Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Bousquet v. Taylor on higher education

If you've read Mark C. Taylor's New York Times opinion piece on American higher education, End the University as We Know It, follow up with Marc Bousquet's persuasive reply, More Drivel From the New York Times.

Says Taylor:

Graduate education is the Detroit of higher learning. Most graduate programs in American universities produce a product for which there is no market (candidates for teaching positions that do not exist).
Says Bousquet:
In fact, there are plenty of teaching positions to absorb all of the "excess doctorates" out there. At least 70 percent of the faculty are nontenurable. In many fields, most of the faculty don’t hold a Ph.D. and aren’t studying for one. By changing their hiring patterns over the course of a few years New York or California — either one — alone could absorb most of the "excess" doctorates in many fields.

The problem isn’t an oversupply of qualified labor. It’s a restructuring of "demand" so that work that used to be done by people with doctorates is being done by persons with a master's or a B.A., or even by undergraduates.
70% of U.S. college faculty are indeed nontenurable. In 2007, tenured and tenure-track professors composed 31.2% of college teaching personnel.

I recommend Bousquet's How the University Works: Higher Education and the Low-Wage Nation (New York University Press, 2008) to anyone interested in American higher education.

A related post
NYT and higher ed

comments: 4

JuliaR said...

"But we really oughta end the university as the rest of us know it — as not merely exploitative, but as a creatively super-exploitative employer."
As someone who was employed part time by a local college, I always felt taken-advantage-of. They not only didn't have to pay any benefits because I was part time, they didn't even pay me for prep time. The thing is, there were enough people willing to take the crappy job that competition allowed the college to get away with it. I don;t know how we could get around that problem.

My library doesn't have anything by Bousquet - I'll have to look for him at Amazon.

Michael Leddy said...

Julia, Bousquet's website is good too: How the University Works. And if you Google contingent faculty, you'll find a lot that will interest you.

exactwords said...

I have a problem with Bousquet's definitions.
--Taylor writes of "graduate programs" producing skilled workers for positions that do not exist. Bousquet interprets this to mean people with doctorates. "Graduate programs" include Master's programs as well, however. In fact, in numerous fields, the Master's is the terminal degree. Add Master's and Doctorate graduates together, and you get Taylor's vast pool of skilled workers with no where to actually do the work they're (ostensibly) good at.
--Bousquet claims there are plenty of "teaching positions" out there. I think most people would define a "teaching position" as full-time , with benefits and some job security. The candidates have gone to school for a very long time and are presumed to be experts in their fields. Certainly they are by and large deserving of full-time positions. Bousquet seems to think not, however, by clustering in the many part-time adjunct teaching jobs within his scope of "teaching positions". That's disingenuous at best; denigrating at worst.
--Reading both pieces, I fail to see how Bousquet has made a case against Taylor's point that universities have become assembly lines for degrees. There's little denying that they're willingly creating a graduate degree-holding pool of people who are basically bereft of any chance at a career in their given field of expertise.
And does he agree that we should do away with tenure or not? In one breath he seems to agree, in the next he laughs at the idea.
I think this is my real problem with Bousquet: he points at problems but offers no solutions. Taylor may have gotten some of it wrong, but at least he offered some solutions.
For the record, tenure is not the problem, the universities are. At some point, most of them stopped being run as places of educational esteem, and simply became businesses. Ford plants of degree manufacturing. For the graduates to be in demand in the workplace, their degrees need to mean something again. Only the universities themselves can fix that, sadly.

Michael Leddy said...

Words, I think you're missing Bousquet's point in saying that there are many teaching positions. He's not suggesting that people happily accept adjunct or part-time positions. He thinks the exploitation of contingent faculty is disgraceful, as his post and site and book make clear. What he would like to see is a wide-scale change in hiring practices.

I think Bousquet's agreeing about ending tenure is facetious. But you might want to comment on his post (follow the link above) and see.