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Posts Tagged ‘jobs’

In keeping with a suggestion of the Radical Teacher board that (1) our blogs be more like provocations than like articles, and 2) we bloggers think of one another as our primary readership, with others hopping in as they choose, here’s a puzzle for you all.

For 30 years, government and think tank reports have built on the premise that schooling and higher education are valuable chiefly for their contribution to US prosperity, and more particularly, US “preeminence in commerce, industry, science and technological innovation. . . .”  (A Nation at Risk, 1983).  International competitors were overtaking the US then, and are still doing so, according to just about every report since, and every piece of educational legislation.  The main Bush II entry in these loser sweepstakes, with reference to colleges and universities, was A Test of Leadership; Charting the Future of U.S. Higher Education(familiarly, “The Spellings Report,” 2006).  What “we want”  is “a world-class higher-education system that . . . contributes to economic prosperity and global competitiveness.”  What we’re in danger of getting is a system of higher ed “characterized by obsolescence,” like the railroads and steel mills of an earlier time.  Help Wanted, a report of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce (2010), says “we will need 22 million new college degrees” by 2018, and that falling short of that goal will “damage the nation’s economic future,” as well as the prosperity of millions of workers unprepared for work in the new knowledge society.  And so on, through many worried studies about our endangered capitalists.

But wait:  how come, two and a half years into the depression, the job market for college graduates is still so terrible?  How come the market for professionals (e.g., Ph.D.s) stinks?  How come half of the older workers who have been unemployed for six months or longer have had at least some college education (TomDispatch, Oct. 5, 2010)?  It seems that the capitalists know what they are doing:  stock prices and profits have recovered briskly since 2008, with no recovery in employment, and no rush to hire college grads.

No surprise in any of this, for people who have followed globalizing capital’s assault on highly educated and well paid workers in the US.  Why, then, do the Obama administration, its Republican opposition, the think tanks and task forces, unions and privatizers, all agree that “we” need a lot more of such workers?  That’s my puzzle.  How come the ideology of education as engine of US competitiveness chugs along, untroubled by what actually-existing capitalism is doing every day to regain control and further its project of development?  And if I’m not missing something here, why does this ideology seem to require dutiful pledges of allegiance from academic administrators and progressive legislators?

Dick Ohmann

 

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Glorious, heroic, fruitful for his own Time, and for all Time and all Eternity, is the constant Speaker and Doer of Truth! If no such again, in the present generation, is to be vouchsafed us, let us have at least the melancholy pleasure of beholding a decided Liar. Thomas Carlyle, “Count Cagliostro”

So here I am in my second year at ZU at a fall faculty meeting. And, after twenty minutes in, wondering, What the hell are you doing? Who is this person? Do I know you? The one suddenly shouting at the college’s President, Dr. D’main, and not only is this person—moi?—roaring—and three years later an amused colleague tells me, “You’ll forever be known as the guy who went ape-shit in front of Dr. D”[1] I’m also watching my left arm wind-milling like Pete Townshend in “Won’t Be Fooled Again” when I mean to be pounding the chair’s tablet, which I then do—it’s on the right-hand side–and the little librarian to my right tells me that my hammering is causing him to levitate in his chair.

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Monsieur had all the varieties of incapacity which such a post required.

–Balzac, Lost Illusions

I almost thought that I began when it began, at Zirconium U., a county college dubbed by legislators, who had free miles on clichés, as the county’s “jewel in the crown,” which I had always thought means the Raj, but who knew? Not me. I didn’t know much thirty-eight years ago when I was hired full time as an instructor in the English Department, and where I realized the building I was interviewed and hired in was the building that housed almost all departments, administrative offices, and where the art studios were located in the attic of what was originally the Alms House for the county’s elderly and infirm poor; those considered “mad” were shackled in single, windowless cells, and shut in by a solid door with a single slot. Here, then, was the cafeteria–three snack and soda dispensers—a few steps from the mailroom and the college’s two duplicating machines. From the outside, the not-overly-large, mid-nineteenth-century, brick building looked as if it had been teleported out of Dickens’ Coketown. (The bricks were some of the last manufactured before the county’s largest industrial accident—a massive brick slide that drove workers, townspeople, the bricks forming the factory, straight into the Hudson River.)

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According to “The Path Forward; The Future of Graduate Education in the United States,” what’s wrong with graduate education is too little of it.  The Educational Testing Service and the Council of Graduate schools published this “landmark report,”on April 29; we know it’s a landmark report because ETS and CGS said so, in their press release.  OK, OK, minimal irony from here on, I promise.

The reason we need more people graduating with Ph.D.’s and M.A.’s–overwhelmingly the main reason–is the “necessity of a graduate-level workforce to maintain US competitiveness and innovation” (April 29 News Release),  The United States “is in peril of losing its competitive edge . . . ,” say the presidents of ETS and CGS.  People with graduate degrees are “crucial to ensure our nation’s continuing ability to compete in the global economy. . . ,” says the report’s conclusion.  There is much talk of losing the “dominant position” of US graduate education, its standing as “world leader,” its “preeminence,” and so on.  Yes, our grad schools are competing with those in other countries, but that competition is governed and warranted solely by its contribution to “our nation’s” economic battle with other nations.  You don’t have to look too deeply between the lines to understand this economic “necessity” as that of the companies that want to employ highly skilled and innovative holders of advanced degrees.  Naturally, the ETS-CGS commission that produced the report included business leaders, one of whom (Stanley S. Litow” of IBM) called for “innovative graduate programs in partnership with business.”  I suggest decoding this call to partnership  as:  “you grad schools produce the high-tech workers and we corporations will make the profits.”

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This is my fourth and final post on the academic job market and the future of college teaching as a profession.  Quick review:  in earlier installments I noted the devastation that came to academic employment via the crash of 2008; proposed that recovery from that crash will not restore the jobs lost, either across the whole economy or specifically in higher education; suggested that our profession is a moribund institution; and laid out some lines of action it (for instance, the Modern Language Association) would need to take in order to have a chance of rebuilding its market haven. (more…)

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There are not nearly enough jobs for people with new Ph.D. degrees.  Two-thirds of those teaching English and foreign languages in colleges and universities (with or without the Ph.D.) are off the tenure track.  The numbers are similar in most humanities and social science fields, and far from good in the sciences.  I’m going to leave non-liberal arts fields out of this discussion, noting only that a lot of teaching in, say, law and business is done by adjuncts, too.  In my last blog on this subject (March 12), I said I’d later discuss ways of fighting this change for the worse in academic labor.  It is bad for thousands of contingent workers, and ruinous for our profession.  In this installment I will focus on that last point, and speak of measures that might bring the supply of qualified professionals more in line with the demand for them.  Sorry for the market language, but we are in a market–well, you are; I’m retired–and a profession tries to be a market haven for its members, including those newly certified.
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At the annual convention of the Modern Language Association in Philadelphia last month, shrinkage and decline were palpable.  The book exhibits that used to fill a large ballroom could have been accommodated in a small bar room.  Attendance was down:  I don’t know the figures, but elevators in the Marriott and Loews were nearly empty, and all the sessions I went to had more empty seats than occupied ones.  Hundreds of graduate students in English and foreign language departments were there without a single job interview, or with just one or two. (more…)

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