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The corporatization of American higher education and the looming financial crisis


American higher ed was heading for rough financial times in the near future even before the COVID19 pandemic: the baby bust exacerbated by the Great Recession, the difficulty of bringing foreign students to an increasingly nativist culture, the out of control spending habits of university administrators, and the fundamental hostility of Republicans to anything smacking of critical inquiry were just some of the factors that were pushing colleges and universities toward a fiscal reckoning.

But of course the pandemic has greatly accelerated that timeline. Here’s a bunch of typical business school-style gobbledygook from the Chronicle, reminding us that the Chinese character for “crisis” is the same as that for “a consultant’s ski chalet:”

I believe that the time has come to discuss the elephant in the room. No doubt this will be a delicate subject on many campuses. Even with the recognition that we are facing dire financial situations, the initial reaction often is that academic spending is “core to our mission and must be maintained.” My recommendation is to approach this conversation carefully, strategically, and inclusively, with three key steps — organize, analyze, and prioritize.

Words of wisdom Lloyd, words of wisdom.

Once hard decisions have been made about academic offerings, high-level estimates of required faculty can be calculated with existing load levels, class sizes, and student-to-faculty ratios. Each of these items should next be analyzed as part of the second key question: How productive can our faculty be?

The question about fair loads for faculty members has been much debated. Many argue that the traditional professorial model of tenure, lighter teaching loads, long vacations, and sabbaticals was formed when salaries were lower in higher ed but has been maintained even though salaries have risen.

Um, about that:

Average salary for all full-time faculty, in 2019 dollars:

1970-71: $81,030

2018-19: $88,703

That 9.5% increase can be contrasted with the 33.3% increase in the average salary of American workers over the same time — and of course the wages of American workers have stagnated radically in comparison to corporate profits.

But that’s not the full story in regard to faculty salaries, not by a damn sight.

Note that the figures above are for full-time faculty. (Note as well that there are fewer full-time faculty now in American higher education, relative to the total enrollment, than there were in 1970). The percentage of faculty who are part time increased from 24% to 40% over roughly this same time frame (1975-2015), and of course part-time faculty are paid peanuts in comparison to their full-time colleagues. In other words, it’s fairly certain that the average salaries of the people who teach in American colleges and universities have actually declined in real terms over the last half century.

Some other people are doing OK though:

Mean college president salary in 1983-1984: $152,380, in 2017 dollars.  The highest salary of any college president in 1983-1984 was less than $300,000, again in 2017 dollars.

Meanwhile, in 2017 81 college presidents were getting more than $1,000,000 per year in compensation.  Median compensation for 585 private college presidents was $437,000, while for 278 public university presidents it was $489,000.

So over roughly the same time frame during which the salaries of the people who do the teaching in American higher education have declined, those in what I believe is referred to in corporate American as the “c-suite” have more than tripled, more or less.

Sounds like it’s time to fire some adjuncts and food service workers.


Total number of business degrees awarded by American colleges and universities in 2017: 808,303

Total number of English degrees awarded by American colleges and universities in 2017: 59,230

Clearly, today’s college students need to be more practical, instead of getting their heads stuffed with all this Cartesian dualism.

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