May 17, 2011
William Deresiewicz in Faulty Towers: The Crisis in Higher Education in the US. The effects of academic capitalism--the corporatization of the university -- makes for depressing reading. In Australia the emphasis of the current Gillard Government, which used to talk about the 'education revolution', is on ‘training’ rather than education.
Deresiewicz's argument is not just about the cut backs on the humanities or liberal arts in the US due to the economic and political pressure pushing higher education toward the “practical,” narrowly conceived: the instrumental, the utilitarian,---ie., the professional, technical and vocational training. It about the effects of the casualizaiton of academic labour. Deresiewicz says that the grad students are:
doing exactly what we always complain our brightest students don’t do: eschewing the easy bucks of Wall Street, consulting or corporate law to pursue their ideals and be of service to society. Academia may once have been a cushy gig, but now we’re talking about highly talented young people who are willing to spend their 20s living on subsistence wages when they could be getting rich (and their friends are getting rich), simply because they believe in knowledge, ideas, inquiry; in teaching, in following their passion. To leave more than half of them holding the bag at the end of it all, over 30 and having to scrounge for a new career, is a human tragedy.
He adds that ’s also a social tragedy, and not just because it represents a colossal waste of human capital:
If we don’t make things better for the people entering academia, no one’s going to want to do it anymore. And then it won’t just be the students who are suffering. Scholarship will suffer, which means the whole country will. Knowledge, as we’re constantly told, is a nation’s most important resource, and the great majority of knowledge is created in the academy—now more than ever, in fact, since industry is increasingly outsourcing research to universities where, precisely because graduate students cost less than someone who gets a real salary, it can be conducted on the cheap.
He adds that what we have in academia, in other words, is a microcosm of the American economy as a whole: a self-enriching aristocracy, a swelling and increasingly immiserated proletariat, and a shrinking middle class. The same devil’s bargain stabilizes the system: the middle, or at least the upper middle, the tenured professoriate, is allowed to retain its prerogatives—its comfortable compensation packages, its workplace autonomy and its job security—in return for acquiescing to the exploitation of the bottom by the top, and indirectly, the betrayal of the future of the entire enterprise.
The changing structure of academic work in the corporatized academy--ie.,extent of casual labor--threatens both the system of tenure and shared governance—the principle that universities should be controlled by their faculties.Public institutions enroll about three-quarters of the nation’s college students, and public institutions are everywhere under financial attack--because of the deliberate defunding of public higher education.
Its another sign of the decline of the US.