After noting in Sunday's New York Times Book Review that economist William Easterly thinks the recent bashing of Wall Street bankers is akin to "genocidal racism," Christopher Shea notes that recently another "unlikely privileged group" is now under fire. And just who might belong to that group, you ask? The Real Housewives of New York or D.C.? Paris Hilton's coke dealer? John Boehner's tanning coach? Not exactly. Would you believe that among the members of said select and pampered company is none other than the beloved Ol' Bloviator himself? This is how Shea proceeds to make us tenured senior professors seem comparable to those lyin', thieving', bailed-out banker bastards: "At a time when nearly one in 10 American workers is unemployed, here's a crew (the complaint goes) who are guaranteed jobs for life, teach only a few hours a week, routinely get entire years off, dump grading duties onto graduate students and produce "research" on subjects like "Rednecks, Queers and Country Music" or "The Whatness of Books." Or maybe they stop doing research altogether (who's going to stop them?), dropping their workweek to a manageable dozen hours or so, all while making $100,000 or more a year." Ready to grab that pitchfork yet?
I have yet to see one of these fulminations against tenure fail to cite the magic figure of $100-K salaries for senior faculty, who despite years of schooling and all the subsequent scrapping to establish themselves professionally, are apparently supposed to content themselves with genteel poverty while even the most crooked and incompetent of the aforementioned money changers rake in more than ten times that amount in annual bonuses just for showing up. Most of the senior faculty I know haven't reached the $100-K plateau yet, but I sure as hell ain't offering any apologies for those who have because, as far as I'm concerned, they damn sure earned it.
Nonetheless, according to Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus, the authors of Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids -- And What We Can Do About It, owing to rampant affluence in the senior ranks, rather than the quintessential embodiment of irreversible, incurable geekiness, we of the professoriate are now fashionistas extraordinaire: "Say goodbye to Mr. Chips with his tattered tweed jacket; today's senior professors can afford Marc Jacobs."
Where Hacker and Dreifus are concerned, wardrobe hyperbole ain't the half of it, for they apparently propose making research a nights/weekends, pay-your-own-way proposition for university profs who would then be free to take on much heavier teaching loads during the regular work week. After all, they argue, "In other occupations, when people feel there is something they want to write, they do it on their own time and at their own expense." Never mind here that the most prominent examples would be prominent journalists or ex-politicos who have pocketed six-figure-plus cash advances before pen ever touches paper. The real problem with the Hacker-Dreyfus proposal is that it completely divorces research from teaching. If all university teachers are severely discouraged from researching in their areas, what will they do in the classroom? Draw on the works of popularizers like Doris Kearns Goodwin, who, I might add, clearly has no problem drawing on the works of others? Perhaps we profs should simply indoctrinate our charges with the moldy, inherited wisdom of the ages, keeping them safely distant at all costs from new evidence supporting new ideas.
Though Hacker is in his early 80s and professor emeritus of political science at Queens College, he is not asking his younger colleagues to accept burdens and restrictions that he managed to avoid. Queens is heavy into the teaching model, and he paid his dues in full during his many years there. Moreover, some time back, he actually resigned his senior position so that Queens could use his salary to hire two new entry-level faculty. For this, Hacker is surely to be commended, but here's the kicker. If that had happened almost anywhere else and involved anyone other than an extremely high profile senior faculty member, the odds are way better than even that Hacker's paycheck could have been run through an administrative Vegamatic and used to bring on a dozen or so temporary or adjunct instructors at salaries ranging anywhere from $1,500 to $3,500 per course, with, in many cases, no benefits of any sort.
Those who fancy themselves doing the young scholars who are trying to find a regular faculty position any favors by railing on about the evils of tenure are the same kind of the people who would set fire to the barn in order to get a few rats out of the rafters. Nearly two-thirds of all college instructors are in non-tenure-track slots and getting rid of more tenured faculty is more likely to inflate that fraction than reduce it. As I have preached and preached right here on this very cyber-corner many times, "Follow the money" is no less effective a strategy in trying to unravel the mysteries of contemporary academe than in trying to follow the machinations of our terribly abused banking class. Tighter and tighter money and a swollen and still-swelling population of newly minted Ph.D.s has turned academe into a profession that eats its young. Drastic cutbacks in graduate programs across a broad spectrum of disciplines and institutions are clearly in order, but doing so would also deny universities a pool of pre-doctoral teachers who are not only desperately needed but even more exploitable than they will be when they have their sheepskins in hand.
While we're on the subject, let's not forget administrative bloat, which has surely sucked up some of what could and should have gone into more regular faculty slots. For example, at Williams, a supposedly teaching-centered liberal arts college, 70 percent of the staff do no teaching whatsoever. A new study conducted by researchers at the University of Arkansas contends that while the faculty-student ratio at American universities rose by 18 percent between 1993 and 2007, the administrator/student ratio rose by 39 percent. These folks don't tell you, however, that their administrative category includes librarians and other support staff. They're also funded by the Goldwater Institute; so it's not a real shocker to learn that their real aim is to convince you that if their cushion of federal funding were jerked away, college administrators would be forced to use their funds more efficiently. Their logic is that with no federal funding, public higher education will be more dependent on tax and tuition revenues. In turn, hard-pressed suppliers of said revenues will rise up and force public officials to force university administrators to operate more cost effectively. Even if this sort of domino-theory-meets-higher-education scenario plays out, it simply leads us back to the long line of adjuncts outside the provost's door. That probably suits the Goldwater Institute types just as well. I'm pretty certain this outfit has no burning desire to create more real career opportunities for pointy-headed leftist professors.
It all boils to
this, although things are worse some places than others, higher education in
this country is either already in a helluva mess or headed that way with the
hammer down. Finding no reason for hope
and no constructive outlet for my frustration, I have decided to fall back on
that old saw that "Living well is the best revenge." Thanks to the sartorial guidance of Hacker
and Dreifus and the generosity of the tax and tuition paying masses
everywhere, I'm off to Marc Jacobs to see if they have this number in an
extra-short. It should be just the thing
for my lecture on the Hawley-Smoot Tariff, don't you think?