Sara sent me this great Inside Higher Ed article Call to Arms for Academic Labor about Marc Bousquet’s recent book How the University Works: Higher Education and the Low-Wage Nation. From the IHE article:
In the book, Bousqet doesnâ€™t just lament the situation facing those on the job market, but questions how the market is defined. Just looking at jobs being filled and new Ph.D.â€™s entering the market, he writes, ignores larger realities: the way graduate students perform work for years before they are counted as â€œin the market,â€ and the differences in the qualities of the jobs being filled these days with those envisioned in the 1989 report. As a result, even generally optimistic reports about the job market miss the point, he argues.
Holding a doctoral degree in many ways represents a â€œdisqualificationâ€ from academic work, Bousquet writes, because these degree holdersâ€™ post-Ph.D. employment is working as an adjunct without the possibilities of working on research, having health insurance or enjoying job security â€” which they may have (in varying degrees) as grad students.
I find Bousquet’s argument convincing (without having read the book), but I also like what Tim Mayers has to say in a comment on the article:
Much of Marc Bosquetâ€™s analysis is astute and provocative. But with regard to one important aspect of the labor situation in college and university English departments, that analysis is sorely lacking.
Ph.D.-granting English departments nationwide contine to churn out specialists in literary interpretation; the number of such specialists is staggering in comparison to the number of specialists in writing and/or rhetoric. Yet most of the â€œcheap laborâ€ provided by graduate students and adjuncts involves teaching writing, usually first-year composition. The issue, then, is not merely that so many college writing instructors are paid little and have no benefits and no job security. Itâ€™s that a stunning number of college writing instructors are unprepared and unqualified to teach writing. And many of them, quite frankly, have no real interest in teaching writing either; they do it to remain in academia while hoping they might eventually find â€œrealâ€ jobs as literature professors.
Behind all this lies the persistent bias of the MLA (and most English departments) that literary study is the fundamental focus and reason-for-being of English studies. A concerted effort to redefine English studies around literacy (as opposed to literature) is whatâ€™s needed. But that will take decades, if not longer.