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Tenured Bosses and Disposable Teachers
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Marc Bousquet Tenured Bosses and Disposable Teachers Management theory has become so variegated in recent years that, for some, it now constitutes a perfectly viable replacement for old-fashioned intellectual life. There's so much to choose from! So many deep thinkers, so many flashy popularizers, so many schools of thought, so many bold predictions, so many controversies! For all this vast and sparkling intellectual production, though, we hear surprisingly little about what ifs like to be managed. —Thomas Frank, The God That Sucked As a new assistant professor in late 1998, 1 was asked to give a talk onjobhunting to advanced graduate students in my department. Little is expected of these occasions besides a few cautionary remarks about "how tough it is out there," and shopworn advice (wear conservative outfits, don't send creative writing samples to a critical job, etc.). Even so, most junior faculty have been made uncomfortable by these performances, in part because we know that what job candidates in most fields face is years of disappointment . (Taking all disdplines together, the average age at whidi the terminal degree is awarded is 33; the average age at whidi the first full-time job is awarded is 39; for new sdiolars, more than a third of those "full-time" positions will be nontenurable [U.S. Dept. of Education].) Nonetheless, like many unionists and graduate employee activists, I hoped such an occasion could be turned to good use. My talk covered some of the basic facts of the academic labor system. In particular, I observed that the pervasive substitution of student and other flex labor for faculty labor has a meaning that the profession has yet to fully absorb: for many graduate students the receipt ofthe PhD is the end and not the beginning ofa long teaching career. Contrary to the Fordist analysis predominating in academic professional associations, which imagine that the holder of the PhD is the "producf of a graduate school, we now have to recognize that in many circumstances the degree holder is really the "waste product" of a labor system that primarily makes use of graduate schools to maintain a pool of cheap workers. The "producf ofgraduate education is the dieap and traditionally docile graduate student worker, not the holder of the PhD—hence the passion for developing "alternate careers" for PhDs, which dispose of the degree-holding by-produd, while making room for new cheap graduate employee workers. A few minutes into the talk, one of my colleagues interrupted. "But you know, don't you, that all of our graduate students expect to getjobs?" There was a chorus of assent from the graduate students. It turned out that persons awarded doctorates from the English department at the University of Louisville enjoyed what was effectively a 100% success rate in finding tenure-stream academic jobs, many of them at significant research 232 the minnesota review institutions. Reacting to my obvious astonishment, one of the leading figures in the graduate program said, "I think the employment prospects are different for rhetoric and composition than for other fields in English." If anything, this was an understatement. Graduate students in the department commonly receive a dozen (or even two dozen) invitations to interview for rhet-comp jobs at MLA; several students here have turned down more interviews than many grad students in literature will ever receive. While I had been informed of the programmatic separation between the University of Kentucky, which awarded only the PhD in literature, and U of L, which was permitted to award only the PhD in rhetoric and composition, I had otherwise thought little about it. Over the next several months, some of the critically-oriented graduate students drew me into an investigation of this difference. Was rhet-comp simply becoming popular? Could the popularity of the field be understood as a "market fluctuation," in the same sense that perhaps next year AngloSaxon would be "in demand"? Or was there a systematic relationship between the relative ease with which rhet-comp PhDs earn tenure-stream jobs and the way in which the same labor system uses graduate students in "other fields in English" as disposable workers? A great deal of research remains to...