My son turned one this weekend, and so far, as I’ve said, I can’t see that Obama’s plans to stimulate higher ed will make much difference to Emile’s first year on campus, now just 17 years from today.

For the most part, the federal money will replace some state funds.

That’s what happened in the first round of federal “public works spending” under Hoover and FDR — weak efforts that merely replaced a percentage of state-level cuts, with no net gain in spending until the more ambitious “Second New Deal.”

Obama’s gotten a free ride from students and faculty so far. And replacing the state aid was the right move. But to win the Lincoln plus FDR rep he craves, he’s going to have to do a lot better than wish for the easy sellouts that history handed Clinton.

Unlike Clinton, Obama has no choice but to face up to four decades of higher education’s “innovation” of the lousy forms of employment and super-exploitation that have gutted the econony.

That means restrictions on student labor and full employment for the faculty. That’s at least four million jobs right there. Plus some actual education, which would be nice.

18 years from now
originally posted February 19, 2008

My son Emile Amitai arrived on Valentine’s Day at 5 a.m. To the best of my knowledge based on our brief acquaintance, he is healthy, intelligent, big-boned and good looking. If all goes as planned, 18 years from now he’ll be a big man on campus somewhere.

But what will that campus look like?

If current trends continue, that campus will closely resemble another American institution — an upscale suburban shopping mall, with highly standardized “products,” a student work force, degraded floor managers wearing pocket protectors, an expensive yet disposable physical plant, and corporate executives designing everyone else’s work process at a great distance from the shop floor.

The “faculty” will be 87 percent contingent and upper-division undergraduates will do much of the teaching of lower-division students.

Tenure and curriculum will be the privilege of administrators.

At most institutions, whole fields of the liberal arts — philosophy, history, music, literature — will no longer be represented by departments.

Basketball coaches will earn as much as $10-million a year, and teaching eight classes a year as a “part-timer” will pay less than the minimum wage.

Ten percent of undergraduates will not be working at all, but the remaining 90 percent serving their lattes, correcting their papers, and doing their laundry and nails will be working 40 hours a week while in school.

A variety of assessment instruments will have been developed and imposed upon traditional institutions, permitting the for-profit education industry to make the claim that they are providing “exactly the same education” as Cal Poly or the University of Virginia.

But not at all trends are in the direction of such cretinous, self-serving “quality” on the part of administrators and the investor class they so cheerfully serve.

If current trends continue, graduate-student employees will have successfully unionized at 60 percent of public and private institutions (this assumes the reversal of the travesties perpetrated under a Bush-packed National Labor Relations Board).

There will be large undergraduate union locals in various stages of organization in New York, California, Illinois, and Massachusetts, including a couple of dozen with contracts.

Contingent faculty unionization likewise will have reached perhaps 40 percent, and the demand for pay parity will have been taken up in earnest by the major faculty unions.

Contingent faculty will be the union leadership at half a dozen major faculty unions and have bargained actual pay parity in a few noteworthy cases.

Full-time and part-time contingent faculty alike will have attained steadily increasing degrees of employment security, in many cases representing fairer and more rational systems of employment security than the tenure system.

In short, if current trends continue — and there is little reason to suppose otherwise in the national political agenda — things will get much worse on campus before Emile arrives.

On the other hand, Emile may arrive at a moment when undergraduates are at the heart of a revived American labor movement, an American labor movement with the kind of ambitions it hasn’t had since long before either of his parents were undergraduates.

In short, it probably still won’t be a great time to be on the faculty. But it’s sure to be one heck of an interesting time to be a smart, committed student interested in taking back the public sphere from the hacks, sleaze artists, and greed peddlers who’ve been running the show for the past 30 years.






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