Colluding - and colliding - with 'market values'

Posted Tuesday April 15, 2008 by Catherine Howell in |

Everyone, but everyone, in and around universities needs to sit up and take notice of the debate around Marc Bousquet’s work on academia and employment. Listservs have been going crazy about it, following a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education (‘How the University Works’: Required Reading for Higher Education – try here or here (last link for subscribers only).)

What I find profoundly challenging, and to be honest, shocking, about Bousquet’s work is that he presents a spirited attack on what, for want of a better term, we can call the ‘market discourse’ around jobs for PhDs. He is particularly critical of the (fairly ubiquitous) suggestion that the problems of the academic job market can be solved by restricting or reducing the ‘supply’ of incoming graduate/PhD students.

Sample paragraph: “Ultimately, the notion that the employment system can be controlled by the administration of graduate programs (that is, by reducing PhD ‘production’) has to be seen as profoundly ideological. Even where there is a vigorous effort to diagnose the nature of the labour system, the ideology of the market returns to frame the solution, blocking the transformative potential of analysis that otherwise demonstrates the necessity of nonmarket responses.” (p. 209)

Bousquet’s point is that the ‘market’ for assistant professors / teaching staff shows no sign of vanishing. Students need to be taught; papers and exams need to be marked. There is a pressing and real demand for teaching staff in institutions. His solution is that the wages of all adjuncts and assistant teaching staff should be raised to the level of faculty. Unions may yet have a role to play.

Strong stuff.

Meanwhile, Leslie Madsen Brooks offers a round-up of recent blogging on the concept and reality of academic tenure.


‘The Rhetoric of “Job Market” and the Reality of the Academic Labor System’
Author(s): Marc Bousquet
Source: College English, Vol. 66, No. 2 (Nov., 2003), pp. 207-228
Publisher: National Council of Teachers of English
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