• September 1, 2015

The Ivory Sweatshop: Academe Is No Longer a Convivial Refuge

The Ivory Sweatshop: Academe Is No Longer a Convivial Refuge 1

Sarah Kiewel for The Chronicle

Luis Ponjuan, an assistant professor of higher-education administration at the U. of Florida, calls himself an "intellectual entrepreneur" in an era of heightened competition.

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close The Ivory Sweatshop: Academe Is No Longer a Convivial Refuge 1

Sarah Kiewel for The Chronicle

Luis Ponjuan, an assistant professor of higher-education administration at the U. of Florida, calls himself an "intellectual entrepreneur" in an era of heightened competition.

With standards for tenure at major research universities rising year by year, professors say academe has become such a pressure-cooker environment that faculty jobs barely resemble those of a generation ago.

Gone are the days when academe was considered a convivial refuge from the corporate world, a place where scholars had ample time to debate ideas—often during lunch or over drinks after class. Professors, particularly those at research universities, are simply working much more and much harder these days. They are competing for scarcer grant money, turning out more articles and books, coping with the speedup in communications afforded by better technology, and traveling the globe to establish the kind of international reputation that's now necessary to thrive.

"What I'm seeing now is junior faculty really just putting their noses to the grindstone," says Frank Donoghue, an associate professor of English at Ohio State University, who earned his Ph.D. in 1986. "It's had the effect of transforming the culture of the academy into one that is much more businesslike."


MORE ON THE ACADEMIC WORKPLACE: Buy The Chronicle's Special Report


The frenetic atmosphere has led to a decline in collegiality. Not only do professors have less time to pursue professional relationships, but the rise in standards for earning tenure has caused resentment between young scholars and older ones.

"Assistant professors are producing article after article and research study after research study," says David D. Perlmutter, who directs the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Iowa. "Then they're looking at the promotion-and-tenure committee and they're going, Wow, I've actually published more in the last six years than all of them combined."

Not everyone agrees that academic jobs are all that different than they used to be. Professors at research universities have always taught classes, published articles and books, and served on university committees. Indeed, as the demands of research have risen, faculty members at major universities often spend less time in the classroom than did their predecessors 20 years ago.

"I'm always skeptical of framing the past as a golden age," says Abigail J. Stewart, a professor of psychology and women's studies at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. "I think there is a nostalgia and a sentimentality, especially from senior men about the good old days when they played cards at lunch and wandered down the hall to shoot the breeze."

Ms. Stewart has been teaching for 35 years. "I never experienced any of that," she says.

Academic careers are also still among the most flexible. Professors at research universities may work more hours than many people in the corporate world, but they do some of that work at home and almost never spend eight hours a day, five days a week in their offices. Indeed, many longtime adjunct instructors and professors at less-elite universities would gladly accept a prestigious research-university post, despite its headaches. Still, there's no question among many scholars that life at the top has gotten more difficult. What it now takes to secure a tenure-track job and move up the ranks at a large university is substantially greater than what it used to be. That's partly because the tenured ranks in academe are shrinking, as universities rely more and more on adjunct instructors. Professors who teach at community colleges and at less-elite universities are used to contending with hardships like budget cuts, rising enrollment, and a growing number of unprepared students. Now, with a squeeze on tenure-track jobs, even those at the top of the academic food chain are feeling big changes. The Chronicle spoke about the topic with more than two dozen professors.

John B. Conway, chairman of mathematics at George Washington University, certainly remembers a time when getting through graduate school and finding a faculty job was much simpler. He earned his Ph.D. in 1965 after just four years and never completed a postdoctoral fellowship—a virtual requirement these days for scholars who want to work at a research university like his.

Mr. Conway secured his first academic job, at Indiana University, without even applying for a position. His adviser put out some calls to department chairmen, and the deal was done. "I tell the students about that now, and they think this is some kind of story from never-never land," says Mr. Conway, who plans to retire next year.

Robert G. Bergman, who holds a distinguished professorship in chemistry at the University of California at Berkeley, agrees that times have changed. "This job has gotten a thousand percent harder than when I started out," says Mr. Bergman, who began teaching in 1967.

It takes a lot more time now, he says, for scholars to keep current with advances in their discipline. "When I was starting out, one of the premier journals in my field, the Journal of the American Chemical Society, came out once a month, and it was relatively thin," he says. "Now it comes out once a week, and it's much thicker."

Because of declining state and federal funds, professors also spend more time trying to raise money for their own research. In fact, Mr. Bergman recalls a time during the late 1960s when someone from a federal agency called a chemistry professor at the California Institute of Technology, where he was teaching, and said, "Please submit a grant. We want to give you money."

Now, if something like that happened, everyone would think it was a joke. "We have people submitting a large number of proposals just so one or two will hit," says Mr. Bergman. "That means a massive amount more work."

Scholars also routinely spend much more time away from their campuses now than they ever did in the past, he says. They travel to present their work at far-flung seminars where they might meet luminaries who could give their work a nod come tenure time. "There used to be much more confidence that just in publishing stuff, your work would be known."

A study of work-life issues conducted by Harvard University's Graduate School of Education found that Generation X professors value efficiency over face time. The study, which consisted of conversations with about a dozen research-university professors born between 1964 and 1980, found that younger professors didn't want to become workaholics.

But none of the young scholars who spoke with The Chronicle about faculty workload seemed to believe that dialing down was an option. Luis Ponjuan, an assistant professor at the University of Florida, refers to himself as an "intellectual entrepreneur," even though he studies higher-education administration, not business. He doesn't think of his job as affording him time to ponder big ideas with interesting colleagues and students.

"I identify pockets of opportunity that other people will buy into, support, and fund­—to lessen the state's responsibility," he says of his research. "That kind of thought process simply would not have existed 20 years ago."

The more calculated approach is the result of heightened competition, he says. "There's a finite number of faculty positions, a finite number of grants, and a finite number of journals."

Scholars like Mr. Ponjuan who have been on the job for only a few years have already noticed an upward creep in standards since they were hired. "There's been a major escalation in terms of what CV's look like for people being considered for a position," says Greta R. Krippner. By the time she finished her doctorate in sociology, in 2003, she had completed four publications, none of them in the field's two flagship journals: the American Journal of Sociology and the American Sociological Review. Her work was good enough, though, to get her a starting job at the University of California at Los Angeles. Since then she has moved to the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, where she is up for tenure next year.

"Now it's kind of normal that you see a graduate student with a paper in one of those top journals," she says. "Just last year, we looked at someone who already had a book out, plus a handful of articles." In fact, that job candidate—who hadn't even finished his Ph.D.—had already completed what at Michigan would now be a very respectable tenure file, says Ms. Krippner.

Indeed, the tight job market has given top universities the luxury of choosing candidates who have already demonstrated an ability to attract grants and churn out papers. Particularly in the sciences, universities invest so much in start-up packages for young scholars that no department any longer wants to take a chance on an untested hire. "Departments can afford to hire people who already have what they need to do to pass at least their third-year review," says Diana B. Carlin, a professor of communication studies at the University of Kansas who was dean of the graduate school until 2007.

That third-year review has also become a much more formal evaluation process than it was 10 to 20 years ago. Jennifer Ng, who just earned tenure in the School of Education at Kansas, says one of her older colleagues told her that his own third-year review had consisted of the department chairman's pulling him aside and saying, "You're looking good." Ms. Ng, on the other hand, had to document her work in a package that resembled a miniature tenure file.

Young professors are reluctant to complain publicly about how much harder they may be working than their senior colleagues did when they were starting out. But professors who are in midcareer hear the comments.

"My younger colleagues feel they don't have the same opportunity as previous generations to sit and really think and let ideas germinate," says Gregory M. Colón Semenza, an associate professor of English at the University of Connecticut. "What used to be a truly enjoyable intellectual process has become a very professionalized model of efficiency."

Meanwhile, experienced scholars say their own workload has increased as well. The pace doesn't necessarily slow down anymore once a scholar gains tenure. Young professors are typically protected from committee assignments and departmental duties while they are on the tenure track, but then those burdens get dumped on them, too.


MORE ON THE ACADEMIC WORKPLACE: Buy The Chronicle's Special Report


"People are freaked out about the amount of work they have—there's just no time," says William A. Pannapacker, an associate professor of English at Hope College. "Once you're tenured, suddenly you're given way more administrative responsibility really fast, and you have no training for it, and you have no idea what you're doing."

L. Pamela Cook, an associate dean of engineering and a professor of mathematics at the University of Delaware, says she works more now than she did when she started at Delaware, 25 years ago. Back then she had two young children and had to put work aside during the evenings and on weekends. Now, she says, "I work all the time."

Nora Berrah, a distinguished professor of physics at Western Michigan University, has worked in academe since 1987. She still devotes most of her waking hours to her research, and spends about half of her time traveling to national laboratories, where she collaborates on projects. Back in her office at Western Michigan, she usually keeps the door closed. "Sometimes I avoid my colleagues in the hallway," she says, "because I'm afraid it's going to take awhile to say, 'Hello, how are you doing?'"

Campus social life does seem to be a casualty of the work speedup in higher education. A couple of decades ago, it wasn't unusual for faculty members to have lunch together during the workweek and attend parties in one another's homes on the weekends. "I started out at Caltech, and there were several faculty members who said, 'We want to have you over for dinner,'" recalls Mr. Bergman, from Berkeley. "People you knew at work were a major part of your social circle, and that, I think, has really changed."

Nowadays few faculty members seem to have time to socialize with colleagues. That's partly because of the rise of dual-career couples. Since both spouses work, each must take a turn tending to children and completing household tasks, which takes away time for socializing. In addition, with both spouses working, people often live further from their offices than they used to and are less likely to return to the campus for evening events.

Louis Menand started his academic career in English at Princeton University in the early 1980s. "We all went to lunch together each day, not just junior people but the senior people," he says. "We lived near the campus. There was a lot of hanging out together."

Mr. Menand, who is now an English professor at Harvard University, has been back to Princeton several times in the last few years, and notes that things have changed. For one, "half the faculty live in New York." And even in a college town like Cambridge, he says, the culture has changed. "You make a lunch date two weeks in advance, but you just don't all gather at noon and head off."

Many research universities have cut teaching loads to help their faculty members make time for increased demands in research and publishing. Mr. Donoghue, the associate professor of English at Ohio State, says faculty life changed there three years ago, when professors saw a one-course reduction in their teaching load—to four per year. That's when faculty members started clustering their teaching on Mondays and Wednesdays or Tuesdays and Thursdays. "It used to be the whole faculty was in the building, running into each other, having lots of conversations," he recalls of the years when faculty members taught five courses a year. "Now the Monday/Wednesday people never see the Tuesday/Thursday people."

Mr. Bergman says the breakdown of social relationships among professors is more important than people might think. "You're less willing to get into conflict with people if they are part of your social circle as well as your professional circle."

And Mr. Menand says faculty work looks a lot less attractive to prospective academics than it used to. "I think the demands have come to be experienced as all-consuming, 24/7," he says. "That's bad because of the quality of life and because it discourages other people from getting into academe."

He adds: "You don't want smart college students taking one look at what we have to do to keep our jobs and saying, That's not how I want to spend my life."


1. prof_truthteller - July 25, 2010 at 03:04 pm

While the focus of this article seems to be the increased demand for research and publication, I'm surprised no mention of the additional workload required by more and more quasi-administrative responsibilities. For example, accreditation with the relatively new outcomes-based standards. Program reviews annually, comprehensive reviews every 3-5 years, updated curriculum every 3-5 years, detailed documentation of outcomes and progress toward meeting them, documentation of integrated planning processes towards meeting goals of strategic plans which must be updated every 5-10 years, and more. Many faculty view this work as BS, but are required to do it under threat of losing their programs and thus, their jobs.

In my state, we also are experiencing a huge gap in administrative talent, such that many of the top and mid level administrators are inexperienced, incompetent, or even destructive. So faculty take up the slack, and end up doing a lot of administrative type work.

2. klblk - July 26, 2010 at 05:25 am

I generally agree with the points in this article. I have seen a huge change in the quality and quantity of academic life since I started doctoral training 25 years ago.

I am already stressed about work that will start in December.

I do wonder, though, how much of this pressure for increased workload is externally imposed, and how much of this do we actually directly or indirectly create ourselves?

There are still enough tenured faculty to make a difference before it is too late, if we treat each decision over which we have discretion as a decision that creates the world that we and our junior colleagues will have to live in.

If we acted collectively and collegially, could we dial down the pressure? For example, hiring committees *could* actually hire the best candidate for the 25-year haul, whether that is the promising candidate or the published one, rather than looking just three to five years into the future.

3. 22280998 - July 26, 2010 at 07:49 am

All this research, but is it any better? Churning out research does not sound like a quality product. Is all this merely creating Potemkin universities?

4. mlisaacs - July 26, 2010 at 07:59 am

The increase in administrative loads is the direct result of the loss of full time professorships.
With 70% adjuncts nationally, that leaves all of the administrative work on the backs of
30% of the faculty. I am not referring to the administrative roles of Deans and Chairs but
rather all of those things that are related to the academic programs, advising students,
serving on committees, governing bodies such as university senates, search committees etc.
Enormous amounts of time must be spent writing reports, preparing for meetings, arranging
meetings, and sitting in meetings. There used to be a much larger population to share these
To maintain any sort of standard, and continue to believe in what one does, most full time
professors must work 7 days per week. Burn out is common.
Add on to this that most students are really working people who are trying to be students,
and it is easy to see that the academic environment leaves very little time for discussion,
exploration, sharing, or collective learning.
It is sad.

5. x1234 - July 26, 2010 at 08:22 am

"If we acted collectively and collegially, could we dial down the pressure? For example, hiring committees *could* actually hire the best candidate for the 25-year haul, whether that is the promising candidate or the published one, rather than looking just three to five years into the future."

This needs to be said over and over and over. But it will never happen. Departments don't want to go out on a limb (understandably given the nature of university budgets). What I find interesting about the myopia of (some) department hiring committees is that they end up hiring a lot of candidates that end up jumping to another university before tenure review. Essentially, the candidate does not feel connected to the department and just hangs out for three or four years until the can jump to a better job. This causes so much instability in terms of faculty and student morale that a department actually suffers because they chose the "best" candidate.

6. 49k95 - July 26, 2010 at 10:07 am

One of the reasons is also the bullying that takes place at some universities. What you see and what you experience is unbelievable. To add insult to injury, the administration does not even care.

7. infogoon - July 26, 2010 at 10:54 am

The faculty lounge at my school is like a ghost town, now. The younger faculty - people under 50 or so - just don't go in there at all. It's been relegated entirely to the emeriti.

8. alichtens - July 26, 2010 at 11:02 am

I think we need to pay close attention to the excellent comments by #1 and #4.

First, it is administrative and bureaucratic tasks that above all have increased for faculty. This runs from the mundane (not enough staff to help with photocopying) to the truly problematic, namely the snowballing amount of "evaluation", "learning outcomes", and all the rest of the fake oversight driven by the accountability matrix. I have yet to meet a faculty member anywhere who takes this seriously, or felt it contributed in any way to teaching or university life. So, even if research and teaching expectations remained the same, these duties alone would have increased work load considerably. At most research universities, "service" is recognized and rewarded as about 10% of your working time, but most faculty agree that it takes up far more than that.

This expansion in service obligations is then compounded, as #4 points out, by a shrinking base of full-time faculty whose job duties actually require this work. More work; less people available to do it. A classic speed-up.

9. rabbitquest - July 26, 2010 at 11:23 am

I think there is something to that guy in England who has his own cattle farm and funds his research that way at his own independent lab.

10. laischron - July 26, 2010 at 11:25 am

If the university has become an "ivory sweatshop," if the life of faculty members is subject to external "hurry up" pressures that have been internalized with increased workloads a thand such that no longer lead to a "good life", and if the corporate leadership that drives higher eiducational institutions are neither understnding, humane, nor competent, then one should recall Joe Hill: "Don't Mourn--Organize." When a university working life becomes hard to distinguish from that of a coal miner or an auto worker on the line, perhaps it's time either to hit the rails or unite to change our world.

11. jack_cade - July 26, 2010 at 11:29 am

Turning back the tide is possible, we must remember that. The people who will do that "turning" are reading this article and commenting upon it.
However, doing this will be difficult, missteps will be common, but the cost of doing nothing is too great.
We simply must make this a priority.
Start including disciplinary politics in our graduate curriculum, start making institutional political awareness and even activism a fundamental part of our hiring processes.
The boats need to be rocked. We need to start rocking them or helping those who are rocking them. But more than that, we need to train, higher, and promote people who will take on this mess of a system that (frankly) many of us let come about.
The clock needs to be turned back, public money needs to play a larger factor in public universities, both public and private universities sever their ties with private corporations. Accreditation needs to be cleaned up. Adjuncts need to be unionized. Tenured folk need to strike. The student needs to be decentered as customer and recentered as the "product," if you will.
What has been going on is bad for the world.
Our research is important, it is what we do, but this also needs to be part of what we do.

12. joechill - July 26, 2010 at 11:30 am

What I find infuriating is when state legislators complain of idle professors in contrast to the very real issues of overwork articulated here. As a recently tenured professor at 4/4 institution, I would put my work days up against a legislator's any day of the week: four preps, eight committees, an article a semester, plus community service work. We need to tell our stories and not allow anecdotes of professors who probably never existed in the first place to shape the public perception of the profession.

13. bradwick - July 26, 2010 at 11:40 am

I am an accounting professor and always emphasize with my students that their efforts in college, part-time employment, and their careers must ADD VALUE. With 30+ years in my licensed discipline and 20+ years as a university professor, I constantly ask, "What 'added-value' comes from accreditation bodies &/or research in my discipline?" For 20+ years now, my answer to that question has been, "Little, if any." There is a COMPLETE disconnect between between what the accounting marketplace NEEDS and what accreditation bodies &/or published research deliver. Recently, one of my former students was willing to put his career and earnings on-hold for 5 years working on an accounting doctorate. BUT, he quickly abandoned that goal. Why? While attending a 3-day doctoral-funding screening seminar (sponsored by the AICPA, the accounting trade association with 350K+ members), he asked, "What about teaching? I don't hear anything about teaching." The response? He was coldly informed, "Those who go into teaching-oriented positions are considered to have been 'failures' at the research-universities where they received their doctorates." While I (sadly) expected him to hear that answer, I was alarmed at how forcefully and nastily that message was delivered. My former student? He immediately withdrew himself from funding consideration and returned to his position as an Audit Manager in a CPA firm. And me? I remain a teaching-oriented accounting professor, in a teaching-oriented department, at a medium-large-size public university -- the kind that teaches first-generation college students and graduates them to 'add-value' to the global marketplace. Our faculty? Aging, retiring, and not being replaced. In less than 20 years, this department has shrunk from 19 faculty to 8 faculty (plus 2 temps). So, as I watch my department 'evaporate,' it comes as absolutely no surprise to me that there remains a critical shortage of accounting professors in USA. Further, it comes as absolutely no surprise to me that the USA shall experience a shortage of accountants to hire -- and indeed, already feels that shortage in certain parts of the USA and in certain accounting disciplines. Teach more? Those of us actually teaching accounting are already teaching 6-8 classes per academic year, plus more with overloads and summer classes. We burn-out, retire, and are not replaced. The question remains, "What 'added-value' comes from accreditation bodies &/or research in my discipline?"

14. tolerantly - July 26, 2010 at 11:51 am

It's not a good thing.

I'm not faculty; I'm a writer living on the fringe of a Big Ten university. One of the reasons I've stayed here has been easy access to people with interesting minds; for many years, it was possible to wander into a faculty office, say, "Hey, I hear you're working on ______," and shoot the breeze in a way both enjoyable and productive. I started noticing the change five years ago or so. It's just not as much fun, which I find is something to be taken seriously.

On the other hand, you guys really did breed your own problem, pumping up your PhD output like that, and pushing up overhead the way you have. Must look productive! What did you think was going to happen? Your econ TAs could've told you, and some of them probably did.

15. more_cowbell - July 26, 2010 at 12:33 pm

Sounds like the name of the game should be publish AND perish.

This article nicely sums up why I left academe - too much work for too little pay for not enough little recognition.

16. 12025109 - July 26, 2010 at 01:29 pm

This sounds all too familiar. Over a 30+ year career, the pattern had been cutbacks and higher teaching and administrivia loads for faculty. Meanwhile, senior administrators are paying themselves handsome 6 and 7 figure salaries. The pattern reflects are society in which the middle class is disappearing to leave a small elite and large quasi-slave class or serfdom. In one professional college with which I am familiar, half the tenure track lines have been lost. After arduous searches, quality candidates are snapped up by the competition of frightened away by the pathetic salary offers. Tenure track faculty have been largely replaced by adjuncts, retirees from the profession, who contribute nothing to the research output of the college. The majority of senior professors, still wanting to do research and publish have moved to other universities. There is nobody left with whom to have an intelligent conversation, even if there were time available to do this in the Ivory Sweatshop!

17. concernededucator - July 26, 2010 at 02:49 pm

If there was a golden age for faculty in higher education, as the article suggests, it was not a generation but really two generations ago, lasting only a few years: the generation granted tenure en masse before the door slammed shut c. 1972-73. The requirements for tenure began metastasizing right around then.
However, two developments, on top of the stiffening of tenure criteria, have since helped create the situation described in the article. As other commentators have noted, the vast shift to a contingent faculty has enormously increased the administrative/bureaucratic workload for tenure-track and tenured faculty, particularly of course at large universities. The growing bureaucratization of our work as educators results, in part, from the self-expanding nature of bureaucracies but also, more recently, from the dominance of an increasingly managerial approach (imposed from above, by people who by and large are not educators or scholars) to higher learning. Assessments, outcomes -- all of this one-size-fits-all crap (and I have heard outside evaluators of my department's programs candidly refer to "assessment" as "bull****") completely undermines the ideals of higher education by subordinating learning to now-discredited models of efficiency and uniformity imported from the corporate world. I now anticipate spending the last fifteen years or so of my career hating my job.

For years, when very talented students approached me to discuss their interest in pursuing a doctorate in the field and a career in academe, I certainly would warn them about the job market in the humanities but without discouraging them to follow their aspirations. More recently, I feel that I cannot in good conscience encourage my students to prepare for a career in the academic profession, for reasons having to do not only with the worsening job market but also with the drastic changes transforming (and threatening to ruin) higher education in the United States. The one European nation whose university system has slavishly adopted the neo-liberal American model--the UK--has seen its system similarly and scandalously damaged.

The professoriate in the U.S. really needed to unite and organize itself around such issues in protest a long time ago. And where is that toothless entity, the AAUP, in all of this? Why has it not led the charge in protecting the integrity of higher learning from the idiocies of its "managers" and overlords?

18. duchess_of_malfi - July 26, 2010 at 03:06 pm

The funny thing is, many people agree that it's a bad development and that increasingly, only a certain type will thrive in this atmosphere, people with high tolerance for or enjoyment of competition, who will work until exhausted, who are strong on quantity and prefer research to teaching. But if you're non-TT, just try to explain why you don't want a TT job; few TT/T people believe it. "Oh, you poor thing, but you *must* want what we want." The pay difference and lack of job security are bad, but most days, it's a worthwhile trade-off. The faculty role has split in half, and TT faculty took the research half.

By the way, #4, it's not the case everywhere that the service burden is higher on TT faculty mainly because of the expansion of contingent faculty. Part of the increase in service demands comes from assessment, mission planning, and similar changes. Service duties vary. In my department, all undergraduate advising, recruitment, and related work is done by non-TT full-time faculty. Of course, we have no role in undergraduate curriculum or internship planning, that's reserved for people who don't teach undergraduates and have never had a non-academic job--but it's not because we aren't willing to help.

19. softshellcrab - July 26, 2010 at 03:20 pm

I find that the university environment has remained congenial and supportive, between faculty, basically the same as when I started over 20 years ago. I certainly find that there is less money, less raises, less growth, less support from the university. But between faculty, it remains mutually supportive and friendly, even when we argue. By the way, in the middle of typing this, I got a call from an adjunct who teaches in my area. Could I proctor his exam for him tomorrow night, a problem has come up? Sure, get me the exam and I'll help you out, no questions asked.

I was sorry to hear all the AAUP and "organized response" talk. Golly, I hate unions. Stand up and be a minch (mench? I'm not Jewish, but you know what I mean) If we don't like it, the door is open, leave. I truly think tenure track faculty are treated much better than at 90% of the other jobs out there. Even our much lower paid, and higher teadching load, term/visitor faculty tell me this is the best job they ever had. You can say its's not so good for adjuncts, but not to be critical or mean, but if you are an adjunct, you don't really work here. The news flash is that anywhere you work party time, ad hoc, hired only-as-needed, you will have by definition a crumby job. For full time faculty, they tend to really love their jobs and they truly are better than 90% of the non-faculty jobs out there.

20. upallnight - July 26, 2010 at 05:20 pm

I too find that I can not, in good conscience, steer students into academia. Most of my brightest graduate students see the reality very quickly and start planning alternative careers.

I sought a "life of the mind" by coming to academia. I have found a very solitary life. Our department slaps on a very happy face for visitors, prospective graduate students, and job applicants. In reality, it is a very impersonal, stab-you-in-the-back place. In the end, the undergraduates suffer the most. But management doesn't care. The department head and college dean are "management." Everything of substance that needs discussed is "a personnel issue" and is top secret/confidential. Incompetent staff remain. Good people get run off.

I chose this career because I enjoyed the research. The amount of awfulness and stupidity that I have to choke down is making it harder and harder to stick with it.

The professoriate in 20 years will definitely look very different than it does now. When the idealists are finally retired or run off, who will be left?

21. asymptotic - July 26, 2010 at 07:52 pm

I believe this is indicative of the changes in society that #16 alluded to. I think it's clear that this world is transitioning to a system where the extremely wealthy control the lives of its minions, people who stuggle to feed off of the crumbs from their table. And I believe academe is a significant part of this troubling change.

Think about it. Our students are not capable of critical thought, nor do they care to enagage in such nonsense. They desire the "paper" they need to get a good job, so they can buy lots of stuff.

Professors, who traditionally serve a variety of functions in society, espeically when it comes to social justice, knowledge, and so forth, are being systematically eliminated from the picture. I earnestly perceive more and more institutions if higher learning to be assembly lines creating a "product" of clueless workers that possess enough skills to be useful, but without that pesky critical thinking that makes them want to rock the boat or change the world. I really believe people are becoming more clueless by the minute.

I know if I were a filthy elitist, that's how *I* would create these minions. It's a brilliant plan, really.

22. physicsprof - July 27, 2010 at 01:35 am

I find the claims that "people are becoming more clueless by the minute" because "our students are not capable of critical thought" hilarious. Exploding blogging and online discussions are the best indications that critical thought is well and alive in our society. It might not be of the type that is taught by our esteemed professoriate. Still it is quite amusing how quickly we start emulating religious preachers damning our flocks when they stray away from our righteous teachings.

23. diplomatic - July 27, 2010 at 08:19 am

Interesting discussion. Many valid points raised. This article is somewhat of a scare. It makes academe sound like a place only a workaholic would survive. And that might scare some good well-meaning people off. Like these people for whom this is the best job ever. I could very well be one of those people, a 1st gen low income type.

But I went to grad school anyway.

I actually considered the value-added-ness of various careers--if I could study accounting to ensure a secure future for myself, but the money wasn't always the most important thing. (Plus I went to a top ten public U where the accounting courses are super difficult so as to weed out all but the most dedicated.)

And Economics always seemed to be the argot of the wealthy elite. And Business still has that sleazy reputation. And I also see a trend toward the managerial. And, ya the UK seems to have that flavor, "neo-liberal" is it?

But not to knock business entirely, I do see GREAT things from truly value-adding entities, be they financing, VC, entrepreneurial, DIY, microbusiness you name it. Free markets could also be socially responsibile and pay decent livable wages, spur innovation, reward invention and good ideas, etc, and they do to some degree. Well, producing capable students to perform in-demand jobs is quite necessary.

Also 'ivory sweatshop,' well it was a 'digital sweatshop' where I worked last in academic publishing, where I was just a proofreading (production assistant) tool on the digital assembly line. At least, the reading lists were from some of the best professors' minds in the USA, only I didn't get to read and absorb, just compiled and organized. All at the lightspeed pace of an efficient digital marketplace, and they wanted faster, more. And I wanted to slow down and think.

A lot of this seems like natural changes, staying competitive professionally, teaching versus research type stuff. It's good that administration, higher education is being examined as to whether they add value and not just the monetary sort.

It isn't always about money and markets, is it? Can't it also be about meaningful work or making a positive impact? Short of kids and a mortgage, one could live on 12500 a year (or less). Most teachers make 4X that. Adjuncts, well most would be lucky to make that. Well academe certainly is not immune to the forces of the market.

Unless the value systems changes Education into a priority with greater incentives for both teacher and student, (deep govt subsidies via taxation of the most wealthy perhaps?) Doesn't anyone else see the value of a "well-informed citizenry"? (Jefferson).

24. profdave - July 27, 2010 at 10:40 am

Re: #19

If you don't like your job, leave? Really? On what planet have you been living?

Comments like that are what preserve the whole "ivory tower" reputation of academia. People in the real workforce, which includes transient faculty who might be working either FT or PT at the moment, laugh at comments like that - when we aren't crying about the destruction of our economy and society by people who learned how to do so much damage while attending universities.

25. duchess_of_malfi - July 27, 2010 at 12:04 pm

#19 doesn't know much about the rest of the work world. It's inaccurate to say that part-time jobs are consistently badly paid and have bad working conditions, but it's telling that #19 views the contingent faculty who teach 50% of undergraduate courses nationally as more similar to Walmart cashiers than accountants, medical transcriptionists, or any other well-educated or -trained professional who might work on a contract basis. Dismissing the part-time faculty at his or her own college by saying "you don't really work here" reflects that pattern of cognitive distortion.

There are many tenured faculty who could not, or would not want to, compete using the standards they now apply to their tenure-track colleagues. Things have changed, and there are gains and losses. Emeritus faculty are much more fun to hang out with than tenure-track faculty, and I don't think it's only because old people are more fun than young people. The article points to personal strains and changes in department culture, but there is also an opting-out of talented people who don't want the pressure or, in some cases, the nastiness. I'm the only member of my grad cohort to chose an academic career. The rest were too turned off by a series of ugly tenure battles in our department to want to stick with it.

26. carol90403 - July 27, 2010 at 12:08 pm

The world described by Conway, from IU about getting hired in the 60s was still a time when male [in particular, white] men were mainly hired as tenured faculty. It was an old boy's network which mainly men competed within -- it was not that long ago that the main way women were connected to college campuses were as wives of faculty -- these parties and such would have been thrown by the 'Faculty Wives Club' in all probability.

I've heard similar stories [usually from the same group] of these types of examples. With the introduction of women [and other cultural groups] into the mix it's made hiring much more competitive. It's also this way in most other fields -- medicine and law for example are much more competitive than when they were controlled by the old boy's networks.

27. philosophy - July 27, 2010 at 12:59 pm

R1 places are but a small piece of academe - one shouldn't use them as a basis for generalizing to the 2000+ U.S. colleges and universities!

A least a somewhat better basis is the Great Places to Work For survey.

28. unabashedmale - July 28, 2010 at 02:36 pm

Wait until the other shoe drops, and they off-shore your jobs.

It's a virtual world folks, and education is becoming a 'commodity' item like everything else.

Don't get me wrong - I don't like it either.

29. ucbprof - July 29, 2010 at 10:25 am

As the child of academics now pursuing tenure, the biggest change I see from the 1970s and 1980s is that more women work, including as professors. This means that the lovely lunches and parties stay at home wives used to orchestrate are a thing of the past. Now, male junior faculty are as overwhelmed as their female colleagues with family responsibilities. It is rare that faculty have time to socialize with colleagues over a home-cooked meal. The nostalgia is for a time when women and minorities were not as well integrated into the university system. Further, in 4 years, I have noticed a reluctance among older, white male colleagues to literally integrate with their younger female and minority colleagues. Yes, there is the prism of unfair labour (sweatshop), but there is also a demographic shift at play (not-so-ivory tower, as the photo above suggests).

30. ammocrypta - July 31, 2010 at 05:39 pm

#17, I know what you mean. 15 years into my career, I don't much like my job anymore either. The bureaucracy has increased considerably and most of my day is spent dealing with complex grant accts (I'm a scientist, not an accountant), filling out forms, trying to prove to the state of Texas that I am doing my job, dealing with assessment-related garbage, digital measures (crap!), re-inventing the wheel and numerous other things that don't really involve the classroom or scholarship. I'm tired of it and find myself dreaming of a more simple life too much. Finally, technology does not seem to make things easier or work better. It really only adds multiple layer of excessive bureaucracy that never seems to end.

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