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So Why Hasn’t David Simon Made a Cool Series About Us?


This has been making the rounds and is worth a read: How Academia Resembles a Drug Gang? It’s a slightly different take on the “academia as a dual labor market” argument we all know and love, with some illustrative empirical data, such as this:

How can we explain this trend? One of the underlying structural factors has been the massive expansion in the number of PhDs all across the OECD. Figure 1 shows the proportion of PhD holders as a proportion of the corresponding age cohort in a  number of OECD countries at two points in time, in 2000 and 2011. As you can see, this share has increased by about 60% in 11 years, and this increase has been particularly pronounced in countries such as Portugal or Greece, where it nearly tripled, however from a very low starting level. Even in countries with an already high share, the increase has been substantial: 60% in the UK, or nearly 40% in Germany. Since 2000 the number of OECD-area doctorates has increased at an average of 5% a year.

Basically, in my time in the United Kingdom, there are now 60% more Ph.D.s looking for jobs than when I arrived here. Plus, they’re cheaper and younger, even if they don’t have my c.v. Of course, the logic of the RAE/REF here in the UK dictates that anything I published before 2009 no longer has value, so the substantive effect of that variable in my favor (should I be on the job market) is eroded.

Some other observations. We do rely on our equivalent of adjunct staff here, but not at 40% of contact hours. As it has been several glorious years since I’ve been chair, I don’t have current numbers in front of me, but combined “zero hour” contract staff and graduate students were around 25%-30%.  In my time here (11th academic year) this figure has been stable, and if anything in my department, has declined marginally, as one of the zero-hour colleagues was converted into a partial permanent contract. Furthermore, permanent FTEs in the department has increased modestly in my time here.

A couple of the comments to the original linked above are worth highlighting as well:

This is a good start, but it is very incomplete unless you account for the bloated administrators who often outnumber the TT faculty, and the swollen ranks of support staff who may only tangentially offer services that support student instruction. Those are also the people who make a living telling TT faculty to do more with less, and who control the hiring of new lines and the replacement of old ones.

This has something we have seen anecdotally at my institution. Since we were rebranded as The Enterprise University (italics in the original) in 2008 or 2009, we have the perception of a marked increase of upper middle management, and now we have two structures in place to lead the university — the old “Senior Management Team” and a newer “Chief Executive Group”. That said, our front line support staff was dramatically downsized over a two year period, and these front line support staff at least perform a necessary function (and those that I know, do it admirably well). But the sense we get is that a larger share of income is siphoned off into management, and while I’ve been told of empirical evidence to support this theory, I’ve not seen any myself. This comes out when considering our own “business model”, as the overhead expected of us (i.e. profit at a departmental or school level) is shockingly high. Breaking even isn’t enough.

The following is quite accurate in my experience, and requires no further comment, especially as I’ve discussed it at some length before:

The lack of tenure in the UK is a game changer compared to other countries. And recently many universities have changed their statutes to weaken what was left of the idea of tenure. UK academics can be threatened with their jobs. It happens frequently. The level of bullying is, therefore, much higher – some good supporting evidence for that statement in the literature.


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