Higher Ed “Reform”
The Price Paid by the Next Generation of Students and Professors


The increasing awareness of—and outrage about–the size of the debt crushing college graduates is, we must hope, a sign that meaningful action to address it may be possible.

The numbers alone are staggering.  According to recent reports, the average student debt for graduates with bachelor’s degrees is now $29,400—roughly 80% of a young person’s average income in this country. (See more at http://www.edcentral.org/student-debt-review/.)

The implications of these numbers are also frightening.  As we are increasingly aware, student debt is fueling the widening wealth gap in the United States (http://save2limitdebt.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Student-Loans-Widening-Wealth-Gap_Fullreport.pdf) and even threatening the health of our overall economy (http://www.kansas.com/2013/08/10/2935730/crippling-student-debt-affects.html).

Less understood is the parallel economic precariousness of this generation of college professors.  Many of them, too, are saddled with unmanageable student debt.  And the vast majority of graduates going into higher education teaching find only part-time, contingent employment available, work that pays ridiculously low wages and offers no economic stability.

A recent article by Claire Goldstein, “The Emergent Academic Proletariat and Its Shortchanged Students,” lays out some of the ways this economic precariousness affects the lives of students and faculty.  Both, she argues convincingly, experience fiscal anxiety and insecurity that shapes their personal and professional choices.

Furthermore, the economic precariousness of contingent faculty also directly affects students in ways that many people simply never think about:

The monetary insecurity that typifies the working conditions for contingent faculty shapes their choices both inside and outside of the classroom. Anxiety about contract renewal affects the substance of teaching. Adjuncts may make classes less demanding to mitigate low student evaluations, self-censor to avoid contentious topics, or choose not to assign controversial readings to head-off potential complaints. Such decisions subvert precisely that which academic freedom and tenure are meant to safeguard—the advancement of analytical and questioning scholarship that is passed along to students in order to nurture an analytical and questioning citizenry. As well, contingent status affects faculty behavior outside of the classroom, which also constitutes part of a student’s education. Economically vulnerable teachers are less likely to oppose administrative policies or to support student organizations involved in political actions on campus, and may be reluctant to publicly aid unionization efforts for either themselves or other university workers for fear of retribution.

Goldstein offers a thoughtful analysis of yet one more way in which faculty working conditions shape student learning conditions.  Her facts speak to the importance of faculty and students working together to create a better future for themselves and for higher education.

To read the entire article, click here.