Future profs: “Academic lettuce pickers”?

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In “Faulty Towers: The Crisis in Higher Education” (The Nation, May 4, 2011), William Deresiewicz reflects on the current discouraging face of higher education as a career choice (not on whether one should have a degree):

Basic physics in this country is all but dead. From 1971 to 2001, the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded in English declined by 20 percent, but the number awarded in math and statistics declined by 55 percent. The only areas of the liberal arts that saw an increase in BAs awarded were biology and psychology—and this at a time when aggregate enrollment expanded by something like 75 percent.[ … ]

If you’re tenured, of course, life is still quite good (at least until the new provost decides to shut down your entire department). In fact, the revolution in the structure of academic work has come about in large measure to protect the senior professoriate. The faculty have steadily grayed in recent decades; by 1998 more than half were 50 or older. Mandatory retirement was abolished in 1986, exacerbating the problem. Departments became “tenured in,” with a large bolus of highly compensated senior professors and room, increasingly squeezed in many cases, for just a few junior members—another reason jobs have been so hard to find. Contingent labor is desirable above all because it saves money for senior salaries (as well as relieving the tenure track of the disagreeable business of teaching low-level courses). By 2004, while pay for assistant and associate professors still stood more or less where it had in 1970, that for full professors was about 10 percent higher.

See also Thomas H. Benton’s “The Big Lie About the ‘Life of the Mind'” (February 8, 2010) <a href=”” target=”another”>here</a>.

Also: The dangers of being a science grad student:

Distorting reality

Two years ago, safety experts taught me that using the term “accident” for a foreseeable outcome of unsafe practices distorts reality and dissipates responsibility. If someone not wearing a seatbelt is thrown from a car during a crash, we no longer consider the resulting injuries or death accidental, but rather the predictable result of failing to take known and accepted precautions.


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