The Trashing of Higher Ed. in America
Political Scientists and Policy Analysts are saying that American public higher education has entered a "death spiral", which signals not only the ruination of the American university system, but of democracy itself. Gone are the days when public higher education was viewed as a public good; the entire system has been under attack by the same elitist powers that have been causing a wider ruination of the middle class.
Many people outside of academia are not aware of what has happened to higher education of the last twenty-five years. Most believe that it remains the same institution that they attended back in the 1960s or 1970s, or even the early 1980s. This is not the case. It has become corporatized, a managerial class has taken over, in much the same way that it did in the American medical system, and this has caused a significant shift away from the mission of public education for the good of the citizens and the community, to a pursuit of more and more profit through the implementation of a strict capitalist corporate model.
How did this happen? Why didn't those inside, that last generation of full-time faculty, who valued the traditional educational model, push back against these changes? Cary Nelson, President of AAUP, explains that it was difficult to resist changes that were being implemented at the same time that our profession was being destroyed. And by now, nearly 2/3 of all faculty in the country are now on contingent appointments, and have no real "job" in the system, let alone any significant power. This has been called the "casualization" or the "deprofessionalization" of university faculty, and in 2011, nearly one million of us who have labored in academia over the last twenty years, are migrant workers, earning less than $25K a year with no job security, no benefits...and little real power in the university.
Chris LaBree of 2255 Films and Debra Leigh Scott, of Hidden River Arts are co-producing the documentary called 'Junct: The Trashing of Higher Ed. in America, about the tremendous damage that has been done to the American university system through its over use of "adjunct" faculty, the out of control and increasingly unaffordable tuitions, and the loss of actual high-quality education, which has been replaced with what many are calling low-quality vocational training.
Adjunct university professors can't afford the most basic of needs. Many are on food stamps, most work three and four jobs, some sell their sperm, others sell their blood, here a faculty member lives in his van, there another is fired when he gets caught sleeping in his lab because he has no money to rent an apartment. All the while, these people were teaching, often carrying full-time loads between two or three universities. This is widespread labor abuse, a national disgrace that too few seem to know about.
And, true to the corporate model, as the impoverishment of the faculty continues, the managerial class continues to increase - administrators now outnumber faculty on every campus across the country. Their salaries are increasing enormously, even though it's nearly impossible to figure out what their jobs ARE. University presidents, once grown within ranks of the faculty, have become CEOs, often with business degrees, rarely having set foot in a classroom at any point in their career. They are earning high six figure salaries, additional deferred compensation, have access to discretionary funds, and are often given homes, cars and drivers.
Higher Education has become an Edu-Factory. Those of us who come from a working class background, understood the exploitation very early, even as we were helpless to prevent it.
It becomes increasingly difficult for professional educators to actually DO the job of educating, when they are denied offices or supplies, staff support or professional development; when they are working several jobs while living in poverty.
Many universities claim that use of a part-time, contingent faculty is a way to keep costs down. But in addition to the enormous increase in administrative jobs and salaries, there are increased costs in new campus buildings and sports teams, coaches salaries; and tuitions have gone through the roof. Even at public universities, the costs are far beyond what is affordable to the average middle-class family. Loans -- enormous loans -- are the way this is being financed. Students and their parents are still being fed the myth that a college education is the only way to guarantee a good "job"....so more and more of the focus is on vocation rather than education. The sad reality is that there are no jobs. 20% of all college graduates remain unemployed, the majority of the rest of them are underemployed, working service jobs, retail jobs, jobs they could have gotten without a degree, earning very low wages, at the same time that the average student loan debt is $80,000.00. This generation of students is graduating to jobs with no living wage, and to enormous debt that they'll be paying for 30 years. This is a scam. It should be a crime. This is the creation of a whole generation of indentured workers. So on one hand we have the impoverished faculty; on the other hand we have the impoverished student. The only people benefitting here are the management class. And they aren't doing the teaching or the learning.....they are just doing the EARNING.
So how is this endangering our democracy? In several ways. First, the voices of the faculty, the scholars and intellectuals of the society, have been silenced largely through their poverty and desperation. Second, the education provided has been designed by administrative committees, and no longer includes rigorous intellectual questioning or training, focusing instead on job training for non-existent jobs. Third, this younger generation is also now highly indebted and at risk of poverty. This speaks to Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine -- keeping people in a state of trauma makes them more docile. Democracies can't survive a docile, impoverished population.
So what do we do? Is there hope of reclaiming our careers? our students' futures?
We need to write articles, blog about this, meet with parent and student groups, lobby our legislators, make documentaries.....and join forces as workers. To restore the institution of higher education, we have to take it back, move from the corporatized edu-factory to a model that is education- and student-focused. We need to create a system of real faculty-governance, and encourage students to refuse to attend college until the tuitions are under control, until we have good jobs with living wages and a restored, healthy middle class lifestyle our students can reasonably aspire to. The same way that citizens boycott when they know a product was created by abused labor in Third World countries, we should encourage boycotts of universities that refuse to provide secure jobs with good pay to their faculty.
When finished, the documentary will examine not only these issues of faculty labor abuse, the loss of real affordable, quality education and the scheme of student indebtedness. It also will examine the ways in which we can refuse to be docile. Organizing, unionizing, advocating. There will be interviews with legislators, administrators, old school tenured faculty of the last generation, who watched this corporatization happen. The goal is to present a clear picture of what the university was, what it has become, and what we might create if we come together in solidarity to reclaim American academia for its citizens.
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3 March 2014 Raging Chicken Press
#5 Completely my fault
7 Jan 2014 The Rise of Adjunct Faculty
With: Debra Leigh Scott
WHYY Radio Times
19 Sept 2013 An Adjunct's Death
The Chronicle for Higher Education
20 June 2013 Female Academics can't have it all