Academic Sustainability

The academy may be filled with leftists–so we are told–but it has yet to apply its Marxist interpretive skills to its own situation. For the academy suffers from epistemic overproduction. We can expect a crash.

This overproduction shows itself both in terms of producers and things produced. We clearly have produced, and continue to produce, way more academics than can find jobs in academia. For the STEM disciplines this can be partially rectified by employment outside the academy; but to this point there is no viable employment model for advanced degrees in the humanities. This is something that we have been working on over the years within CSID. But even if we do persuade the world that many of our problems are humanistic rather than technical in nature, this will not change the basic calculus:

Graduate education across the humanities is fundamentally unsustainable.

And it will not be sustained. MOOCs are likely to take over lower division courses – the Calc 101s and Phil 101s of the world – that are currently being taught by graduate students or adjuncts. This would destroy the economic rationale that underlies many graduate programs. In many cases, universities house graduate programs not because of a viable market for PhDs in a given discipline, but because graduate students provide cheap academic labor. In my own department, graduate students teach a 2-2 load – the lower division courses – the same as a tenure-stream professor. But at perhaps one fifth the cost.

Nor would the effects stop there: without graduate students teaching introductory courses departments would lose their funding for graduate stipends, and professors will not have the student clientele necessary for filling their graduate level classes in their specialty. Professors would then be squeezed between the elimination of both lower division courses and graduate courses, with possibly baleful consequences for their continued employment.

Somehow academics remain blissfully unaware of this. It is evidently another token of their disciplinary perspective, where they argue about the intricacies of philosophical naturalism or neo-colonial studies while the roof is about to fall down around their head. It’s really quite absurd.

Of course, CSID faces a similar dilemma, its efforts to save the world likely to be interrupted by the loss of funding to continue our work.

This entry was posted in Future of the University, Graduate Studies, Philosophy & Politics, Public Philosophizing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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