This week, I began reading Marc Bousquet’s How the University Works: Higher Education and the Low-Wage Nation. Bousquet is an academic labor activist, and blogs at both the Chronicle’s Brainstorm and at his own site. (A side note: Bousquet is now a prof at Santa Clara, but he first received tenure at the University of Louisville, my alma mater, at the same time I was a student there. He and I did not cross paths, as far as I can remember, but I witnessed firsthand many of the same things he saw, including UofL’s deal with UPS (PDF) to employ students at UPS’s graveyard shift in exchange for financial aid.)
Bousquet views the current academic economy as systemically corrupt. Here’s his description of graduate education:
Under casualization [of academic labor], it makes very little sense to view the graduate student as potentially a “product” for a “market” in tenure-track jobs. For many graduate employees, the receipt of a Ph.D. signifies the end, and not the beginning, of a long teaching career. Most graduate students are already laboring at the only academic job they’ll ever have – hence, the importance for organized graduate student labor of inscribing the designation “graduate employee” in law and discourse.
From the standpoint of the organized graduate employee, the situation is clear. Increasingly, the holders of a doctoral degree are not so the products of the graduate-employee labor system as its by-products, insofar as that labor system exists primarily to recruit, train, supervise, and legitimate the employment of nondegreed students and contingent faculty. (21)
Do you agree with Bousquet’s assessment? Is the difficulty in finding employment for Ph.D. recipients due to a flooded job market (the standard explanation) or due to an academic system that prefers cheaper, usually non-degreed contingent faculty to degreed tenure-track faculty?