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The Failure of Financialized Higher Ed

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tags: higher education, Student Loans, academic labor, colleges and universities



Despite federal pandemic aid of $69 billion, over 650,000 jobs were lost in higher education last year, amounting to 1 out of every 8 workers. This was the most extreme decline ever witnessed in the 60-plus years that the Labor Department has tracked specific industry numbers.

In typically cruel neoliberal-managerial fashion, most of those cuts were directed at the lower ends of the pay scale, affecting already vulnerable service and support workers and adjunct professors, rather than tenured or tenure-track faculty and administrators. Some cuts were even deeper. In July 2020, the University of Akron decided to eliminate dozens of tenured (and unionized) faculty positions, pleading “catastrophic circumstances.” That October, Ithaca College announced it was “right-sizing” its faculty by eliminating 130 of its 547 teaching positions.

In July, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) annual report painted a grim picture of the general state of higher education. Between COVID-19 and years of austerity, the report warns of “an existential threat” to shared governance and academic freedom. The persistent growth in number of adjunct faculty, who work for exceedingly low pay, few to no benefits, and no job security, has been particularly alarming. Fully two-thirds of faculty across the country are now contingent, as are 51 percent of faculty at doctorate-granting institutions. The situation is even worse at community colleges, where as much as 79 percent of the faculty may now be contingent. And in the often shady and exploitative for-profit sector, contingent labor makes up as much as 93 percent of the teaching workforce; to the best of my knowledge, there is no such thing as tenure. Despite the pervasive deterioration, tuitions continue to rise.

Leaving for-profits aside, administrations and trustees in nonprofit public and private universities increasingly run their institutions as private, top-down corporations that manufacture “education” and “student experiences” much like the companies in econ textbooks that manufacture the ubiquitous “widget.” At many institutions, faculty and staff were not consulted about mandated in-person fall reopenings, despite the delta variant continuing to ravage the country. Even the vast disparities between lowest- and highest-compensated employees on display at large corporations have been mimicked; top university administrators now can make seven-figure salaries.

One of the worst examples of COVID-era managerial fiat comes from McGill University in Canada, which is mandating in-person teaching. Its provost threatened retaliatory measures against faculty who refused to teach in person, stating that even concern about putting relatives and spouses at risk of exposure was “not [a] valid reason for granting permission to teach remotely.” In classic agency-theory fashion, faculty were also preemptively suspected of falsifying information and malingering.

There have been a few bright spots amidst all the hardships. When Rutgers University’s administration directed proposed pandemic cuts at low-wage workers and adjuncts (many of whom are women and people of color), several employee and faculty unions banded together to preserve jobs and benefits and institute a work share program to protect their most vulnerable colleagues. Similar coalitions at the University of Pennsylvania, UC Berkeley, and Cornell are pushing back against decades of imposed austerity, seeking a greater measure of faculty governance and control.

One of the worst examples of COVID-era managerial fiat comes from McGill University in Canada, which is mandating in-person teaching. Its provost threatened retaliatory measures against faculty who refused to teach in person, stating that even concern about putting relatives and spouses at risk of exposure was “not [a] valid reason for granting permission to teach remotely.” In classic agency-theory fashion, faculty were also preemptively suspected of falsifying information and malingering.

There have been a few bright spots amidst all the hardships. When Rutgers University’s administration directed proposed pandemic cuts at low-wage workers and adjuncts (many of whom are women and people of color), several employee and faculty unions banded together to preserve jobs and benefits and institute a work share program to protect their most vulnerable colleagues. Similar coalitions at the University of Pennsylvania, UC Berkeley, and Cornell are pushing back against decades of imposed austerity, seeking a greater measure of faculty governance and control.

 

Read entire article at The American Prospect

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