[lbo-talk] A public square

andie nachgeborenen andie_nachgeborenen at yahoo.com
Tue May 22 08:36:07 PDT 2007

You are of course right that PhDs are vastly overqualified for most extra-academic employment. And certainly the oversupply of PhD's in the academic job market creates a huge reserve army of the un- and underemployed that depresses willingness and ability to organize effectively; I erred in leaving out that crucial point, which is probably fundamental.

For the rest, I can't agree. I don't think that the professoriat is more organized than other groups. By "professional associations that wield more power than the average labor union," you mean what, the American Association of University Professors? Give me a break Woj, the AAUP is powerless and ineffective. The American Philosophical Association or the American Political Science Association? Excuse me, but if I were running for office I'd rather have the endorsement of Carpenters Local 59. At least then I could count on some votes.

I don't know, by the way, what bombastic rhetoric you are talking about with regard to unions. "Buy American," maybe? Have you read any union literature lately? Probably not, or you wouldn't say that. It's soporific. Bombast would be an improvement.

In terms of defending the interests of their members, any other-than-union academic professional associations suck. Accordingly, and this leads to the next point, working conditions, pay, and job opportunities suck.

Your notion that "professors have a greater degree of self-management, especially at the departmental level," than most workers reflects the point of view of a tenured professor. Adjuncts and grad students of course can't even participate in departmental decisions.

Tenured and tenure track professors are a bare majority of teaching faculty in higher education, a proportion that has been falling steadily.

The Organization of American Historians Newsletter says

46 percent of college faculty today are part-timers, most in the thirty-five to sixty-four year age range, and a quarter hold a Ph.D. Admittedly, adjuncts come from many ranks, but as one recent survey demonstrated, a growing minority (29 percent) is devoted to part-time teaching as a career. To this group, especially those with Ph.D.s, denial of research support becomes a professional glass ceiling. Granting agencies aggravate this problem by targeting full-timers. Excluded, part-timers face year-round employment in multiple jobs with little time or resources left for scholarly development.


See also from the Chronicle of Higher Education in 2001:

>From 1975 to 1999, the proportion of full-time faculty
members in non-tenure-track positions increased to 28 percent from 19 percent. Recent estimates suggest that 45 percent of all new hires in academe are on the non-tenure track, including 65 percent at research universities.


Even at Yale, where elite teaching is a theoretical priority only

30 percent of classroom instruction in Yale College is performed by "ladder faculty," a term that refers to professors with or without tenure. Part-time and adjunct instructors do another 30 percent of the teaching, the report said, with graduate students accounting for the other 40 percent.


>From the point of view of tenure track but untenured
faculty, a relatively privileged group because it at least is on the tenure track, there is indeed more self-management than for average workers, and one has a written employment contract with, typically, a terminal year rather an employment at will -- no small benefit, and other workers don't have anything like that as a rule unless they have a union. But the view from below is considerably less rosy than from the perspective of tenured faculty.

Finally, "radicalize" is not a precisely defined term, but it is not meaningless, neither does it designate Oedipal attitudinizing. In the context it means, and here I track Chuck, going to the root of a systematic problem and attempting to do something systematic about it in a way that involves a goal of large-scale social transformation. It is compatible with the utmost cultural conservatism. At work I wear a suit and tie; decades ago I cut my hair and shaved my beard when I decided that I was on the far left. I publish in respectable mainstream journals and write in restrained academic prose.

I'm not defining "the root" of the systematic problem more specifically because there are different views about what that might be, but one is the view that you have at the bottom and that keeps you coming back, that shows that you have been radicalized, that the fundamental problem in our society is not the various things that you often go on about -- the childishness of the over-educated self-identified left, the social dysfunctions of the underclass, the dumbing down of culture of the lowest common denominator -- but the private ownership of productive assets.

--- Wojtek Sokolowski <sokol at jhu.edu> wrote:

> Andie:
> Why doesn't the professoriate radicalize and
> organize
> against the low salaries, job insecurity, terrible
> working conditions? Well, why doesn't any group of
> workers do that? But factors playing into academics'
> apathy include, it seems to me the highly
> individualistic conditions of work and criteria for
> success and failure, where the (self-)perception is
> that it a matter of individual merit, the virtually
> complete historical absence of unionization, the
> mobility of the national market, the extreme
> emphasis
> on productivity, and the perceived need to be a team
> player and not to rock the boat. I would not expect
> the professoriate to organize unless other sectors
> of
> the work force were already doing so in large
> numbers.
> [WS:] "Radicalize" is but meaningless mumbo jumbo
> that does not mean
> anything other than intent to piss parents and
> authority figures off.
> AFAICT, the professoriate as a group is far more
> progressive and better
> organized than the rest of society, including the
> student body. It is
> already organized in various professional
> associations that wield more
> influence than an average labor union - but do not
> employ bombastic rhetoric
> that unions often do. Moreover, professors have a
> greater degree of
> self-management, especially at the departmental
> level, than knowledge
> workers in the government or the business sector.
> The main reason behind low wages is not the lack or
> organization or
> managerial conspiracy, by the supply factor - our
> universities produce a far
> greater number of PhD's that they can effectively
> employ. There is very
> little market for PhD's outside the academia - most
> non-academic jobs not
> only do not require a PhD, but perceive them as
> being overqualified - which
> is a far worse offense than being underqualified.
> An underqualified
> employee can easily be trained, however an
> overqualified poses a risk of
> being resentful about his/her job and either leaving
> at the earliest
> opportune moment or becoming a trouble maker.
> Wojtek
> ___________________________________

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