Higher Education Is Being Undermined as a Workplace

by Project Censored
Published: Updated:

The neoliberal policy agenda, which has been dominant in the United States and around the world since the 1970s, consists of deregulation, the elimination of labor unions, free trade, the commodification of nearly everything, privatization, and financialization.
When neoliberalism comes to higher education, we see reduced access sold at higher market prices, degree inflation driven by the increasing demand by employers for higher credentials for the same job, and the revision of educational/training programs to grant higher and higher degrees for the same jobs. Physical therapy, for instance, has gone from an AA or BS job to a PhD job in less than 40 years. There is also now longer time to graduation because of a lack of required classes being offered. Programs have been “hollowed out” by the elimination of courses and requirements that promote critical thought, such as history, leaving those that only focus on the technical aspects of learning a profession or job. Entire departments and programs, especially in the social sciences, humanities and arts, are being eliminated. Class time has been cut to allow for faster “degree completion.” Some programs now require that some courses be taken online.
Neoliberal strategies have redrawn the face of higher education in the span of one working generation, since the 1970s. Therefore they have also redrawn the terrain upon which workers in higher education and their organizations struggle to survive and improve their position.
Contingent or casual workers do not have job security. They may work one week but not the next, one semester but not the next. Whether they work or do not work depends not only upon what needs to be done but also on the preferences of the employer. In the United States, most people who lack a union are “at will” employees. That is, they work as long as the employer wants them around. Under these conditions, it takes courage, and is often unwise, to disagree with an employer whose mantra is “do more with less.”
Until the 1970s, colleges and universities were largely governed by a hierarchy of departmental and discipline-based academic committees, some with elected chairs. These committees worked closely with administrators on academic matters, but were not routinely subservient to them. In order for this system to work, people had to have job security. That is what “academic freedom” really means. Today, with over 70% of instructors teaching without the job security of tenure, faculty have lost this power. The most important single force to restrain higher education management from surrendering to corporate initiatives, as a result, has been greatly weakened.

Title: Higher Education as a Workplace

Authors: Joe Berry and Helena Worthen

Source: Dollars & Sense, November/December 2012

Student researcher: Katrina Waldschmidt, Sonoma State University

Faculty Evaluator: Suzel Bozada-Deas, Sonoma State University