank you for this terrific article. I’ve been on the battleground for a decade now. I think we may need multiple sling shots and a variety of tactics. The occupy movement is certainly inspiring and has done some work on campuses here in Chicago through “Occupy Education”. In fact, I got this article on facebook through someone that I met in that work. We’ve certainly got a long way to go, but clear analyses like this will help us find our way.

  32. Well your post certainly made me nervous about the future of education in the US. As it so happens I’m long out of college (but having started college in the 70s, and completed it in the 90s, I know what you’re talking about.)

  33. We (the editors of the journals Speculations and continent.) have written some preliminary comments about the future of academic practices and thought that you might be interested to read them in the new issue of continent. here. We’ll be holding a panel discussion at the University of Basel during next month’s “Aesthetics in the 21st Century” conference.

    • Thanks, Paul. I’d love to know more about the Univ. of Basel conference — it might be too late for us to be involved, but certainly future conferences would be a possibility? I think this is an international issue, and should be seen as such. I look forward to reading your journals.

  34. Michael says:

    Just published a white paper entitled Higher Educations’ Imperative: Sustainability that provides further evidence of some of the issues raised here. Download a free copy at

  35. Erin says:

    I am a Ph.D. student in the Humanities, a Teaching Assistant in my department, and a former Adjunct. I experience the pain every single day of each and every detail mentioned in this article, and its following comments. They are painful truths. I hear those hurtful comments made by conservatives regarding the “utterly ridiculous nature of my chosen degree and specialty” every time I go home to visit my family. I’ve chosen to suffer it because I refuse to do anything other than what I love, and I firmly believe there is value in my knowledge, and that I will have the opportunity to share it before I’m gone. I hope and pray we make a change, and soon, not merely for my and my colleagues’ sanity and health, but for the future generations who will run the country.

  36. Curtis says:

    I recently finished my undergraduate degree at the University of Missouri. In the last year of my studies I became the poster boy for the Office of Undergraduate Research. In that capacity I was asked to attend a number of functions that I would otherwise not have attended.

    One such function was a lunch presentation by the Life Sciences Center to the new university President. After hearing the presentation, the whole of which was about how much money the center brings to Missouri, the President asked questions of the 10 of us in the room.

    One of the themes of the questioning was faculty assessment. Specifically, he was worried that faculty do not get any reward for the often difficult and risky process of monetizing their research (patents, seeking out investors, etc.). He, however, ventured a solution. His idea was to find metrics that indicate monetization (e.g., *working* on a patent) and to make that the fourth category in which faculty are judged (the others being research, teaching, and service). He proposed making this 25% of the tenure and promotion judgements.

    Worst. Plan. Ever.

  37. Name (will not be published) says:

    I haven’t been at a University (Berkeley) for 15 years, so I truly have no idea what’s going on.
    I will say the growth in administration also seems to follow from the overregulation of all institutions with bureaucracies in society and is similar to the HR bloat at most companies. We need this committee and that committee and that new committee over there, and oversight for this, and specialists to fill out that form, etc.

    And also, none of this is helped by institutions run by professors overadmitting and pumping out all of those adjuncts. A lot of this crap would stop of professors would step back into the game.

  38. daisy says:

    I think we’re looking at this very real problem under a microscope, when in fact it’s part of a larger problem …

  39. It seems like this whole system is based on the idea that there are lots of adjuncts available who are willing to work for almost free. Basically, we have an overpopulation problem. We need to change that! The university system in this country is no longer expanding rapidly, so we don’t need to produce this many future professors in order to staff our universities. Further, we’re doing our students an immense disservice by giving them the idea that the only worthwhile (or possible) career choice for them is academia, regardless of the circumstances of their employment.

    What we’re converging to is something closer to acting: there are an awful lot of struggling hopefuls living in the harshest possible conditions in the hopes of becoming one of the few superstars who “make it” and go on to (relative) fame and riches. Obviously, the problem here is that there are so many more people who want to be actors than there are jobs for actors.

    So let me propose another “slingshot”: we train (many) fewer graduate students, and encourage many more of the ones that remain to go into private sector jobs. If the number of graduate students is insufficient to cover the course load, the university will be forced to come up with more money to cover the classes with faculty. At first, they will choose to provide money for adjuncts (but even this will improve working conditions for adjuncts). Over a generation, the situation will stabilize at a much better place.

    Please think of this when you are advising undergraduates to go into your field. You need to be very honest with them about the (slim) chances of getting a non-adjunct academic job. You then need to be very honest with your entering graduate students (if you are lucky enough to have them) about their odds. There will be some students who continue on an academic trajectory anyway (and bless them!). But for many, it will a sign that maintaining a graceful backup plan is a wise investment of time and energy, and something that will lead to a fulfilling and worthwhile career outside the academy.

    • Josh says:

      There are instructors who actually advise undergraduates to go INTO academia?

      • Some of the older ones, who still operate under the assumption that getting a tenure-track job is simply a matter of being bright, working hard and knowing the right people, do.

        (Heck, my adjuncting husband had one senior colleague tell him not to be upset that they hadn’t chosen him for a tenure-track position he’d helped design, by suggesting that he apply for the job of the person they did hire, even though that person was in a completely different field and topic area. Another one was honestly startled to learn that the competition for the jobs in his field is as fierce as it is. So, yeah, I can completely see any of these folks cheerfully advising bright undergraduates to go to grad school and become professors like themselves.)

    • andrew says:

      You’re thinking like an neo-liberal administrator here. What you propose would actually help to shrink the university system EVEN FURTHER, which means that programs would have to cut back even further on production of PhDs (less jobs) which would create a vicious circle. See here on the “myth of the overproduction of PhDs”:

      • That was a very interesting article. But I think that it’s not a complete explanation of the situation. You can compare the expanding role of people without Ph.D.s in the education process to the process of “de-skilling” that’s gone on in medicine: we’ve gradually decided that some jobs need to be done by (expensive) M.D.s, but others can be given to (less expensive) R.N.s, or pushed down the chain to ever-increasing numbers of medical assistants and paraprofessionals.

        For instance, is it clear that you need a Ph.D. in math to grade 250 routine pages of calculus I homework a week? Probably not. That’s why I use an online homework system to have the computer grade the routine problems, while I spend time reading my students long-form writeups of more complicated problems and discussing their writing and reasoning skills in detail. We used to pay undergrads to do this grading, but we ran out of money for that, so it’s on the computer now.

        Here’s the point: right now the business model in the university (and yes, we need to pay our bills) is that we teach incredibly profitable introductory courses involving cheap labor (adjuncts, grad students) and large enrollments and use the money to subsidize incredibly expensive advanced major courses.

        The situation is already moving to the point where 3rd parties (such as Coursera, MITx, etc) are moving to offer the introductory courses at cost. I don’t think there anyone who argues that it’s going to be forever impossible to get an online course for, say, the first year of college, to the point where it’s better than a 400 person lecture taught by an adjunct. These courses may be (very) expensive to develop, but they will be very cheap to run. When that happens, accreditation and transfer credit will inevitably follow, meaning that a LOT of adjuncts are going to be unemployed as demand falls off a cliff.

        I think the idea that we’re going to hold some line that “interacting with a random adjunct in person is so much better than interacting with a world-class teacher and scholar online that it’s worth 10 times the money” is unrealistic. Wake up! A ton of money is about to leave the system, and we have to plan for that NOW.

    • Vallehombre says:

      When there seem to be to many people at the table it is wiser to get a bigger table than it is to remove the chairs.

    • Science Prof. says:

      Unfortunately, your ‘solution’ will only make the situation worse. Already public universities are cutting programs that don’t have enough majors. The result? All faculty in that department are fired, tenure or not, and then adjuncts are hired to teach only the ‘core’ classes that might still need to be taught.

      I know, since my university eliminated numerous departments and we now teach under a rule where if we don’t graduate enough students per year our department is eliminated. Worse yet, our funding formula is based on students completing classes. Thus there is significant pressure to pass students whether they earned that passing grade or not. Otherwise we essentially do not get paid and more cuts are forced upon us. Already we are on furloughs, salary cuts, and our health insurance (for those who have any) is cut so deeply that it is major medical only. Basically the education system now has to mimic businesses, especially assembly-line models.

      There is no desire or reward system for quality, only quantity. There is no value placed on critical thinking, only skill sets that can get students a job. In fact, the less students are trained to think critically, the better. We push back against this, but states have cut funding so drastically, that you have to look at your family and decide – is it worth losing my job for this? my house? And the end result is that too few people are able to stand up against it. And those that do try to stand up and fight are overwhelmed in the face of corporate power, political influence, and money. The problem is enormous and only by us all banding together do we have a chance. We also need to change how money is able to corrupt politics. Sadly, this is now made even more difficult since corporations are considered ‘people’. I despair of a better future.

  40. Precariat…yes. That would be a large part of the problem. If we speak out, our poverty wages go away. Here, in a right to work state with ‘continuing contracts’ (no tenure in the CCs), even the full-time faculty are scared to death. Those who have stood up and spoken are playing whack-a-mole with their careers. It’s gotten to the point where everyone is miserable, but no one wants to risk it.

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  42. genieearle says:

    Reblogged this on carelesspainter and commented:
    This is my anguish with my own kids, two in college and two heading that way… I see this happening as an adjunct working a blue collar job for mere survival…this is real. An excellent essay.

  43. dickhumbird says:

    Reblogged this on Jeremy reads short stories and commented:
    Well now.

  44. Ms. Anonymous says:

    Arizona State University.

    • Annony Ms. says:

      I have heard much the same from a colleague regarding A.S. What pains me is that the institution that I fled to in order to avoid this trend has rapidly progressed to being worse than the school that I left.

  45. johnacaseyjr says:

    Reblogged this on John A Casey Jr and commented:
    A very well-thought out analysis of the current state of higher education. If you care at all about the issue, this is a must read.

    • Thanks, John — and to everyone who has reblogged this — I am so glad that this piece is hitting such a chord. I worried that it was too long for the typical “blog” reader, but I guess this all resonates. It’s really gratifying; and I love the growing number of blogs and voices speaking of this issue.

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  47. Pam says:

    Reblogged this on ipam73 and commented:
    “The idea of “manufactured consent” should be talked about here – because if you remove the classes and the disciplines that are the strongest in their ability to develop higher level intellectual rigor, the result is a more easily manipulated citizenry, less capable of deep interrogation and investigation of the establishment “message”.” — Sounds about right to me.

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  49. AimeCee says:

    I’ve not read it entirely yet but what I’ve read give me the feeling that it’s exactly the same which is going on in France with years of delay…
    In fact, I think it’s almost done, as I have the impression French University have pratically gone through all the 5 steps..

  50. SaucyJack says:

    I teach at a private K-12 school. I certainly agree with all of the premises laid out in this article, most notably the observation that the focus for students going into higher education be about gaining the “skills” needed for a “good job.” In fact, that attitude has become so prevalent that many parents that come in for parent-teacher meetings are continually asking me why my classes are so rigourous, and why I don’t curve grades. They view K-12 simply as a holding pen or a daycare until their kid reaches the age to go to university, where they’ll learn “REAL skills” like networking or resume-writing.

    Of course, things like linguistic/mathematical literacy, logical reasoning, and critical thinking couldn’t *possibly* be REAL skills. *facepalm*

    I mean, in this economy, with the kind of bureaucratic bloating and legislative rigamarole going on, what do the parents want their kids to become? Doctors?? Are they dumb, or just plain stupid?

    If the parents were at all interested in their kids getting great-paying jobs, they’d let university go by the wayside and be clawing tooth and nail for their children to get apprenticeships with carpenters, plumbers, electricians, and mechanics.

    • You make a really important point. We DO need to push for a return to apprenticeships, guilds, training in the trades and crafts. My maternal grandfather was a plasterer here in Philadelphia. He worked until he was well into his 70s because there was always a demand for his skills in the big old houses of the city and the surrounding suburbs. I remember that each and every summer, he would have at least one “apprentice” — a young man who was still in high school, who would work (for PAY), hauling the bags, mixing plaster, doing the support work, but learning day by day, the trade. By the end of the summer, this young apprentice would be lathing himself, would be doing the rough-out and the fine finish work. Often, these young men came back to work once they had graduated. They learned a skill and had a trade, and earned money while doing it.
      What happened to this model? What happened to small, independent contractors and business owners, shop keepers? The same “market forces” that have crushed academia, I believe.

      These days, we could see such apprenticeships and guild-mentorships working for young men AND women – and we could see a rebirth of the trades, guilds, crafts.
      Plasterers, bricklayers, stonemasons, carpenters — the list goes on and on.

      • I’ll tell you what happened: the death of the entrepreneur and the death of skilled trades.

        Used to be, if you needed a plumber, or mason, or mechanic, you or someone you knew would recommend a local independent professional who would provide you with excellent services at a reasonable and yet profitable price.

        Those days are ending. Now if you want a plumber, you use the Internet. In your area, that means that up to five plumbers will be competing for the top search results. Therefore most of the work will go to the small number of firms that can afford the best web sites and search engine optimization. (note: the Yellow Pages had a similar effect, in that most of the business went to those companies able to pay for large, full-page ads in the phone book). Other factors (taxation, regulation, etc.) have also greatly contributed to the death of the skilled trades.

    • Vallehombre says:

      It saddens me to see an educator base an evaluation of learning on potential income projections. Maybe that is the real problem… assumptions made by educators. I am, clearly, not an educator but that doesn’t mean that I cannot recognize the value of education in other than economic terms. Just for the record though, employment in the trades is much less secure now that unions have been crushed.

    • aaakim says:

      Even if the parents want their kids to become doctors, these kids will have to take college level physics courses (as an example). These require solid skills in math and analytical thinking. These skills are not acquired overnight. A continuous, rigorous K-12 curriculum is what allows the students to be ready for their college level courses, or life. To write that resume and cover letter that will land the good job, solid writing skills are important. And let’s not forget that every single job ad one looks at, at all levels, requires “good writing and communication skills”. Like math, writing skills require years of practice, and are not learned in college, just polished. We need K-12 teachers like you who resist pressure and maintain a high level of rigor in their courses. You are doing the most important job.

  51. Jon says:

    This article is pretty much accurate about what’s been happening especially in the last 10-20 years, but I want to be even bolder and say America as a country has never REALLY cared too much about academics. I’m saying this because if America had a stronger academic culture, it would of been much harder for corporations to buy us, but most of us have bought into the idea that “college is future” is the only way of thinking things. Sometimes I wonder, when America pumped money into the GI bills and math and science (of that such) during the 1950s, was it because America thought they (academia) was amazing or was it because America thought they were the tools needed to beat the Soviet Union? I feel it’s because of that emphasis of technical skills over REAL academic achievements that raised generations (starting from the baby boomers) that college is there to get technical knowledge out and that’s it.

    just my 2cents

    • An important 2 cents. You are right. America has traditionally had a very strong, anti-intellectual school of thought — the egalitarian illusion, “My ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”

  52. Fran Spear says:

    The “Swan song” can be heard for a thousand of years and yes, it is true. However, education – the training of the human mind occurs for free – Aristotle, Plato, Homer, Cicero, trace the great “thinkers” whose minds tells us even a thousand years later.

    Lincoln learned a wealth of information from 3 books? a Bible, a book of complete works of Shakespeare and Franklin?; in a wood cabin, in the woods, where he read to himself and determined the truths people talk about – the knowledge is readily available to all – as long as you can read and think!

    Many smart men and women from the last Depression learned over a wood stove and candle. World War II destroyed most of the civilized world; those left picked up a book, started reading and started again.

    Instead of bemoaning the “cost”, ignore the cost – buy the books, look in the antics of the US and sit in groups anywhere you can – read, talk, gather!

    We still have great professors here in the US – many may be out of work, but not “out of think!”.

    The greatest industrial world still has the minds here that put the first astronauts into space, etc. There is no doubting that “game theory” shows us how the deck of cards were used to build a house on sand and it fell down.

    I say, build again, build on bedrock this time – use the downtown meeting hall if you have to. Offer free lectures; announce gathering times – education is not silenced until the last voice stops. Just don’t let it.

    Free public education – the foundation of the United States. “Rich” means nothing when the “unrich can claim an education superior to any paid for in structures that pass out grades like they pass out cell phones. Instead, seek to really learn and gather your wits about you. This era is like no other – a silent war gathers around us, but we can still prevail.

    • Jason Robinson says:

      Fran, thank you! After frowning for the better part of an hour, I am pleased to report that your words inspired me to finish that paper I was putting off due to my feeling that my education would amount to nothing in the end!

  53. Silenus says:

    Completely correct. My ‘role’ was changed from researcher to computer administrator the moment I set foot on campus. Over time I became an amoral agent, working to ensure that my research organization fails to fulfill its grant obligations. Why should I act otherwise when tenured faculty are complicit in their exploitation of intellectual workers? I have no future here, relegated as I am to assist others in their careers. I could leave, and I will, but not without imposing an enormous opportunity cost on my exploiters.

  54. Chris says:

    Very good article. I hate to break it to you though…the neocons have migrated over to the left. It’s no longer a right wing vs left wing issue any more – the two parties are the same. The premise of the 2 party system is to keep people within a manageable paradigm. It keeps people pointing fingers at each other while the corporate owners laugh over it all. We have to break out of this controlled 2 party paradigm and continue the fight for our liberties, freedom, and education.

    • I’m sure this can be argued, but I see the neo-liberal/neocon issue as two pillars of the same destroyed mansion — one promoting the lies of “free market” evangelism, the other promoting the “strike first” mentality of making war anywhere you can trump up a lie about national security. You can take this even further and say that the neoliberal machine feeds on the bodies of exploited workers while the neocon machine feeds on the bodies of those entering the military with the illusion that it is one of the only ways out of low-wage life. And, of course, there is also the discussion of the growth of for-profit prisons which steadily feed the neoliberal machine with free labor of the so-called “criminal” class.

  55. Paul says:

    I agree with the article and most of the comments. However, let’s bite the bullet and admit that the idea of “mass university education for everyone” has its limitations. You don’t just turn everyone into a thoughtful member of the liberal middle class by giving them a university education. You also put so much pressure on the system by sweeping in so many people who are deficient in either ability or commitment or both, that it tends to get debased (for everyone). Also, liberals in the US have done themselves no favors with the extremes of political correctness and affirmative action–kind of shooting yourself in the foot. Take a look at one of the most successful economies in the world: Germany. Fewer people there go to university as a percentage of the population than in the US, but everyone gets the chance of some kind of vocational training/qualification. The result is that the economy is booming, and the Germans have avoided the creation of large numbers of unemployed young men (which for historical reasons they want to avoid at all costs). The US seems to be doing exactly the opposite–with the inclusion of the burden of unpayable debt. (Having said that, the German educational system has its own problems and I wouldn’t hold it out as a panacea, but this aspect of a large vocational element is worth looking at. It goes without saying that the vocational/academic divide should, as much as possible, be based on ability and commitment rather than social class or economic means.)

    • This comment can be connected to the call for a return to trades and crafts – and the fact that we need a lot of different KINDS of support for our youth as they enter into the social fabric. These are important parts of the larger conversation, and well worth having.

  56. Danielle says:

    I’m gonna have to play Devil’s Advocate here. This article reeks of conspiracy theories and American entitlement. I don’t think this guy has been inside a classroom in any other university in the world. I don’t think he realizes the truly high quality of American education, especially when it’s compared to other countries. He claims that students aren’t taught to think, but he has no evidence for such a broad claim. We Americans certainly can’t be like “well, we’re definitely better than most, so that’s good enough.” I agree with him that professors should get paid more, and that students should pay less. HOWEVER, he cites the University of California as most of his examples, but he fails to mention that California has consistently lowered its income taxes since the 1970s, when he says that UCs were free. Californians pay some of the lowest taxes IN THE WORLD, so we can’t complain if we’re voting to lower taxes and voting for congresspeople who lower taxes. That’s where the higher teacher salaries and lower student tuition prices would come from. As a corollary, many American students (myself included!) take out loans for “living expenses” that aren’t the direct price of college. We spend unnecessarily as college students and I would argue that most everyone I knew in college who had loans didn’t use the money wisely. He argues that students are “enticed” with the highest possible loan amount, but it seems like the real problem here is the lack of financial education and self-control among American youth, as opposed to the education system itself (i.e., you’re marketed to every day and you have to weed through the BS and decide what you really need. Why should student loans be different?). The final slightly erroneous claim here is the author’s lamentation over the fact that people with PhDs can’t find jobs. That’s basic economics. These people knew when they started their programs that there was little demand for them in the private sector and stiff competition to stay within research and academia, but they chose to continue studying (oftentimes for access to financial aid and student loans when it was difficult to find a job), knowing the risk of their job prospects after graduation. So the logic is kind of flawed here.

    So basically people can’t whine about the American education system if they aren’t willing to make sacrifices (taxes) to make it better, and American students cannot blame all of their debt on the price of tuition.

    • I could not agree more.

      The market provides fairly clear information about what it values and what it doesn’t value. For my entire life (I’m 44) the market has signalled clearly “tech, tech, tech.” I have a CS degree and an MBA in IS management. I have no trouble earning money. Other people chose humanities, liberal arts, etc.. I admire that. I admire all learning. However, they chose degrees in subjects that the market does not value much (at least, not at this time). Those choices are theirs, as is the outcome.

      So if you want to be an academic, I say, do it! But don’t behave as if there has been some terrific bait-and-switch. If you entered school in 1990 thinking that your Ph.D. in humanities was in your financial best interest…

      • Kathy Stockman says:

        I think you may have missed the point. This is not about the market dictating anything, but about how academia sabotages itself by following definitions of value set by the business market.

        No one….no one goes into the humanities thinking they are going to make lots of money. Pardon me but only a business major would think this is the case.

      • Larry Moran says:

        Nobody should be thinking that university is primarily a job training program.

        How did that ever happen?

      • @kathy – to take your last comment first, people certainly do take out significant debt to fund studies in the humanities. I suppose if you actually believe this doesn’t happen, then we will have to agree to disagree.

        I’m not sure of the reasons why someone would (according to the author) teach at the university level for $10K / year when you can make two or three times that amount by cleaning houses or mowing yards. Maybe someone here can explain it to me.

        The point is when highly-educated people are willing to work at about 1/2 the poverty level, it is crystal clear that there is a glut of people with that capability. I think that is where @danielle and I were coming from.

        The author makes good points about the disparity between administrators and educators. The key word here is INEFFICIENCY. If we think there are too many administrators vis-a-vis the educators, or that they make too much money vis-a-vis their value-added, then the question is:

        “Why are consumers willing to deeply leverage themselves to overpay administrators for an education that doesn’t produce results?”

        Can we agree that this is the key to the problem? If so, then I’d like to continue the conversation, but if not, then I’m curious what you think is the root of the problem.

    • aaakim says:

      I was an undergraduate student in Iowa at the end of the 1990’s and saw the shift from students borrowing the absolute minimum possible to students living well above their means. I had the benefit of 1) being from another country and 2) having caught the tail end of the “student life” as being austere so I could see the absurdity of it all.
      When the tide shifted, what we think today as being completely normal looked to me like the complete twilight zone. My husband and I got kicked out of a 2 bedroom university appartment we were renting for $400 a month to be offered a single room for $400 a piece (in other words $800 for the room). Granted, the said room was in an appartment with vaulted ceilings, a fire place, a washer and drier in the appartment itself, central air and a dishwasher, but to us at the time, our first question was: “why would students need these amenities”. For us, low cost and having our own place (as a young married couple) was a lot more important. We moved off-campus.
      Soon after that, we moved down to Texas where I continued my graduate studies. I started noticing young women wearing designer skirts and bags, bought at the luxury stores that lined campus. My thought then was “isn’t it a really bad idea for these stores to lease their space so close to campus, when no-one around here is actually earning any real money?”. But they had not trouble making business. Apparently, only the “old” generation like myself found it a completely ludicrous idea to set foot in a luxury clothing store as a student.
      So yes, it is seemingly the choice of this generation of students to overspend, but when affordable housing options are limited (my university in Iowa had destroyed their affordable student housing while I was there), and overspending is presented as something completely natural since everyone does it, it is a little too much to ask of a young adults who have been on their own for a grand total of a year to make responsible and sane decisions about spending.

  57. Sulaiman Hasan says:

    I totally agree with your analysis. Few people have the guts to say it like it is and even fewer the ability to articulate it so well.
    However I don’t see any hope of a correction. Simply because the corporations have also taken over the legislatures and now the judiciary as well. The media they already own. An underpaid phd struggling to put food on the table or a college applicant are far from equipped to launch a challenge. Most adults are so taken in by corporate media propaganda that they are just trying to find ways to get their kids an education, whatever it may be, so they can have a job.
    Me, I’m 56, relatively well off but am in debt so my kids can start debt free.
    I might add that even though many of these great corporations were born in the US and flourished here because of the opportunities this great country gave them, have no love lost for this place. Their agenda does not include preservation of the greatness of America. So the picture is not pretty

  58. In 1964 I completed an exceptional three years and a BA English at Portland State. Following a long career in education and public library work, I returned to the same school to get the Masters I had longed for all that time. I observed the changes you mentioned. Post graduation, the adjunct faculty position I qualified for at a nearby university would not have paid for the gas to get to classes and back again and faculty I knew on that staff advised me not to even consider it. As to the advent of the HMO model, see the old TV series “St. Elsewhere.”

  59. YouDee says:

    Very interesting read. College senior here – sucked right up into this same terrible path. No one, not even my parents, even batted an eyelash at the insane tuition prices. College was force-fed down my throat since elementary school and not going, or even going to a community college, was never seen as an option for someone smart or gifted. I’m really not sure what I’m going to do come graduation. At least my degree is in the sciences and my grades are good – still, I will probably stay and chase the paper longer… A B.S. is nearly useless in my field. So, thousands of dollars in debt only to go back to school to get a better piece of paper. When will this end?

    • Jeremiah Reagan says:

      Similar situation here as a physics major. Science knowledge is supposedly at a premium in such a scientifically illiterate country as the US, but a BA in physics isn’t going to get you anywhere. Currently shooting for a masters in Geology to snag a job as a petrophysicist. Work in the energy sector is one of the few escape paths. Hopefully I can get some grounding in geothermal so I can still advocate for moving away from fossil fuels and subsidies for oil companies with a minimal amount of hypocrisy and be able to switch to something else if hell freezes over and we ever take some kind of action.

    • Vallehombre says:

      It will end when you actually put your education to uise and DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT instead of sitting in the student union whing about how unfair it is. If all an education means to you is a ticket to the middle class, you are definitely in for a rude awakening.

  60. anon coward says:

    Can you justify your claims re: there being more administrators than faculty in American higher ed?

    • You can find statistics fairly easily with a quick search. But I would suggest that you take a look at The Fall of the Faculty, by Benjamin Ginsberg, who teaches at Hopkins, and who has seen this happen during his generation. His book speaks eloquently and extensively about the administrative takeover of our universities.

    • Larry Moran says:

      My university is the University of Toronto in Canada. We have 11,581 faculty (5,553 full time and 6,028 part time). We have 6,017 staff (5,681 part time and 336 part time). Most of the staff aren’t really administrators. They are secretaries, bookkeepers, accountants, groundskeepers, electricians, plumbers, IT staff, student advisers, cooks, cleaning staff etc. etc.

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  62. NicoleRacquel says:

    Reblogged this on Talking Trash and Then Some and commented:
    This is why I wish I could be a gypsy…

  63. Monroe says:

    I don’t like the insinuation that science and math don’t develop “higher level intellectual rigor.”

  64. Rebel 2 says:

    Thank you for your very thoughtful essay. We have re-posted on

  65. For profit universities are even worse….I was recently approached to teach at a local university that turned for profit. They have a faculty recruiter (!?) and pay adjunct faculty less per credit hour than a student pays per credit. When I was offered two courses, I asked if it was possible to be paid more in line with the other instuitions where I teach. I never heard back.

  66. Rahul K. Gairola says:

    Brilliant piece!! Who is the author, and how can I send you my confidential horror stories?

  67. friendofzelig1 says:

    As a composition adjunct, my biggest frustration in my first year was that students had little time to do the assigned reading from our text, so the discussion was limited to me explaining the essential point that the chapter was making and how to use that point to refine argumentative writing. This would take about 15 minutes. This year, I am stressing analytical thinking as an essential skill to persuasive writing, and will spend class time with a specific reading followed by a discussion.
    This post could lead to an additional entry to medical dictionaries. Adjunctivitis: A visual condition in which teaching faculty are allowed to see only what administrators want them to see.

  68. Really fantastic article – thank you for having the courage to write it. I am a fellow “homeless adjunct”. I have a Doctoral degree in music from one of the top music schools in the world (graduated in 2008 – just in time for the economy to go to hell). Since that time, I have landed one university adjunct job, which only lasted for a single semester (Spring, 2011) before being de-funded. I was of course let go. My salary was just as you describe – I was paid $1000 per credit hour and I taught 7 credit hours that semester. Also as you describe, I received no benefits or insurance of any kind. While there, I was treated by the administration (and a few of the tenured professors) like a third class citizen. I actually spoke up at faculty meetings and made my voice heard, and I was often glared at as if to say, “Be quiet and learn your place.” I again, as you stated above, had no voice and zero job security. I was lucky to have an office – however, in the infinite wisdom of the administration it was decided that adjuncts didn’t need phones in our offices, so our phones were taken away.

    For my no-benefits, no-health insurance $7000 salary that semester, I was expected to design all of the courses that I taught from the ground up, creating the entire curriculum and syllabi – quizzes and exams, projects, etc. I was working full time BEFORE my job even technically started. I did all of that prior to the semester starting, because it obviously had to be done by day one. So, I did all of that work without being paid for it – that time I spent designing the courses, doing research into text books, creating quizzes and exams and worksheets and researching for the course was all done on my own time – for free essentially.

    When I was there, my work was recognized as exemplary. The students had high opinions of my courses and I made myself available to them at any time, even going so far as to give them my personal, home phone number and email (because I didn’t have an office phone that they could call.) When I was evaluated by the tenured faculty, I received a glowing review and the highest recommendation to the evaluation committee.

    After the semester was over, I wasn’t told if my position was going to continue into the Fall semester – I was “put on hold” basically. The administration strung me along all Summer, until finally, 2 weeks before classes started, they told me that I would not be coming back.

    I am currently in the job market, and have been reduced to applying to minimum wage jobs to make ends meet – Starbucks, Staples, Best Buy, etc. Except the big problem there is, if you’re the hiring manager at Best Buy, who are you going to hire – a 20 year old, single kid with a high school diploma and no dependents, or a 38 year old man with a family and a doctoral degree?

  69. Marsha Long Owen says:

    This is so completely true. I am a child of the marching ’60’s. College was exactly as stated. I finished in ’83 and my tuition & books was about $400. I just finished an MBA program $74k at one of the better Executive programs. Professors were great and well paid, the $500 text books unused, the energy sponsored students provided the same corporate ideology–global economy, outsourcing, energy prices had to be what they are, etc. Financial aid gave much more than needed and then offered forbearance so I can either give up my IRA or stay in debt until the day I die. Oh, by the way and not that I really care, when I started the program I had a good long time career (good performance evaluations and job advancements) and I finished the program without a job (it was eliminated and I worked for government)–kind of ironic a high performing government employee with a newly minted MBA. Hmmm, my husband says high-performing, government employee is an oxymoron.

    This article is exactly on point, intellectually, this MBA produced little to no growth…there was a lot of “go along to get along”. I mean no disparity to the program I attended; it is just the way it is. My husband has about the same story…PhD teaching part-time as an adjunct professor. Thankfully, this is not his main career or his main objective, but the article is also again directly on point.

    • Bill Staffen says:

      Certainly, I think there is an air of need for some degrees that isn’t backed up by value. I have a BS in computer science and have worked in the field for about 12 years. I’m not complaining about the matter as I live well enough, etc, but the point is that for many years I’ve wanted to get either a masters degree or an engineering degree. I have been accepted at a couple of universities but have not ever actually taken any of them up on the degree because I can in no way justify the expense. Now, I can find the books, read the books, do self-improvement, and I do. I can also say that hey, I’ve made good decisions in life because I’ve not wasted money on a MS degree that won’t get me a raise or a better job. How tragic though, to have to make such a decision. To have a degree and get the focused training one desires and then be saddled with debt and no monetary benefit, or to… well, not suffer, or be subject to ’emotional poverty’, but to feel so unable to reach ones potential simply because there wouldn’t be any point in doing so.

      I look at getting a masters degree any more like buying a new model car. Good bit of expence, some small recognition for having something cool, and the same ability to travel as a 10 year old car. It’s not an investment anymore to get a master’s degree; It’s a luxury. For reasons I can’t well explain that just doesn’t seem right.

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  72. Christopher Marino says:

    I so agree…..I kept records of the shocking behaviour( passive agressive e-mails, SFSC reports that had no basis and violated their own ASPT guidelines) of my supposed colleagues at my University and I will be posting the whole story in a blog.. I now tell people that I am no longer at that institution because I want to actually teach and they have no interest in teachers. The administration is really the lowest common denominator made up of failed teachers and private sector candidates. The students are powerless and demoralized as the teachers that teach critical thinking get picked off one by one. They are then replaced by automatons schooled from the same type of dumbed-down institutions in which they teach. In the end the students suffer and it is tragic. I have often said that in all other things we purchase you can get your money back if not satisfied. Why not in education? I think it is up to the consumers to band together to make the universities accountable for the money. Where I was teaching I think the parents would have been shocked at what was allowed to go on.

    • I’ve often asked, Christopher, why there is no such thing as “educational malpractice” — or is there? I’ve asked attorneys and no one has said there WAS such a cause of action. But if there is medical malpractice or other forms of occupational malpractice or institutional malpractice, why NOT? The argument can certainly be made that these institutions are failing to provide the “standard of care” expected, and the return of the tuition, plus the interest which would cover pay down of any loans, plus punitive damages, could be demanded. Proving damages shouldn’t be a problem, when you look at the average of 6 years spent, the debt incurred, the emotional and psychological abuse, AND the lack of quality education received. A rash of law suits against these universities might be part of the attack we need to consider. Class action suits against universities? Why not? Recent graduates of law schools have begun them because of the obfuscation of job market miseries – why not undergraduates?….Graduate students? The old “hit ’em where it hurts” adage comes to mind – since money, money and…well, let’s see….yes, MONEY, is the biggest concern of the corporatized university.

      • Bill Staffen says:

        Malpractice almost requires a licensed profession, and teaching is not one. Doctors and Lawyers are licensed to work, and can be held accountable, sued, or disbarred for failing to do what is expected. Other fields we think of as professions (like computer programming, teaching) but which are not actually licensed professions can not readily be confronted with malpractice.

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  74. Another factor to consider is that as universities have been converted into glorified technical schools, the cost of job training has been externalized; financed by their prospective employees through loans. So not only do the capital holders evade an expense, they have an opportunity to profit from said evasion by investing in employee debt.

  75. Christopher Marino says:

    I so agree…..I kept records of the shocking behaviour( passive agressive e-mails, SFSC reports that had no basis and violated their own ASPT guidelines) of my supposed colleagues at my university, and I will be posting the whole story in a blog.. I now tell people that I am no longer at that institution because I want to actually teach and they have no interest in teachers. The administration is really the lowest common denominator, made up of failed teachers and fired private sector candidates. The students are powerless and demoralized as the teachers that teach critical thinking get picked off one by one. They are then replaced by automatons schooled from the same type of dumbed-down institutions in which they teach. In the end, the students suffer and it is tragic. I have often said that in all other things we purchase you can get your money back if not satisfied. Why not in education? I think it is up to the consumers to band together to make the universities accountable for the money. Where I was teaching I think the parents would have been shocked at what was allowed to categorized as instruction..

  76. Roger Rezabek says:

    I believe it is time to begin a “Socialist movement” in America. France has it right.

  77. The National Student Power Convergence which took place over the last weekend discussed this issue in depth, and how we students plan to respond to it. Expect us.

  78. argh says:

    I love your blog, and I especially love this essay. Although I do agree with the commenter earlier who said that this comes off too conspiratorial… there’s never any conspiracy, because the business executives just aren’t smart enough to pull it off. It LOOKS like a conspiracy, and the results are the same, but it’s really just a bunch of mindless corporate drones mindlessly maximizing short-term profitability.

    I’m more pessimistic than most. I don’t really think there is any solution at this point. It’s too far gone, and any possible path to restore academia is blocked by other, even deeper problems in our society.

    • Argh, I agree that it doesn’t have to be a conspiracy, per se. Naomi Klein mentions this in The Shock Doctrine: that the system is already set up for exploitation so there is little need for big-time conspiracies. As an adjunct, I cannot afford to agree with you that there is no solution “at this point.” I think the solution is struggle now, through education, agitation, and organizing. And it’s being done today, with little fanfare, by people like Debra and long-term activists such as Joe Berry.

  79. Joel Davis says:

    Right on the mark. One of the things tenured faculty need to do is make a concerted push to transform adjunct positions into permanent, tenure-line positions. Such work happens in university committees, on faculty senates, and elsewhere in the belly of the beast. Most important is reclaiming a faculty voice in budgetary and other financial matters. To do so requires engaging in shared governance, it requires a *huge* investment of time and energy, it takes us away from our disciplines, and it doesn’t make us a lot of friends. On another front, broad professional organizations like the AAUP and the largest disciplinary organizations (like the MLA) need to invest seriously in coordinated public relations campaigns advocating both the re-professionalization of academia and the kind of budget streamlining that will rid us of corporatist parasites. Stanley Fish once suggested (how flippantly I am uncertain) that our professional organizations hire lobbyists. I think that’s basically correct. When the real estate lobby is in Washington, D.C., they bring thousands of realtors along and so clog the hallways and offices of Capitol Hill that nobody else in town can get near a legislator’s staff. That is what we need to do, also. Thanks for a stimulating post!

  80. Henry says:

    Good article, but it doesn’t touch on one of the major reasons for the explosion in administrative staff at universities–namely, that universities hire lots of administrators these days because they are running so many programs. Look at any major university and you will see that the number of extracurricular activities, organizations, groups, clubs, etc. is simply staggering. Even smaller colleges have a lot. And all of it needs administrative staff to run, and administrative staff costs money. It also contributes to another major factor in the increase of college costs–rampant physical expansion. Far too many schools are building new buildings and/or renovating buildings that simply don’t need it. Students are drawn to these extracurricular programs and facilities (have to attract the best students to your school so that they make you look good when they graduate), but we can’t afford them.

  81. Catherine says:

    I don’t know how old this poster is but what I watched happening was the growth of drugged out hippies demanding rights without responsibilities, sit-ins demanding curricular changes, demanding dorm & dress rule changes that led to lowering of human dignity. These students became the parents that Dr. Spock taught to never say no.  Meanwhile entitlement budgets were growing, teaching new generations how to live off hand-outs. Parents then demanded that schools no longer discipline their children. Government mandated that teachers become accountable for every problem that came along, with no ability to discipline and eventually no parental support. Colleges are in trouble now because of the large number of undisciplined children who enter school with no foundation for learning. The people that the original poster refers to as “large numbers of well-educated, intellectual, and vocal people” were actually the permissive demanding hippie culture. As for all her hippie mentality reasoning – what a crock!! I’m 71 and I know what I saw happening in this country. And I taught those children.

    • Vallehombre says:

      Gone are the good old days when you could smack the snot out of kids and they had to”respect” their elders. At your age maybe you could just smoke a little weed and chill. All the references to hippies demonstrates not only a lack of understanding re the influence of main stream media charactrizations but of the times in which you live.

    • Al Alessi says:

      Yup, just all hippies, drugged out most of the time. Where did you read that? And how deeply did you read Spock? As a supposed teacher, are you saying Dr. Spock just boiled down to “never say no”? Each of your comments is factually and philosophically unsound. What does “Meanwhile entitlement budgets were growing, teaching new generations how to live off hand-outs.” even mean? Are you talking about the social security and medicare you currently enjoy, that you paid into the system? What a crock, indeed.

      • sethkahn says:

        Right. That post is from somebody who neither knows nor cares a thing about the history of higher education in the US. Faculty were given almost exclusive control over curriculum in the early 1900s in return for giving management control over finances. And in many ways that division of labor made people quite happy. I, for one, if I thought I could trust management, would more than happy to let them count the beans while faculty run the rest of the university. But to accuse faculty of “whining” for curricular control because we’re “old hippies” doesn’t even qualify as absurd, it’s so wrong.

  82. Science PhD says:

    I have a PhD in the sciences and my wife is currently working on her dissertation in the humanities. Everything you describe in your recent article “How The American University was Killed, in Five Easy Steps” reflects the general attitude of my wife and her colleagues. So bleak are her job prospects that she is considering a change of field. I thought I might give a perspective of someone in the hard sciences who will be going on the job market very shortly. In brief, while I empathize with the article, I cannot see any commonalities with my field (Chemistry). There are non-tenure track, lectureship positions in various departments, and the salaries, while modest, seem fair. A possible related struggle in our field is the change of focus of funding agencies (NSF) away from fundamental, exploratory science towards application research (with a roadmap for commercialization and profit realization now a desired part of any grant application). I wonder if your documentary will address the disparity between the humanities and science/engineering programs? There is by no means a surplus of tenure-track positions—you have to fight tooth and nail to get into top level departments—but I don’t observe the general sense of despair in your article.

    • recent Ph.D. says:

      My sense is that there are more nonacademic opportunities for people with PhDs in the hard sciences so you don’t get the bottleneck of tenure-track job market competition coupled with adjunct exploitation that we have in the humanities. I have a humanities PhD and work at a science policy nonprofit where many of my colleagues have science PhDs. It’s much easier for them to find other fulfilling ways to earn a living, either in the nonprofit or corporate world, whereas in the humanities, a PhD doesn’t easily translate into other kinds of work. I got lucky, but my first nonacademic position post-PhD was essentially as someone’s secretary. I’ve since moved on, but I know too many people with humanities PhDs who are temping or working in retail because they can’t support themselves on an adjunct’s salary and can’t get other kinds of work. I took the secretary job because, mindless as it was, it paid double what I was earning as a college instructor. A lot of other people put up with the exploitation in academia because they do enjoy teaching and research and they fear, rightly, that other options are limited.

      • This was exactly my point earlier. If your education only translates into a very narrow range of employment opportunities, then you easily run the risk of being part of a glut of people with your skills. Even if that’s only 200 people, if the market only really needs 50, then you can bet you’ll be earning a fraction of what you think you’re worth.

      • VanessaVaile says:

        I doubt any go into the humanities looking for big bucks (if so, they are in dire need of serious counseling).  Going deeply into debt to do so is another matter. So are why and who/what act as enablers.


  83. Ana M. Fores says:

    It’s taken me a while to get to this. You know, they’ve been starving me over the summer so I had to do all these odd jobs, and I’d just been working on some translations, another one of those low paying intellectual pursuits that interest me but do not put much food on the table… In any case, this is a powerful piece. You cover everything. Incredible. Now it will take me another long while to get through the comments! One question/comment of my own: how do you see people in the HMOs compared to us, the EMOs? Because, though there are vast similarities, I also see a discrepancy in pay, though I don’t know much about their actual pay, and there are a lot in healthcare. But, I would venture that none come close to what adjuncts make… Could it be because they do not have the “control” or however you might want to say it, of shaping thousands of minds, as a professor might? And therefore, they do not pose as much of a threat to corporate America so they can “earn” more? Because, when we think about it, this is what happens. We are paid peanuts. Yet most of us who can hobble along go on teaching our idealism, our convictions, our thoughts. We are then blacklisted, “unwanted” by the university system, even when they might have openings, because of our liberal leanings… How many of us have they broken in this way? I doubt any other profession comes close.

    • VanessaVaile says:

      good point Ana! Worth developing too. There is so much here ~ this article will keep us busy and really thinking for a long time… and I hope contribute to galvanizing us to take real, meaningful steps for change


    • Vallehombre says:

      HMOs raped healthcare… if I knew a more brutal word I would use it. An RN averages about $50K – $70K nationally with some experience but the responsibilities are tremendous. More than an educator’s? Absolutely. Nonetheless, nurse must continually wage the good fight against administrations which by and large detest nurses. I speak from 20 plus years in healthcare with roles in direct patient care and administration. If you want information on how to get things done contact the National Nurses Association (National Nurses United) or the California Nurses Association. Theyv’e done it all – organizing, legislation, education and just raising hell. Time to quit whining and start kicking some ass.

      • VanessaVaile says:

        I remember the Californian Nurses Association coming to the Davis Farmers Market in the 90’s promoting single payer legislation and talking with them.  Real heroes and models for us. In particular we need to look at the way they left the workplace walled garden and got their word out to the general public. When was the last time any of us saw an adjunct/contingent faculty table at a farmers market?

        Surely National Nurses United has a blueprint for organizing that we’d benefit from studying. Thanks for reminding me about the California Nurses and interested in learning more about NNU,


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  85. Teri Yamada says:

    Reblogged this on “Restructuring Public Hi Ed.”

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  87. drB says:

    Nice article. Being a tenured faculty at a large state school in TX, I agree with most of it. From my viewpoint, the main education cost increase for students does not come from state support cut, but from (1) useless waste of money on athletic programs (see, and (2) proliferation of administrators ( – we have now more managers than people who actually teach. Quite interestingly, students support athletics programs and are clueless that they are paying large amounts of money for them. The proliferation of administrators is connected to “diversity/ethics” programs of left and financial micromanagement of right. More and more of my time is spent passing idiotic trainings in sexual harassment, computer safety, ethics in using whatever grants, and other stupidity generated by the ruling class of administrators. To be fair, some of idiocy is federal and state. The amount of this idiocy started increasing exponentially in Bush-2 years and has continued to increase during Obama.

    Also, now we have to teach 1st year students things they should have learned in high school – many students do not know simple algebra and geometry. Failing students is also unacceptable – and again both left and right are against it. Left – we may hurt students feelings! Right – we need to have students finish school in x years, and failing means postponing graduation. Result is grade inflation (

    At our department we have not used any temp teachers in last 15 years. We have a few teaching-only faculty who do not have tenure, but they have been employed for >10 years and have full insurance etc.

    Anyway, thanks for the article and sorry for my disorganized rant – I have no idea how to counteract this other than continuing to oppose hiring underpaid temp teachers.

    • James says:

      Your response here is very true. Having just received my MA from a Big 10 University, I am now an instructor at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. I was under full military salary in grad school through a special Army program and tuition was waived by the university for my TA job, so much of the pay issues did not confront me and I was able to focus on studying rather than surviving. However, I noticed these issues you mention – kids who do not have the basics of K-12 when entering college (taught first year speech class, teach the advanced level communication course now) and the number of administrators was astounding, especially with little growth in students to support.

      Here at the Academy we are about to likely undergo budget cuts – the “do more with less” idea is about to become reality. However, unlike most universities, we “might” do research, but are already busy with the additional military training and the requirements for about 50% of the instructors to also be academic advisers (no admin personnel here, instructors do it like the old-day professors), the priority is placed on ensuring students are educated and graduate on-time.

      As far as temp teachers, most are rotators which means we complete an MA/MS and teach for 2-3 years as an assignment. Salaries are simply your normal pay-grade/rank, so there are no complaints.

  88. Tina Johnston says:

    Wow-What a great thought provoking article. I agree with some but not all of it. The comments too are very interesting. It is somewhat sad that we seem to use the same arguments over and over though to rationalize whatever stance one takes on these discussions. 1. defunding-yep they have done it but have also withdrawn funding from many other places. I don’t think it is an outright attempt to kill higher ed but it does not help anyone that is for sure. 2. Man did I feel this one. Funnily enough I found more professionalism among my colleagues at the community college (and huge adjunct numbers) then I did among my colleagues at the university. I am not sure if this was the result of the tenure process or the fact that there were so few full time jobs to go around. My paycheck was much lower than I had in K-12 education (there is something wrong when the teacher of teachers makes less then the students in her class). 3. Pencil pushers and managers are taking over leadership of higher ed, private companies and k-12 administration. Perhaps that really is the problem with our economy? 🙂 4. Corporate money drives research. When privatized departments get their hands on private money they study what they are told. Of course I worked for years on government money and it worked the same way. You do what Uncle Sam says is the right way (even when it is clearly not) and then write up the report to keep the money coming in). Sad but true. 5. Having worked and raised a family plus researched this area extensively this one is not so simple. We have definitely thrown out problem solving, and thinking with the U.S. drive for accountability. My best guess is that human nature seems unable to think in terms of what I call the long game-that is when we have a four year old what over the course of 20 years will provide them with the best learning in order to build productive citizens who will improve our economy. Government is on the four year plan, teachers are on the one year or semester or quarter plan. When we shift our thinking to the short game we focus on facts in and facts out not how to think and build thinkers. Until we shift that view we will always have students with holes, gaps and flawed learning strategies. Ok thats my two-cents as a ‘retired’ math ed prof. who now owns a yarn store.

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  90. Marcelo says:

    Kinda crazy that this article/blog came out just the day before a documentary titled “The Forbidden Education”. It is in spanish but has subtitles. Talks about K-12 education and how it is not education at all!

    Hope you watch and ejoy!

  91. Sandra Smith says:

    so true.

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  93. S. D. Prause says:

    This article states nearly everything necessary that there is to know about why US education is faltering. High school education (all of K-12) is not advanced enough anymore to send kids to college. This lack of education is impacting the quality of our university education. University education should still allow for deep research and pondering, even discovery. Instead it is now laden with busy work, not enabling the mind and the student to develop intellectually. I understand that students like the sports, clubs, fitness centers, but since when do these have anything to do with education? Students now are focusing too much on work (to support their studies) and other hobbies as well, that easy classes with little to no important content is exactly what they want. They are falling into the corporate trap. The days must come back, that students are able to focus on school and not on the financial burdens. Unfortunately this is what is has become.
    Another important topic I will quickly mention is grade inflation. Professors are encouraged to give good grades, even to poor students.

  94. Anonymous says:

    Nobody goes into K-12 education to simply “make a paycheck” or “protect their status” (don’t you want to protect YOUR job too?). I was an urban high school teacher for 5 years in 2 states, and I can say that for all of us, the job is TOO FUCKING HARD to simply “collect a paycheck” and unless you know a teacher personally or have been in an urban school as a sub, you have NO CLUE what you’re talking about. If you want to sit on your butt collecting your pay, try becoming a politician. Until we stand up for our teachers and faculty, instead of accusing them of being “witches”, we will see our country go into the toilet while the super rich carry on as always. There WILL be a revolution back to what is “good” and “just”. The question is, “when?”.

    • Vallehombre says:

      FINALLY… someone willing to actually stand up. All the posts from educators whining like palace eunuchs made me questiion whether educators really do represent our best and brightest. If the experts and best educated couldn’t get their act together maybe they’re not quite as smart as they like to present themselves, After all, nobody who was at least half awake during the past 30 years could have missed what was coming. Whatever the rationale is the fact remains this part of society, like many others, allowed this to happen.

  95. nufio says:

    i liked the post.. but im not sure i agree with a lot in the article. I have read as much philosophy, history and psychology as most philosophy, history and psychology majors. but I am a post grad in computer science. Luckily i never had to go into debt for school all the way through my masters but I have many friends who went deeply into debt to study majors which have almost no employment choices. In most engineering programs in college the shift to other majors after the first year is almost 50-75 %. ie except in top engineering schools like mit, stanford where they already cherrypick interested students for admissions.
    anyway my point is if you look at graduation statistics of universities in the US, all of engineering PLUS computer science graduates around 100K graduates in a year. Psychology alone graduates 100K graudates. liberal arts, history etc graduate a lot more. there is no way society needs so many psychology majors or history majors. At least they shouldnt be going into debt to study these subjects.. if they are rich then they can spend money on it.. realizing it as an expensive hobby/pursuit…. but otherwise people should just do it on the side by reading books from the library…. the students are a lot to blame for moving away from engineering majors because they find math hard…. i dont see any reason why the government should spend more money on these departments just for kids to prusue their interests and almost guaranteed not to find a job in their field of study. Universities should be forced to publish employment rates and median salary of the graduating class to freshmen who join the department with the loan application.

    Here is a link for the stastics:
    Can anyone say that this distribution of majors is what society needs?

    • VanessaVaile says:

      Nufio, a lot of that goes to bad advising and not getting the foundation in secondary school for STEM heavy curriculum in college


    • Thanks for the link. I think it says everything there is to know about the problem. The point is not that art/humanities/etc. are not important. The point is:

      1. In many fields there exist few employment opportunities other than teaching
      2. With that many students chasing so few opportunities, of course there are gluts


      The *REAL* question is: why are so many students chasing those fields? And more to the point, how are *ANY* of them allowed to go into debt to do it? Who makes these loans? And why would they, when it’s obvious that there is little chance the student will earn enough to pay the loan back?

      Answer those questions, and then you’ll see the necessary policy changes.

    • Vallehombre says:

      To make the argument that education is solely a function of employability suggests not only a basic misunderstanding of the requirements of a democracy but the narrowness of your vision and depth of self interest. Congratulations, you have managed to take a university education to the level of a trade school. Corporate amerikkka is gonna love you.

      • nufio says:

        personal attacks does not an argument make.
        as long as the media, government, teachers union blogs and banks stops selling student debt to finance “well rounded edcuation in arts and humanities” as a path to a bright future im not against any department or major….
        dont evade the question. do you think its a fair distribution of graduates by field of study looking at that table? or do you think if the students werent allowed to go into debt to pursue degrees that wouldnt help students pay off any of it, they would still pick those majors?

  96. Jim Hutton, PhD says:

    If anyone following this discussion is interested, I published a book several years ago that attributes many of the current problems in American education to the trend toward treating students as “customers.” You can check out “The Feel-Good Society: How the ‘Customer’ Metaphor is Undermining American Education, Religion, Media and Healthcare” on

    While I think the original post to this discussion is excellent, it confuses and misunderstands some important issues. Speaking as a former businessman with a journalism degree and a PhD in business, I can assure you that business people’s money as an influence on education is not a new phenomenon. After all, Stanford University and the University of Chicago were founded by railroad baron Leland Stanford and oil magnate John D. Rockefeller a very long time ago. So it was not as though corporations and business people developed some secret, sinister plot to invade academe with a “managerial/administrative class” and impose “corporate culture” and “corporate money” on American education. That is putting the cart before the horse. What really happened is that the consumerism movement of the 1960’s essentially spun out of control, to the point that it methodically swallowed up huge chunks of territory that were previously off-limits to “the market.” In the process, the notion of “markets” was extended into healthcare, education, media, arts, government and even religion, fundamentally altering the nature of those institutions without any real debate and without people really even noticing what was going on. The notion of “markets” and “consumers,” in all dimensions of American life, became so common and accepted that they were virtually unquestioned. Eventually, the things that are described in the original post (corruptive corporate money, a new managerial class of university administrators, etc.) emerged, but as the result, not the cause.

    To a large extent, educators, particularly university educators, need to take responsibility for what has happened, rather than simply place all the blame on big bad business people and evil administrators. Twenty or thirty years ago, professors failed to take a stand against the emerging idea that education was simply a business, like any other business. That failure helped fuel many of the problems we face today: dumbed-down standards, grade inflation, proliferation of questionable majors and progams, a fundamental change in student attitudes and commitment, etc.

    More recently, educators have failed to take a stand against the extreme form of this education-as-business philosophy: the for-profit colleges. While certain students can benefit from for-profit colleges, and public schools can also learn a few things from them, at their heart most of the large for-profit colleges are a scam. Their fundamental business model is to (a) hold operating costs to a minimum by employing a cheap, transient labor pool and focusing on courses that are inexpensive to run (largely avoiding sciences and other fields that require substantial capital investment); (b) dumb down standards to make themselves more appealing to “customers”; (c) spend heavily on advertising and other marketing, promoting popular if sometimes frivolous courses and majors; and (d) transfer taxpayer money, in the form of student loans, to the pockets of shareholders and obscenely overpaid administrators. As most of you know, the drop-out rate of most for-profits is astronomical, and those who graduate tend to get lower paying jobs, resulting in a huge default rate on student loans. You and I, as taxpayers, are the ones who pick up the bill. As you may have noticed, Gary Trudeau has been taking on the for-profits in a series of “Doonsbury” cartoons lately, suggesting that in a recent year, one of the major for-profits spent only $1,300 per student on instruction, $2,500 per student on marketing, while chalking up $4,500 per student in profit and paying its CEO more than $41 million — fifty times more than Harvard University’s president. And a third of the school’s students dropped out within a year.

    Extraordinary damage has been done to American education by treating it as just another consumer market that panders to customers. But it’s not too late to undo at least some of the damage, if educators show a little courage in creating a backlash by educating the media, politicians and themselves about the causes and the cures to the problem.

    (Please see “The Feel-Good Society” by James G. Hutton on for more information about the problem and solutions.)

  97. TheLocal says:

    This article highlights many of the problems facing higher education but blames so many of them on some vague, ideologically-driven conspiracy theory that it doesn’t seem like you really tried to find the root cause of any of them. If you really think the sole problem is some conservative-corporate behemoth hell bent on destroying higher education for their own laughably-evil profit, I don’t think you’ll get very far in improving the situation. After all, most people involved in policy, government, and corporations went to college. Most of them have kids who they’ll want to go to college. Let’s assume, at least for the sake of arguing, that while people may disagree on the ways in which we can get the most people the best educations, the vast majority of people have good intentions.

    The reason why I say this is because, even from your own article, it seems that many of the issues facing higher education today is the result of too much well-intentioned government aiming at the root problem of cost. Many people have argued that government subsidies of education inflate the cost of higher education and it’s easy to see why. Private and public universities are competing for students to spend money at their institutions. If you give universities free money — they will take it and spend it. But they’re not just going to twiddle their thumbs hoping students choose them, let any net gain in influence and resources amount to zero, and call it a day. That is why tuition costs rise and the administrative sector grows. The value of a good education is subjective. So, schools spend a large amount of money on expensive buildings, great athletic programs, labs, corporate partnerships, etc. in order to compete with another and they need administrators to run all those things.

    I think this phenomena has a symbolic relationship with the way our culture values higher education. We now think a degree is something everyone should get but not really have to pay for or work at. And we end up valuing a lot of the things colleges spend money on more than the actual education. Students want a great experience and accreditation above all else.

    As a result, the costs rise and it becomes more difficult for lower income families to afford. Ironically, many of these lower income families who won’t send children to college end up subsidizing people who will go because the the loans and grants favor people who would have a relatively easier time paying for education or they are merit-based. This is after the government has already failed many students (a disproportionate amount who come from lower income families) in K-12 education. Before the government got involved in higher education, there was actually MORE lower income students at universities.

    So, I believe you are right on with many of the problems but you blame them on some conspiracy and emotions rather than facts. I believe it’s simply too hard to give something away for free and expect it to be as good as when it used to be provided for and bought by those who valued it most.

    • VanessaVaile says:

      since you criticize for not offering solutions, what are yours? my impression, however, is that the piece was not pretending to be about solutions but laying out the problem and asking for suggestions… cooperative problem solving…


      • TheLocal says:

        This piece did lay out problems but blamed it on a conspiracy I’m not sure exists — which is not a great way to start searching for solutions.

        Still, in regards to the main issues highlighted which are higher costs and a rise of administrative positions — my solution is that we should put educators back in charge of the higher education system by getting government out of it. There is ample evidence to suggest that government involvement is counterproductive to the goal of making college cheaper and more accessible.

        In response to Jim Hutton’s post above, the problem is not that we’ve turned higher education into a market that was previously “off-limits” but that we took a sound market and turned it into a distorted one through government hijacking that attempt pseudo-business “market solutions.” Universities and students fared far better when they were left to operate as private for-profit institutions. State schools would do better if they were not funded by governments who are also paying for students to go to private schools — but, in general, any subsidization of higher education leads to spending on extravagances to lure students and to poorer people paying for the education of those who are relatively better off.

    • Vallehombre says:

      The percentage of the population in the USA obtaining bachelor degrees has not sbstantailly changed since the early part of the 20th century. Demographic trends within the group have shifted but totals are essentially similar. In view of the increasing complexity of society, increases in population and increasing inter global economic activity the main task would seem to be increasing educational opportunity and not limiting it. Blaming the “government” is kind of stupid, by the way, since we are supposed to be the government. Maybe a part of your educational experience was not what it should have been.

  98. Eoin says:

    Part of the problem you didn’t mention is constant new construction on campuses further increases costs.

  99. jen says:

    I live this life. I put myself through school and now owe more than I make a year. Im a mother of two and still a waitress because i cant live off of $12hr in IL USA. I want to finish my masters in education but what is the point as of now? I rather file bankruptcy but school loans are never forgivin.

    • Econ Teacher says:

      This post is an example of what’s wrong with American education. The language is rife with errors in mechanics and grammar. Forgiven is misspelled. Your after a Masters in Education so that, ostensibly, you can be in charge of either a classroom or other teachers in an administrative position? NO! Perhaps you have something to offer, but please work on your basic skills first.

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  101. S P says:

    Folks, you can post and debate until the cows come home, but we all know the truth….the country is finished. America is finished.

    But that’s ok. These things tend to come and go in cycles, it happens to every single nation and empire in history. It happens to everyone.

    The most we can do is get up every day, find something worthwhile to take part in, hope for the best, and prepare for the worst.

  102. Rabbi Les Scharnberg says:

    I’ve been there as an adjucnt faculty member: everything in this article is something I have spoken about for years. I don’t know what can be done about it but one thing I am sure of: nothing will change until we begin to have strikes like the workers at the turn of the 20th century. Massive walkouts and the willingness to be “hit over the head” by the strike breakers and the corporate minions in the university is at the very least one of the first steps.

    • Dr. Fian says:

      Rabbi, you make a vital point: Academics let this situation creep up on them because most of them were brought up in the professional class and simply don’t think in terms of being laborers. My father was a welder. I owe my post-BA education to fellowships and GI Bill (being drafted in 1969 was one of those well-disguised blessings). I went into a profession thinking that I’d leave my father’s way of life and his assumptions about work totally behind me. I defended my dissertation in 1978, at the (first) low point of the humanities job market, and spent six years at various clerking jobs at minimum wage or close to it. It was an invaluable experience–my “second grad school”–during which I kept having to dredge up and use my father’s knowledge of the working world and the ins and outs of labor/management. In 1984 I was hired full-time tenure-track at a small private college, and thought I’d finally left all that behind me. But “we fled Morgoth, and lo! he was before us.” I’ve spent my whole career watching this happen. I’ve been lucky to teach at small liberal-arts colleges with strong self-images that have bucked (some aspects of) the trend–the other side being that I’m paid about 50% of the average for faculty of my alleged status–but (the point) I’ve found that the situation can only be understood in terms of the kind of labor/management thinking that my father kept trying to instill in me, and that I yawned at for so long, instead of blaming our situations on our individual deficiencies. Will it end up in literally cracked skulls? I can think of worse outcomes. I also think the worse outcomes are more likely.

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  104. Alan Baragona says:

    Steps 3 & 4 are evident at virtually every state school in the country. What happened recently at UVA just shines a spotlight on what is happening everywhere business people in legislatures put in place college administrators who think a college should be run like a business, when it is obvious that students are neither merely customers nor merely products. I would add only that the reliance on and exploitation of adjuncts also allows schools to keep the salaries of most full time professors low–compare faculty salaries at VMI to those at private Washington & Lee. So with the exception of a few “super stars” in the Humanities and a fair number of business/econ and STEM professors who get more money to “lure” them away from the private sector, American faculty are either migrant workers or sharecroppers. Or unemployed. As for Step 5–well, we’re about to see it happening even more as education becomes more vocational and less educational in the true liberal arts sense. Empty rhetoric and mechanistic skills are the objects of study and the skills they will be taking away.

  105. So this is what puzzles me (forgive me if this sounds annoying)– if adjuncting pays so terribly and is so miserable (and I entirely believe it is for many people), why not simply teach high school?

    My stepfather was a high-school american history teacher in an inner city philadelphia school. He made more money (20 years ago!) than I make today as a tenured professor at a major research university, and had considerably better benefits. I’m not complaining about my position: my work is more interesting (to me) than his was, and I have more freedom, both of which are worth more to me than the additional money.

    But I am curious as to why adjuncts don’t see a similar tradeoff: comparatively few high school teachers have a Ph.D. and the pay and benefits are certainly considerably better than what most universities are offering to adjuncts. So why not do that instead? I understand that there’s a prestige factor to being a university professor, and that the courses are simply more fun to teach.

    But maybe that’s the deal: accept very low pay and benefits (compared to high school teaching) in return for for very good working conditions (compared to high school teaching). There’s a similar tradeoff in something like community theater. Basically, the work is enjoyable, so a lot of good people want to do it, and so there’s no need to pay high salaries to fill the positions.

    The fact that there is no shortage of adjuncts seems to imply that there are plenty of good teachers with Ph.D.s who are willing to take this deal. But as soon as enough people say “You know what, forget it. I’m going to teach high school instead.” and do so, I strongly suspect that a) universities will start coming up with more money for those who remain and b) everyone will stop complaining about K-12 because it will get a lot better.

    What am I missing here?

    • recent Ph.D. says:

      Private high schools will happily hire PhDs without teacher certification, but public schools, which is where most of us would be heading, require certification — more classes, more “training,” more credentialing, more time, more expense. All very unappealing if you’ve just spent 10 years working on your PhD and building a strong teaching portfolio at the college level.

      Also, it’s a very different working environment — and I’m not talking about the classes being more or less fun to teach. As a full-time college instructor in a teaching intensive position, you’re teaching 4 courses per semester, on average, but that means you’re only in the classroom 12 hours each week. The rest of your time is spent planning, grading, meeting individually with students, etc. As a high school teacher, you’re in class more or less all day every day. It’s fundamentally a different kind of relationship with your students and the material you’re teaching. And a lot of people who enjoy and are good at teaching at the college level are not suited for teaching high school and vice versa.

      I taught high school for 4 years before starting graduate school and going down the path I thought would lead to becoming a professor. Ultimately, I chose to leave academia altogether because, upon finishing my program, I refused to continue to subject myself to exploitation as an adjunct and did not want to return to teaching high school.

      • Ana M. Fores says:

        I agree with you that college and high school teaching are very different animals. Besides, teaching in high school right now is being cut as well, at least in the public sector. Look at all the complaints from the public schools and the cuts to funding! So that is not the solution.

    • Vallehombre says:

      You’re missing the recent events in Wisconsin.

    • aaakim says:

      I have also had the simplistic thought that if noone took adjunct teaching positions, the exploitation would have to end, but it is more insidious than that. I don’t know what the statistics are, but from my own experience many adjuncts do that for a limited period of their lives. They do that as a holding pattern and some are succesful in getting a position where they get the rewards of the years spent in a Ph.D. program. Others finally give up and go do something else. But meanwhile, the universities have their supply of slaves. I have myself shamefully fed the system teaching a course as an adjunct while I was a postdoc. For me at the time, it seemed like a good idea. My postdoc ensured a modest living and provided benefits, while the adjunct position gave me teaching experience and an allowance. On the other hand, I was determined not to accept an adjunct position full time. In the sciences there are often other options, though I was indeed ready to seriously consider high school teaching.

  106. anon says:

    I went to a large public university for my undergrad. I now have a PhD. Many of my peers were more interested in partying, drinking, and playing video games or whatever than studying and going to class. Kids were naive enough to get credit cards and rack up personal debt buying crap they couldn’t afford. Then they were cheating their way through classes instead of actually working hard and earning their degree (side note, numerous times when students were caught cheating the university did nothing to back up the professor and the cheating students got off with literally no punishment). Our generation wants everything handed to them and is ready to blame others for their short comings. At my university there were many opportunities for scholarships and other sources of funding available for students, if they took the time to look for them. I worked as a tutored and lab assistant on campus, and applied for numerous scholarships throughout my undergrad to earn funds to pay for my schooling. I graduated debt free with no help from my parents. Yes, while universities have LOTS of shortcomings, and rising tuition are not aligned with the actual value of a bachelor’s degree, but I think it’s too easy to blame everyone else and not take a good look in the mirror and see our own shortcomings.

    • VanessaVaile says:

      so did I anon and agreed about reality gaps, but unfortunately those options are not what they used to be. 


      • psychodigger says:

        Wow. Although tuition fees here do not (yet) range in the tens of thousands, your rather depressing story sounds eerily to what the powers that be are doing to the Dutch university system right now. Horrible.

  107. justaskraj says:

    Reblogged this on Raj's Blog on Spiritual Nourishment and commented:

  108. Madam Miaow says:

    Reposted at Madam Miaow. We can see the same thing happening in Britain.

  109. keanemrk says:

    A great piece, there is also one important step that I feel should be accounted for and that is the ‘getting there’ part. Universities have a long-standing history of being the gatekeepers of opportunity where professions are concerned. There is no evidence, anywhere as far as I am aware, that the entrance requirements for universities correspond to student outcomes, therefore the likelihood is that they act as a barrier to opportunity rather than an incentive.

    Several universities have successfully piloted free online courses which have attracted a global audience. With the current focus on Big Data, it is plausible that a new more open form of education will dominate, possibly drawing on the associations not with the corporate world but that of advertisers, who may come to fund global university programmes in exchange for mass exposure to their potential market.

    One thing is for sure, education at university level will not remain in the form that it has done previously, except for a privileged minority.

  110. Alana says:

    I am coming from a place deep inside the institutional shell. I am from the generation that never knew the liberation of a free or low cost education. As hard as I have tried to maintain a no to low debt existence, I find that I am falling into the same mix as my peers. I started with a 75% tuition cut do to my mother’s employment at a University, which I have lost do to my age and the inability to finish under time constraints. I was able to receive the Pell grant until this year, when our nation’s government decided to put a percentage cap on how much they are willing to pay for an education. In just my last year of college, I will have racked up $15,000 in unsubsidized debt that I have no choice to take on if my academic struggles are going to be rewarded with graduation.
    I am aware that this is getting off light, and the thought of that enrages me. I’m not so much enraged that my peers are going into worse debt; though I do sympathize. What angers me so much is that I fell for the hype hook line and sinker. I listened to my K-12 teachers and those propaganda adds that place a college education into the realms of necessity. I am more outraged that I will be told to pass this lie along.
    I am an Education major. I love knowledge and truly believe that, if we taught our people to think freely and logically, we could save our nation. I know in my heart that I want to tell my students that they don’t have to listen to the hype to have a good life, if they are willing to work hard. I want to be able to give them an education that will give them the tools to think rationally and to question everything. My biggest fear is that I will be forced to join the silence. How am I to teach an American dream that is exactly that; a dream? How can I further a cultural trend that I know is a lie? I need to know how I can help to bring about a change, rather than give into the need to keep my job.

    • Vallehombre says:

      “I love knowledge and truly believe that… ” seems like all the answer you need. Where did you ever get the idea that doing wrong because someone tells you to is acceptable? Where did you learn that you can’t just say NO?

  111. sparkleball says:

    This all makes me so sad. But I believe the root causes are deeper and more philosophical than the 5 steps you offer. I returned to university (UCSD) to get a teaching credential in my 50’s. I had an MA from UVa and a BA from Wellesley College. I wanted to teach public high school in the last half of my life as a means of giving back the education I had been given. My biggest enemy in the process? The Education department college faculty who espoused silly techniques and pedogogical flimflammery and school administrators who espoused the same. In the classroom, teaching English, I was not allowed to repeat lessons, force students to drill on writing or reading, force students to memorize anything, use textbooks, make boring lessons. In other words, I could not push them to WORK. I was encouraged to be like the young teachers who taught their students to make videos, instead of writing. Or who showed films of the novels they taught. I had signed on to be an Entertainer.

    So the absence of real work is plaguing our public education system, and the students know it. Reading and writing are hard. That’s why the rich students buy papers online and read summaries of the great books.

    The second cause is the drop in status of learned people. Money has become the definer of every aspect of US life. My students used to say to me, if you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?

    I wasn’t good enough to endure what it means today to be a high school teacher. I dropped out. And now, in my spare time, I use my writing skills to help young people with college degrees who can’t write write their resumes, websites, professional bios.

  112. Jan Parker says:

    I wonder what if we took this another route. What if you tape your lectures and offer them for a fee for class on the youtube? That way you only have to teach the class once, be able to add material as it becomes important, and spend all of your time toutering making more money. Lets cut the university out of all of your hard earned work and go directly to the student. After the student can take a test to see if they clep out of the class and advance. No one is really happy with college county club anymore. In the future we will probably all work from home anyway, why not start the ball rolling in education? In addition the pool of student is greater, really to democrocize education for the poor or geographilly inaccessable.

    • drB says:

      Good luck with (1) labs which are required for chemistry, physics, biology and can not be put on youtube, (2) testing – computerized testing is CRAP – if they take tests at privacy of their homes, they will PAY someone to take the tests for them, and (3) fighting with 3 min attention spans which are difficult to engage even in lectures.

      I am not saying that some courses can not be taught though internet – probably a lot of CS can. However, very often online teaching leads to no learning from what I have seen in my specialty (chemistry). Additionally, at least in my specialty I have not met anyone who has been hired in industry where most of jobs are after graduating from any online universities.

  113. Econ Teacher says:

    Many of you would benefit from a basic class in economics. (And if you’re curious about Econ, I strongly recommend reading Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt.) In fact, all you need to know is that when supply is high, price falls. There are too many PhDs for the positions available, as other posters have noted.

    Moreover, when demand is low, price drops. This is where macroeconomics is coming into play and it’s going to be painful for all of us. We’ve had an economy entirely based on the issuance of credit beginning in 2001. Now, we are in a state of deleveraging. In fact, the world is. If you’re in debt, this is going to be a painful correction. This is why I advise my students NOT to go to college, unless they’re interested in the hard sciences and are willing to pursue it all the way to a Masters or better, or their magical, wonderful, thoughtful, loving grandparents are going to pay for it (1 student in 10 years of teaching).

    Many people have maxed out their credit. Going forward, credit will be harder to get. Therefore, as there are fewer people who make enough money to pay for GROSSLY INFLATED tuition costs, enrollment will decline. Perhaps not now, but this is coming to a campus near you very soon. (On the plus side, this means tuition will fall…eventually. Unfortunately, it won’t happen without a fight and there will be blood in the water because it’s going to come down to admin vs. teaching staff, and we all know who wins that battle.)

    As other posters have mentioned, students are better off gaining skills that can’t be outsourced. Unfortunately, and this comes from someone with a Masters in Literature, the skills and knowledge you gain from a degree in the arts or humanities can be outsourced. So can engineering and mathematics. H1B visas, anyone? So unless you disallow outsourcing (ha ha! both the red team and the blue team benefit directly from that) this global wage arbitrage will continue, lowering the wages of everyone in these fields.

    Look, as another poster said, and most of you should know, this is what happens when empires collapse. Read your Gibbon.

    But you’re still alive! Move forward. You can still have your passion. I read the classics, I write, I LOVE discussing why Fitzgerald gives me headaches (really, I hate his style, sorry) and why Faulkner makes me weep tears of joy. You can still have your passion, but you might not get paid for it, and you need to get PAID.

    This means YOU have to change. You can’t wait for the system to change to suit you. If you remember nothing else from this post, remember this: the market can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent.

    This market is not going to mete out higher pay for itinerant PhDs anytime soon. Household deleveraging, the high supply of PhDs, and the decrease in available credit will see to that.

    Move forward. You can do it. Aloha nui loa, colleagues.

  114. DrRichard says:

    Great discussion of a good article. I don’t know if there was a real conspiracy to destroy universities, or it happened as this society moved more towards a “greed is good” mindset, but the result is the same. I agree with keanemrk that in the future traditional schools may become very unusual and only for the wealthiest, which does give some hope for lifelong learning on line and being much more varied than a linear course of studies. But that implies that adult learners will know how to study and how to think–which many high schools and colleges are not teaching any more, if they ever did.

    So we end up with a multitiered education system reflecting what America is fast becoming: the elite graduating from Ivy Leagues, middle managers coming out of career tracks at state schools, and bottom level workers from for-profits and community colleges. (I know that’s bit simplistic, since some schools are glorious exceptions, but this seems to have been the general trend for awhile. Every US Supreme Court judge went to Harvard or Yale. What does that say?)

    Rose briefly mentioned for-profits. I’d add them as another reason why American colleges are failing. When you can take the bottom level students and, rather than invest to pull them up to reasonable academic standards, dump them (with big debts) in what are essentially educational fast food chains, the stockholders of these companies get rich, the students get shafted, and the system is further dumbed down. After not getting tenure at a real college I was another long-time unemployed Ph.D. (social sciences), eventually worked at a for-profit for 18 years before quitting in disgust at the lack of ethics in the corporation, a really pathetic level of academia, and being faced with a 33% speed up of my work for 0% increase in pay. But, by George, the students told me they were “going to college”. Now they are only taught by adjuncts who can’t get out fast enough. Ridiculous.

  115. Thom says:

    @Dawn you wrote “I encounter many students who cannot read college-level texts and don’t particularly want to.” My response to that is of course they do not because the system has them brainwashed to be addicted to social media and texting all day long. There is no culture of learning and scholarship today; it is all about young adult’s playtime and childlike ridiculousness. It is all around look at the young (and sometimes old) morons sitting all day on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest wasting their lives in a fantasy world while the IQ of the world drops proportionately.

  116. Otto says:

    @Dawn you wrote “I encounter many students who cannot read college-level texts and don’t particularly want to.” My response to that is of course they do not because the system has them brainwashed to be addicted to social media and texting all day long. There is no culture of learning and scholarship today; it is all about young adult’s playtime and childlike ridiculousness. It is all around look at the young (and sometimes old) morons sitting all day on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest wasting their lives in a fantasy world while the IQ of the world drops proportionately.

    • Robert Yohe says:

      I am in complete agreement with Otto’s comments. Sadly, I have noted the same trend over the past few years of students not even bothering to buy the text, and the ones that do, for the most part, clearly do not understand the material, even at the most elementary level. Furthermore, I have been forced to “outlaw” the use of social media devices, including laptops, during my lectures since nearly a third of the students in large lecture courses were either on FaceBook, texting friends, or playing games! This pattern of behavior has become markedly worse over the past two to three years.

      • Robert, I, too, have students who do not buy the texts for the classes I teach. I honestly don’t believe that it is always question that they don’t “even bother”, but that the expense of textbooks is atrocious, and that students often struggle to be able to afford their books. Have you asked them recently how much they are paying each semester for books? It’s horrifying. One of the things I try to do is find online versions of texts for the classes; this gives my students an option. You are right that many students don’t understand the texts they read, and this is part of the tragedy I am talking about. Most of my students realize how limited their understanding is, and are embarrassed by it. Some are angry. I know, for instance, that when I’m teaching More’s Utopia, I have to spend a class period or two discussing the context, the history surrounding the book, the life of More himself. If I say “Elizabethan” to my students, they don’t know what I mean. One of my students told me once that she didn’t know anything about the Women’s Suffrage Movement because, she said, “YOU were alive then. I wasn’t.”

        The students we are seeing in our college classes now are the first wave of the horrible “No Child Left Behind” debacle. They were drilled, not educated, and not because teachers wanted to do it. They were commanded to do it. We are also seeing the effects of an entire generation of over-medicated children – the Ritalin generation – which current research now shows prevents the appropriate development of mental functioning.

        Of course we need to hold the quality of our teaching, and expect that our students perform at a certain level. But their deficits are not their “fault” as much as they are the cross they (and we) bear for very bad educational policy, Big Pharma gone wild, and a culture addicted to consumerism and technology’s toys.

      • Ana M. Fores says:

        You can also take that addiction to social media and technology and turn it to your advantage. If they don’t know the meaning of a word, I ask them to look it up in their iPhones. A person? Look him/her up. What did they find out? A movement? Same thing. Then we get different kids looking up on different sites, and we get into a whole new discussion on the evils of taking social media at its word… “we need to be sure of our sources,” they discover. It can be a great learning tool! And texting? IM’ing? This year, I am going to begin a new thing I read on one of the many articles I’ve been reading this summer: sorry I can’t remember which, but I think if it works, it will be great. I will have them “read” their essays into their phones, and send me their spoken texts after they themselves have heard it. What will that do? They will hear what their essay sounds like: with or without punctuation, with their run-on sentences, with their nonsensical vocabulary. So if you can’t beat their game, join it. We are intelligent human beings; that is why we are teaching. Use their world to make them learn our own.

  117. Thank you for the excellent piece and discussion. I have taught at a Cal State for 24 years, where I am a full professor, and before that some other (R1) universities. I would add into the mix twisting higher education (especially public) into a corporate model two things: 1) Students may not know much, but they are not stupid. They have done an accurate analysis of our culture, and found no respect or support for education, knowledge, or principled debate, in fact, for any values other than money, consumption, big boobs … It is no wonder they are not too impressive when they get to us; they have been absorbing the Kardashians for too long, right along with their parents. 2) Computer technology may be fun and useful, but ultimately it seems to have rendered all information the same to students: if they see it on a screen, their critical faculties turn off. Furthermore, the profit- and power-motivated penetration of technology companies into the education game has sucked up and then diverted a big chunk of the funding stream out of the ‘real’ classroom and faculty pockets. Our Boards of Trustees are all drawn from the banker/CEO class, who naturally think any such deals are good things.

    • Bob Calder says:

      Fantastic observation on how lack of information literacy functions to hamper learning. I don’t think anybody has done anything on it. How about joining one of Larry Cuban’s discussions or the G+ discussions on general technology issues? We seem to be at the end of a Coursera discussion and I think this idea is a good adjunct (tee hee).

  118. sethkahn says:

    It’s important to think very carefully about where the fault lines are in the walls this post describes. Yes, there are real, and important tensions between ntt and tt faculty, but that doesn’t necessarily or automatically make us opponents.

    I don’t think I’m as rare–a tenured faculty member fighting for contingent faculty equity–as some folks seem to think. On the other hand, it’s clear that those of us among the tenured ranks need to get not just more involved but better organized with our involvement. One of our first steps is to get our professional organizations past hortatory statements about equity. Those statements are nice, but they don’t feed or insure anybody. Others might disagree with me strategically about this, but small concrete steps are just as, if not more, important than grandiose ideals that never get anywhere.

    • VanessaVaile says:

      What would be the best way to identify and encourage potentially supportive ten-fac? Working up ideas for small steps seems like a place to start, and by *asking* ten-fac (like yourself) for suggestions. From the blogger perspective, posts on the topic. Hat tips to ten-fac heroes (remembering to say thank you is #1 on the honey catches more flies than vinegar list).


  119. RumsonBoy says:

    All very interesting and well laid out, only I would argue that political correctness and identity politics and all the rest of it were in fact part of this agenda, deliberately seeded into the universities in order to undermine their prestige and unity, a classic counter-intelligence maneuver. It created an atmosphere of radical hysteria and endless witchhunting that it not only began to replace education with ideological indoctrination, it created an enormous body of scandal and outrage for the right wing to exploit. Which they continue to do to this day. It also helped to establish mutual distrustful fiefdoms set up along racial and sexual divisions, atomizing rather than uniting to face a common threat. The most dangerous weakness you can succumb to in a battle is projecting all of your problems on your enemy while ignoring the fact mindless radicalization is an effective tool in undermining esprit de corps and strategic clarity. Antioch was the most extreme case, but only unusual in how much of the Kool Aid they drank.

  120. Aviva Luria says:

    This truly saddens me, although I’m very grateful for the very thorough analysis, which entirely makes sense, given the climate in this country for the past three decades or so. As the parent of a child who is about to enter kindergarten, my husband and agonized about public v. private, ultimately choosing private (thanks to financial aid) because of the higher academic standards, small classes, time for recess, and understanding that not all children fit into the same mold when it comes to learning. We are parents of a precocious child who is also very high energy; the last thing I want for him is an environment that can’t deal with his active nature and so labels him ADHD and insists on medication. The public schools we visited did, thankfully, offer arts classes, but were cutting down drastically on recess, which we both feel is a huge mistake. There’s just no time for it in the day, given the necessities of ‘teaching to the tests.’ As parents, we’re taking it year by year, but this article has impressed upon me even more what a mad and tragic mess this country’s educational system has become.

  121. I’m so sorry to be so late with a comment here. Stellar post!

  122. fallopia grendel says:

    First time here. Nobody accepts personal responsibility for anything, just a lot of whining and a powerful sense of entitlement. The real world has changed and the message to you is still in transit, a polite way of saying you don’t have a clue. Look for a deal on hamburger flippers and get some practice so you can impress the 20-yr-old manager if you ever make it to the head of the line. But you won’t, will you?
    Ergo, last time here.

    • Not quite sure what personal responsibility is being shirked here, or which “real world” has changed. But I do know that I already have a few “hamburger flippers” — I think they’re called spatulas in some quarters. Love the name, by the way — Fallopia Grendel. Summons up images of the medieval beast, and the even more beastly and enraged Great Mother. She who is not to be messed with. Whether she’s got a spatula or not.

    • VanessaVaile says:

      your closing sentence is the best news we’ve had all day. hope you are happier under the next bridge


  123. Pingback: How The American University was Killed, in Five Easy Steps | TAFE in Victoria |

  124. Lilly says:

    I’m disappointed by this post. I’m currently a graduate student and a staff person at a major college. I have the dubious honor of sitting in and taking notes during the faculty meetings of one department. Our faculty have, at every budget crunch opportunity, cut the funding for graduate students, student activities, and part-time instructors. Our faculty bemoan their salaries to any and every ear, but given a single whisper of power behave as cruelly as any member of the relative 1% and abuse, exploit, and exhaust the students.

    College has been destroyed by the abuse of tenure. The faculty are the 1%, the students and part-timers are the 99%. The Administration ARE former faculty.

    Our faculty are the -sole- source of the corruption, laziness, and weakness of the department. They are each required to teach 2 courses a semester and each of them asks for a ‘course buy out’ on the justification their research is more important than students. Of 24 Professors, 11 are currently teaching. While our university has courses with 500 students, our part-time instructors, the abused 3rd class, or our graduate students teach those sections. Our professors select ’boutique’ courses, some of which enroll 5 students (undergraduate courses with course caps of 55, but only 5 interested students because the class is irrelevant to the major but interesting to the professor). When professors buyout courses they ‘pay’ from their salary or a grant approximately $4000. It costs our department over $11000 to reassign the course (I do the budget). Our faculty declare tenure is end-all-be-all. Tenure committees value research and publication, not teaching, therefore so do our professors. They publish drek that goes straight to archive, get tenure, and sit on their title for another 30 years. They are not assets and are barely intellectuals. When we recently had a vote in my department on whether to fund graduate student scholarships or faculty travel, travel won in a vote of 2:22.

    The administration, which is so denigrated, and rightfully so, in this article is in fact made of up of former professors. My Dean is an English PhD. He has pulled half of our TA and GA positions, leaving our students without funding and forcing those who want to continue their education into massive debt. He simply increased the minimum number of students the other TAs had to teach (for the same amount of money). He hired over 70 new faculty with the money ‘saved.’

    Our Associate Dean in charge of curriculum is a Chemistry PhD who taught for 20 years. He personally made the announcement, taking public credit for the idea, to no longer require fine arts or foreign language credits for undergraduates. This decision resulted in a huge reduction of registrations and effectively killed our German, Russian, French, Italian, Mandarin, and foreign literature programs. Without undergraduate classes to teach, the graduate program is disappearing too.

    From what I’m experiencing I’d say the business model has contributed only about 10% to the problems of higher education. In the 1950s we had opening job markets and our country had economic superiority. There was an opportunity to everyone. Today we cannot support an infinite number of poets. We just cannot. But those few who do make it into graduate school are more likely to have their heads bashed against the rocks of fate by their own Professors than anyone with an MBA.

    • Jim Hutton, PhD says:

      Lilly, your post is beautifully written and contains many things that are quite accurate and that desperately need to be said. As a businessman-turned-professor, I have often felt that college professors are the most pathetic bunch of liars, cowards, thieves and whores ever assembled this side of a lawyers’ convention. And God knows that George Bernard Shaw was not wrong about most professors when he said that “those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.”

      Lest you — and I — damn all college professors, however, please keep in mind that your experiences at a major research university are only part of the story. Having taught at a couple of major research universities myself, I am one of those who has consciously chosen to teach at an institution that is much more balanced between teaching and research, and where a significant number of professors actually do care about — and are supremely committed to — their students. I am a tenured, full professor who is paid significantly less than junior colleagues in my own department, despite having far superior credentials, because my university’s administration knows it can exploit senior faculty. (Because they choose to balance teaching and research, most of my university’s faculty members do not have the quantity of publications in supposed top-tier journals that is necessary to make a senior professor mobile in the academic world.) And rather than spending half of my time making $200+ an hour as a consultant, as many of my colleagues do, I choose to donate the vast majority of my time to students. So I can assure you that the professors you see at a major research university are not the entire story of American higher education.

      Moreover, I think that you are underestimating the influence of the business model in creating the system that you describe and detest. Just a few decades ago, the so-called “star” system was not nearly as prominent as it is today, where the “best” published faculty members and “rainmakers” (those who can attract huge outside grants) are enormously overpaid, top administrators draw huge (almost always undeserved) salaries, and everyone else (students, adjuncts, nontenure-track faculty and non-star faculty members) are left to share the crumbs. That system is a direct result of the marketization of higher education, in which the top universities’ reputations are determined largely by how many celebrity faculty and how much grant money they can attract. The issues are quite different at lower-level universities, for-profit colleges and community colleges, but I would argue that the influence of the business model is sometimes even stronger in those types of institutions because they tend to have much smaller endowments and are often driven almost entirely by tuition.

      Please keep in mind, too, that the glory days of 1950s American higher education that you reference were perhaps not what you might think. My father was a college professor who graduated from college in the late 1940s, and received his PhD in 1961. His standard teaching load in the early days was six classes per semester. And even with a PhD from the top university in his field, it took him 25 years of teaching before he made as much money as his undergraduate students averaged in their first job out of college.

      On the whole, though, your posting contains a great deal of truth, and I applaud your insight.

      • Jim: After reading your statement that “I have often felt that college professors are the most pathetic bunch of liars, cowards, thieves and whores ever assembled” I am curious what department(s) you have interacted with. Marketing, perhaps? These would be valuable skills in such a field. They don’t go very far in mathematics, though. That said, I do think you make some good points, especially about the negative influence of the star system, and of the subjection of academic life to market forces.

      • Jim Hutton, PhD says:

        Sorry, Robert, if my statement sounds harsh, but it actually understates my experiences with universities and professors. My father was a professor and then a university administrator for many years, so I THOUGHT I understood the level of pettiness, viciousness and corruption within universities. But I had to see it firsthand to really believe it, and to fully appreciate comments about the academic world made by people like Woodrow Wilson and Henry Kissinger. As Kissinger and Wilson noted, the politics in business, and even the politics in politics, are generally child’s play compared with the politics in academe. I once had a professor with both a PhD and a law degree who became the public affairs director and Congressional liaison for the FCC, and he told me that the politics he dealt with in Washington were not as bad as the politics he dealt with as a university professor.

        Much more disturbing, though, has been the level of criminal activity that I’ve observed in academe. Of the thousands of people whom I have known over the years, only one of them (to my knowledge) was a pedophile, and he was a college professor. Only one of them was convicted of videotaping himself with underage prostitutes, and he was a professor. Only one of them turned a faculty colleague over his knee and spanked her (against her will), and he is a professor. Only one of them embezzled a sizeable amount of money, and he was a college professor. Only one of them stole an $800 camera out of my office, and he was a college professor. Only one of them was convicted and imprisoned for insider trading, and he was a college professor. Only one of them was murdered (by his wife and sister-in-law), and he was a professor. Only one of them was caught running an internet prostitution business, and he was a professor. Only one them was a murderer (who committed suicide rather go to prison), and he was a college professor.

        Those experiences do not even include the host of crimes committed by administrators that I’ve observed over the years – altering grades of students whose parents were university benefactors, using law-school students to stuff ballot boxes for state politicians, fabricating a sexual-harassment complaint against a professor who would not change the grade of a student, fabricating credits for students who also happened to be public officials, using public money to illegally pay for the tuition of public employees attending the university, fabricating the resume of a spouse to obtain a position for her at the university, violating EEO and other hiring laws, violating federal laws that prevent the display of religious symbols/artifacts in buildings funded with public money, helping to shield pedophile priests from prosecution, etc. I once had a student come to me with a credible claim that she had been gang-raped on campus, and that university staff members had helped cover up the crime by destroying evidence. When I met with each of them personally, not the department chair, not the dean, not the president of the university showed even the slightest concern about the student, and each of them refused to support my call for an investigation. (The student was so traumatized by the experience and so afraid of the death threats that she was receiving from the alleged perpetrators that she declined to press the issue.)

        So please forgive me if I seem a bit cynical sometimes about faculty members whining about their own plight when they so often display such a fundamental lack of courage and personal integrity. Little wonder that we as faculty have such little credibility or power in solving the problems confronting the professorate. At the risk of sounding like Debby Downer, my overall point is that the observations made about professors by the student poster “Lilly” are largely valid, and we need to clean up our own act and show a little courage if we expect anyone to care about our plight.

        In answer to your question, I have no way of knowing whether some disciplines’ faculty members are worse than others, but the examples I mention are not just from business schools (where I am based), but represent communication, education, physics and other disciplines. One of the most unethical professors I have ever known is an ethics professor at a church-sponsored university.

      • Jim: Just saw your earlier comment (non-linear reading, that’s me): “many of the current problems in American education to the trend toward treating students as “customers.””
        This is spot on. I shall have to look at your book.

      • Jim, that is quite a long list of criminals you have known. Quite surprising, really, considering how far it is from my experience. I am surprised you would have anything to do with such people. On the other hand, accepting ethical judgements from the likes of Henry Kissinger makes me wonder about your judgement. I still note that you were dealing with people from inside a business school.

        Frankly, I have a hard time giving credence to your claims, especially as they have little to do with the points that I can verify from my own experience, such as “… it took him 25 years of teaching before he made as much money as his undergraduate students averaged in their first job out of college.” That is a statement about our society’s values which many of us can confirm. However, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

      • Jim Hutton, PhD says:


        You are distorting my comments.

        * The people I described are not friends of mine, and I would never associate with them in any serious way. They are merely (a) passing-acquaintance faculty members on campuses where I have been a teacher or student, or (b) passing acquaintances from other universities.

        * In no way was I looking to Henry Kissinger for ethical judgments. I was merely alluding to Kissinger’s well-known response when asked about why the political infighting on college campuses was so vicious (“because the stakes are so small”).

        * Your questioning the credence of my father’s assertion (that he taught for 25 years before making as much money as his students made in their first job out of college) is offensive and inappropriate. My father was a minister as well as a professor, and probably the most honest and ethical person I’ve ever known. Even in terms of a motive, what possible reason would he have to lie about such a thing, when it was actually a rather embarrassing statement for him to make about his own salary? Also, his situation could be easily corroborated by many of his contemporaries (as well as by own experiences many years later, by the way). I don’t owe you “evidence” that he was telling the truth, but I will be happy to give you the address of his cemetery plot if you would like to try to interrogate him yourself.

        * Along the same lines, your questioning my honesty about the cases I describe, primarily because it does not match your own experience, is offensive and illogical. Most of the claims I made are easily verified simply by searching major media reports and/or court records. One of the murder cases was front-page news, all over the country, since the suspect was on the lam for about a week and on the FBI’s 10 most-wanted list. The other murder case and the spanking case were both featured as segments on national news-magazine programs (both on “60 Minutes,” as I recall). For cases that may be more difficult for you to verify, I will be happy to provide you with names and details. Here’s my number: 973-256-1680. Call me. Given the kinds of extraordinary things we’ve seen at Penn State and the University of Miami in the past couple of years, why would you really doubt any credible claim of corruption on a college campus?

        * It is naïve and/or disingenuous – not to mention extremely irritating – for anyone to pretend that mathematics professors are somehow morally superior to professors in other fields, and would not be involved in such sleazy activities. Perhaps the two most celebrated cases of corruption at my own university were committed by professors of mathematics, English and physics. The mathematics professor was the provost at the time that the university’s administration threatened to fabricate a sexual harassment case against one of my faculty colleagues if he chose to expose a wealthy donor’s attempt to force him to change the grade of the donor’s daughter. The mathematician was one of the two individuals specifically named in the professor’s lawsuit against the university (the other named person being an English professor who was the acting dean of the professor’s college). The administrators continued to pressure the professor even as he came close to committing suicide. The case eventually went to court, where the professor won a $5 million judgment against the university (see the Chronicle of Higher Education, 6-1-01.) The case of our physics professor was also national news. His moral compass was so incredibly askew that he tried to justify running an internet prostitution website by saying that it was just a hobby for him, and that everything was OK because he didn’t make any money off the site. His partner in crime, if I remember correctly, was the former president of a flagship state university in the western U.S.

        Please note, by the way, that the bad behaviors I’m describing are not isolated incidents, but come from all parts of the U.S. (Minnesota, Hawaii, Texas, New Mexico, New Jersey, Ohio, Illinois, Pennsylvania, etc.). All over the country, and internationally, as well, I run into this same sort of naiveté and denial, that somehow “my university” or “my discipline” is somehow immune to this kind of corruption by both faculty members and administrators. Don’t believe it.

        Again, my point is that Lily’s accusations about professors’ bad behavior is not untrue, and that professors need to clean up their own act in order to have any real chance of stemming or reversing the ominous trends that are being discussed on this blog.

      • Lilly says:

        You are right, I may be underestimating the influence of the business model. However in the last 8 years I have worked for a Philosophy department, a history department, an English department (that was the sixth circle of hell), a social sciences ‘unit,’ and along side engineers. Even in unguarded, private moments I have never had a professor declare anything but a kind of animal like self-entitlement. It baffles me that academics are so frequently accused of ‘socialist’ sympathies as I have -never- seen them fight for anything but improvements for their own conditions or their own welfare.

        I just don’t see our corruption and problems as some sinister plot from the outside trickling in but a poison brought in by the haughty self-entitled professors themselves. This is why I find our dear Homeless Adjunct’s post so baffling. Well intentioned perhaps, but baffling. The professors are willing to scratch each others’ eyes out to get ahead, the adjuncts are willing to stand on the students, and belittle the staff. It’s the nature of competition, but I am thoroughly willing to bet it existed at the University of Oxford in 1200s! It’s in the nature of competing groups, not some symptom of American political lip-flapping.

        I have seen good *people* do good things. Once in our Philosophy department we had a young foreign student whose grades suddenly started dropping. He stopped attending class. I notified his advisor, who contacted the student. It turns out our foreign student’s mother was dying and he couldn’t afford to visit his country. Our professor personally bought him a plane ticket and helped me secure the student a leave of absence. When he returned the next semester refreshed and refocused, he was as devoted and diligent as he had ever been. He’s ABD today and working hard. I’ve seen professors devote themselves slavishly to projects with graduate students and fight for degree access and improvements for undergraduates. And I love those individuals, but there is nothing about the profession itself that assures or even incentives this behavior!

        I’ve also seen a graduate student be forced to work over winter break, unpaid, on a junior faculty person’s personal research project. He was forced to do it as a condition of a grade change he already deserved and the research was unrelated to his own studies. He dropped out the following semester (from exhaustion) and was refused a letter of recommendation by the faculty member who then went to a faculty meeting and yelled (and I mean howling like a banshee) at his colleagues until he was assured no one would give the student a letter of recommendation. This professor published, without acknowledging -any- of his graduate student assistants. He won some social science award for the “methodological precision” he demonstrated in “his” paper.

        Here’s my favorite memory. A loyal staff member and my personal friend worked for one department since her graduation from said department for 11 years (it was a highly specialized job that required knowledge of three languages). When she became pregnant her husband lost his job during the recession. She started working overtime for the department to assure she could pay for the birth. At about 7 months along the chair of the program laid her off and said, “I’m doing this for the good of the program” because they were about to go up for accreditation and couldn’t be without a staff person during the maternity leave.

        I have a hard time believing there is any sinister outside push on the institution when our problems seem to be the consequence of the unchecked tyranny of these little men and women who want to “get theirs,” no matter the cost. Who needs enemies when we have mentors like this?

      • Vallehombre says:

        The reasonable reply to your students question is “If you’re so smart how come you ARE rich?”

      • Vallehombre says:

        A business man with social awareness. That is some seriously old school stuff. Next thing you know, you’ll be encouraging folks to vote.

    • Jim Hutton, PhD says:

      One other bit of information that you might find interesting…

      While you are correct in saying that many administrators come from the ranks of faculty members, please note that faculty members promoted to administrative positions are often very atypical of faculty members as a whole. It is a favorite and increasingly common trick of top university administrations to select certain faculty members for administrative posts specifically because those faculty members are weak, undeserving or even incompetent, but willing to sell out their faculty colleagues and remain loyal to the top administration under any circumstance. The basic motivation of a top administrators in making such an appointment is that they know such appointees are highly likely to be good puppets because they are so weak and owe their entire existence to the person who appointed them. In many cases, such appointees have already sold out their faculty colleagues and demonstrated that they are lap dogs for the administration, and are being rewarded with an administrative appointment as a political payoff. My own university is notorious for making such appointments, including one faculty member who was rewarded with a high-level administrative position because he spied on his own dean for the benefit of the university president, and helped to disrupt faculty efforts to make the president accountable for his failed management and policies.

      Within corporations, this phenomenon was given a name many years ago. In his book, On a Clear Day You Can See General Motors, auto-industry executive John DeLorean called it the “promotion of the unobvious choice.”

      Another phenomenon that you may have observed is much less sinister but often just as damaging to organizations. The so-called “Peter Principle” (the title of a book published about 40 years ago) refers to the common situation that occurs when an accomplished worker – be it an engineer, accountant or professor – is rewarded by being promoted to a management position, where he or she finds that they are over their head. Part of the Peter Principle is that most people “rise to the level of their incompetence.” In other words, a successful worker keeps being promoted until he or she is over their head, and fails at that level.

      Of course, the entire idea that faculty members are “promoted” to administrative positions is relatively new, and abhorrent to higher education. Forty years ago, the vast majority of professors had to be dragged kicking and screaming into an administrative position, which did not pay much better than a faculty position, usually had little real power or respect, and was seen as a distraction from the faculty member’s core interests. Often, professors took turns holding various administrative positions, and saw it as a huge pain. Now, unfortunately, the goal of many faculty members is to enter administration, where they will most likely receive a substantial raise and hold much more power than would have been the case a few decades ago. Such incentives have made “promotion of the unobvious choice” a far greater menace in the academic world than it was in the past.

      • Jim, You make many good points, which leaves me puzzled about the one claim which I find difficult to believe, namely that professors as a group are the lowest of the low. I have to judge assertions based on my experience, and the sort of behavior you describe is not common in my experience.
        I also want to clarify what I said about your father’s experience. The sentence was poorly constructed. I was actually saying that your report of your father’s experience was something that I had seen first hand, and therefore found quite believable.
        Finally, I am not questioning your honesty. I am questioning your sense of proportion. The whole pool of university professors is large enough that the sort of things you describe will have occurred. But that doesn’t mean they are more common than they are among businessmen, clergy, doctors, or politicians. I can remember multiple instances of scandalous behavior in all these groups, but don’t think they are uniformly disgusting people.
        This is all a distraction, but I wanted to clarify my complaint. In my experience, vilifying people rarely encourages them to change for the better. I like to think we can change for the better, and that it starts with a sense of solidarity between people whose primary goal in life is the furthering of understanding. This goal is still what I see from many of the full time and adjunct faculty I know. There are exceptions, but I don’t want to hold them up as exemplars.
        When I started at the University where I have been most of my life, I was proud of the fact that all our courses were taught by full time faculty. The introduction of adjunct positions in the late 1980s (?) was presented as necessary for financial reasons, and due to the increasing number of remedial courses we were being asked to teach. I was not privy to the details, having been a lowly asst professor when this happened. The number of adjuncts continued to expand for years. Enough people now see how destructive it has become, that we have hired full time instructors with benefits to replace some adjunct positions. We need to work together to keep moving in this direction. Whether we need all the administrators, sports, technology, and special programs, needs to be addressed. I see the mania for competition as part of the problem. I’d prefer the metaphor of cooperation — it is more fundamental. Pay disparities are problems. We have a lot to solve and we aren’t isolated from the problems of society as a whole.

  125. mojaponica says:

    It really pains to sit and watch this collapse from the inside, to watch the beads and baubles from opaque corporate grant funded munificence buy silence of the potentially most threatening of professors, hoovered into the top heavy administrative class, hoping to polish up their cv’s and get on that consultant gravy train when they retire asap. It’s made more personally tragic because I well remember the “’60s, when universities were the very heart of intense public discourse, passionate learning, and vocal citizen involvement.” Administrators on my campus have about a 1-1 ratio of support personnel to administer at 4x the salary and buckets of benefits, including constant catered meetings and one junket after another to deluxe corporate getaways, and subsidized housing. My admin staff precariat peers are afraid to speak on anything but the weather; it’s like being in a sci-fi horror movie where everyone has been rendered compliant, complacent, where those still possessing any expressiveness or god forbid an opinion are approached as radioactive porcupines and pointed out with a shriek, “She’s Not One of Us!” I’ve actually received the first F’s in my life after dropping out in horror at the job ticket focused content of a couple fee waiver classes, I couldn’t possibly muster the steely endurance test of those who actually pay for the drivel that has replaced university learning, but most students from NCLB probably don’t notice and are a class of note-takers, not thinkers or contributors.
    Regarding the comment on faculty who punch out at 5, it is probably to run home and work on lucrative grant funded “research,” that will never hit the streets, but pays their bills and keeps anything progressive from leaking out of the classroom and nto the streets where it might do some damage to our overlords.

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  127. Raven says:

    An aside: another barrier to liberal organization and protests has a very physical manifestation. I worked for and attended a community college in Seattle where the architecture had been redesigned in its last major renovation specifically to prevent large groups of people from holding protests or sit-ins on the campus, forcing them to spread out across the campus in smaller numbers. This, apparently, became a common practice throughout many campuses that renovated post-Vietnam war.

    • VanessaVaile says:

      Raven, what an interesting, thought provoking and unnerving observation. Thinking back on campuses I have known and changes over time, I see that and should have noticed at the time but did not. UC Davis’ large open space, the quad, is not in front of administrative area. No doubt a post-pepper makeover is already on the books, Think too how redesign keeps discourage intermingling among disciplines


  128. Paul: I had a quick look at continent. and started to worry. The first dichotomy, between ‘changers’ and ‘maintainers’ is dead wrong. Change is divisible: some is growth, some decay. The most radical changers are those who wish to extract profits from the commons (dig up and burn tar sands, leaving the rest of humanity to cope with the consequences, for example). Preservation similarly bifurcates: preserving social stratification is quite different from preserving the biological heritage which sustains life.

    Starting from such muddled premises doesn’t inspire me to continue. Sorry.

    Okay, I couldn’t resist. I kept reading. The discussion that follows is not infected with the false start, yet. Perhaps that introduction needs editing.

    Certainly Gokey summarizes the situation succinctly: “…Right now the community of questioning, learning, researching and teaching has been captured by a system whose primary function is to extract as much value out of academics as possible. …”.

    On the 50th anniversary of C. P. Snow’s “Two cultures” we had a panel discussion on it. In preparing my thoughts for it, I found myself less and less impressed with Snow and more in tune with Leavis. In the end the dichotomy is still one Marx identified in 1848, whose manifestation in the current debate is Gokey’s apt summary, quoted above. One application, in the sciences and engineering, would be to return medical and drug research to laboratories run for the sake of learning, not profit. I adduce this example simply to emphasize that the problems being discussed are not just in the humanities.

  129. I taught as an adjunct for 10 years and then gave it up. This is an excellent article. One issue I have thought about, and which is not addressed here, is how the politics of adjuncts in the classroom are inflienced by their poor treatment by the university. That is, are adjuncts more critical or radical in the classroom than tenure-track professors? If so, then the effort to sanitize the politics of higher education is not really working. When I was teaching, I felt free to to express critical views because I had little to lose. Of course, when a faculty member sat in my class to evaluate it, I toned it down. But many adjuncts are angry and may let loose in the classroom to a greater extent than tenure-track teachers. What do you think?

    Ivan Greenberg, History PhD

    • Gail says:

      Maybe. I have to admit that I, for one, am more radical now then I was as an adjunct (I’m FT now). When I evaluate adjuncts, I value the same. I hope others do also?!

      • sethkahn says:

        That’s up to us, Gail. We have to push our FT colleagues to do the same. Some of the recent comments on this thread from FTF, to my dismay, reinforce much of the animus I was unhappy about earlier. Any FTF who thinks we have it as difficult as our contingent colleagues is simply wrong. We have our own problems, but they’re neither as dire nor as intractable, and that’s just a simple fact.

    • Kathy Stockman says:

      As an adjunct (art history) for about 10 yrs as well, I was not ever sure how critical or radical other adjuncts were. In fact, I often felt my colleagues would work hard to keep their positions by doing extra work or even teaming with administrators.

      Before leaving the classroom, I was part of a group of adjunct professors chosen to design hybrid (online/classroom) courses. While I was interested to see how this would translate, I was a bit suspicious of the damage it would do to the learning of art history. I felt such a push back from other adjuncts when I did not wish to offer my students pre-tests and adamantly refused to abandon art identification quizzes and exams, (“that won’t work online, besides students don’t learn through rote memorization!” ) That other adjuncts joined administrators to encourage me to omit one of the fundamental aspects of art history as a discipline was a gesture pointing me to the door. Further, I was never sure they were echoing my complaining students or the other way around.

      Ultimately, I decided I could not fight the fight so stopped teaching. so glad there are others like you, who are openly critical of these trends.

      Thank you.

  130. Gail says:

    I am a social science instructor (they refuse to call us professors – more $) at a community college. This is EXACTLY what is happening. What’s worse? Standardized lesson plans & assessments, brought to us by our new, highly paid Director of Training. We thought his job was to provide training, not dictate curriculum.
    I’m mobilized to fight. Where do we start?

  131. Reblogged and discussed. Thanks for this.


  132. magicbear says:

    This has been my experience in grad school. You have to do something for the administration if you ever expect them to do something for you. If your lab is making a profit by selling services, then you can get some funding from the bigboys.

  133. Jeremy says:

    This is why the current crop of graduate students is concerned about “what happens next,” rather than focussing entirely on “what’s happening now.” If we all knew that we were going to land on our feet, somewhere (anywhere), then we would spend less time trying to trace pathways that put us in a place worth being after we’re finished.

    We’re not trying to “get a job.” Rather, we’re trying to avoid “suicide” and the various “health problems” discussed in this article. Everyone who has been around for a while is carrying at least a 5-figure debt. (Some of us owe six figures, although–thank goodness–not me; worse, for some, that amount is even held on credit cards [again, not me].) This makes us very concerned about the future, by which I mean “a future that is in some way related to what we’re doing in graduate school.”

    As a result of my own response to this situation, I have been accused of occasionally being “corporate” in my thinking and sometimes “sounding like a Dean.” (These have been presented as warnings.) But if the situation described in this piece is accurate, then how else–in addition to good work, and other than good luck–is the next generation of professors to survive?

    Putting on my Student Leader hat, I am led by all of this to a question that may not have any good answers: “How are graduate students, in general, to survive in a system that seems not to care if we do?” That’s something that a large number of graduate students, present and future, would like to know.

    • Lilly says:

      I’m a little concerned by the self-centeredness of your comment (and of the original post by junctrebellion). Do you really think the students who are going on to become professors are experiencing *more* downward pressure and job loss than people who went into the American car industry? Or people who go medical school or law school and expect a profession on the other side, not a professorship? Even students who come out of high school and go directly into, say, carpentry are experiencing this crunch of debt or poor wages during apprenticeship and low quality or no jobs on the other side.

      It is narrow minded of all of us to assume we are experiencing some sort of private persecution. Yes, we are making the noble sacrifice to pursue knowledge for knowledge’s sake, but even those who aren’t are experiencing the same problems. There has been no growth in pay for indexing pay for most public services police, or public school teachers. There has been a downgrade of computer scientists and an outsourcing of engineering firms. The truth be told it’s a national problem! We are suffering a retraction of credit, the bottle-neck of the baby-boomer and generation-x fighting for jobs, and a hyper competitive international community that can take any job our country has to offer.

      • Jeremy says:

        And your proposed solution to this, for graduate students in general, is what?

      • Ana M. Fores says:

        With all due respect, Lilly, look at the salaries between the jobs you speak of and adjunct salaries. On average, an adjunct makes $2400 per course. I myself make $1800. Multiply that times 8, and what do you get? Take away healthcare, because we don’t get any, take away commuting times, because many of us need to hobble together jobs between several universities, never mind lack of an office, etc. You do the math. Oh and don’t let me forget to add in stability. Yes, after all, our jobs are oh, so very stable! So yes, it may be our fault that we chose to study because we love it. We love knowledge, and we love teaching because we love sharing what we know. But we are not asking for the world. We are just asking for a living wage, for God’s sake. Where do you see our self-centeredness in that? Tell me about self-centeredness when your students make more money than you do, or when, as someone wrote on my petition, her student saw her on the food stamp line. When my own daughter made more money this summer than I did teaching, and she was just a camp counselor. Then maybe I may see your point…

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  135. Nuri Creager says:

    Recently, I discovered that my current pay as an adjunct in 2011 is equivalent to the entry level salary I was making in 1977 in my fist job as an office typing clerk. After years of education and a PhD, I am extremely disheartened.

    • Jeffrey Allgeier says:

      Lack of a sustainable income after my doctorate was the key factor in my decision to forgo the pleasure of a Doctorate.

  136. Lilly says:

    I’m sorry, I have to say again I think this article is misguided.

    I have my own idealized version of academics and I love the pursuit of knowledge for itself. But as I’ve stated above in a few places above, I’m horrified to find the number of academics who seem to think they are some martyred group, the victims of some well-organized political marginalization rather than the casualties -like everyone in America- of a poorly managed economy (over many, many decades), and a squandered opportunity to build a better world. I think the political parties and the political ideologies of America are utterly irrelevant to this conversation. Blaming them is buying is a distraction, not a solution.

    The number of part-time jobs in America as of last BLS report for 2012 was 27 million. The record high was, I believe, 28 million, from May 2012. The percentage of workers who use part-time unemployment ‘unwillingly’ has been increasing since the recession. Part-time employment, whether it be in the field of carpentry, computer programming, Walmart security, or nursing, rarely comes with benefits and rarely produces a middle-class income. Part-time work means anything unexpected (a birth, a death, an accident, a broken washing machine) is a push toward debt.

    I’ve worked at a university for 9 years and I’m a graduate student and I am so sick of seeing the faculty and part time instructors belly aching about their welfare and their debt when almost everyone in America is suffering. They all make more than the staff employees and certainly all of the faculty make more than the average American family!

    I resent seeing groups fighting for their own welfare when their disadvantage is a symptom of a greater ailment. We *all* deserve better; I want PhDs to find work where they are fully employed exactly as much as I want to see janitors fully employed. (Let me temper this by again saying I don’t think our economy can sustain an infinite number of poets…)

    • VanessaVaile says:

      So you’ve said a number of times with offering any concrete recommendations. Time to stop being a troll and move on ~ get a page or space of your own


      • Jeffrey Allgeier says:

        If our society can’t support an infinite number of poets, then our society has failed. Miserably.

      • VanessaVaile says:

        or teach thoughtful reading and cultivate the reading of them


      • Faculty says:

        Lilly, you have no idea what you are talking about. As a Ph.D. who has a full-time tenure-track job, I can tell you I’m making 10% LESS than the median income in the US. The median income in the US is about $50k per year, regardless of the source you cite. There are high school teachers who make more than I do. When I get promoted, my raise isn’t even going to make up for the increases in benefits costs I have had to endure, which means a raise won’t return my take-home pay to the level is was when when I started this job, despite getting a promotion and a raise.

        Unless a faculty member is a full professor at a “Research 1” school, they are lucky to make $70k per year. Since most college professors work at liberal arts schools and small state colleges or universities, most full professors are making about $65k per year. College professors are not rich. However, deans have salaries around $100k, VPs and provosts are making well over $100k, some college presidents are making half a million, and Division I football and basketball coaches make multiple millions each year. The people who are not teaching get the biggest salaries.

        College is all about the job market right now, as well. Faculty are actually being forced to demonstrate that any new degree program will produce employable students with a B.A./B.S. There is no regard for the fact that most professions and many industries require Masters’ degrees to hire people for their management and planning divisions. The same degree requirements apply for many government jobs at all levels of government.

        Shifting college education to the right is also a reality at most institutions of high learning, particularly outside the Northeast or the West Coast. Students tell professors they are too controversial and some even sue universities because the university curriculum and the professional ethics requirements in their field mandate that they learn concepts that challenge their political and religious beliefs and/or that they work with demographic groups of which they don’t “approve.” In other words, many students want their narrow, prejudicial, worldview reinforced, not challenged, which only generates graduates who cannot think because they refuse to entertain anything that contradicts the values, norms, and traditions with which they were raised.

        I don’t know what capacity you work in at the university that employs you. However, until you get out of grad school, get a tenure-track or administrative job, and become privy to the internal politics and financial structures of a college/university and you get a chance to teach three or four classes each semester for a number of years so you know how students respond to being challenged, your opinions are just opinions. You have limited facts and limited experience to base them upon. I thought I knew it all when I was a long-time grad student working as a TA and adjunct, too. Working as full-time faculty is eye opening because you get a lot of info you were never privy to in the past.

      • Jim Hutton, PhD says:

        I empathize with your plight. When I took my first full-time teaching job in the late 1980s, at a religious-sponsored university, I made $29,000 a year — far less than the average local high school teacher, and $1,000 less than the janitor who cleaned my office each night. But your salary information is incorrect, and you should be careful about telling Lilly that she doesn’t know anything. She does know a few things. While I agree with you that a graduate assistant has limited knowledge, occasionally they are in a position know more than most of the faculty. When I was chairman of my college’s strategic planning committee, for example, I made sure that our two graduate assistants on the committee knew everything that was going on, including all of the internal data, because I thought it was an important part of their education to see firsthand the internal machinations of an organization (they were both management majors).

        For the salary statistics, you should refer to the CUPA or Chronicle of Higher Education data. I don’t have the latest report, but the 2010-11 CUPA report indicates that the average salary for full professors across all disciplines and all institutions (public and private; doctoral, master’s and bachelor’s institutions) was $92,000 a year, not the $65,000 a year that you suggest. The average salary across all ranks, including instructors, was $71,500. There are dozens of faculty in the California university system that make more than $500,000, most of them in medical and law schools, but also in engineering and some other fields. The highest faculty salary in the CUPA report was more than $1,000,000 a year. So it’s a very mixed bag, but, on average, tenured and tenure-track professors are not starving. Apparently Lilly is working at a Research I university, so it wouldn’t surprise me if she sees faculty members making well over $100,000 a year, depending on what disciplines are included in her department.

        My comment is not directed to you, personally, but I am forever amazed by how little most professors seem to understand about the level and disparity of faculty salaries. With occasional exceptions (such as nursing, which has shown a substantial rise in salaries in recent years, relative to most other disciplines), people who choose to work in the academy should know what they getting into because the data about salaries for various fields, various ranks and various types of institutions are available to graduate students or anyone else.

      • Ana M. Fores says:

        But Jim Hutton, even if these statistics are correct, also correct is the fact that at least 70% of the instructors now in Higher Ed are hired on a contingent basis, with no contracts, no healthcare, no possibility of the full-time salaries you are talking about. In any case, this is all getting too petty and beyond the point of the entire article. Who cares who gets what? The point is that something has to be done to unite forces, and comments like these (not yours particularly, but in general) are exactly what forces that be hope happens to keep us from uniting, from reaching a consensus and fighting for our rights as a professional group, united.

    • Lilly, I completely understand what you are saying – and yes, you are right. Our economy has now shifted so that an enormous number of workers are in precarious situations. We do all deserve better. I don’t think that anyone here is saying that, as a group, adjunct faculty deserve more than any other precarious worker. What we are saying is that, as a profession, we have to come together, acknowledge the enormity of the difficulties facing higher education, and then strategize ways to begin reversing this breakdown. Many people within the adjunct population say on a regular basis that we are part of a larger problem – the destruction of the middle class, the ruination of the working class in the country. You are also right that we all have to come together — perhaps a discussion about general strikes at the national level should be part of our conversation here. But the more specific, narrow issue of what is taking place in higher education is something that academic professionals have to take on, just as those in the medical profession need to take on the breakdown of medicine. My post was meant to offer a way to focus on those issues; it was not meant to suggest an exclusionary attitude and lack of awareness of the larger, systemic problems we all face.

  137. Jeffrey Allgeier says:

    My comment is awaiting moderation? Moderation is an abomination. Free speech=free minds. Even if it gives the idiots the right to express themselves as well…

    • VanessaVaile says:

      alas, there is spam you would not believe, plus commenting being the favorite sport of trolls, and reactions to them, their fave food. Add them up and moderation becomes necessary, abusers the abominations. 


      • sethkahn says:

        Moderation is also important because it makes keeping track of commenters a lot easier. Having been threatened and flamed many times on my personal blog, which I used to use precisely because it served as a public archive of threats and inflammatory language, I have no qualms about moderation. That’s not automatically the same as censorship.

        But the tenor of that response echoes a concern I have about much of the discussion happening here. There’s an awful lot of inflammatory, angry accusation getting thrown around–impugning people’s motives based on one or two sentences that don’t say what you thought they said; attacks on entire classes of people despite the fact that those classes don’t really exist.

        If those of us who are professional academics aren’t willing to be more careful than that, how the hell do we get off accusing anybody else of being bad for not doing it? Not that there isn’t a place to voice anger–of course there is–but there’s a lot of language flying around in these comments that’s guilty of what it purports to criticize, and that’s not going to help anybody who wants to advocate for contingent faculty, faculty more generally, or higher ed policy across the board.

      • VanessaVaile says:

        Seth, that really makes me want to read your blog (which I should already have added to acad/activist folder in my feed reader. I ❤ Here Comes Trouble already… ! I should have subbed to a post comment feed for my reader ~ if only to stay on speaking terms with my mail box. 

        Not too late though… (sorry mbx, only from time of subscription though…)

        Anyone with a lot more to say, blog it (get a room if you don’t already have one) and post the link. I will try to collect and bundle all I can. If you don’t want a whole blog, just a single shot at the target, try or (no registration, can be anonymous; Instablog enables comments) 

        Seriously though, Seth, thank you for articulately so well what I’ve been thinking. All of us here care about higher education, especially the open, affordable, public variety currently in dire straits. To expect we would/should even could all agree on every point is not realistic.

        So how are we going to talk about it? We can’t let not agreeing mean shooting down everything we disagree with on sight. If so, then we have lost before starting. Likewise, no single category is all saints or or all sinners. 


      • sethkahn says:

        I don’t do much on my personal blog these days because I’m also largely responsible for the blog my union local runs. You’d have to go back to 2007, early 2008 to find the really inflammatory stuff, which was in the context of anti-Iraq-war activism.

        Anyway, the anger I see here is entirely understandable. The trick is figuring out where to direct it rather than among a bunch of people who otherwise ought to be allies.

      • VanessaVaile says:

        Would that be the KU Xchange?

      • sethkahn says:

        The KUXchange was an informal blog running out of the Kutztown U chapter of our union; we’re 2 of the 14 campuses in the PA State System.

      • VanessaVaile says:

        great blog too. so what is the link to the union blog you are working with? I like to keep track of such on my overflowing Celtic cauldron of a feed reader


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  141. I am very sympathetic towards the plight of grad students and contract instructors in academia–it is a real problem and not just the bellyaching of those who can’t handle ‘real life.’ Blaming it all on right-wingers and conservatives, however, is what helped cause the problem in the first place. Since at least the 1960s, academia has set itself up as a counter-hegemony to capitalist hegemony, taking upon itself the task if disassembling or ‘deconstructing’ (to use the term very loosely, I know) and interrogating Western culture. At the same time, it has sought to valorize oppressed social groups, finding innumerable lost ‘voices’ and ‘narratives.’ The last will be first and the first will be last.

    The problem is, the post-Marxist philosophy of the 1960s onward placed a high value on intellectuals for their ability to fight existing hegemonies. Some professors, I think, believe that they deserve to be paid extremely well so that their “work” in fighting hegemony can continue–even if it means the system is ultimately unsustainable, and that contract workers will be unfairly exploited. They see PhD students as sacrificial lambs, whose suffering will help bring about the coming revolution. This might sound like conspiracy theory (as I’m speaking somewhat polemically here) but so does your idea of corporate, right-wing control. The right does dislike the university system, but not because right-wingers are racist woman-haters who would like to turn back the clock. They dislike the university because this is how the right is so often portrayed by left/liberal academics. They have little voice in academia, and so they don’t care whether it lives or dies.

  142. Jamie says:

    Maybe our corporations are failing because their executives did not receive a “liberal arts” education. They have not learned true creative and critical thinking skills to respond to changing economic conditions. Maybe more Classical Studies majors should be hired for upper level management. Yes, I was a Classics major ;).

  143. Ana M. Fores says:

    Jamie, you have hit the nail on the head! Yes, I think we have forgotten all about thinking, we have forgotten analysis, critical thought. And in the long run, it’s going to come back and bite us, if we don’t cause a change. And that is what this article is proposing, and that is what a few are sorely missing. Thank you for your light, but significant point back to the truth at hand.

  144. Don Hollins says:

    I am a university professor – and all I can say is, you are so wrong on so many points it is laughable. Seriously, you need to go back to school.


    I agree with the content and historical tour of your article in the main, but I think at times like these new solutions, ie traditional maternal education doctoral must change, follow the same process if we know the result? I think we’re ready to take the next step in the education of a human being, devote professional time to the early identification of raw materials (learner) and the need for environmental and industrial condition, social and economic situation in each country and state, design characteristics allow us to achieve development professional education coming to meet the real needs, otherwise continue adding unemployed and / or manuals valued.

  146. tf pawlick says:

    It’s not much better in Canada. Read the just-published book, Debt Sentence: How Canada’s student loan system is failing young people and the country. A summary follows:

    A call to scrap a system that doesn’t work

    Filial cannibalism, the practice of killing and eating one’s own or a neighbor’s young, is relatively rare among mammals, while to destroy not only the young of leadership rivals, but one’s own offspring, and not only in times of scarcity but in times of plenty, is almost unheard-of.

    Except, that is, in Canada and the U.S.A., where humans have created a phenomenon called the Student Loan System.

    So says author Thomas F. Pawlick, in Debt Sentence: How Canada’s student loan system is failing young people and the country (Booklocker, $15.95). Pawlick, a veteran investigative journalist and former university professor, with a stack of national and international awards to his name, has produced a devastating indictment of this country’s way of financing post-secondary education, a system he says the evidence shows has become a “monstrous devourer of all things educational, and especially of those seeking an education.”

    Over the years, it has gone from one that emphasized grants to one that insists upon loans with harsh terms. Thanks to this system, which currently seems to benefit only bankers, bill collectors and bureaucrats, and perhaps not even them, brilliant young engineering graduates who should be going on to masters or doctoral training are instead working in fast food restaurants, to pay off the debt incurred in earning their bachelor’s degrees. Medical and nursing graduates, who should be helping to alleviate the chronic staff shortages in our hospitals, are instead jumping ship, moving to the U.S. immediately after graduation, where an unjust, profit-driven health system furnishes them with incomes big enough to pay off their Canadian loan debts in a reasonable time frame. Once there, they stay, in numbers great enough to say our system exports doctors.

    Others become fugitives, taking their knowledge and expertise wherever persistent bill collectors can’t follow, and staying there, creating a growing “brain drain” of Canadian talent. Still others, who unemployment, underemployment, illness or injury render unable to meet unrealistic payment schedules, are harassed, chased and hounded to the point where already bad health often gets worse, and where some have actually been driven to suicide. Other students have been driven to theft, gambling and prostitution to pay debt collectors.

    The system–financially speaking–has even created a new class of citizen, one that exists nowhere else, and has never before existed in our history. Students, alone in our society, are unable in a financial crisis to write off their loan debt by declaring bankruptcy. No other category of our population, not even criminals serving time in our prisons, is dealt with this way.

    Our way of funding post-secondary education is not only heartless and destructive when the bills come due, but fosters a situation at the entry level where the sons and daughters of the wealthy are favored and those of the middle or lower classes handicapped. It is creating a two-tiered system, where only the already-well-off have a chance of becoming still better off.

    And it exacerbates a growing trend toward privatization of every aspect of higher education, turning knowledge into a commodity, and perverting both the teaching process and the goals of research. It is contributing to the growth of a “shadow” government where public functions are increasingly taken over by private, profit-seeking interests.

    This system stands in pitiful contrast to that in other democratic, industrially developed nations, such as the Scandinavian countries, France or Germany, where post-secondary education is either offered completely gratis or is heavily subsidized. The result for these countries–according to OECD research–is a net profit, in terms of the eventual post-graduation financial contribution of their students to society.

    It’s time for Canada to take a look at how its student funding regime has evolved, and make some drastic changes to reverse the trend.

    Available online at, Chapters and Barnes & Noble.

    * Student debt counselor John Leblanc.

  147. MM3 Greenberg says:

    I was homeschooled up until 5th grade, which is when I started attending a public elementary school, followed by a public high school for grades 7-12. I couldn’t help but feel like I was in a school for the mentally disabled for most of my public school experience. Grammar, geography, the ability to do any sort of math without a calculator, foreign language, artistic talent, intelligent discussion, and the ability to effectively read, were all not very important whatsoever throughout my eight years of public education. Everything was based on scores students received for “MAP testing.” There were variations in the names of the tests, but they were very basic and broad tests over Math, Science, English, and Reading. Teachers were so pressured to teach exactly what was in their given syllabus, and it was obvious how worthless all of the administrative jobs were, but at the same time you could tell by the price range of vehicles, whether the owner was someone administrative or a student. It would make sense that if your actual goal in operating an educational institution is to educate students, that most of the money would go to those teaching. NOT IN THE U.S.!

    In high school, it was also about who was a good athlete, because athletics is often one of the only ways to be able to afford to go to college, seeing as how college athletics is a huge money-making industry now. So much money is directed towards unnecessary administrative costs, athletic fields and uniforms (and traveling), constant rebuilding and upgrading of facilities, and electronic technology which has clearly done nothing to help students learn. My favorite way of learning is still verbally, with the aid of a chalkboard. In no way is having a computer for every child in your school, SMARTboards, really expensive lab equipment, freshly painted walls, automatic soap dispensers, and brand new textbooks every other year, a good use of resources.

    I often hear about teachers getting fired for not forcing their students to buy new, expensive textbooks, which often only have like 10 pages total of different information. College textbooks are such a scam now, and the contracts the publishers have with the colleges is thievery for the students. The vast majority of content in the textbooks isn’t even utilized, and if you pay attention in class, you need not even open your textbooks most of the time. Our factory-style method of education is an embarrassment to what was once the most educated nation in the world. Most problems in society can be related to banking institutions and large corporations.

    The last I checked, the college student debt in the U.S. was over $1,000,000,000,000, but I think that was a couple years ago. I joined the Navy because college wasn’t what I had hoped it to be, but many of my peers joined because they have too much debt from college that they can’t afford to pay back themselves. I can learn far more, mostly for free, just by reading and discussing things online and with peers. I wish it was only the educational system that has been depreciating, but it’s been nearly all aspects of society. So don’t forget, keep voting for your favorite self-proclaiming “conservative” or “liberal” candidate so you can assist this country in self-destruction. 🙂

  148. Mary Guzzy says:

    Eloquently and accurately stated. You nailed it.

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  150. Melissa Baxter says:

    Thank you. You have respectfully written exactly what I have been trying to communicate to others. Very VERY few *see* it. I am about in tears because you have validated my stance. In addition, I work in a public K-12 system that is growing its certified/highly educated faculty pushed into “para”professional positions. Oftentimes, teaching classes (teaching!) without contract or benefits. Hourly pay only.
    Thank you.

  151. Ed-M says:

    You said it. Right on target. And you are right, that “They are the same people now working feverishly to dismantle other social structures, everything from Medicare and Social Security to the Post Office.” The US Military, too. Recently the Obama Administration had decided to get rid of military pensions and replace them with 401k’s. And don’t forget the inordiantely expensive wars, fueled in the main by privatization of nearly everything under the sun, except for the troops themselves. I wonder now, how they will absolutely destroy the Armed Forces and demoralise the troops. Freeze their wages? Make them buy their own weapons, uniforms and equipment, like what “inadvertently happened” in Iraq? Replace US Citizen troops with aliens on H1-B visas? I have a hunch that, unless they can convince our troops that the American people who are not dronish followers are the enemy, the last thing, they will do, just before it becomes time for the US government and corporate class to nakedly declare and wage war on the American people. And we’re very close to that!

  152. David Cooper says:

    This is spot on. If you strip full-time professors of tenure, as my system tried to do, then you will be left with the equivalent of intellectual sharecroppers who have to say “yes sir” to the boss man–the administrators who are lackeys for the corporations. Academic freedom and tenure go hand in hand. The humanites are vital to higher education. A college education should be more than mere job training, but this is not what the rich and the corporate interests want.


      David, yes, I agree. Education levels in many universities are linked only to information and practice is outpacing further education training in the home and complementation in human culture and humanist, giving the end a social product incomplete leaving the field many professional must pass this complementation under the most terrible experiences in the personnel area.

  153. JDG says:

    I would like to thank you for clearly laying out the path by which we have reached this juncture in our society. I would also like to note that a similar process has taken place in the field of scientific research in this country, where “best business practices” have replaced the emphasis on independent and creative thought, ostensibly to bring “progress,” but in fact causing the intentional destruction of vibrant research by removing the power of decision from the career research scientist and reducing experienced laboratory teams to decerebrate pairs of hands, through the formation of a decentralized staff structure with the additional layers of management. Thus, even those of us who are old enough to have realized the dream of getting an excellent education and being successful in our chosen field are being laid off in favor of younger, less expensive staff who have no knowledge of power of free-thinking research, and who are more malleable and less likely to resist the change to a top down, management driven environment. This topic is too important to be hidden in this blog, and must be brought to national attention.

  154. Jennifer says:

    I would like to see a web site listing all state colleges and universities with their numbers for adjuncts, full-time faculty and administration with average salaries for each. That would help the student be a better consumer when shopping for their education.

    • nufio says:

      They should also post the post graduation employment statistics and average and median salary of graduates for every department. That will really help out new graduates in picking their major and maybe not go into lifelong debt for a degree in psychology or humanities only to be a waitress later.

      • David Cooper says:

        The whole point of the article is that higher education is not just for job training. You didn’t understand the article. If you just want a job, become a plumber.

      • nufio says:

        I understood the article pretty well. Exactly if people just wanted a job, it is in their best interests to be a plumber rather than studying psychology or humanities for 4 years and get into a ridiculous amount of debt. However they are being sold a false promise of a job by the media and college administrations in the US that a college degree is the only way to job security which is FALSE. What do you have against the idea of colleges posting department wide post graduation employment statistics and salaries?
        I am fine with some government money being spent in teaching humanities to all majors as an OPTIONAL FREE elective just to make students in non humanities fields well rounded. I disagree that they should be forced on them. But what is happening now is that the humanities psychology majors are being promised a bright future by the media and saddled with debt that is not dischargable under bankruptcy.
        If you think posting such data will reduce enrollment in some departments and reduce their class sizes and even further reduce job opportunities for Phd’s in this field then SO BE IT. There is no justification for selling false promises to the youth just because the previous generation has no job opportunities for humanities and psych phds.

      • sethkahn says:

        Nufio, you’d be hardpressed to find _faculty_ in any department, especially in humanities and social sciences, that make the sales pitch you accuse us of. Yes, recruiters–especially the ones that for-profit schools–promise the sun, moon and stars. But the big pitch about the necessity of college is coming from politicians (often the very same ones who then slash our budgets, which is a neat trick), business owners who complain that their employees aren’t pre-trained for them (and who often reject paying taxes we need to fund public higher ed), and so on. Your larger point, that lots of students are getting sold a bill of goods is probably true, but be careful about where you put the blame and who you include in it.

      • nufio says:

        At the very least they should allow student debt to be discharged under bankruptcy. That would totally eliminate private funding for a lot of student debt in majors where there is a supply glut in the employment market. I am all for everyone reading as much as they can in all fields. I used to sit through psychology courses during school myself.
        I just feel that saddling them with such crushing debt when they are 17 is just the banks taking advantage of their lack of world experience. Also see no justification for the graduation statistics being what they are now. Here is the link again :
        Can you hit that link and in good conscience say that nothing is wrong with that table?

      • While I do hope that I’ve made the point that higher education should not be reduced to a job-training program, I don’t mean to denigrate certain jobs and value others. I think that it’s important to respect each other — and whether we are university professors, high school teachers, lawyers, accountants, or small business owners and trades- or crafts- people, we are all important parts of society. Having owned a 100-year-old house for about 17 years, I can tell you that there were many days when knowing one really good plumber or carpenter was worth a whole department full of professors.

      • David Cooper says:

        There is nothing wrong with honest work. Plumbers often earn more than Ph.D.s. What I was attacking is the current trend to tailor the curriculum to job skills at the expense of the humanities and social sciences. Everyone who goes to college should be acquainted with some of the best writers, musicians, and artists of our world. They should also know something about history, psychology and sociology. Let’s include an introduction to philosophy. This is what a college education should be; however, some people would have students take only the classes that are directly related to a career. This is the point made in the article. Also, Susan Jacoby’s The American Age of Unreason should be required reading. Anti-intellectualism has always been a problem in America.

      • David, I didn’t want to speak for you, but I certainly assumed that. I was just trying to insert some direction — while this unbelievably active comment board has brought forth lots of interesting ideas and some very positive debate, I’m always disconcerted with how quickly things can sink into hostilities. As you can see with some of the comments, there is anger and nastiness. And you wouldn’t believe the ones I have not approved — as Vanessa has said, there are some flaming things that people say which I find entirely unproductive.

        Thanks for the suggestion — I’ll have to take a look at Jacoby’s book. And, yes, let’s talk about a university where human beings are shaped….not just employees. I knew a man, a wonderful writer named William Gay, who spent the first 50 years of his life living in a small town in TN. He worked construction, dug ginseng for selling, and lived in a very rural part of the country. But, as it turns out, he was one of the finest writers of his generation, only discovered when in his late 50s. He read everything — not just literature, but history, science, philosophy….had a huge appetite for knowledge. He passed away this past February, having had a half dozen books published to great acclaim…and he stilled lived in Hohenwald TN. There is absolutely no reason why someone, no matter how they earn a living, shouldn’t also enjoy the riches of philosophy, or art, or literature. That our society has compartmentalized these areas of knowledge as belonging to a small portion of the population – and otherwise being “irrelevant” — speaks to the anti-intellectualism to which you refer. That those of us who dedicate our own work and effort to those areas of knowledge are seen as “irrelevant” to a large portion of the population is heartbreaking.

        Oh, and yes, most plumbers make more in one month than I earn in an entire year.

    • I agree, Jennifer. This would be invaluable information — and absent a one-stop location for such information, I’ve said (see my blog about what you should demand from a university) that potential students, parents and high school counselors should all demand that information from a school before even considering making application. The problem, of course, is obfuscation. Most universities will go through all sorts of contortions to disguise the number of low-wage adjuncts teaching undergraduates. They call them part-time, visiting professors, 1, 2 or 3 year appointments — and then when you add TAs — and the most recent atrocity the “peer teacher” (undergrads who are given classes), the picture begins to come together. But most students, parents and counselors aren’t aware of how to decode this – and need information and guidance.

      • nufio says:

        I can bet that universities would rather post that information than post the post graduate employment/salary statistics per department….. I maintain that the main victims in US academics is students who are sold false hopes and crushing amounts of debt..
        I am totally for adjunct faculty getting the same pay as tenured faculty, and I am NOT against everyone being well rounded by taking classes in arts, humanities, psychology and philosophy… but there is NO scenario that I find justifiable where society needs as many engineers as psychologists..However I doubt I would find much sympathy for my argument in this crowd…. Fund the universities all you want! Take the banker bailouts and redirect all into funding universties. Im all for it…. just dont let students get into debt for degrees that are chosen purely on interest with no career opportunities while telling them that just any college degree is a path to a bright future.. IT IS NOT!

      • Ana M. Fores says:

        Jennifer, this is great: thank you! Now notice they don’t include adjuncts in there, do they? I’m going to write them and ask them why? We are having a meeting today for faculty. For the first time since I began teaching there, they are separating us; the adjuncts are meeting today, the rest of the faculty on Thursday, further dividing us, keeping us apart, stopping us from beginning a dialogue. They say the adjuncts have conflicts… All of a sudden they are thinking of us? Please whoever reads this, I mentioned the petition before; sign it and spread it like wildfire. I know it’s a drop in the bucket, but every step is a forward march.

  155. sethkahn says:

    Sorry, nufio, can’t edit my post. I ran two others together by mistake. You don’t accuse faculty. Mea culpa.

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  157. Reblogged this on cadesertvoice and commented:
    A must read! What is happening with the education system is happening to workers as well.

  158. nufio says:

    I honestly think that departments need to be resized. But the people who are suffering most in the current situation is not the faculty who are marginally benefitting from this situation. But that is the population who have been slightly coopted by the system. The big beneficiaries for push to make a psychology department as big as all the engineering schools combined are the BANKERS. the main victims in the picture are the students.
    If the politicians were more responsible (they are not, they are bought off by the bankers) they would at least remove the law that prevents student debt from being discharged in bankruptcy at least for majors where the post graduate median salary is < 60K (which i feel is necessary to pay off the student debt) . This would have an automatic effect of reducing department sizes in psychology and humanities. A responsible faculty who actually did care for the students wouldn't think that to be too unreasonable.

  159. lmansell says:

    As the UK just now enters it’s first year of de-funding come September, I fear a slippery slope towards oblivion.

  160. betsylangert says:

    Reblogged this on COTO Report.

  161. david platter says:

    thanks for the perspective. I cant say that I agree with the conservative bashing or blaming. That seems to me to be your bias. I personally dont trust either political faction to have the interests of the US citizen in mind. You refer to the corporate giants being the onlybenifactors and I agree but I would not limit it to universities or political bias. I think the whole federal system is “administrative” in your -sense. Thanks for the insights.
    Adjunct Art instructor and Visual Artist

  162. Jane Harty says:

    Great essay and wonderful responses from your readers. I just finished my 34th year as a Music adjunct with a doctorate (we prefer the term “contingent” since that’s what we are). And now my 28-yr old daughter is searching nationwide for a college teaching position in the same field. I am so fearful that her working life will be just as desperate as mine has been. Fortunately both AAUP and MLA are working to try to ameliorate the “sweat shop” working conditions of contingent faculty. Understanding the big picture as this essay does is strong encouragement not to give up. What is at stake is the whole character and culture of our nation.

    • David Cooper says:

      The AFT (American Federation of Teachers) has been in the fore front of defending adjuncts. At some colleges, the adjuncts are unionized. There is strength in numbers. The administrators and corporate people see college faculty as labor just a piece worker in a factory.

  163. I do know there are more opportunities for learning now than there have ever been. That’s no excuse for the abuse of power like in “fast and furious” and Cheney’s shotgun diplomacy and other misallocation of resources. The constant push pull seems to be our legacy. Enjoyed reading the article.

  164. Heidi says:

    I think a lot of your argument is right on the money. And I have one of those lottery-winning tenured positions, so I don’t know if I should comment. But I’m wondering, there is such a glut of adjuncts, with more PhDs being cranked out every year — how would academia hire them all? Even if hiring patterns were reversed, if a university has several part-time adjuncts, that would create only about half as many tenure-track positions. That may be better, but there would still be a lot of out-of-work PhDs. Also, your argument about the constant creation of new PhDs doesn’t cover the complicity of the faculty. I personally don’t think we need as many graduate programs as we do — it floods the system, it perpetuates cheap labor, and it creates the hierarchy that allows faculty to teach upper-level courses and rely on adjuncts and grad students to do the “grunt” work of intro-level classes. But when I said as much when I served on the graduate admissions committee, it was blasphemy. Faculty love teaching the rigorous grad seminars (and who wouldn’t) and don’t want to teach comp. I still think you’re largely right, but as a faculty member, I do think faculty are part of the problem, and need to be part of the solution. That said, no solution is going to result in the hiring of ALL the currently underemployed instructors in academia.

    • Heidi, I agree with much of what you say. Academia is the only place I know of that can create its own surplus and then exploit that surplus. As for adjunct hiring changes — here are some of my thoughts. First, that converting the positions to full-time is only one of the possibilities. Second, that the other possibilities for economic justice could be examined and implemented with more immediacy.

      Regarding the full-time conversion scenario — there is something strange about the argument that says the university can’t absorb all its adjunct faculty into full-time positions and many will be left out of a job. Here’s why: most adjuncts teach at more than one university. Starting with that understanding, the scenario changes a bit. If university #1 offers a certain percentage of those adjuncts who are teaching at 3 universities more stable employment and a living wage — and perhaps that is full-time designation, perhaps not — then there would be no reason for them to work at universities 2 and 3. That takes one chunk of adjuncts out of that surplus of the underemployed. So, now there is a smaller chunk of adjuncts, and if university 2 offers the same economic justice and job stability, it takes another chunk out of the adjunct pool. Do you see what I mean?

      Of more immediate concern than conversion or non-conversion, however, is the issue of economic justice – and equal pay for equal work. With the MLA recommendations, for instance, most adjuncts across the country would suddenly see their income at least double for teaching the courses they take on. If, for instance, an adjunct went from earning $7,000 for teaching two courses in a Fall semester to earning $15,000, it would be less necessary for that person to shoulder classes at two other universities. If, in addition, benefits such as healthcare, professional development allowance, as well as an active role in governance were negotiated, I believe that many of us would be willing to focus on our work at one university. At the heart of the exploitation is the impossible low wage and the lack of job security and benefits.
      If companies like Starbucks can offer their part-time employees healthcare and other benefits — and if those employees are not required to apply for the same job every fifteen weeks – then why can’t academia? These low wages and no-benefit situations in city markets such as New York or Philadelphia, serve to create a pool of the SAME people, who are then exploited by ALL the universities because of their financial desperation.

      I think the most important thing to negotiate, to demand, is more MONEY and more job security. We simply can’t survive on the wages we are paid, or on the precarious nature of our employment. No one can. We see that, since this economic crash, more and more people are suffering what we’ve experienced for nearly 25 years now – the explosion of precarious, low-wage work that simply does not pay enough for a person to live on.

  165. Sean says:

    I was sensing it as I was reading through it, waiting for it to drop…and then it did right at the end. “It’s a win-win for those right wingers”. I guess this author didn’t check their bias at the door, because the economists they said were bought out at Harvard, Yale, Standford, MIT…they are all liberal schools. Obama and most of his staff are from Harvard. Bush, who was very much a Keynesian, graduated from Yale. Paul Krugman who insists the government can do no wrong by throwing money at the economy went to Yale and MIT and currently teaches at Princeton. Who accurately predicted the housing bubble collapse all the way back as far as 2002 or 2003? 2 “right-wingers” that don’t even have economics degrees. Peter Schiff, who just has a BA in finance from UC Berkeley and Ron Paul, who’s an OBGY.

    What does this tell us? I think it tells us the problem is not “right-wing” or “left-wing”. The talk in this article about economics professors and others being bought excludes the fact that pretty much nothing but Keynes has been taught in economics courses for decades now. People don’t know anything different unless they seek it for themselves. As such, “left-wing” and “right-wing” alike are idiots when it comes to the economy, even if they hold economics degrees.

    But before I get ahead of myself, let’s start with the first point: defunding. This author completely excluding any reasoning behind WHY the funding was cut. Supposedly it’s because we don’t value education, it’s those corporations and right wingers! Have you seen the budgets of California, Wisconsin, Illinois, New York, etc. lately? Most of their budgets go towards paying for the pensions and health expenses of retired and current state employees…of which public universities are a part. States only have so much money to go around on the budget…if the unions(not specifically teachers) are going to demand fancy health plans and pensions for life after 20 years and retirement at age 55, then some funding has to give somewhere else. Pensions are an ongoing obligation, education is a year to year expense, thus it gets cut more often.

    In Wisconsin, just recently the costs of the state prison system exceeded the cost of the UW system. I haven’t researched it but I imagine California, the state with the highest rate of incarceration in the country, has had this problem for quite some time. Again, when you spend more in some places, a state budget has to give somewhere.

    The 2nd point, the problem with professors. I’m not going to sit here and claim to know whether or not professors are paid enough or not. What I will say is this: If it’s not enough then why do it? Obviously something is attracting people to be professors. I don’t know what it is, but there doesn’t seem to be a shortage of those willing to teach in university classrooms.

    Point #3…he lead off the 2nd point talking about how Joe Biden was wrong about faculty costs but then admits that there’s too many administrators and managers. Are these individuals and professors not all included when someone says “faculty”? Faculty is the staff, if the administrators and managers are not staff then what are they, volunteers? That part aside, I will say this is the 1 point I almost completely agree on. The problem cited in health care in that there’s too many administrators making decisions is the same problem in education. The accusation about coaches is also dead on as I did a bit of research, a study released in May this year found only 8 Division I university sports programs are self sufficient. At the top of the list, University of Texas. Their sports programs brought in a total of $120 million in 2011, $72.9 million just from football. Of that total…only $1.5 million was given to the school and the school gets a 5% cut from the merchandising profits.

    Point #4, this one really irked me. Why spend your time at college if it won’t translate to higher paying work later? Of course it’s going to be job training. If you want to learn about art and history but it won’t be used in the career you want, then yeah it’s going to cost extra money to learn it on your own time. Colleges are hardly a free-market anymore (that’s point #5) but there are still elements of a free-market inherent in how they operate. One of those elements is, if it’s not useful it’s not done. It is not necessary for every person going through college to be well versed in art or literature or philosophy. Does it mean they are not critical to society? Of course not, it just means that the demand isn’t there. You don’t need 20% of the labor force being philosophers. It’s a very select, specialized field of study that very few people will enter…thus it’s not necessary to run everyone through the ringer on philosophy when they go to college. Job trainig is crucial and in a global economy where we are competeing with other nations that give their students the proper job training we can’t afford to sit around thinking about art while others are sitting around thinking about how to make quantum computing a reality. “Like medicine, academia existed for the social good.” No. Medicine does not exist for the social good. That is a byproduct. Medicine exists because people want to live and there are people that like to help people live and also like making money doing it. If medical practitioners were paid only enough to eat 3 meals a day and live in a 1 bedroom apartment, there’d be a lot fewer people in medicine. Likewise universities did not exist as a public good. They exist because various professions realized they needed to institutionalize the learning of their trade so that amongst themselves they had a standard level of knowledge in the field. “Neither should be a purely for-profit endeavor.” Absolutely they should be. Again I go back to the point that if it’s not profitable why do it? That’s how society works. Again, universities do not exist to provide society with a bunch of scholars. They exist to provide society with trained professionals capable of performing in their selected careers. Law schools do not exist to teach people to be law theorists. They exist to teach people to be lawyers, the same as vocational schools teach people to be plumbers, electricians, or air conditioner specialists. Businesses don’t want an art history major running their finance department. “A corporate model, where profit depends on 1) maintaining a low-wage work force and 2) charging continually higher pricers for their “services” is what now controls our colleges . Faculty is being squeezed from one end and our students are being squeezed from the other.” Again, why work there if it’s so terrible to do so? I imagine folks with PhDs would have a pretty easy time finding work if they don’t like their job. As for charging higher for services…I would say that the free market would take care of this but it doesn’t because schools are not a free market, so on to point #5.

    This is the problem with #5, the premise is right but the conclusion is entirely off the mark. Students are being destroyed by debt, but it’s not because of corporations. Check some political history, prior to 2010 the Dept of Education issued 1/3 of all student loans. Thanks to Congress and President Obama the Dept of Education as of 2010 became the ONLY provider of student loans. The student loan business is now officially a government monopoly and should be feared for the same reason that private monopolies are outlawed. There is absolutely no check on the cost of student loans now except for how much taxpayer money can be extorted at gun point from tax payers (of which a full 1/2 of America is not if you count Federal Income Tax payers only). Also, rising tutitions are huge concern but it’s not because of corproations. It’s because government continues to subsidize higher education. California, wanting to be a leader in education, lead the way in subsidies. Thus their tuition rates rose higher and faster than any other state in the country.

    Here’s an excerpt from a recent John Stossel special explaining this problem.
    “John Stossel: President Obama said in his State of the Union Address that he is putting colleges on notice to lower costs. A few days later, he spoke to students at the University of Michigan, with a promise of more federal aid. Politicians claim they can make college affordable. No They Can’t!

    In the last 30 years, inflation is up 160%, but tuition costs are up 750%.

    It’s because colleges have no incentive to cut prices when students can get money from government. Federal aid, adjusted for inflation, increased from 32 billion in 1987, to 169 billion in 2010.

    Government tells us, “Here’s the gap between what you can afford and what the college is charging, we will now make up that gap. And then the college just inches up the tuition a little bit higher,” says Naomi Riley author of The Faculty Lounges: and Other Reasons Why You Won’t Get the College Education You Paid For.

    Colleges don’t use all or even most of that money in the classroom. We were stunned at the gyms and dining halls that serve lobster and sushi. Check out the University of Missouri, which is proud of its spa, rock climbing wall and “Tiger Grotto” – an elaborate pool complex.

    Government creates perverse incentives. Colleges compete on prestige and luxury amenities, not their price tag. Administrators don’t worry about high tuition costs because their customers have government subsidies.”

    He showcased, and University of Missouri faculty were proud to talk about, the elaborate pool complex. Complete with a jungle theme. The place looked like a high class resort, not a college. That’s what the student aid dollars get spent on. Go back to the 1950s and earlier when people had to pay for college themselves and college was a lot cheaper. One could work their way through college, but not anymore. Working students have been squeezed out by those willing to take handouts from government agencies.

    There’s one line in the conclusion statements that caught my eye: “Instead, continue to insist that the university is the ONLY way to gain a successful, middle class life.” Last I checked it was liberals/progressives claiming this, not the right-wing or corporations. Liberals started and continue to this day to claim that everyone needs a 4 year college education. Thanks to this rhetoric, vocational schools in the traditional trades like plumbing, electricians, etc. have fallen. But the jobs are still needed because you can’t outsource your plumbing work to China. As a result, salaries for these jobs has risen and school costs have dropped and one can actually live quite well on a trade skill job.

    Then in the last paragraph was this little gem: “This ruinous rampage is part of the much larger attack on progressive values, on the institutions of social good.” You’re damned right I’m against progressive values. Progressive values are values that say if you don’t like what I’m selling, I will MAKE you like it at the point of a gun through government force. You don’t want to fund to higher education or pay for a woman’s birth control? Too bad, we will MAKE you do it. I absolutely oppose progressive values as they are the antithesis to everything this country was founded on. And they know it, which is why they seek to subvert and alter the Constitution at every opportunity. It was progressives that brought us the Federal Income Tax, the Federal Reserve, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the War on Povery (which hasn’t worked), their lofty goals of ‘gender equality’ have resulted in fewer opportunities for men as institutions struggle to remain in compliance with Title IX. Progressive ruin society through bureaucratic tinkering. All their good intentions end will lead us to financial ruin in the sake of “fairness” and “equality”. I could go on and on about how terrible progressives have been to this country (and others) over the last 130 years but I think this post has been made long enough already.

    • nufio says:

      Thank you very much!!!!! Im afraid you are not going to get much support for your arguments in this crowd. What most people dont realize is that the arts, humanities, psychology departments in most universities are so massive and need to be cut down a lot in size. Otherwise the students are just being misled!!!!

    • drB says:

      Sean –
      a lot of what you say is true. A few points I disagree with:
      (1) At least in state where I am the administrators and staff are not included with faculty, and one can argue that if you do not teach, you are not faculty.

      (2) Not being a “progressive” myself (I support Paul types), the argument that progressives and their unions are to be blamed for all budget woes is wrong. Prison-industrial complex, which costs more than education in many states, is driven by drug war perpetuated by right-wing people, police/prison guard unions (left wing), and for-profit prisons (right wing). All these interests benefit from putting more people in prison.

      (3) If we assume that education is just a product, then we should give our paying customers exactly what they want. I can tell you what students want – an A without studying. Should I give everyone an A? In fact, this is what many universities have degenerated into. “We can not fail someone who pays $50K per year” is what I heard at a top private school. One can argue that universities in that respect have become much more business-like than in 50’s since they care now only about admitting as many people as possible and extracting as much money from them as possible.

      (4) Progressives definitely contribute to ruin of society through bureaucratic tinkering (affirmative action, sensitivity…), but we now have to deal with financial micromanagement and Homeland Security crap which is worse than what progressives can come up with.

      • Sean says:

        drB, that’s why I was confused on the statement about faculty. I’m a literal person, I’m accustomed to the historic, generic definitions of words.

        5. Education
        a. the entire teaching and administrative force of a university, college, or school.

        If states are going to interpret the word to mean other things, more power to em. I just happen to disagree with the interpretation.

        I did cite prison bugets as squeezing out education in the earlier section of my post, I just did not attribute it to any specific group.

        I too am a Paul person, and I can tell you that universities would not be adopting a business mindset of pleasing the customer by giving out A’s for no effort. Students don’t want A’s, they want career opportunities. Just giving them A’s does not satisfy that, as outside businesses will stop accepting degrees from institutions that adopt those practices, thus lessening the benefits students see by attending. Free-market principles at work would dictate that the colleges that provide the best opportunity for their students and prepare them best for their chosen fields of study will be satisfying their customers the best.

        You’re right that progressives exist on both wings of the political spectrum and I only cited left wing programs. Oversight on my part.

      • drB says:

        Sean –

        I teach classes of 200+ students every year. What I see is that about 20% of students care about learning. If students get an A in my course, they will have a good chance of getting into professional schools (med, pharm etc), which at least up to now guarantees good life standard. I have unlimited office hours, extra workshop every week. Only 10-20% of people take advantage of those possibilities of extra-learning. Besides, why do we have many more humanities majors compared with, lets say, Petroleum Engineering? Every petroleum engineer who is not a loser gets a well-paid job, but the major is very difficult. This flies in face of your statement of students “wanting career opportunities”. Sadly, my conclusion is that education is the only product which customers want in as small quantities as possible.

    • Jim Hutton, PhD says:


      Your post contains many excellent points (that this is not a left-wing/right-wing issue, that professors need to take more responsibility for themselves, etc.), and I hope readers will pay attention. But please note that you undermine your own arguments by politicizing the argument, yourself, and presenting “facts” that are often inaccurate, particularly on historical issues. Just two examples:

      * You claim that people paid for their own college education in the 1950s and earlier. That is patently untrue, as many of the posters to this dialog will know very well. In the late 1940s through the mid-1950s, the GI bill provided government support for more than two million American service men and women returning from World War II to attend college, and for millions more of them to receive job training of various kinds. Earlier in American history, it is true that people usually paid for their own college education, but that was not a good thing because it mostly limited higher education to the wealthiest Americans. The GI bill helped open educational opportunities to what became a large middle class that underpinned America’s greatest period of prosperity.

      * Your rant about the evils of “progressive” programs and policies is seriously misguided and completely ignores historical reality. Virtually all of the things you mention (Social Security, etc.) were direct responses to untenable situations created by abuses of capitalism or monied classes (slavery, the Wall Street crash of 1929, etc.). The two presidents historians generally rank as the greatest in American history — Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt — might also be considered the two most “liberal/progressive.” In different times, both of them would probably have behaved very differently, perhaps adopting very “conservative” policies and attitudes. Roosevelt, in particular, came from a very wealthy, patrician family, and described himself as only “a little left of center.” Yet he instituted the New Deal, which contained programs (the WPA, etc.) that were easily the most socialist in American history and would be considered extremely radical, “liberal” and “left-wing” by today’s standards. He was one of the most beloved presidents in American history, as well as one of the most effective. Today, Obama faces a situation somewhat similar to Roosevelt’s reelection bid of 1936: limited progress in cleaning up the horrendous mess left by previous administration(s). Roosevelt’s campaign theme in 1932 had been a bouncy, optimistic song called “Happy Days are Here Again,” yet by 1936 he had managed to bring down unemployment only modestly, from about 23% to about 17%, and the stock market would take 20 years to recover. Obama may yet turn out to be a dud as our president, but I shudder to think what might have happened if Americans had not had the patience to keep Roosevelt in office to guide the nation through the rest of the Depression and through World War II. (If you and I were allowed to have this conversation at all, we might be doing it in German.)

      I hope not, but I fear that the good points you make will be undermined by your flawed
      “facts” and misrepresentation of history.

      • Sean says:

        Actually Jim, I’m right on much of it.

        In 1870 a year at Harvard was $150 dollars, about $3,000 in today’s dollars. My tuition to UW Milwaukee was $3,800 per semester.

        During the 1920s, college admission doubled to 20% of all college age Americans by the end of the decade. A year at Wharton Business School would set you back $250 in the 1920s.

        As for the comment about prior to the 1950s, I was quite accurate. People did pay their own way through college, either through work or through rich parents. I did not specify WHO was paying their own college admissions. Admitedly yes only the wealthier could afford college at the time. Has that really changed much? I don’t think so, at least not if you want to get through college without massive debt.

        If you want to talk “greatest period of prosperity”, I refer you to the 1920s. Three things happened in the 1920s. The largest expansion ever of the middle class, the highest number of people going from middle class to upper class (defined as those that went from making less than $500,000 to more than $500,000) and the lowest peacetime unemployment in American history. If that’s not economic prosperity, I don’t know what is.

        By contrast, the 1950s did see an upswing in the middle class (but when coming out of the Great Depression, is that really a surprise?). It also saw a very small number of people advance OUT of the middle class to being wealthy themselves. I would think that financially, the goal of anyone should not be “to be middle class” but to advance beyond it.

        The Wall Street crash of 1929 was not capitalism run amok. It was capitalism responding to the government tinkering coming from the new Hoover administration. Harding and Coolidge through the 1920s did absolutely nothing to affect the private sector, except by cutting taxes and reducing spending. This allowed the private sector to really let loose and respond to the MARKET, not government. In 1928 Federal spending was HALF of what it was in 1919. Which by the way, 1920-21 saw a recession almost as bad as the crash of ’29. The difference between them was the response. Hoover did what Obama has done, a half-assed attempt to save certain sectors and “generate demand”. FDR (more on him shortly) followed that up with full blown deficit spending. John Maynard Keynes was all the rage this time in history and everyone was trying out his theories. They failed, and failed, and failed again. There’s a reason most of the rest of the world was coming out of the depression by the early/mid ’30s and America was just starting to hit bottom.

        As for Lincoln and Roosevelt…Lincoln I have mixed feelings about. He illegally suspended Habeus Corpus and was a bigot in his own right. Just because he believed the blacks should be free doesn’t mean he thought too highly of them. Plenty of instances of Lincoln talking down about blacks. There’s research into Lincoln that suggests his ultimate goal was to end slavery so that the blacks could be shipped back to Africa, leaving America a white nation. He successfully kept the nation from tearing in two (permanently), yes. But he also took action that precipitated that split and caused it to happen in the first place.

        As for Roosevelt, where to begin? The man was nearly a dictator by the time he died, he’s the reason the 22nd Amendment was even considered. People were scared of the power the man had aquired after nearly four full terms. He locked up Japanese Americans by the thousands based on their race. Some of his New Deal programs were ruled unconstitutional. After that, he started threatening the court. He proposed that if they won’t vote his way on court issues, he would petition to have the size of the court increased so as to stack the deck in his favor with his appointees. The man was a legal tyrant by the time he died. On many of his weekly fireside chats he spent time bashing American business and how greedy it all was. He wasn’t the biggest progressive of our line of presidents, that distinction is saved for Woodrow Wilson (eugenics/League of Nations anyone?) or LBJ(control freak), but he was not a nice man to his political opponents.

        Yet, on May 9, 1939, Roosevelt’s own Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau Jr. went before Congress and said this:
        “No, gentlemen, we have tried spending money. We are spending more than we have ever spent before and it does not work. …I say after eight years of this Administration we have just as much unemployment as when we started.”
        Sounds like success, no?

        The only reasons Lincoln and FDR are touted as great presidents is because no one wants to look badly at the men that presided over some of the darkest times in our history. But the cold hard truth is that these men were not ideal leaders. Lincoln had some character, integrity, and he did follow the principles of the Constitution better than most. But it doesn’t change the fact that he was a bigot. FDR was a ruthless politican that believed the ends justify the means and that things like help for the elderly would only happen at the end of a gun through government force. He did successfully lead us to victory in WWII. His only redeeming action.

      • Jim Hutton, PhD says:


        Say WHAT?! Did you read and understand the information I provided about the GI bill? Once again, from the mid-1940s to the mid-1950s roughly 2.2 million college students did NOT pay for college through work or through rich parents. The GOVERNMENT paid for their tuition and living expenses as part of the GI bill, which also included several other benefits for veterans, such as low-cost loans for houses, loans to start a business or a farm, and a year of unemployment compensation. An additional 6.6 million veterans took advantage of training programs funded by the GI bill. The 2.2 million vets who attended college during that 10-year period represented a large percentage of American students enrolled in college (in 1950, for example, total college enrollment was roughly 2 million). [The history of government vs. private funding of higher education is a very relevant point of discussion, to the extent that some groups and public officials are pushing hard for greater subsidies, while other groups and officials believe that subsidies are a major source of the inflation in higher education that has made college unaffordable for so many young Americans.]

        Many of your other “facts” are equally distorted or just downright wrong. Just a few more quick examples:

        * The percentage of college-age people attending college was not 20% at the end of the 1920’s. It was roughly 7%.

        * The recession of 1920-21 was not even remotely as bad as the depression that followed the 1929 market crash. The recession saw unemployment rise to the neighborhood of 10%, maybe less, while the Depression saw unemployment of almost 25%. The stock market dropped roughly 20% during the recession but almost 90% during the Depression.

        * While you are correct in stating that the 1920s posted great-looking economic statistics, the prosperity of that decade was pretty much an illusion, a classic economic bubble that created paper wealth which vanished when the stock market crashed and the Depression ensued. It took about 20 years for the stock market to recover from the excesses of the 1920s.

        As for your mischaracterizations of the stock market crash, Lincoln, Roosevelt and others, it would take me many pages to correct all the false and misleading statements. You have lost all credibility by doubling down on the misstatements in your original post, instead of acknowledging them, and by compounding the problem with a whole new batch of misstatements in your follow-up post. In addition, much of your discussion has moved far away from the core topic of the dialog,

        Suffice to say that I withdraw my recommendation for people to read your original post.

      • Sean says:

        Jim, you misread what I wrote. I did not say the recession of 1920-21 was bad as the Great Depression. I said it was almost as bad as the crash of ’29. You’re own stats are not right and you are calling mine wrong. On 3 Nov 1919, the Dow Jones was at 119.6. On 24 August 1921 it was 63.9. That is a 47% decline, not 20%. The Dow Jones after ’29, went from a peak of 381.17 in Sept 1929, to hovering around 200 in 1931. That’s a 52% decline. It didn’t really bottom out until almost 3 years after the crash in mid 1932. Unemployment peaked out yes, at about 10-11% depending on the source during the 1919-1921 recession. If you look at unemployment 2 years after the ’29 crash, in 1931, it was only slightly higher about 13%. The 25% number you cite did not occur until the mid 1930s. I’d say a 2-3 point difference in unemployment coupled with a 5 point gap in the stock market, over the same period (approx 2 years) indicates they were pretty similar.

        The crash of ’29 was not the low point in the Great Depression. That’s because Hoover and FDR’s policies made it much worse (hence why all the worst stats for the Great Depression are years after the crash of ’29 instead of in 1930). You can’t count all of the 1930s as the fault of the ’29 crash. Doing that would be like blaming Bush for slump we still find ourselves in. The country did not recover until after WWII when 2.2 million people were cut from the Federal payroll. The Keynesians at the time cried foul and said that kind of influx of unemployed into the market, combined with the massive downsizing of Federal spending, would doom the country. What does that tell you?

        As for the statement about paper wealth, that’s partly true (I say partly because the US was still on the gold standard). The 1920s did create a credit bubble that ultimately burst in 1929. That credit bubble was thanks to the Fed expanding the money supply too much too fast and then artificially contracting it. Without the Fed pumping money into the economy, yes the stats would not look as pretty as they did and we likely would not have had a crash in ’29. Would unemployment have reached 3% without the Fed’s easy money? Probably not. But the fact remains that without government interference, the lives of the middle class and people in general in the country rose very well during the ’20s. Every economic indicator of quality of life went up. Would they have risen as much without the Fed? Probably not. Would they have still risen without the Fed? More than likely.

        I’m not advocating for easy money policies, that’s what Paul Krugman does. What I am advocating for is the laissez-faire approach to the market. If the government doesn’t interfere, there’s more than enough evidence to suggest that people will fix these problems on their own.

        I never disputed that the GI bill paid for college for a lot of people or that it didn’t help those people. What I am disputing is that it was a good idea. Look at the inflation rates of colleges. They start to go up faster than standard inflation about the time government started paying for college for people. It’s simple economic fact that subsidies inflate prices. When someone else is paying for it, more people consume it, i.e. prices rise. This isn’t “theory” or “belief”, it’s straight up fact. Find one instance of a wholly or mostly subsidized product that saw prices drop.

        As for the 20% remark, it may be right, it may be wrong. But I haven’t found anything that said as low as 7%, though if you are taking percentage of all adults perhaps that is accurate. Lowest I found was 12%, but that same source does say that college admissions doubled through the 1920s and that the middle class supplied the greatest proportion of those students.
        12% source:
        Pages 32/33
        20% source:

        I’m sorry I don’t accept the government approved accounts of Lincoln and Roosevelt. Lincoln was still a pretty decent president, FDR not so much. His only saving grace was winning the war. Domestically, the man was a terrible president. He stomped all over the Constitution and the rights of citizens, he usurped power from Congress and he made political enemies out of private citizens.

        As for going off topic, you were the one that brought up the GI bill, the Depression, etc. I am simply responding to your accusations that I don’t know what I’m talking about.

      • Jim Hutton, PhD says:

        Oh my gosh, Sean. No wonder your statistics and your perceptions are so totally messed up. The sources you cite are (a) a pop book for juveniles that does not even cite the source of its statistics, and (b) an internet best-colleges website that references another pop book as the source of its statistics. For a serious discussion like this, you need to use legitimate sources and accurate statistics and information, not a bunch of crazy stuff that’s posted on the internet, or caricatures and myths found in books designed for teenagers.

        Just one example: With regard to the percentage of college-aged Americans who were attending college at the end of the 1920s, you should refer to a serious source like the National Center of Education Statistics of the U.S. Department of Education. Their 1993 publication, “125 Years of American Education: A Statistical Profile” indicates that there were an estimated 1,101,000 college students in the U.S., or 7.2% of the estimated 15,207,000 Americans aged 18-24. That is far below your wildly inaccurate original assertion of 20%, and still far below your “revised” assertion of 12-20%. And that does not even consider that the Department of Education report used a more liberal definition of “college aged population” (18-24 years old, vs. 18-21 in your sources), which would make your numbers even more inaccurate. You should have been suspicious about the credibility of your sources when you saw such a broad range of estimates, given that population and enrollment numbers are relatively easy to track. As it turns out, ALL of your sources on this point — and on many of your other points — are quite inaccurate.

        I highly recommend that we end this particular dialog immediately.

      • Sean says:

        Jim, I’m not going to get into an argument about what sources are more credible. I will however point out your blatantly false statement that the “pop book” does not cite sources. See those little numbers next to many of the sentences? Those are source cited notes. So don’t tell me the book doesn’t cite sources because it does.

        Also, you failed to cite any year for the data you provided. Kind of an important point.

        Lastly, I find your logic faulty as you seem to think 1 potential error is reason enough to discount “all” of my argument as that has been only 1 small piece of it. Are you telling me Roosevelt DIDN’T lock up Japanese Americans by the thousands? Or that he didn’t threaten the SCOTUS to pack the court with justices so they’d abide by him? Or that he didn’t confiscate the gold of private citizens? Or that he didn’t bash businesses on an almost weekly basis during his fireside chats? Are you saying Henry Morgenthau didn’t say what I said he said to Congress? Because that is all historical fact, not conjecture or estimation.

        You latch onto one error, which I won’t dispute may be questionable, and seem to think that is reason enough to discount everything without even attempting to address the rest of what I said.

      • Sean says:

        By the way, that degree I got from UW Milwaukee? IT related and I’m not even using it.

        I am very much and advocate of self-learning instead of institutionalized learning. I’ve learned more reading on my own than I ever did at a college.

  166. N says:

    I very much appreciate this article as I had never looked into the history of America’s ever increasing tuition. I am starting my master’s this Fall and had no option but to take out loans. The USA prides itself on being the best and the most powerful. Impossible! when you impoverish your students. I had the great opportunity to study abroad in Europe and could quite clearly see the difference in education. My European counterparts were far more knowledgeable at an earlier age. And the amount I have to pay for tuition compared to them is preposterous! $60,000 compared to 2000 euros!!! FAIL!

    • Jim Hutton, PhD says:

      FYI: When I was in England last summer, visiting a few colleges, I was surprised to find that the British education system is instituting massive increases in tuition that will change the nature of their higher education system. I think that one or more of the Scandinavian countries may still have free or very low-cost tuition. But at least some parts of Europe are feeling the tuition pinch as much or more than the U.S.

  167. Pingback: How The American University was Killed, in Five Easy Steps | HigherEd: Disrupted or Disruptor? Your Choice. |

  168. Zach G. says:

    I’ve had a subconscious realization of this ever since I left college at Ohio State. While I was there, I started thinking about the kind of conditions that were present during the 1960s and 70s and how they had changed. The issues of social justice and equity are still present, but most students are so focused on just getting a job that they could care less about sweatshops making university clothing, etc. (there is probably a list a mile long). After college I went to law school in Cleveland and am working in housing and property law.

    I’ve continued to wrestle with this idea. Law school really did give me some important tools that I think would be helpful to this project. The law is nothing more than a tool designed to achieve a specific end, and there are ways (although challenging) to re-purpose that tool to serve a better purpose. One idea with which I am especially interested in exploring is a co-op model of education. Think New School meets your local community college. The potential is there, especially in the Rust Belt. The “Cleveland Model” in community development (as opposed to gentrification) is really gaining traction.

    If you would be interested in speaking more, you can reach me at

    • VanessaVaile says:

      Zach. I’ve been reading about different models of these, plus following OER (open education resources) movement closely and would like to learn more.


  169. D says:

    1. Subsidizing anything shifts the demand curve to the right and HAS to lead to higher prices. This is basic econ. Education and Health Care are the two most heavily subsidized areas of the economy, its no surprise that they are the two areas with some of the highest cost inflation. 2. Corporations want more education, not less. If “they” wanted to destroy eduction, all they would have to do is stop requiring college degrees for jobs. To the contrary, corporations are most likely the single biggest indirect (and direct, in many cases) supporter of universities. 3. Its pretty insulting to compare the Soviet Union to anything that is going on today. Tens of millions of people were murdered by their government. Our “poor” live far better today than anyone in the USSR did save the Politburo. 4. Education IS a problem- its a bubble right now. For many people a college degree simply doesn’t add enough value to justify the incredible cost. The most popular solution- more government assistance- will only drive costs higher.

  170. scottmaiorca says:

    This was spot on. We need to wake up and decide that the business model in education, and government for that matter, isn’t the right model.

  171. John Lovaas says:

    There are so many things happening–or that have happened–that go hand in hand with the revamping of higher education in order to reduce its threat level and for profit.
    Consider how the police function works in the United States as opposed to how it worked and interfaced with the American people on the streets in the 1960s,-with some exceptions.
    Police are now armed and equipped like military forces, not civilian police forces. The rules bar meaningful public protests for all practical purposes, and they permit/encourage maximum use of physical force to put down even incipient protests.
    Think of it–peaceful but visible groups of protesters can no longer get within blocks of public officials, or international organizations (like IMF/World Bank meetings in Washington), or political candidates campaigning for office. If you try, you are confronted and threatened by SWAT=type forces.
    Your article here is indeed on the mark, an important piece of a much larger fabric for destruction of our once-vibrant democracy.

  172. There is a good article at
    very much related to the same issue.
    Personally I am afraid that everything, not only education in US, goes drastically down. In the past I used to buy cheese that was 100% cheese, now I am lucky if I can get a “cheese” that contains 50% of cheese (what is the rest?). In short – whatever I touch it imitates something that in the past was a real thing. In bookshops I find a number of books that are a pure pulp. No one will buy them and no one will read them. At the same time valuable books never got second edition. University textbooks have 600 or 800 or even more pages. Who will be able to cover them in one semester lecture. …
    I guess all this has a name GREED. or RAPACITY.

  173. Ken Morris says:

    I have three college degrees, one a graduate degree in what turned out to be worth not very much in the world outside the classroom. I worked as an adjunct faculty member in at least three or four different colleges for several years after my M.A., making hardly anything. I came to understand what had happened to me: it wasn’t a corporatist plot or a right-wing conspiracy, as the author of this feverish article would have us believe. What happened to me? I had ignored economic reality like a man walking carelessly, happily, on a canyon ledge ignores gravity.

    Twenty years ago it was far too easy to get financial aid for a degree that lacked rigor or viability in the market place. I saw this in my discipline both as a student and an instructor. I saw this in other disciplines, too. Judging by how sinfully high student loan debts are now, and how many degreed persons there are serving me coffee at Starbucks, I can’t say much has changed. It is clear that higher education has inflated its prices enormously — all objective sources are clear on this — and this inflation far outpaces the overall consumer price inflation. (By the way, price inflation follows an increase in the flow of capital, not a decrease. In other words, plenty of money has been poured into university systems throughout the U.S.)

    There is an important role for higher education in a free, prosperous society, but who and what are to blame when a higher education system radically increases its prices while also decreasing the value of the product? Most of the states are broke, beyond broke really, and the federal government is worse than this. Tax payers will not support the kinds of tax increases that would be necessary to make higher education financially whole in the way this author (and many others in higher education) would like. In this climate of austerity, higher education will continue to exist, but there will be some painful economic reckoning.

  174. This essay resonates so strongly with me that I’ve done something for the first time on my blog: I posted a link and excerpt as the feature attraction. I walked away from the irredeemably corrupt system for many reasons, some of which you describe. As a tenured full professor by the age of 40, I had the brass ring. But my conscious wouldn’t allow me to stay in that position.

  175. Voiceless in America says:

    Reblogged this on Voiceless in America.

  176. freepinellas says:

    This was a really well-written article. I posted a link on the Free Pinellas Facebook Page. Please check out to read a few of the articles. We seem to have similar views on corporate control and the illusion of public dependence on entrenched systems.

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  179. J. Palmer says:

    The idea of a giant right-wing conspiracy to destroy higher education seems a little far-fetched. To be honest, I don’t give extreme right-wingers enough intellectual credit to pull it off.

    This doesn’t mean that any of the 5 steps listed are invalid; they are just more likely symptomatic of America’s lustful relationship with pure capitalism which has created a culture that values money over education, math/science over arts, financial success over personal growth, established ideas over new ones, etc.

    The idea of a bunch of old rich white guys purposefully plotting this stuff out (and actually executing their diabolical scheme) just reaches too far.

    • nufio says:

      Math/Science over arts!!!??? Are you serious?
      According to your logic, adjunct faculty valuing education over money should not be complaining about low pay?

      • J. Palmer says:

        I am responsible for finding and hiring adjuncts within my department, and I have found, as with most things in life, you get what you pay for. Good adjuncts are hard to find and harder to keep because they often leave for more lucrative jobs at…well, anywhere. The exploitation of adjuncts will catch up with colleges eventually.

        Adjuncts complaining about pay is irrelevant. Organizing, as they are doing on this blog, is far more productive. No one is forcing the labor upon them, and when decent adjuncts accept positions for peanuts, they are either perpetuating the problem, or performing a labor of love for which the compensation is intrinsic. Either way complaining is worthless.

        I was an adjunct for three years, but I didn’t complain about the pay because I signed a contract at the beginning of each semester that defined the compensation. There were no surprises and I entered into the contract willingly; therefore, to cry about my pay would only make me look like a fool that doesn’t read or understand the concept of a contract.

      • sethkahn says:

        J. Palmer: There are lots of reasons people become adjunct faculty, and some very understandable reasons that people consent to exploitation in the way you’re describing.

        That doesn’t make it OK to tilt a whole system against them, or to take advantage of a system tilted against them by blaming them for it. I’m involved in ntt hiring for my department too, and I’d sure never tell somebody who complained about the situation, “Well, you asked for it.”

      • J. Palmer says:

        I am empathetic to the plight of the adjunct, but I have little sympathy for complainers of any ilk. That is all I am saying.

      • sethkahn says:

        I guess we could have a long conversation unpacking the verb “complain” and maybe (I’ll be optimistic here) realize we’re not really saying terribly different things. But sympathy on the part of people like us is limited without action, just like “complaining” is. I don’t know anything about where you work and whether your hiring authority extends beyond screening applications and submitting a candidate pool to your chair or dean. If that’s all the authority you have, you might not be able to make much of a stand. But if you have anything to say about whether people are getting hired part-time or full-time, whether any of those positions come with any benefits, whether salaries are negotiable and you’re willing to help negotiate, etc–those are issues that people in our positions can, and I’d argue most, fight for, or we’re worse than complicit in the system.

      • VanessaVaile says:

        I wonder, would those “sympathetic” to “plight” but annoyed by “complainers” prefer meaningful action? Support walkouts, tweed flu, protests, petitions, etc? Or is “sympathetic but annoyed” code for NIMBY?


      • Ken Morris says:

        The person who mows my lawn has recently demanded that I pay him more money, substantially more money, for the effort. I shopped around and found several other people who would take the price I have been paying him. What in the world am I to do?

  180. Publion says:

    Excellent piece and its demand for broad and deep discussion and deliberation is spot-on.

    I would submit the following in furtherance of the discussion:

    The purpose and objective of a university education changed since the 1960s. From teaching students to think and analyze and giving them a broad knowledge-base the objective changed to ‘socialization’ – which precisely means getting students used to ‘fitting in’ to Things As They Are.

    This served a number of purposes. First, with the Family and its authority and its adult parenting declining (which is a story all its own), some public (and governmental-friendly) organization had to be pressed into service to somehow socialize the young.

    Second, with the government engorging its authority to include rapidly changing the cultural life and even cultural and philosophical presumptions about Life among the Citizenry, then some (government-friendly – and ideally government-indentured) organization had to be pressed into service as a vehicle for terraforming the next generation(s) of Citizens.

    Third, by pouring public monies into universities under various guises (tuition-help, defense-related ‘research’ and other such grants and programs and projects) then universities are further indentured to the government’s cultural and personal/individual terraforming agenda.

    Fourth, given the new objective of ‘socialization’, then the professoriate can be whittled away (as you clearly and acutely demonstrate in your article) and instead, battalions of Correct- life-style administrative types can be hired, with all the attendant pandemonium and panoply, to oversee the ‘socialization’ process and ensure that the Correct ‘culture’ is inculcated in the students.

    • Jim Hutton, PhD says:

      Nice post, Publion. You may be right. But I think that “socialization” may be too charitable a description of what’s happening now in the U.S. When I teach in Europe and Asia, and ask my students there “What is the purpose of an education?,” they usually come up with something similar to what you suggest was happening in American colleges in the 1960s: to learn how to think and analyze and develop a broad based knowledge. When I ask American students the same question, though, the answers are almost always “to get a job,” “to get a GOOD job,” “to make more money” or “to improve job security.” (I’m disturbed by the number of posters to this dialog who seem to reflect that opinion, as well, suggesting that the purpose of a higher education is simply vocational and economic.)

      Especially the Americans but even many of the Asians and Europeans give me a blank stare when I tell them what Cicero said was the purpose of an education: “to free ourselves from the tyranny of the present.” Few of the Americans can really even relate to Ciscero’s definition because, in the space of a couple of generations, the purpose of higher education in America has been turned virtually upside down. Whereas traditional notions of education related to thinking broadly and deeply about issues that affect all of mankind, today the purpose of higher education is basically the opposite — to think narrowly and shallowly about only yourself.

      • nufio says:

        yet the whole post is about adjunct faculty making less money and having less job security. Irony?

  181. vicki says:

    Is anyone in the process of creating a not for profit University in San Diego? If so I’d love to be a part of it :

  182. aaakim says:

    I found about adjunct faculty positions as I was finishing up my Ph.D. dissertation and looking for jobs. Right away, I realized what abject exploitation that was and made a decision not to take any of these positions. My reasoning was that if no-one took them, the exploitation would have to stop. I pulled through with a short postdoc and was lucky enough to get a full time faculty position at a small, liberal art school. That means that I do work long hours for small pay, but my work has meaning and it is not 100% exploitation, just 60%. I don’t know what I would have done if I had not been that fortunate. I understand that some people have to pay student loans and feed their family.

  183. Oaktown Steve says:

    When Raygun was elected governor, he started defunding education, especially higher education. He and the other conservatives did indeed see colleges, especially public colleges, as unamerican. Of course, Nixon set the stage with his Moral Majority mantra. Us v. them. I started at a UC campus in fall of 1965 and I think student fees for the whole year were $289. Presently the state of california provides something on the order of 10% of the UC budgets, the rest comes from private fundraising.

  184. bizarrojones says:

    Reblogged this on bizarrojones and commented:
    This is an important article for everyone in higher ed.

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  186. Ana M. Fores says:

    AND this is why it is so important that we unite; one voice, one mind, one national union!

    • David Cooper says:

      And that union should be the American Federation of Teachers. AFT has already established union locals for adjuncts on some campuses. And they have “muscle” to fight for better salaries, benefits, and working conditions.

      • VanessaVaile says:

        But it is not the only higher ed union. Arguing for one over others feels like it could get in the way of working together, reinforce divisions we must find a way to get past


      • I agree with Vanessa here. What we need is a coalition so that our strength becomes knit really strongly — I’m thinking steel cable — across the country, so that contracts are negotiated not with “what the market will bear” region to region, but what the requirements are nationally. Thinks Actors Equity, SAG/AFTRA, the Writers’ Union. When one of these organizations is struggling with contract negotiations, the others stand with them. They will shut down the whole industry – and have – in order to fight for what’s fair and equitable. Without that strength, we’ve been 25 years fighting a losing battle.

  187. Fantastic piece. Just wonderful. It’s nice to see so many of the endemic problems of modern academia discussed in a single, comprehensive essay. I hope that a great many people who are unconvinced of the crisis see it.

    I think that a significant trend in combating this situation will be the establishment of smaller, alternative educational institutions, which are free of corporate influence. I touched upon this in a recent post of mine here:

    • Thanks for this link, Edward. I’ll take a look at the post. I’ve talked to others about this – a way to rebuild, from the ground up, with educators and students at the center, free of the administrative glut and this horrible Edu-factory model. I did the math today – one of the universities for which I teach just increased their class cap to 27. ONE of those students’ tuition equals my pay. Where does the other $91,000 go that they make for that class, and for all the other fully enrolled classes taught by adjuncts? I think 1) parents would be pretty darn angry to know that we make less than 1/25 of the tuition being paid by those students, and 2) when legislators start talking about “transparency” and “outcomes” they need to be given these statistics.

  188. Ana M. Fores says:

    We seriously need to talk then. We need help here in Texas. I don’t know how many are out there, as they keep us apart, but I bet if you come out in a unified voice, we will be there. But I haven’t heard of the AFT anywhere around here… I just looked you up online, too, and it said there was nothing within 50 miles of here. I doubt even within 100 miles. Texas is taboo country for unions, but we need them. We need something ;-(

    • VanessaVaile says:

      Texas… I’d find welders or pipe fitters to ask for advice, old pipeline hands, union men


      • sethkahn says:

        The big problem with a “national union” is that states’ labor laws differ wildly. Probably the most relevant example–in some so-called “Right to Work” states (I throw up in my mouth every time I say that phrase), people can unionize. But the unions are legally precluded from engaging in any kind of organized job action. That is, it’s against the law to strike. In others, you can strike but there’s nothing to protect you from being fired as soon as you do. This is why big national unions have local chapters–they have to be able to respond to local conditions, among which are laws governing what they can and can’t do.

        Without the ability to strike legally, unions struggle for a viable threat to leverage against mistreatment. I’m a strong advocate of unions anyway, but it’s very important to understand what they do and don’t enable.

      • Ana M. Fores says:

        But then, how do the unions that Debra talks about work? Because they do. How do the Actors’ Equity or the Writers’ Union pull it off? How did the nurses do it?

      • sethkahn says:

        There are a bunch of models for how that can work that distribute authority among the national office and the local chapters differently.

        Like I said, I’m not arguing that some kind of national union is necessarily a bad idea, although some people will make that case. I’m just saying that the obvious weapon a union wields, the strike, isn’t available everywhere.

      • VanessaVaile says:

        Seth, that’s why I suggested seeking out this group to talk to ~ they would know local working conditions and have union experience albeit in a very different area. Having worked with them in LA (which makes TX look labor friendly), I give them high marks on being straight with advice, including tips on how to protect yourself navigating a hostile workplace.

        I would wonder too how NLRB protection of “concerted activity” ( might play out … still very high risk though.

        Yes, states have their own labor codes. I heard more than a little about that when my daughter was on the New Mexico PELRB, but there is or should be a place for working on advocating for consistency at a national level, if only to clarify existing law that should protect those trying to organize in hostile territory. 


      • sethkahn says:

        I agreee, Vanessa, that advocating nationally for changes in labor rights is crucial for labor writ large, and that contingent labor may well be a catalyst for that. But I hesitate to put that kind of pressure on a population already so at risk. Always a hard problem to solve–the reason a group of people needs to organize is at the heart of the difficulty in doing so.

      • VanessaVaile says:

        I’ve seen it first hand and heard accounts, as have you. I’ve walked the plank for risk taking ~ no regrets ~ but did not have dependents so it was just me.

        It’s a hard call. I see this happening ~ and not all at once ~ as a network or series of distributed networks with multiple nodes and connections between networks. Viewed over time, I see that happening.

      • Bill Staffen says:

        That’s right. Here in PA the faculty have APSCUF ( Because it’s a state scool the staff memers are part of a nantional (public) union, AFSCME. ( I do not think faculty would want to nationalize that way, but I’m sure a conference on behalf of multiple state unions would be welcome.

      • sethkahn says:

        Hi Bill: Which campus are you on? I’m at West Chester, where I serve on our local APSCUF EC and as local Grievance Chair. I also sit on our delegation to the state Legislative Assembly. If you want to have a more one-on-one discussion off the blog (and this is true for anyone else too, of course), email me at .

        APSCUF has gotten involved with a national pro-higher-ed organizing effort called the Campaign For the Future Higher Education. The California Faculty Association is also deeply involved in this project, as are several other higher ed faculty unions across the country and some non-union pro-faculty groups.

        I know there was some discussion at their last national planning meeting to do contingent labor advocacy, but I wasn’t there and don’t really know the details of what they discussed. I do know that a good friend at one of the Cal State campuses, another tenured professor committed to contingent labor equity, was part of that discussion. I just haven’t had time to track down the details.

      • Bill Staffen says:

        Hi Seth, I’m at California. Though I support the struggle of educators, I am not one, myself. I’m a member of AFSCME local 2322.

      • sethkahn says:

        Gotcha, Bill. Hope your APSCUF and AFSCME chapters work well together. Our campuses are very complicated with all the different unions. Not sure about CalU, but we have 5 different collective bargaining agents active on campus. And as you likely know, it’s illegal in PA to respect another union’s picket, so in the event of a strike, it’s really tricky for all of us to maintain the line without committing civil disobedience…

      • Ana M. Fores says:

        This is where it all gets so crazy! Is there anything we can do to smooth out this process, to begin working together, to build something new, something strong, like steel?

      • sethkahn says:

        There are thousands of things we can, Ana. We just can’t go on strike together in certain places without breaking the law. That complicates things because it takes away one obvious tool, but it hardly exhausts the possibilities.

        In some ways the conversation that’s happened on this post embodies the biggest barriers we face. There are serious misunderstandings even among groups of faculty (ntt/tt/etc) about motives and intentions. In some cases, people have (I presume unwittingly) reinforced what I wanted to believe were misunderstandings–people have said some nasty sh*t to each other and several times been really wrong when they did it. There are structural issues, the most difficult of which you noted–the difficulty of getting contingent faculty members in touch with each other, even finding out who you are on all our campuses.

        So I’d make two general calls, and I’ll probably write a more extensive version of this on my own blog sometime soon.

        1. Especially those of us who are tt/tenured faculty: no matter how sympathetic you say you are to contingent faculty, please start acting like it. Even if it’s not widespread programmatic change or evangelical cajoling, just being aware of how *your own choices* affect your department’s hiring practices is a step in the right direction.

        2. Help grow the network among contingent faculty on your campus. Keep a phone tree, an email distribution list, what have you, and add people to it as you find them.

      • Bill Staffen says:

        Certainly, it’s the same here at Cal with so many unions. Probably the same ones as West Chester: SCUPA, etc. Regarding AFSCME talking to APSCUF, no, we mostly just try to stay out of each other’s way. A few years ago we (AFSCME) moved out contract length from 3 to 4 years simply because the APSCUF was on a 4 year set and that year (03 I think?) AFSCME and APSCUF were both bargaining with the administration at the same time – it was a nightmare. The administration tried to pit the unions against each other, and the only good thing that came out of it was the knowledge that it won’t ever happen again.

        I only brought up AFSCME in this thread at all because it is a successful national union, and I wanted to draw a comparison between a national public union and … honestly, I am not sure what APSCUF even is – a private trade union? Is a teachers union not considered a trade union? Anyway, I think nationalizing the teachers union would be tricky at best, considering the amount of personal control professors like to exercise compared to say, a white collar AFSCME member. Having the numbers is nice, but more numbers means more compromise and that may become a serious issue for a very great number of teachers who so cherish their independence. This blog has been informative though (I’d never before heard of Adjuncts referred to as ‘contingent’ faculty) and I don’t recall ever hearing about professors on my own campus being terribly unhappy with the status of adjuncts vs tenured faculty. I suspect that as enlightening as this blog is to me, the other readers may find just as enlightening my or your perspectives on the matter considering we are in a system with a strong faculty union and how that environment is different from that of say, Texas.

        This discussion has really moved; I had made a few comments earlier about the ‘luxury’ status of a master’s degree as oppose to being an ‘investment’, but that’s far and away a different topic than the importance of unionizing faculty so as to stop denigrating or abusing adjuncts. Similarly, I think a finer point needs to be put on the matter of education for the sake of entering the workforce vs education for the sake of being a researcher, a more complete human being, etc. One group denying the existence of the other is not fruitful and I think it’s hard to deny that some students (and some schools!) are there to receive or provide advanced workforce training, whereas others feel called upon to receive education for the sake of education and where those two sometimes meet. In reference to this meeting point, I reference my own situation where I received my BS in Computer Science so that I could support myself, but would now like a MS or EE degree more as a matter of personal improvement.

      • David Cooper says:

        Unions are organized by locals. A multi-state union would be impossible to manage. The officers need to meet at least twice a year which requires a meeting place, hotel stays, and food. Large trade unions have their own union halls where meetings are held. Often our union brothers and sisters in the trade unions will let us use their halls for meetings. Also, young people need to learn the history of unions. Many corporations such as Target require new hires to view anti-union propaganda. And some states have “right to work” for less laws. Many European countries have strong unions while America’s union membership is decreasing.

  189. Ana M. Fores says:

    And AFT is not here anyway. Maybe what we should do is try to unite all the unions to one voice? Sit everyone down together to come up with a national plan? Easier said than done, I know…

    • David Cooper says:

      AFT will come if you invite them. NEA does a good job of representing K-12 faculty, but it doesn’t do much in higher education while AFT does both.

      • Ana M. Fores says:

        I am only a lone voice out here. I do not know my fellow colleagues, and I do not talk to anyone. This is why I joined these online groups, to know that I was not alone, that I was not an island. I doubt you will want to come for one. But I am hoping with this, through the NFM, though Debra, through Vanessa, through the rest of these wonderful fighters, more and more people will start coming out of the shadows and stop being afraid. After all, what do we have to lose?

      • Ana, that is one of the reasons I formed ‘Junct Rebellion – because I felt so alone and broken by this exploitation and struggle. I completely sympathize with what you are describing; and yes, I believe it is intentional. The lack of offices, for instance, keeps us off campus because we have no “place” there. It’s even worse, from what I understand, with online for-profit teaching, where teachers are actively prevented from joining in any kind of online conversation groups. David, what we need is a whole new method of unionizing, I think. This school by school model too often fails. For that, I think the NLRB has to be addressed; laws need to change. Any ideas with that?

      • Ana M. Fores says:

        This year they made it even more so. They had the beginning of the year meetings separated by position: TTs today, NTTs on Tuesday. And we were not allowed to talk to one another, basically. They gave us sets of instructions, class times, and off you go. Do not linger… At the same time, the chairman kept stressing how the school could not do it without our work, the adjuncts who are the backbone of the institution! In the meantime one colleague is looking for a place to live because she is basically homeless right now, while another had to sell plasma over the summer, as he did not get any work and could not collect unemployment. Yes, we definitely need a national union, a strong union that advocates for all of us.

      • David Cooper says:

        Junctrebellion, unfortunately, faculties have to be organized one union at a time unless several faculties get together and organize statewide. In my state, Kentucky, we, community college faculty have organized a state wide union; however, the faculty at four-year institutions are not organized although a few belong to AAUP. One of the problems college educated people have is our stereotype of unions as being for just blue-collar people, who by the way earn more than we do if they are unionized. We have to drop our snobbery or we will continue to be exploited. Did you know that some ceos only have a bachelor’s degree? When I learned that by serving on a board, I was incensed. As professionals we are woefully underpaid.

  190. Wanted to tell everybody that our blog here was picked up by Steve Denning At Forbes. I would encourage you to head over there and join the conversation if you would like. It’s important, since that is an BIG step out beyond the walls of academia, that we bring our own experiences and perspective. So far, I haven’t seen any of the “lazy professor” propaganda; there’s been some really intelligent conversation. Here is the link: