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  • Hire Ed! Deconstructing the Crises in Academe
  • Gregory Jay (bio)
How the University Works: Higher Education and the Low-Wage Nation. By Marc Bousquet. New York: New York University Press, 2008. 304 pages. $70.00 (cloth). $23.00 (paper).
The Last Professors: The Corporate University and the Fate of the Humanities. By Frank Donoghue. New York: Fordham University Press, 2008. 172 pages. $70.00 (cloth). $22.00 (paper).
The Marketplace of Ideas: Reform and Reaction in the American University. By Louis Menand. New York: W. W. Norton, 2010. 176 pages. $24.95 (cloth). $14.95 (paper).
No University Is an Island: Saving Academic Freedom. By Cary Nelson. New York: New York University Press, 2010. 288 pages. $27.95 (cloth).
Unmaking the Public University: The Forty-Year Assault on the Middle Class. By Christopher Newfield. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2008. 408 pages. $29.95 (cloth).
Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities. By Martha C. Nussbaum. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010. 178 pages. $22.95 (cloth).

A funny thing happened on the way to tenured radicalism. From the 1970s through the 1990s, academic and journalistic accounts of changes in higher education focused, at least in the humanities and social sciences, on contentious debates over critical theory and the "culture wars." Hot disagreements over feminism, poststructuralism, political correctness, multiculturalism, identity politics, postcolonialism, border and queer studies (to name a few) dominated the headlines and monographs. Meanwhile, and with much less fanfare, a revolution was occurring in campus budgets, management, and the structure [End Page 163] of academic labor, resulting in changes that may have far more lasting effects than any of the innovations in scholarship. The culture wars, argues Christopher Newfield in Unmaking the Public University, were actually symptoms of an economic war against the very mission and existence of "the public university," and a principal target was the institutional position of the "professor." The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that in "just three decades, the proportion of college instructors who are tenured or on the tenure track plummeted: from 57 percent in 1975 to 31 percent in 2007." Adding in graduate teaching assistants, the number falls to about 25 percent. On most campuses, anywhere from half to three-quarters of all instruction is now carried out by people other than the "professors": adjuncts, lecturers, part-timers, and teaching assistants. The tenure track remnant has been reduced to middle management, overseeing the teaching staff and collaborating with the administration on ever-more "flexible" arrangements for "delivering instruction." Why hire a professor for over $60,000 when you can hire Ed, the unemployed PhD, at a fraction of the cost and without the bother of benefits or of pesky demands to share in the governance of the institution? This decline in the number of tenure-track positions could also effectively thwart the tenured radicals and their agenda for a more progressive curriculum.

The above statistics from the U.S. Department of Education were reported in the Chronicle by Robin Wilson under the scare headline "Tenure, RIP."1 Wilson's assessment is shared by a number of scholars reviewed here, and is expressed most pointedly by Frank Donoghue in his title: The Last Professors. Wilson's focus on tenure, however, somewhat distracts, at least rhetorically, from the actual situation, as described so admirably and passionately in Marc Bousquet's How the University Works. The pros and cons of retaining tenure are of less moment than the restructuring of the workforce, which has produced an army of underpaid, exploited teachers working without adequate benefits, offices, supplies, or professional development support even as they conduct the majority of undergraduate education. As in Bousquet's critique of William Bowen's notoriously inaccurate prediction of a boom in the so-called job market, the error lies in an "attempt to understand the employment system as a system while excluding the largest categories of its working parts" (201). Bowen and others analyze the "job market" in tenure track positions without considering the primary factor in the decline of such positions: the managerial decision to staff ever greater numbers of classes with casual, contingent labor. Nelson puts it succinctly: "we have not in fact overproduced PhDs over the past...


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