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How The American University was Killed, in Five Easy Steps

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V.P. Joe Biden, a few months back, said that the reason tuitions are out of control is because of the high price of college faculty. He has NO IDEA what he is talking about. At latest count, we have 1.5 million university professors in this country, 1 million of whom are adjuncts. One million professors in America are hired on short-term contracts, most often for one semester at a time, with no job security whatsoever -- which means that they have no idea how much work they will have in any given semester, and that they are often completely unemployed over summer months when work is nearly impossible to find (and many of the unemployed adjuncts do not qualify for unemployment payments).  So, one million American university professors are earning, on average, $20K a year gross, with no benefits or healthcare, no unemployment insurance when they are out of work. Keep in mind, too, that many of the more recent Ph.Ds have entered this field often with the burden of six figure student loan debt on their backs.

There was recently an article talking about the long-term mental and physical destruction caused when people are faced with poverty and "job insecurity" -- precarious employment, or "under-employment".  The article says that, in just the few short years since our 2008 economic collapse, the medical problems of this group have increased exponentially.  This has been the horrible state of insecurity that America's college professors have experienced now for thirty years. It can destroy you -- breaking down your physical and emotional health. As an example:  the average yearly starting salary of a university professor at Temple University in 1975 was just under $10,000 a year, with full benefits -- health, retirement, and educational benefits (their family's could attend college for free.) And guess what? Average pay for Temple's faculty is STILL about the same -- because adjuncts now make up the majority of faculty, and earn between $8,000 to $14,000 a year (depending on how many courses they are assigned each semester -- there is NO guarantee of continued employment) -- but unlike the full-time professors of 1975, these adjunct jobs come with NO benefits, no health care, no retirement, no educational benefits, no offices. How many other professions report salaries that have remained at 1975 levels?

This is how you break the evil, wicked, leftist academic class in America -- you turn them into low-wage members of the precariat -- that growing number of American workers whose employment is consistently precarious. All around the country, our undergraduates are being taught by faculty living at or near the poverty line, who have little to no say in the way classes are being taught, the number of students in a class, or how curriculum is being designed. 

They often have no offices in which to meet their students, no professional staff support, no professional development support. One million of our college professors are struggling to continue offering the best they can in the face of this wasteland of deteriorated professional support, while living the very worst kind of economic insecurity.  Unlike those communist countries, which sometimes executed their intellectuals, here we are being killed off by lack of healthcare, by stress-related illness like heart-attacks or strokes.  While we're at it, let's add suicide to that list of killers -- and readers of this blog will remember that I have written at length about adjunct faculty suicide in the past.

Step #3: You move in a managerial/administrative class who take over governance of the university.

This new class takes control of much of the university's functioning, including funding allocation, curriculum design, course offerings. If you are old enough to remember when medicine was forever changed by the appearance of the "HMO' model of managed medicine, you will have an idea of what has happened to academia. If you are not old enough -- let me tell you that Once Upon a Time, doctors ran hospitals, doctors made decisions on what treatment their patients needed. In the 1970s, during the infamous Nixon Administration, HMOs were an idea sold to the American public, said to help reign in medical costs. But once Nixon secured passage of the HMO Act in 1973, the organizations went quickly from operating on a non-profit organization model, focused on high quality health care for controlled costs, to being for-profit organizations, with lots of corporate money funding them -- and suddenly the idea of high-quality health care was sacrificed in favor of profits -- which meant taking in higher and higher premiums and offering less and less service, more denied claims, more limitations placed on doctors, who became a "managed profession". 

You see the state of healthcare in this country, and how disastrous it is. Well, during this same time, there was a similar kind of development -- something akin to the HMO -- let's call it an "EMO", Educational Management Organization, began to take hold in American academia. From the 1970s until today, as the number of full-time faculty jobs continued to shrink, the number of full-time administrative jobs began to explode. As faculty was deprofessionalized and casualized, reduced to teaching as migrant contract workers, administrative jobs now offered good, solid salaries, benefits, offices, prestige and power. In 2012, administrators now outnumber faculty on every campus across the country. And just as disastrous as the HMO was to the practice of medicine in America, so is the EMO model disastrous to the practice of academia in America, and to the quality of our students' education. Benjamin Ginsburg writes about this in great detail in his book The Fall of the Faculty.  

I'd like to mention here, too, that universities often defend their use of adjuncts -- which are now 75% of all professors in the country -- claiming that they have no choice but to hire adjuncts, as a "cost saving measure" in an increasingly defunded university. What they don't say, and without demand of transparency will NEVER say, is that they have not saved money by hiring adjuncts -- they have reduced faculty salaries, security and power. The money wasn't saved, because it was simply re-allocated to administrative salaries, coach salaries and outrageous university president salaries. 

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There has been a redistribution of funds away from those who actually teach, the scholars -- and therefore away from the students' education itself -- and into these administrative and executive salaries, sports costs -- and the expanded use of "consultants", PR and marketing firms, law firms. We have to add here, too, that president salaries went from being, in the 1970s, around $25K to 30K, to being in the hundreds of thousands to MILLIONS of dollars -- salary, delayed compensation, discretionary funds, free homes, or generous housing allowances, cars and drivers, memberships to expensive country clubs.

Step Four: You move in corporate culture and corporate money

To further control and dominate how the university is "used" -a flood of corporate money results in changing the value and mission of the university from a place where an educated citizenry is seen as a social good, where intellect and reasoning is developed and heightened for the value of the individual and for society, to a place of vocational training, focused on profit. Corporate culture hijacked the narrative -- university was no longer attended for the development of your mind. It was where you went so you could get a "good job".  Anything not immediately and directly related to job preparation or hiring was denigrated and seen as worthless -- philosophy, literature, art, history.

Anna Victoria writes, on Corporate Culture: "Many universities have relied on private sector methods of revenue generation such as the formation of private corporations, patents, increased marketing strategies, corporate partnerships, campus rentals, and for-profit e-learning enterprises. To cut costs, public universities have employed non-state employee service contractors and have streamlined their financial operations."

So what is the problem with corporate money, you might ask? A lot. When corporate money floods the universities, corporate values replace academic values. As we said before, humanities get defunded and the business school gets tons of money. Serious issues of ethics begin to develop when corporate money begins to make donations and form partnerships with science departments -- where that money buys influence regarding not only the kinds of research being done but the outcomes of that research. Corporations donate to departments, and get the use of university researchers in the bargain -- AND the ability to deduct the money as donation while using the labor, controlling and owning the research. Suddenly, the university laboratory is not a place of objective research anymore. 

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As one example, corporations who don't like "climate change" warnings will donate money and control research at universities, which then publish refutations of global warning proofs. OR, universities labs will be corporate-controlled in cases of FDA-approval research. This is especially dangerous when pharmaceutical companies take control of university labs to test efficacy or safety and then push approval through the governmental agencies. Another example is in economics departments -- and movies like "The Inside Job"  have done a great job of showing how Wall Street has bought off high-profile economists from Harvard, or Yale, or Stanford, or MIT, to talk about the state of the stock market and the country's financial stability. Papers were being presented and published that were blatantly false, by well-respected economists who were on the payroll of Goldman Sachs or Merrill Lynch.

Academia should not be the prostitute of corporatism, but that's what it has become. Academia once celebrated itself as an independent institution. Academia is a culture, one that offers a long-standing worldview which values on-going, rigorous intellectual, emotional, psychological, creative development of the individual citizen. It respects and values the contributions of the scholar, the intellectual, to society. It treasures the promise of each student, and strives to offer the fullest possible support to the development of that promise. It does this not only for the good of the scholar and the student, but for the social good. Like medicine, academia existed for the social good. Neither should be a purely for-profit endeavor. And yet, in both the case of the HMO and the EMO, we have been taken over by an alien for-profit culture, our sovereignty over our own profession, our own institutions, stripped from us.

A corporate model, where profit depends on 1) maintaining a low-wage work force and 2) charging continually higher pricers for their "services" is what now controls our colleges . Faculty is being squeezed from one end and our students are being squeezed from the other.

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The Homeless Adjunct" 
Writer, Co-Producer,   'Junct: The Trashing of
Higher Ed. In America"

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How The American University was Killed, in Five Easy Steps


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For analysis of some further, extenuating effects ... by Pal Cine on Sunday, Aug 19, 2012 at 1:09:23 PM
I agree completely with this article. I entered gr... by Karen Sandness on Sunday, Aug 19, 2012 at 2:13:16 PM
Karen, I've had conversations with other adjuncts ... by Debra Leigh Scott on Friday, Aug 24, 2012 at 5:43:49 PM
The issue here is what is the goal of an education... by Arthur M. Howard-(Scotoni) on Sunday, Aug 19, 2012 at 2:50:58 PM
Arthur, I agree with you that education should be ... by Debra Leigh Scott on Friday, Aug 24, 2012 at 5:47:23 PM
The only way to rescue public education is to resc... by Gary Brumback on Sunday, Aug 19, 2012 at 2:54:18 PM
It is time for the masses to grow some balls and r... by Deborah Dills on Sunday, Aug 19, 2012 at 3:00:19 PM
I have read and appreciate Gatto.  In fact, I... by Debra Leigh Scott on Friday, Aug 24, 2012 at 5:53:23 PM
Inspecting what employers are saying about their i... by Sherwin Steffin on Sunday, Aug 19, 2012 at 4:46:50 PM
Employers love to complain about their workers, bu... by lwarman on Monday, Aug 20, 2012 at 6:15:02 AM
They actually admitted this recently, in writing, ... by Gustav Wynn on Monday, Aug 20, 2012 at 5:36:43 PM
I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it wi... by lwarman on Monday, Aug 27, 2012 at 12:06:24 PM
Mr. Steffin. Your comment here has caused me to wo... by Daniel Penisten on Wednesday, Aug 22, 2012 at 12:12:07 AM
Yes, we know the problem is complex with a host of... by Barton Kunstler on Sunday, Aug 26, 2012 at 6:55:36 PM
and asan adjunct- professor I certify it is all tr... by Mark Sashine on Sunday, Aug 19, 2012 at 7:42:33 PM
... to our students in a way that does NOT focus o... by Ad Du on Sunday, Aug 19, 2012 at 8:17:38 PM
I'm not even (foolishly) trying (or hoping) to cov... by Ad Du on Sunday, Aug 19, 2012 at 8:55:28 PM
It isn't just in top schools where business intere... by Daniel Vasey on Sunday, Aug 19, 2012 at 10:16:08 PM
it is quite obvious what GOP and company wants to ... by Mark Sashine on Monday, Aug 20, 2012 at 6:41:28 AM
The class system is used promote the class system.... by Ned Lud on Monday, Aug 20, 2012 at 8:19:02 AM
Attended Purdue in West Lafayette, IN: BS, Psychol... by Andrew Schettino on Monday, Aug 20, 2012 at 9:42:39 AM
When does one know things are out if control? ... by william czander on Monday, Aug 20, 2012 at 9:51:40 AM
For those of us who grew up in the late 80s and ea... by Michelle R. on Monday, Aug 20, 2012 at 10:22:55 AM
Hopelessness kills. The only antidote is action. Y... by Laura Stein on Monday, Aug 20, 2012 at 3:56:20 PM
Thanks, Laura.  What you say is very true. &n... by Debra Leigh Scott on Friday, Aug 24, 2012 at 6:17:53 PM
Michelle, this is one of the horrible problems cau... by Debra Leigh Scott on Friday, Aug 24, 2012 at 6:04:51 PM
In Quebec, 400,000 marched in protest of tuition h... by Gustav Wynn on Monday, Aug 20, 2012 at 9:01:12 PM
Gustav, thanks for bringing up Quebec - the studen... by Debra Leigh Scott on Friday, Aug 24, 2012 at 6:07:36 PM
 Madam,  If the numbers (of PhDs and pro... by Ad Du on Wednesday, Aug 22, 2012 at 12:54:14 PM
I like them a lot. I like the idea of dedicated Ci... by Daniel Penisten on Wednesday, Aug 22, 2012 at 3:57:41 PM
Thank you for deleting the draft of my comments on... by Walter J Smith on Thursday, Aug 23, 2012 at 9:11:46 AM