The Tree Trunks Are Rotting in the Groves of Academe

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One thing that struck me when I became a teacher was the high degree of control that professors had over their work. We had considerable say about what we taught, when we taught, what went on inside the classroom, and how we used our time outside the classroom. Once we earned tenure (basically a guarantee of lifetime employment), our control deepened; we could do pretty much as we pleased, as long as we didn’t behave in an egregiously bad manner. By the time I retired, I was able to choose the days and times I taught; I could skip class or keep a class any length of time I chose; I had sole discretion when it came to textbooks, assignments, examinations, papers, and the like; I could ignore student complaints without much risk; and I could conduct my classes in any manner I chose. Although teachers sometimes abused the freedom accorded them, and occasionally violated every canon of human decency, most professors labored diligently until they retired. When I was young, I had disdain for the old-timers, who seemed out of touch and over the hill. But I had to admire the way they kept at their trade, the concern they had for their students, and the loyalty they had to the college. Although I never developed any loyalty, I was much like them when I got old. I taught a Principles of Economics class to non-majors for thirty-two years, and I gave lectures as enthusiastically and as larded with commentary on current events in the last year as the first. I was happy that I had tenure; it protected me from being fired because my analysis of society was too radical for my colleagues or supervisors or because students didn’t like having their cherished notions demolished in class every day.

The extraction of surplus labor from workers is central to the way a capitalist economy operates. To get this surplus labor time—the source of profits—from the workers requires that employers exert as much control over the labor process as they can. That is, it is incumbent upon businesses to structure their workplaces so that the employees can interfere as little as possible with the conversion of inputs into outputs. For example, a modern automobile plant is built so that a moving assembly line dictates the pace at which the workers labor. Each job along that line has been studied so that it can be done in as little time as possible. Each worker is given a set of detailed orders that tell him or her exactly what to do and in what sequence. Failure to do the work as specified and in the required time sets in motion a panoply of corrective mechanisms, including penalties paid by the workers. Modern computer technology allows the supervisors to minutely monitor the whole operation. Periodic stresses are placed on the system to compel the employees to work faster and with fewer errors. Laggards and malcontents are quickly eliminated. All possible efforts are made by management to prevent the one monkey wrench that workers could use to muck things up, namely collective action.

Many commentators, going back to Thorstein Veblen in the early 1920s, have argued persuasively that colleges and universities have come more and more to resemble corporations. They seek to maximize their revenues and minimize their costs, just like any business entity. Their reasons for doing so are many: to generate money for patent-producing research, to hire the ever-increasing number of administrators necessary for student recruitment and retention, applying for government and private-sector grants, seeking state aid, fund-raising, and hiring “star” faculty. As we shall see, the main way they have tried to keep costs in check has been to control faculty labor.

Higher education is a labor-intensive affair. To maintain a healthy surplus (and make it grow), attention must be paid to the cost of the labor, most especially relatively expensive faculty. However, the tenure system places an obvious roadblock in the way of labor cost control. From a management perspective (and most high-level college and university administrators see themselves as managers; in fact, more and more of them come directly from corporate management), it would be cheaper to replace tenured faculty with contingent teachers, that is, those with temporary and revocable contracts. The question is how to do this. Most colleges and universities have found it difficult to attack tenure directly. It is important for them to give lip service to lofty academic ideals, and firing tenured teachers or insisting that they sign ordinary labor contracts would be a public relations nightmare. Tenured teachers are not without some power and influence. They are, after all, the best-remembered teachers of state legislators, rich alumni, and the captains of industry. They may have deep local ties and national or international scholarly reputations. Therefore the captains of academe gradually, in fits and starts, hit upon less direct ways to gain the control over their academic workforce necessary for them to minimize labor costs.

The main tactic employed to implement the strategy of breaking faculty power was to incessantly declare the schools to be in a state of emergency financial crisis. If it wasn’t a state legislature threatening to cut off funds, it was a shortfall in fund-raising or skyrocketing costs of one kind or another. Austerity measures would have to be taken so that the college could survive. Committees of tenured faculty were hastily formed, so that an appropriate air of gravitas could be given to the proceedings. The “crises” were used to justify what were called temporary measures but what were really permanent changes. Hiring of tenure-track faculty was slowed down, and temporary full- and part-time teachers were employed. This had the effect over time of reducing the fraction of all teachers who were tenured; in many cases, when tenured teachers retired, they were either not replaced or replaced by temporary faculty. Administrative control was increased both because there were now fewer tenured faculty to contend with and the temporary faculty were too insecure and harried by unconscionable teaching loads and meager pay to make many waves. To their shame, the tenured teachers usually went along with this because their positions and privileges remained secure. They could almost always be counted on to serve as administrative stooges when it came to any attempts by the teachers to unionize. They could always be counted on to agree to ever-increasing monitoring of untenured faculty (absurd qualifications for being hired, ever-more complex and always mandatory student evaluations, unrealistic and ridiculous demands for “professional development,” corporate-inspired requirements that teachers show that their classroom performances are “effective,” that is, that they have been “accountable”), buying into—no doubt because of their inbred elitism—the administrative contention that this would raise “standards” and improve the college’s national or regional ranking. Of course, when most untenured faculty failed such stringent tests, new teachers could be hired and the same process could be repeated. This meant that an almost permanent core of assistant professors could be attached to the schools, under the delusion of future tenure but with the reality that these unfortunates were exactly the same as adjunct or temporary teachers.

To raise money, our colleges and universities have continued to increase tuition in excess of the rate of inflation. At the same time, they dramatically intensified efforts to recruit new students. To accomplish these two possibly contradictory outcomes, they also had to make colleges more “student-friendly.” So, state of the art housing, gobs of high-tech equipment, a hundred food plans, wired classrooms, and the like were provided. Students came to be seen as “consumers,” and as such, they had to be assured that they were in charge of their purchase. Since it takes little effort to be a consumer, students as consumers of education couldn’t be expected to do a whole lot of work. But they were made to understand that they could make complaints about the product they had purchased. Administrators would be only too happy to listen. Students soon understood that they had great power over their professors, especially the untenured ones. All they had to do was give a teacher bad evaluations; enough of these and the professor was a goner. Teachers caught on too and wisely watered down their classes lest the consumers made it known that the product was defective and in need of replacement. At one school, when a teachers comes up for  contract renewal (usually two years after being hired), every student in every class the instructor taught is contacted for an evaluation, in effect, doubling the weight of every negative evaluation given the first time around in each class. To further ease the burden on the consumers, schools offered a wide range of consumer-friendly majors and course offerings. First-year students could, and often were required, to take a class that would teach them how to be consumers (er, I mean, students). This had the double advantage of giving the newcomers an easy credit and, since these classes were always small, the college a ratings boost, since the raters (like US News & World Report) give ratings points for small classes. New faculty were added to traditionally easy majors such as Business Administration, Education, and Communications. Many of these were adjuncts, outside the tenure stream. New majors were added, again with an eye toward consumer friendliness: Public Relations, Hospitality Management, Leisure Studies, Athletic Training, Sports Information, Broadcasting, and a host of others. At schools without real or imagined academic standards, job-training majors were introduced, with or without tenured faculty approval: Respiratory Therapy, Criminal Justice, Nursing, Real Estate, to name a few. Temporary faculty abound in these programs.

All of this student-centeredness has to be paid for. Some money comes from the tuition paid by the new students, some of it from higher tuition. But major cost savings are achieved by the hiring of temporary teachers. The great advantage of starting new programs but not hiring tenure-stream faculty, and of using temporary teachers for courses in traditional programs, is that such professors are completely under the thumb of administrators. They have no rights, not even those enjoyed by tenure-stream faculty before they win tenure. Therefore, they can be hired on the cheap—a few thousand dollars a course at most. I received about $8,500 a course plus full benefits when I retired from a mediocre and anything but high-paying college in 2001. Except for that rare adjunct who teaches a specialized course (for example, a respected full-time artist teaching a class in pottery for an art department, or a noted lawyer teaching a specialty course not offered by the regular law school faculty), no temporary college teachers earn anywhere near that amount. And whatever pittance is paid is sans benefits, perhaps not even an office.

Let me give readers a concrete example of how the new dispensation in higher education works. For a few years after I quit full-time teaching, I taught web-based classes in Labor Studies programs at several schools. These were invariably small classes (fewer than twenty students and often no more than a dozen), comprised of union members and local staff persons, most of whom would have had a hard time attending regular on-campus classes. I had mixed feelings about teaching online classes. I was aware of the arguments against online classes—they are impersonal and cannot duplicate the student-teacher interaction that can be so important to both parties; they are open to administrative abuses, such as a college taking ownership of all online materials put up by the instructor; they could be used to permanently replace regular teachers by the simple expedient of having one online instructor teach thousands of students. However, I rationalized my participation by telling myself that my union students didn’t have good alternatives and would gain something from a labor-friendly teacher that they were unlikely to get from a typical economics professor.

Unfortunately, online education has exploded far beyond an imperfect but reasonable solution to problems faced by some nontraditional students. Like many others, Labor Studies departments have been under great pressure to generate revenue (they have been under other pressure as well, from a hostile business community and anti-labor politicians who do not want students exposed to the “union virus.”) So they jumped on the online bandwagon and greatly expanded their offerings and audience. In the process, they succumbed to the imperatives of managerial control discussed above. Last year, I asked a labor studies person I knew at a Big Ten university about teaching an online class in economics. He was enthusiastic about this, and I sent him a prospective syllabus. I figured that if I decided to do the class, this syllabus and my forty years of experience and numerous books and articles would make the approval of the class a formality. I was wrong.

The steps I would have to take to teach this course were remarkable, both in their number and their focus upon controlling every aspect of what I would do. It was as if Frederick Taylor had come back to life and was waging war against professors instead of machinists. Here are the “instructions” I received (I have not identified the school out of consideration for my friend):

1. Our online program is called “Global Labor Studies,” and we’ve been directed – now that we’ve designed 11 courses – to ensure that half of all future courses have a global focus. Given that, and given that your book has “global economy” in the title, and given that the financial crisis is global, and that capitalism is global – Would it be possible for your class to be called “Labor, Work, and the Global Economy”? (We can play with the words, but something with “global” and “economy” in the title.)

2. In your syllabus you mention that students are unionists or labor studies majors. That won’t be true [here]. We have had 1,000 enrollments a semester, but only about twenty are unionists. We have hired a publicity director to expand those numbers, but you should design the class with the assumption that you’ll have (after drops) about 30 full-time students who are 18 to 21 years old; and perhaps 2-3 unionists.

3. I think assigning your two books is fine. I’d ask that you supplement those, where needed, with web-based newspaper and magazine articles, and possibly journal articles, in order to keep the material extremely current. You would need to list all reading material in the syllabus. (In the syllabus you sent me, it instead says the class will be told of web readings each week.)

4. Where appropriate and possible, we try to supplement course reading material with web-based videos. YouTube has a huge number of videos that have educational value; as do websites for PBS NOW, Frontline, and American Experience.

5. We use a standard syllabus template. We’d ask you to use this template, filling in your contact information, bio, grading of papers/exams/extra credit, and course schedule.

6. We all use the same forum grading format, and we’d ask you to use that. (We are, however, have ongoing discussions about how to reward or punish students in forum grading in order to prod active discussion.)

7. For your information, all instructors are assigned graders (students with a bachelor’s degree or who are graduate students). We want our instructors to focus on teaching students through actively participating in the forums. As you’ll read in the “Guidelines” file, we expect instructors to log on daily, and to post 140-200 substantive posts per class. Graders are paid $12 to $15 an hour.

8. Attached are two documents about our program we send to all instructors: “Guidelines for Online Instructors” and “Frequently Asked Questions for Instructors.” There is also a FAQ for Graders.

9. Also attached are two documents we send to course designers: Writing Forums; and Writing Lectures.

10. All course lectures would have to be finished and submitted to me at least six weeks before the class begins; the first half of lectures would have to be submitted three months before the class begins. (If you’d like to see lectures from any of our courses, please let me know.)

11. We would require a different format for the discussion forum topics then stated in the syllabus you sent. You would need to write all forums out before the course begins, and introduce them in each lecture. Ideas for designing forums can be found in the “Writing Forums” file. (If you’d like to see forums from any courses, please let me know.)

12. Depending on how much you can utilize your existing lectures, and how much time you need to spend designing the class, there may be development funds available to pay you for designing the course. We’d have to discuss this on the phone.

13. We would put all course material up on Compass for you. I will get you a Net ID so you can navigate the system and see what our courses look like.

14. We pay $4,000 per section.

15. If you wanted to proceed, and we talk on the phone and all is agreeable, the next step would be for you to finalize the course syllabus. Then we’d submit it to the LER Curriculum Committee for approval; then the Provost’s office and the campus-wide faculty committee, for approval.

I wrote and asked my friend why I would ever agree to lose all independence in developing and teaching a class. This seemed like assembly line labor to me. He replied that his school now had a state of the art online program, on of the best in the nation. I said, count me out.

Once faculty power is broken, and it is badly cracked now, colleges and universities can finally be “rationalized,” that is, conducted like ordinary business enterprises. The ingeniousness of hiring temporary teachers, introducing “nontraditional” majors, and building entirely new entities such as online colleges is that the once powerful tenured faculty have been pretty much kept out of the loop. As the new faculty become the majority, administrators will have much more complete control over the labor process, the dream of all employers.

Allow me a few final observations. First, what is happening on our campuses has nothing to do with giving students the opportunity to get a quality education. This I know from all my experience in the groves of academe. Poorly paid, temporary, and insecure (and online) teachers cannot provide such an education. Second, a college that sees higher education as a consumer good and consumer-driven cannot provide such an education. Third, if good education has nothing to do with what ahs been happening, some other possibilities come to mind. Perhaps colleges and universities are now, as David Noble argues in his book Digital Diploma Mills, simply sites of capital accumulation, places where large sums of money can be made. If this is so, the constant cost-cutting and use of contingent labor make sense. Fourth, the hype about the need for people to get a college education has little to do with higher education as a place where critical skills are learned. College education is associated with higher earnings not because of the skills imparted but because schooling serves as a way to differentiate workers and fit them into the hierarchy of jobs that our economic system automatically creates. There has always been a hierarchy of schools. The top universities will be more immune to the changes discussed in this essay, and these will provide society with the relatively small number of scientific and skilled workers needed by modern capitalist industry. It may be that such schools will have to get more and more students from China and India, but this will be of little concern to them or to our business and political elite. The lesser schools will provide the vast middle of jobs that require some skills but not too many. The “dumbing down” of these schools now occurring fits nicely into the lowering of middle class expectations engendered by the current economic crisis. Community colleges (President Obama’s main recipient of federal education aid) will give us the vast number of lower level technical, criminal justice, administrative, and health-related personnel that modern-day capitalism still needs in large numbers. Fifth, the creation of a low-wage academic labor force has been made possible in part because of the oversupply (in terms of demand and not necessarily social need) of workers with PhDs. No doubt, young people seek PHDs because they see college teaching as a way to have a creative and autonomous work life. Unless tenured faculty somehow manage a thoroughgoing revolt against what is going on now, this pool will dry up. However, it won’t be needed; less educated employees will be able to give the consumers of higher education a good enough product (and how would these consumers know the difference between excellence and mediocrity in the first place?). Finally, once the new labor regimen in education has been accomplished, the last high employment job category in which workers enjoyed with real control over their labor will have disappeared, the good example it set for other workers gone forever.

For more on the subject of the transformation of higher education, see thw writings of Henry Giroux and Louis Proyect:

12 Responses to The Tree Trunks Are Rotting in the Groves of Academe

  1. Jurriaan Bendien October 20, 2009 at 7:13 pm #

    In principle, the rulers of the world usually intend to recreate the world after their image. If businesspeople rule the world, they try to recreate the world after their own image. This means, trying to impose the company model on every human pursuit, and this involves first of all considering human pursuits in terms of (marketable) inputs into processes which lead to (marketable) outputs. Once defined in this way, we can judge the success, value and failure of human pursuits according to criteria of economic rationality where inputs are the instrumental means to achieve outputs. We relate inputs to outputs, and consider the efficiency of the process whereby inputs are transformed into outputs, and how to economize on scarce resources, such that the most output is achieved by the least input – effectively how we can get better quantity and quality faster, at less cost and with less waste. This point of view certainly has some merit – after all, we always do need to economize resources – but there are three problems with it. Firstly, many human pursuits are intrinsically not intended primarily as business pursuits, because they involve the expression of non-economic human valuations. Therefore, by recasting them as business pursuits, we effectively recast their original purpose. Since they do not intrinsically have that purpose to start off with, this is actually a perversion of sorts which leads to a contradiction of means and ends, culminating in an inversion of means and ends, papered over with what are effectively convenient lies (a false consciousness). Secondly, the imposition of a business power regime on a human pursuit creates the problem that control shifts from the people who do the process to those who “own” the process and/or the budgets, and the latter may not be the best ones to hold that power insofar as they don’t actually “do” the core process. Thirdly, the ideological effect is that, because the business purpose and the original purpose of the human pursuit cannot truly be reconciled, that a perpetual theoretical incoherence and confusion exists about valuations of why the pursuit is being carried out. For example, an ordinary person might say that schooling is about learning and teaching with the purpose of instilling important and useful knowledge. But the business model applies external market criteria to what is important and useful. The result is an intellectual confusion so deep that economists are forced to conclude that education is paradoxically both an investment process (human capital), a production process (teaching services), and a consumption process (acquiring learning to own knowledge) at one and the same time, depending on how you look at it. In turn, this means that any consistent and shared valuation of a pursuit like education becomes impossible. How you look at it becomes a matter of taste and personal preference, but that then means that there are no longer any clear standards of education beyond whether people like it or not and therefore will be paying customers and clients. At that point we are back to the perversion mentioned earlier, because now what happens to education becomes contingent on whether people appreciate it or not, and on whether you can – in a cultural, political or business sense – rustle up appreciation for it; be it with the aim of maximizing enrolment to obtain maximum revenue and budgetary influence according to what the popular flavours dominating the market might be. And if that means that competition begins to dominate cooperation, that means that any shared understanding of the final purpose and meaning of education can exist only if it makes individuals and groups more competitive. This reaches its final absurdity when teachers compete with learners, not about who can make the greatest contribution to education and knowledge, but about the entitlement to knowledge itself, the claims to knowledge. Barriers are created here, and gated entries are created there, not to facilitate education, but to facilitate competition between competing claims to “own” knowledge. At that stage, education morphs into its opposite. It is no longer a means to integrate people into society, but disintegrates into a power battle over the control of knowledge that has a market value. If you cannot pay, you’re out of the game.

  2. Dennis Redmond October 21, 2009 at 4:29 am #

    In regards to point 4:

    4. “YouTube has a huge number of videos that have educational value; as do websites for PBS NOW, Frontline, and American Experience.”

    As a media scholar, I can tell you there’s great stuff on Youtube, especially from the BRIC nations. I don’t think the corporations realize how radical some of the online materials are, how saturated video culture is with anti-neolib geopolitics and history. But the course is set up so you literally could not teach the students anything interesting.

    Deeply ironic, that these online courses are trying to put the genie of open source/digital commons back in the bottle, restricting what students can see, access, analyze, and think, and drown out digital creativity with busywork and policing. It’s a giant digital version of 10th grade in high school — a completely self-defeating and self-destructive venture, profitable only to selected equipment manufacturers and self-styled edu-preneurs, but not what the students urgently need.

  3. Vermillion October 21, 2009 at 6:21 am #

    I think the larger issue economists and acedemics are not recognizing is that all this occurs because we use money as a medium of exchange coupled with deep specialization. Which creates highly unstable service and trade networks, so that everyone is mututally indentured to everyone else a kind a kind of competitive monetary prison. A network of mutually indentured slavery from which only the wealthy can escape. Since if you don’t hav eenough money to cover all your future debts and expenses you’reactually “in debt” despite what the number in your bank account says.

    I think this is a key point not realized by 99% of the people on the planet, a persons ACTUAL DEBT is not represented by the money itself. Your actualy debt when you are born is something like between -400,000 and -1,000,000+ dollars in north america.

    I’ve always thought that the way money works needs to move to a constant flow model and that prices cannot be set by people anymore (i.e. setting a proice is a political action). I think the way money functions has to move to semi-automated natural circulations various accounts all the time.

    Just imagine if your savings were naturally adjusted to keep the same level of purchasing power, so you didn’t have to gamble (i.e. “invest”) in the stocks and other investments.

    Another real issue is the economy of capitalist society cannot operate can keep people receiving enough money 24/7 because of lack of permanency of jobs or businesses for the population at large, yet whenever a person is born their needs are fixed and permanent for the duration of their life. This is the real issue the impermanence versus constant upheaval in instiutions of society.

    I also think schumpeters analysis is correct, that if “socialism” does occur it will be a tweaking of capitalism and they won’t call it socialism.

  4. mike October 21, 2009 at 1:24 am #

    Thanks, Jurriaan, as usual, you make perceptive remarks. Have you read Noble’s book (Digital Diploma Mills)? It has a lot of interesting analysis. Trouble is, Noble himself is a bit of a crank, refusing even to allow his students to type papers–they have to hand write them!

    On another note, email me you postal address (, so I can send you a copy of my book, The ABCs of the Economic Crisis: What Working People Need to Know (with Fred Magdoff).

  5. Jurriaan Bendien October 21, 2009 at 1:57 pm #

    Well I am honoured that you would send me a copy of your book, I hope you will autograph it for me :-). I will send you my details. I read some of David Nobel’s work as a student, he is a very bright man. His paper on digital diploma mills makes important points. I have not met him personally and therefore do not know if he is a crank, but he can certainly crank out books and papers. I prefer neatly typed papers myself since if you have to read a lot of them, that’s easier on the eye. In communicating, one has to be mindful of content, form and purpose. Arthur Kroker in his book Technology and the Canadian Mind (1984, p. 12) pointed out that postwar social science scholarship in North America has privileged the relationship between technology and society, at the expense of other kinds of relations, such as those between “self” and “society”. Not accidentally, the Marxist schools of thought rising up in response to this ideology, such as Althusserianism and Gerald Cohen’s Analytical Marxism, projected a historical materialism as a technological-determinist view of history. More recently however, under the influence of French existentialism and postmodernist thought, and the new ways of relating between people promoted by the “information society”, the emphasis has shifted more to how human subjects experience their own world. The challenge for us then becomes, in C. Wright Mill’s phrase, to find the links between “private troubles” and “public issues”, relating an objective assessment of the total situation to the way people actually experience it, for the purpose of disovering alternatives to which people can really respond. In this sense, I should emphasize my earlier remarks about your essay are unbalanced. Why? Because they alert only to the negative effects of the commercialization of education. I became aware of this in 1982 when, for my Master’s degree in Education, I was writing a research paper on the criticisms made in the scholarly literature of Bowles & Gintis’s book Schooling in Capitalist America (1976). At the risk of sounding ridiculous, I think that most educators are, in sharing knowledge, inspired by a feeling of love. This remark is not intended as a throwback to the hippy era, but as an empirical observation. Without a certain unpaid-for generosity, they simply would not be able to do their work. Even if the educator might nowadays feel cynically “your love gives me such a thrill/but your love don’t pay my bills”, she still finds herself doing things beyond the call of duty to succeed in teaching. This creates a susceptibility to exploitation, but also a shrewd awareness of what it is. Why mention all this? Because no proposal for educational change is going to succeed unless we are able to affirm genuinely in so doing, the constructive efforts, intentions and values which teaching staff, parents and students have, in spite of everything that might frustrate them. We have to say not just what is wrong with education, but also how to put it right, with exemplars of good education. If I was only a critic of education, but not a partisan of good education, I would die as a catankerous old man who never developed beyond a belief that the world is going to ruins. This is not intended either as a New Age philosophy about the power of positive thinking. Rather, it is a political insight. Nobody can mobilize people to fight for a better world if he does not take the constructive intentions and aspirations that people really have as his point of departure. At the beginning of the 21st century, we have in fact arrived at a stage where people don’t really want to hear the bad news anymore so much, they’ve been overloaded by bad news and cynicism, and in fact believe little of what they hear insofar as they care about it. If leftists think it is hip to make cynical comments, they are badly mistaken. People don’t really want to hear what doesn’t work, they want to hear what does work. They are very aware of the downside of life, but they wonder how to get to the upside. And so, we have to somehow reframe the problems so that there is indeed a real solution. By talking only about the problems, we are not part of the solution, and thus, really, the battle is about whose solutions will prevail. The real puzzle then is how we can enlist the support of the best teachers. Rather obviously, we can only do that by becoming good teachers ourselves. Yet, as Marx says, “the educators have to be educated themselves”. How can we do that, unless we strive to be the best learners as well?

  6. mike October 21, 2009 at 7:34 pm #

    Dennis, I couldn’t agree more. The web class requirements are all about controlling my labor and what I can really teach my students. Whenever an administrator tells me I have to do something, my suspicions are immediately raised.

    Vermillion, I love your notion of a “competitive monetary prison”! Very true indeed. I was talking with my wife the other day about the absurdity of working people being expected to “invest” their money so they have enough to live on in emergencies or after retirement.

    Jurriaan, Yes. love has a lot to do with what a teacher does. And yes, teh positive must be emphasized too.

  7. Greg October 23, 2009 at 4:38 pm #

    Great article – and let’s not forget that many faculty are ineligible for union representation because they’re part of “management”.

    Just recently the University of Illinois implemented the requirement for all faculty to document and report the use of their time at work. I guess some managers have to punch a time clock too!

  8. Bob L October 23, 2009 at 10:12 pm #

    Dear Mike,
    I read with interest your article on recent trends in higher education. I am a ‘lurker’ on Marxmail, where I got the link to your site. I think I can safely say that I am the only Marxist in the US who is (or has been) a Respiratory Therapist, Nurse, and College professor (and Lurker on Marmail!). You may guess where this is headed!

    I would challenge your statement that Nursing or Respiratory therapy programs in Universities represent a recent attempt to turn universities into training centers for (menial?) jobs. Nursing programs have existed at Columbia, Yale, University of Michigan and University of Minnesota since the 1920’s. The ones where I have been on faculty, a student, or otherwise associated with all have a large core of tenured PhD level faculty. Although it is unusual for nurses to become higher officials in universities (aside from Nursing school deans) there are Nurses (whose doctoral degrees are in Nursing) who have been University Presidents, Provosts, and tenured faculty in non-nursing departments such as physiology, public health, and medicine. My doctoral program director was a past president of the American Public Health Association. The current President is also a Nurse, and a Professor of both Surgery and Nursing at Yale. About 120 million dollars per year is granted for nursing research by the NIH. There are dozens of peer-reviewed nursing journals as well, and Cuba has recently started a PhD program in nursing.
    Respiratory care is another story. This profession got its start at the same time as the rising popularity of 2 year community colleges, and has remained trapped in that ghetto ever since. There is, however, a slowly growing movement to open BS and MS level programs. Respiratory Care does not differ in any substantial way from Physical or Occupational therapy, Nutrition, or a host of other health programs recognized as vital to the public welfare. Neither nursing or respiratory care can be compared to Golf course management, sports marketing, motel management etc.

    I share your distaste of the thoughtless drive to put anything and everything into the online format. There is far too much of this in nursing. The University of Phorenix is perhaps the leader in this. I taught for them (or was a “faculty candidate) briefly, and I found it impossible to do any meaningful teaching in the time allotted. I averaged less than $10 per hour. Most of the faculty have full-time jobs in real schools of nursing, and are “double-dipping” – that is doing U of P work while on the other University’s time.

    For nurse, higher education beats hospital work (except for pay) and I am planning a return to the University soon – I’d rather have headaches than backaches!

    Overall very interesting post.

    Bob Lewis, Marietta GA

  9. mike October 23, 2009 at 10:57 pm #

    Greg, Thanks for the note. Examples of managerial control seem to abound in academe. Good point about the terrible Yeshiva decision that declared so many profs to be managers.

    Bob, Thank you for this healthy corrective. I wrote a bit hastily and lumped together fields that should not have been put in the same class. Health-related professions are, of course, legitimate fields of study and every effort should be made to see to it that they are such fields and not allowed to be considered merely job-related collections of courses. My dad died of emphysema, so respiratory therapy is a field close to my heart. It owuld be great if we could have integrated heathcare education, with a focus on developing teams of equals that would provide comprehensive, holistic care.

  10. Clarence Wood October 30, 2009 at 2:42 am #


    I must reply to your article. In the 1970’s I read in the Miami Herald about a government high school test giver who tricked the teachers into taking the same test that he was giving the high school students. The examples of the teachers testing were amazing. They, the teachers, had the equivalent of an eighth grade education. Eighth grade! I am seventy now and your article has helped to resolve the questions that have been bouncing around in my mind every since.

    Thank you

  11. mike October 30, 2009 at 3:36 am #

    Dear Clarence Wood,

    The Education Division at the college where I taught once decided to make my Intro to Economics class a required course for their majors. It was not a difficult class, but rather one aimed at the most general audience possible. No math, few graphs, etc. Yet, it was much too hard for these future teachers, and I found myself giving half the class Ds and Fs. On one exam I gave an exceedingly simple problem, involving adding, subtracting, and calculating percentages. The numbers were small and easy to manipulate. It was remarkable how many students could not add two three-digit numbers. Percentages were comletely alien to them. After the test, a student came by my office wondering what she could do to perform better. I said that she would probably have trouble. I told her that she had missed a point because she could not add 800 plus 500. Then she began to cry. After two years the Education Division dropped my class as a requirement. Although there were exceptions, the education majors were about as lacklustre as it is possible to imagine. And yet these people are now teaching our children. I might add that the Education faculty were none too bright either. One of them wrote an article that urged teachers to use happy faces to teach math. In a tenure review meeting, I asked the Chair of the Education Division how this simple-minded essay was an example of scholarship. He said, without missing a beat, that we needed more happy faces!!

    So, do not wonder that the teachers did poorly on that test.

  12. Clarence Wood October 30, 2009 at 6:36 pm #


    How did we get here? A slow and methodical process for sure, but is it a flaw in the human genome or a contrived event by some group of dedicated individuals? I am told that businesses initiate and or plan for events that will occur as far out as 50 to 100 years into the future. When a super alpha, male or female, has trillions of currency at their disposal for operating expenses tied to a sociopathic psychosis, I can imagine just this scenario.
    When I was in grade school we had a teacher who would tell the class to write. She would then go to the corner of the room where a very long pole, used to open and close the classroom windows, rested against the corner. She would pick it up and place it on her shoulder, then walk up and down the middle isle with the pole in a horizontal position just inches above our heads as she turned to the left and the right; swish, swish. Needles to say, we wrote. She was loved and respected by all of us. On the other hand we had a science teacher who would tell us to write a report. If anybody made the mistake of putting “THE END” at the end of their paper he would beat the living dickens out of them: while they were in their seat; on the floor screaming; crawling down the isle to the door and out the door and down the hall still screaming and being beaten. I was not just a witness to this outrageous behavior of a teacher: I was a victim. I, being smarter than the average student, printed “FINI” at the bottom of my paper.
    Just thought a little humor would help a depressing subject. Once young people receive an incorrect education it is very hard to correct. It is very depressing.


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