The American Association of University Professors recently released a report on the economic state of the profession, noting a number of alarming trends in American colleges and universities that, while not entirely new, are being accelerated by the recession and consistent state budget shortfalls.
Most noticeable at public colleges and universities, the shift toward contingent faculty appointments – full or part-time faculty without tenure or tenure-track positions – is accelerating. More than 75% of teaching staff in America is now comprised of contingent appointments of full-time, part-time, or graduate student instructors. While this certainly doesn’t improve morale among academics, it shouldn’t be surprising news, nor should the rise in pay inequality between college and university presidents and average faculty pay, and even among departments with strong industry equivalents as opposed to those without.
What I found most interesting about the analysis was the informed discussion of recent political (and budgetary) attacks on public-sector employees – about 65% of all college and university faculty are paid with public dollars. The AAUP notes that these trends are not novel, but have been accelerating concomitantly with state budget woes.
The report indicates that all empirical evidences unequivocally debunks the myth that public employees are paid handsomely compared to their private sector counterparts; rather, the pay gap, which actually swings the opposite direction, is a result of
… the collapse of the private-sector earnings floor for low-skilled workers. As noted above, when controlling for variables related to productivity, including education and experience, Keefe finds that on average local government employees earn 1.8 percent less than their private-sector counterparts, while state government employees earn 7.6 percent less.
Icing on the cake: recent attempts to pass legislation that does away with collective bargaining rights and/or the right to strike over wages or benefits are outed as
… ideologically driven attempt[s] to capitalize on a difficult fiscal situation by adopting a measure that will not produce any savings in public funds or create jobs but would weaken the political strength of unions.
The report is made so much more meaningful with this incorporation of discussing an issue within the public sector that both impacts academic work and is critically important to our communal welfare. Academics are not isolated from swings within the political climate, and it is becoming increasingly clear that if those within the academy do not take seriously (i.e. as issues to address both as academic and citizen) sociopolitical and economic forces that affect higher education, and our system of knowledge production in general, we risk being steamrolled by some freshman governor armed with values and opinions that do not leave room for consideration of those who do not contribute to their vision for the country.