Exploitation Of Workers Jeopardizing Academia, Authors Claim

March 04, 1999

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- If it's true that the devil's in the details, then there's plenty of Beelzebub in a new book about the destructive forces permeating U.S. academia.

In the book, Cary Nelson, an English professor at the University of Illinois who in some circles already is regarded as a cloven-hoofed messenger for his steady and outspoken critiques of academia, and Stephen Watt, a professor of English at Indiana University, paint a "detailed portrait of a strong but imperiled institution." It is not a pretty picture.

Based on first-hand experiences, interviews and analysis of current national practices and trends, the authors argue in "Academic Keywords: A Devil's Dictionary for Higher Education" (Routledge) that two pervasive forces -- the exploitation of workers and the corporatization of academia -- are pushing higher education to the brink of meltdown.

According to Nelson, the underfunded expansion of the university in the '50s and '60s is "without a doubt the source of the current crisis. Those chickens have come home to roost."

In the authors' scenario, the exploited are the growing ranks of campus part-timers -- food-service workers, graduate students and faculty members. For them, the bottom line is scandalous: "no security, no benefits, no time for research or reflection, no academic freedom, no prestige, and no institutional power." In this economic paradigm, everyone and everything eventually feel the heat.

"Universities are becoming more like athletic shoe companies and less like institutions with transcendent and idealistic values," Nelson said. "They must recover their place in the culture as institutions that are moral and honorable, and that have a commitment to a higher system of values." One of those values, the authors argue again and again, is a commitment to pay workers a fair wage.

Among the book's 47 dictionary items are the usual suspects -- academic freedom and tenure and doctoral dissertations, as well as new ones that speak to the theme of the book: cafeterias, outsourcing, distance learning, administrative perks and robber baron universities.

"There are some pretty savage critiques," Nelson conceded, such as the entry on sexual harassment or the portrait of a moonlighting professor. One broad critique attacks what the authors describe as the new "ersatz post-secondary commodified education," the University of Phoenix being one of the most notorious examples of the so-called Drive-Thru U model.

The authors also try to show what is remarkable about higher education in the United States.

"We believe that this is the best higher education system in the world, and because of that, we think it would be a good idea not to [fritter] it away."

While sometimes irreverent and sardonic, the book is less about trashing an institution than it is about sending "a wakeup call to people inside and outside academia. Without a major collective effort, higher education as we know it will be over within a decade or two," Nelson said.
-end-


University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Related Higher Education Articles from Brightsurf:

New study outlines steps higher education should take to prepare a new quantum workforce
A new study outlines ways colleges and universities can update their curricula to prepare the workforce for a new wave of quantum technology jobs.

How can education researchers support education and public health and institutions during COVID-19?
As education researchers' ongoing work is interrupted by school closures, what can they do to support education and public health institutions dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic?

Boys' poor reading skills might help explain higher education gender gap
Researchers at the University of Missouri and the University of Essex in the United Kingdom found boys' poor reading skills in adolescence, combined with the social attitudes about women attending college, can help explain why fewer men than women enroll in higher education or other types of post-high school education.

Online education platforms could scale high-quality STEM education for universities
Online and blended (online and in-person) STEM instruction can produce the same learning outcomes for students as traditional, in-person classes at a fraction of the cost, finds research published today in Science Advances.

Technology in higher education: learning with it instead of from it
Technology has shifted the way that professors teach students in higher education.

Schools less important than parents in determining higher education aspirations
A new study shows that the elementary school a child attends has almost no influence on their desire to progress to higher education -- as factors including parental aspirations, academic support from their mother and having a desk to work on are much more important.

Higher education holds key to more age-friendly society, publication says
The age-friendly movement is an ideal means of embracing demographic shifts in higher education and society at large, according to the latest issue in the What's Hot newsletter series from The Gerontological Society of America (GSA), titled 'Higher Education and Aging: The Age-Friendly Movement -- Building a Case for Age Inclusivity.' Support for the publication was provided by AARP.

In blacks with Alzheimer's gene, higher education may be protective
A new study from Columbia University found that a higher level of education protected against cognitive decline in black people with a gene linked to Alzheimer's disease.

WVU study reveals falsification issues in higher education hiring processes
When concerns are expressed about distrust in science, they often focus on whether the public trusts research findings.

Job sharing can boost number of women in senior higher education roles
Research from Lancaster University Management School, shows job sharing offers a route to increase the number of women in senior leadership roles in higher education.

Read More: Higher Education News and Higher Education Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.