November 12, 2003

The Academic Job Market and the "Prestige Principle"

The paper confirms the intuition that there are self-reproducing departmental status systems within disciplines. Job candidates in all disciplines are exchanged in a well-defined manner between three classes of departments. Class I departments, at the top, exchange students amongst themselves and supply lower-tier departments with students but do not hire from them. Class II departments are on the 'semi-periphery,' generally exchanging candidates with each other (though there is a hierarchical element to this) and also sending students to Class III departments, which never place students outside of their class and usually do not hire students from within their class.

-- Kieran Healy, Solidarity and Hierarchy in Academic Job Markets

Kieran Healy summarizes the results of a recent "network analysis" of the "exchange of job candidates" in a variety of academic disciplines. "Though academics talk about 'the job market,'" he writes (for a discussion of this term, see this entry), "it will not surprise you that placement is deeply embedded in systems of departmental status that bear little resemblance to a properly functioning market." Interestingly enough, the paper finds that economics -- "the discipline that makes the study (and promotion) of markets its specialty," as Kieran puts it -- has "the highest degree of elite solidarity and hierarchical control over the placement of its graduate students."

The paper to which Kieran refers is Shin-Kap Han's "Tribal regimes in academia: a comparative analysis of market structure across disciplines" (Social Networks 25 [2003], 251-80; no free URL), which relies on data culled from the Job Tracks: Who Got Hired Where section of the now-defunct Lingua Franca. Of particular interest is Han's argument that of the "various institutional features" that "distinguish the academic labor market" from other labor markets, the most significant is that of the "prestige principle":

For the academic labor market, 'the prestige principle' is the phrase commonly used to describe how the social structure and distributive order of competition are organized and related. In the particular context of hiring (buying) and placing (selling) of new Ph.D.'s -- 'junior hirings', it refers to the strong positive correlation between the prestige of the department where one acquires the doctorate and the prestige of the department in which one finds employment. Beset with the problem of uncertainty, for the actual quality of the candidates is basically unobservable at this level, the academic departments rely on the prestige as the primary means of invidious distinction. The workings of this principle are manifested in, and reproduced by, the pattern of transactions between departments.

The "unwritten -- yet essential and elemental -- rule" of the "prestige principle," writes Han, has been "repeatedly confirmed" in the relevant literature and "continues to be one of the key structural features, upon which much of the research on the academic marketplace is focused." And while "similiar dynamics have been observed in a range of other market settings," he notes, "the academic labor market stands out in its salience, emphatically distingushing itself from the classic labor market model (pp. 252-3)."

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at November 12, 2003 10:56 AM

My response to this is encapsulated in the following entry from my own blog: "The Poison of Prestige."

Posted by: Kevin Walzer at November 12, 2003 11:38 AM

Is it possible that students from higher-ranked programs get more jobs than others because they're smarter, better-funded, and better-trained?

The average PhD from top programs is simply a better candidate than the average PhD from a mid-ranked one. Does this mean that top candidates from mid-ranked schools are discriminated against and below-average candidates from top-ranked schools get better than they deserve? Sure. I just don't understand what the news is here. If the point is that the "rankings" of various programs are uninformed and prejudicial, I agree to a certain extent. I think Leiter's report does a good job of establishing the various reputations of philosophy programs, but I know that the U.S. News and (to a lesser extent) NRC rankings of English PhD programs bear little resemblance to what people in the field think. The rankings body is, like all rankings and all bodies, a narrative without a prosthesis of origin, or shandaggly, an apotheosis of misery.

Posted by: Chun the Unavoidable at November 12, 2003 12:41 PM

"Is it possible that students from higher-ranked programs get more jobs than others because they're smarter, better-funded, and better-trained? The average PhD from top programs is simply a better candidate than the average PhD from a mid-ranked one."

Yeah, better by the measure of a fatter bill-fold. Nice try, Chun, but outside the baseline. Foul ball!

Posted by: Academy Girl at November 12, 2003 12:51 PM


If having more money, whether from trust fund or heavily endowed university, allows one to be a better scholar, which I think is more than likely true, then those with more money turn out to be, in fact, better scholars.

Posted by: Chun the Unavoidable at November 12, 2003 12:58 PM

Why isn't Chun right? Can someone explain in non-baseball terms? (Though I should note that generally it's runners who go "outside the baseline" and batted balls that are "foul.")

Posted by: ogged at November 12, 2003 01:02 PM

One reason he is not right is that he fails -- or neglects, or does not want -- to take into account what exactly makes up the category "a good scholar/academic." In my own experience, Ivy league grad. students can often be very conservative and traditional in their work and approaches. In the most extreme instances, it can see as if the last thirty years or so didn't happen, and New Criticism still is at the cutting edge. Or, the so-termed "new historicism" is taken as an invitation to return to an old school historicism, which many in the rear guard of academe (in English, that is) find to be a desirable approach.

Posted by: Chris at November 12, 2003 01:08 PM

"Why isn't Chun right?"

He is right that it is "possible that students from higher-ranked programs get more jobs than others because they're smarter, better-funded, and better-trained." On the other hand, it is also possible that candidates from higher-ranked and lesser-ranked programs are more or less equal in their talent and potential, and that the prestige factor tips the balance in favor of the elite candidates. To merely assert that "the average PhD from top programs is simply a better candidate than the average PhD from a mid-ranked one" does little either to support the first or to refute the latter.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at November 12, 2003 01:12 PM

It's worth pointing out here that the knife of prestige cuts both ways: a great many grad students in my Ivy League program found that mid- and low-rank programs wouldn't give them the time of day when it came to hiring.

Why? B/c the assumption was that no one from a top-ranked program would be willing (a) to live somewhere other than the coasts and (b) to teach a 3/3 or greater schedule. I.e., that all top-ranked grads were elitist snobs who would never stoop to take a community college or regional state university job.

There was a second assumption as well: that top-ranked grads were incapable of teaching and unwilling to learn to do so since it would eat into their research time. In some top-ranked programs, it's true that the grad students spend a minimum of time in the classroom (in large part due to their greater financial resources in the form of stipends and such).

But this was not the case in my program (which graduated PhDs who had each taught at least 4 classes of their own design--I got out with 10+ courses to my name). Many of the grad students in my program really wanted to go to teaching-intensive schools. They wanted to focus on teaching undergraduates and leave research more or less behind. They got tripped up by these assumptions about the top of the pyramid.

I noticed it myself on the market. My first year out, my letters focused on my teaching skills, and I got interviews from regional state universities and liberal arts colleges. My second year out, my letter focused on both my teaching and my research skills (in part b/c I had finally written large quantities of the dissertation), and my interviews switched to Carnegie I institutions and flagship state schools . . . even though there were a lot of teaching-oriented jobs in my field that year.

I don't write this to defend the practice of prestige hiring. At my current job (a large state university), there are grad students in the program who are superior to many of the students in the program from which I graduated. And most of them who have found jobs in the last two years have found them at the same level of the pyramid (instead of moving up). That's annoying and frustrating to watch.

But it does seem to me that all parties to the job market fiasco are guilty of a lot of cultural stereotyping, and that's why I've posted.

Posted by: Ivy League Grad at November 12, 2003 01:27 PM

Candidates are unequal in ability and those with more of it tend to go where the conditions are better. Are the various filters that detect ability completely accurate? No. On the average, however, they are more accurate than not. That's why the average student at a top-ten program is better than the average student at a top-fifty program.

If you've taught at an elite institution and also at an unselective university, you've probably noticed this among the students. The best at the latter are as good as most any at the former, but the average quality at the elite institution is higher.

Posted by: Chun the Unavoidable at November 12, 2003 01:35 PM

Graduate students at top Ph.D. programs in economics are better students, on average, than students at lesser programs.

However, as the sorting of students into Ph.D. programs isn't a perfect technology, the distributions of ability overlap. The best students at the second-ranked schools are frequently better than the lesser-ranked students at the top schools.

Since there is better information about students' scholarly potential at job market time, this 'lack of perfect sorting technology' should be reflected in some institutional mobility; some graduate students on the job market should move up. This happens frequently in science, where particularly talented young researchers at second-ranked universities are hired into top posts. Yet, this sort of mobility is unheard of economics. The relevent question is, why?

Posted by: Matilde at November 12, 2003 01:37 PM

But IA, of course both those are possible, but that doesn't make them equally likely. And, unless you're saying there's no correlation between prestige and quality, then Chun's "assertion" isn't baseless (neither is it fully justified by what he says, but you see my point.)

Posted by: ogged at November 12, 2003 01:37 PM

A question rising out of this is: "Why do the third-rank schools exist at all?" But if you abolished these schools, there's be no jobs for graduates of second-rank schools. When would the dominos stop falling?

To answer my own question, we'd end up with a much larger number of purely-undergraduate institutions (which would also offer M.A.'s in practical fields like Social Work). These, however, would mostly be thought of as inferior to "real universities". (Though we do have "small liberal arts colleges"....)

What has always boggled me, especially from the long historical point of view, is the way that people feel so confident telling me that, for example, Yale ranks first in philosophy whereas Texas in ninth. This seems like fake precision, as if philosophy were a commodity like steel. (It is real precision, though, if professional status is taken as a proxy for philosophical production.)

The other thing that boggles me is the way that disciplines have narrowed themselves methodologically into orthodoxies. Most of the philosophy I read is not taught in most philosophy departments. I really think that in many of the humanities the universities are making themselves into dead orthodox strongholds like the scholastic Sorbonne ca. 1500-1600 A.D.

Posted by: zizka at November 12, 2003 01:40 PM

Matilde, that seems (to me, at any rate) to be the best way to think of the issue. Here's one guess: perhaps in the disciplines with the least mobility, prestige is in fact acting as a proxy for ideology. I know very little about economics, but aren't there several "schools of thought" that are explicitly associated with certain institutions? It could be that people from those institutions are hired not so much because of prestige, but because the hiring institutions want more good "Austrians," or "Keynesians."

Posted by: ogged at November 12, 2003 01:52 PM

One could answer Matilde's question by noting that the less intellectual content a given field has, the more likely it is to be defined by institutional hierarchies. English, for example, having nearly infinite intellectual content, has...oh nevermind.

Posted by: Chun the Unavoidable at November 12, 2003 01:58 PM

"Graduate students at top Ph.D. programs in economics are better students, on average, than students at lesser programs."

Better by what (and whose) measure do you believe this to be true? I'd pit a top ivy grad against a top non-ivy grad any day of the week -- just not on the cocktail circuit. What are we talking about here, intelligence?

The quality of candidate at any ivy-league program depends, to a certain extent, on the acceptance rate minus social pull. Lower acceptance rates kick more highly qualified candidates into other programs, not all of which are ivy-adorned.

Posted by: Academy Girl at November 12, 2003 02:41 PM

I think there are a couple of problems with the early sorting principle. One is that I've found, in history at least, that the skills I need as a grad student are different from those many undergrads are expected to learn, though thankfully similar to what I did as an undergrad. A student who isn't good at lecture regurgitation may excel at original research and historiography and vice versa, but this may not show up on grad school applications, affecting which grad schools they will get into.

Posted by: Brian Ulrich at November 12, 2003 02:54 PM

I'll leave aside the qualitative difference between Ivy and non-Ivy grad students, since that seems to be distracting from Chun's main point: grad students in top programs have more resources - money, libraries, labs, time, take your pick. More resources translates into greater visibility - conferences, publications, etc. This is what the "job market" measures, for the most part: your ability to meet certain (predetermined, and perhaps irrelevant) criteria. It's not that these students are better scholars - in the words of one of my advisors, they are "well-groomed."

And to a certain extent, that is correct. Tier 1 grad students are the metrosexuals of academic hygiene -- they can afford organic mango face lotion while everyone else is left to use coupons at the corner store. The flipside is that while they make look good, they are not fundamentally different -- they've just been taught to use fancy terms like "metrosexual."

Does this a better scholar make? On a fundamental level, no. But we all know the power of money, and within the corporatized academic environment we now live in, that makes all the difference.

As a sidenote, I was told by advisors and various other academics that what -really- matters is to find a Prof who can advise your dissertation, no matter where they are. Resources are a close second. And yet, when I assembled my list of PhD programs with my advisor's help, it was, with only minor exceptions, a roll call of the recognized "top tier" programs. hmmmmm......

Sidenote the second: "prestige" is also a factor of our impulse to quantify - i.e. simplify - discourse. US News is only the most visible perpetrator of this phenomenon. It's so pervasive that the latest Atlantic Monthly, which includes a rather biting critique of the prestige rankings of US News, was simply dismissed by the general media as yet another college ranking guide. If you haven't already, check it out.

Posted by: shkspr at November 12, 2003 03:15 PM

Well, guess this 'splains why I'm not teaching creative writing at some big school. I don't use Axe for men (the cologne of metrosexuals coast to coast)!

Posted by: Kevin Walzer at November 12, 2003 04:15 PM

Wealthier grad students also have the most valuable commodity of all: time.
Without money worries, they can focus their energies on taking advantage of networking, researching, etc.
The rest of us typically must work to survive.
The need to not have to work seems to be a sign of prestige.

Posted by: Cat at November 12, 2003 04:56 PM

Another facet of this that was touched upon but not quite opened up (post #17) has to do with the nature and quality of advice one receives as an undergrad. If, as Shkspr says, one is told as an undergrad that what is important is to find an advisor for the dissertation, and ideally a whole committee that will be suited to the individual and the project, the results, as it turns out, can often be disastrous. Let me clarify. What happens if/when one finds the "dream committee," which is in fact made up of prominent, fairly well-known faculty, but at an institution that is not an Ivy or near-Ivy? Again, the result(s) can be disastrous.

If you're on the "market" with a degree from one of these kinds of institutions, what you are basically hoping is that someone on the hiring committee will know of your institution, and optimally your committee members, and can explain to the others that the program is in fact excellent.

I guarantee that the hiring committee at Small liberal arts college (not necessarily elite) knows of Harvard, Stanford, Duke, Univ. of Chicago, and Yale. But, by the same token, said hiring commitee may not regard, say, U.C. Irivine, Syracuse Univ., or SUNY Wherever as anything more than a 2nd tier large state university with average to middling programs in everything.

I now do everything in my limited power to disuade my students from going to grad. school in anything other than a field that has a job at the end (Law, MBA, Medicine, Education). Failing that, however, I plead with them to accept the offer from Yale rather than Emory, and explain that you can read everything you want to read by Cathy Caruth, you can even email her and she'll probably write back and talk to you, but make sure you are enrolled at Yale and have that Yale letterhead when the time comes.

This is advice I wish someone had given me. Despite what Ivy League Grad (#8) says above, I know first hand that many, many hiring committees say from the outset 'to lessen our load, we're only going to review apps from Ivy and near Ivy schools and the rest we're tossing'.

Ah, what a life ...

Posted by: Chris at November 12, 2003 04:57 PM

Responding to Chris and #20 . . .

I tell those undergraduates of mine who are dead set on grad school to follow the money . . . which, not so surprisingly, leads them to schools in the top tier.

I would never ever recommend a program based on the personnel there, no matter how prestigious--too many people leave jobs too often for a grad school applicant to reliant on them being available for a committee four to five years down the road. A five-year financial commitment is far more dependable (and again is the sort of thing you usually only get at the richest, most established programs).

I might recommend against a program based on the personnel there, but that would be because I would be aware of a potential conflict between an applicant and the faculty from whom he or she would be taking classes.

As for the point about hiring, I think it's clear that the bad job market has been squeezing out people from the lower tier programs. With more and more people from the top tier to choose from (b/c they're piling up in a bad market), it is indeed easy for a search committee to do as Chris says and be assured that they'll still have a wide pool of potential colleagues to choose from. But I would just add (from personal experience) that even when you get that interview from a lower-tier school, there's still a heightened sense of doubt about your ability to care about the undergraduate teaching mission. If you're an Ivy or near-Ivy grad, and you want a teaching-oriented job, there's a dance you must do in the interview room that you won't have to do for any Ivy/near-Ivy schools interviewing you.

Posted by: Ivy League Grad at November 12, 2003 05:16 PM

Ivy, fair enough. I suppose my version of that dance you mention is around the issue of literary and cultural theory. I must admit, I am forever having to step-2-3-4 and ... dip with hiring committees that begin with questions like 'okay, can you tell me what's up with all this death of the author stuff ... I mean, I'm an author, and I'm not dead, am I'? That was my all time favorite, and man-oh-man did I have to bite my tongue on that last little bit.

(and no, to answer your question, I didn't get that job -- go figure ...)

Posted by: Chris at November 12, 2003 05:25 PM

Mathilde, you cannot be serious when you claim that people from second-tier econ departments NEVER get jobs at top-tier places. My mate Mark Mitchell from Clemson landed at U of Chicago for his first job. It's just a statistical association and Chun et al's alternative explanations are entirely viable. An obvious supplementary test would be to see how many errors are made. For example, how many second-tier folks end up publishing more than their first-tier compatriots. One thing about Econ, however, would really undercut this kind of test. Publishing is incredibly right-skewed. Even at Research 1A universities, the median # of publications is a bit less than 1. That is, a tiny fraction of people do most of the publishing. Are other fields like this?

Posted by: gerald garvey at November 12, 2003 05:46 PM

Perhaps "never" is too strong a word to use. That being said I suppose how many PhDs from 2nd tier schools eventually get tenure at top economic programs will be a better metric, rather than just land a job. I doubt there are many. Off the top of my head, Penn State is one lesser known program that gets good placements.

One point to note is that there are rather good jobs outside academia for economics PhDs. Feds,BLS,think tanks,consulting firms,etc all come to mind. Students who graduate outside of the big name schools may choose to go to these places, raher than take their chances in academia. (Proberbly due to bias, perceived or otherwise I suppose, on their odds) Thus the lack of 2nd tier students at top schools is not a sign of their quality ,just preference.

Finally, gerald I am not sure where you get this
"the median # of publications is a bit less than 1" statistic from. Care to share? Publishing papers as opposed to books is the norm in economics. With a median

Posted by: Passing_through at November 12, 2003 08:09 PM

Sorry got cut off.
With a median

Posted by: Passing_through at November 12, 2003 08:10 PM

Prestige also filters out to wealthy parents, who pay full tuition, and are thus important consumers for schools to attract. Parents don't know (or care) whether faculty in sociology or history or whatever department their kid is interested in publish or not. They do know whether school A has more faculty with PhD's from Harvard and Yale than school B, which might have lots of great scholar-teachers from Arizona and Oregon and South Carolina. So the school that hires the really outstanding SUNY-Albany grad over the merely competent Harvard grad gets punished for it; wealthy parents who understand prestige make choices for their kids and choose the school with the Harvard faculty. I tend to think this one of the major reason accomplished candidates from lesser ranked schools don't get hired -- they don't attract the full pays. The same logic applies to state supported schools, since legislators think the way parents do.

The other big reason is the idea of "potential." hiring committees love "potential," and all graduates from top schools have it by definition. Those second and third tier PhD's who publish their way into competitiveness still get ignored, since "potential" is always more attractive than actual accomplishment. This becomes a self-fulfilling process. The unpublished Yale grad gets a 2-2 load with a year sabbatical and a year of course reductions and at the end of that time has managed to publish a couple well-placed articles or get a book contract. Which is about what you have to do just to get looked at if you aren't from a top tier school.

To grouse a bit, this was exactly my experience. I had multiple publications coming out of grad school, and by my second year on the market had 2 articles in the 2 best journals of my profession (in my field, that's usually the minimum for tenure at a respectable insitution). I watched as Ivy League grads with no publications at all got job after job at the "best" places for the 4 years I was on the market, while I interviewed for visiting positions (I did finally get a tenure track job at a liberal arts college, a 3-3 load). Many of the PhD's with the elite potential have managed to publish a couple things, but none of them (with maybe one exception) has a better record than I do, and they didn't build their record while teaching 3-5 courses a semester and moving every year. But my third tier PhD outweighs my record when the pile of applications is 275 deep.

I guess the bottom line is this: Chun's early point is just plain wrong. Prestige does not measure skill or talent, nor is it a proxy for a functioning underlying market that measures actual productivity. Prestige measures prestige. We'd have a much healthier process if files were required to be submitted without the identification of the PhD granting school -- send your publications, research agenda, and teaching evaluations, and let accomplishment speak for itself.

Posted by: anti-potential at November 12, 2003 08:45 PM

Another comment on the question Matilde raised way back in comment 10, asking why things are different in sciences.

First, I'm not sure the difference is all that great. But if science markets are more rational, it may have more to do with the extra postdoc years than with sensible faculty or quantifiable standards of research quality.

Coming straight out of graduate school, there is very little real information available about a candidate's research abilities: especially about his or her range of skills and creativity. With enough guidance, a great many people can produce a PhD thesis. But who will continue to produce interesting work when out in the big world all alone? If a search committee has to guess, they can do worse than just punting and letting the grad school admissions committees make the first cut for them.

In the sciences (at least in physics and astronomy), it is nearly required that candidates do at least a few years of postdoctoral work. By the time people are applying for tenure track jobs, we on the search committees expect to see a range of publications, and can make much more nuanced judgements about the trajectory of a candidate's research. We don't have to care so much about the prestige of a candidate's credentials when we have all this extra information.

That said, the candidates pay a big price with years of additional uncertainty and frequent moving from postdoc to postdoc. Moving back and forth across the country is not fun, especially when family members are dragged along or left behind for years.

Posted by: an astronomer at November 12, 2003 09:51 PM

"the nature and quality of advice one receives as an undergrad" (#20)

Well, I received -no- advice while an undergrad, and the advice I received during my MA wasn't exactly enlightening. I'll clarify my earlier point --- I was told that what is important (beyond the money, which is assumed to be a given) is a potential committee that would fit you well. What my late afternoon sarcasm failed to make clear was that each school deemed to be a "good fit" for me just -happened- to be a top tier school. In other words, I received an idealistic piece of advice (go, young shkspr, find a suitable intellectual environment...) tempered by cynicism (...but only at these ten schools).

We all hope that hiring committees know better than to bank on the prestige of your PhD, but we also know that is not the case. When I tell non-academic friends/family about my applications, they invariably reply "well, Big Ivy certaily sounds more impressive than Big State U., but I suppose if you're a professor you have a different perspective." Well, umm, no, not exactly. Other posters have made clear that they are forced to tell students to get an Ivy PhD, because otherwise you'll work twice as hard and get twice the rejection. And around the circle we go....

"Prestige does not measure skill or talent, nor is it a proxy for a functioning underlying market that measures actual productivity. Prestige measures prestige."

Yes, correct, but it's much -easier- to rely on prestige. That Ivy letterhead seems to be a marker of quality -- except the admissions process for PhD's really doesn't measure quality, either. Each stage in the hazing ritual that is academia -seems- to be based on reason, but if you take any more than a cursory look, well, you end up venting frustration on this website.

I would also add that prestige does measure more than prestige -- it also measures money and the age of the school--which is about as good a definition of "prestige" as you're going to get, I suppose.

Posted by: shkspr at November 13, 2003 09:25 AM

"We'd have a much healthier process if files were required to be submitted without the identification of the PhD granting school -- send your publications, research agenda, and teaching evaluations, and let accomplishment speak for itself."

This would be an interesting experiment.

My suspicion is that we wouldn't see a radical inversion, with most candidates from third-ranked programs landing tenure-track jobs and most candidates from Ivy league programs landing in the reject pile. But I also suspect that some elite candidates might not make the cut, while some candidates from lesser-ranked schools might be noticed. In other words, if there were a way to control for prestige (and realistically, there probably isn't), the selection process would look different enough to call into question the validity of prestige as predictor of long-term scholarly potential. How different? Of course I don't know. But it wouldn't have to be very different in order to be significant: when candidates are competing for scarce resources in a winner-takes-all market, each and every criterion is enormously important.

Chun writes, "If you've taught at an elite institution and also at an unselective university, you've probably noticed this among the students. The best at the latter are as good as most any at the former, but the average quality at the elite institution is higher."

Yes, I have taught at both types of institution, and yes, I have noticed this. The best students at the nonselective institution could be at the elite school (they're not there because of class), while the worst students at the elite school are indistinguishable from the average at the nonselective school (again, they're at the elite school becasue of class). The problem, of course, is that the very best student at the nonselective school will have a much harder time getting into one of the top-ranked graduate programs because of issues of prestige, and will very probably end up at a lesser-ranked grad program.

The problem with the prestige principle (ie, the substitution of prestige for other standards of measurement):
It's probably not the case that there's no relationship between prestige and merit/potential. But it probably is the case that prestige and merit/potential don't map onto one more or less perfectly, with no gaps, overlaps, or spaces. In a very tight market, the question is: are there mechanisms of mobility to control/correct for these gaps and spaces?

One of the underlying assumptions of Han's paper is that markets are social networks, deeply embedded in all kinds of social relations. There's no "pure" market abstracted from these social relations and thus free of the influence of human judgements/biases formed on the basis of extra-market factors. So some kind of prestige principle is probably inevitable, and as he points out, it's by no means peculiar to the academic job market. The issue is to what degree prestige stands in for other possible criteria? And here his argument is that prestige is so significant to academic exchange that it makes the academic labor market qualitatively different from other labor markets.

And if he's right about this, then I think the burden of proof/argument lies with those who would defend the current system to either:

1. explain how or why it's good thing to have something that looks more like a class/status system than a labor market as labor market is conventionally understood -- and to do so in a manner that answers the concerns of those who worry about the potential gaps and spaces, and the lack of mechanisms of mobility to correct for possible errors/biases; or

2. explain how or why Han is wrong to argue that when prestige is as salient a factor as it is in academic job market, that system of exchange deviates significantly from the classic model of a market (on the assumption that while no real system of exchange actually conforms to the model, some systems of exchange come closer to the model than others).

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at November 13, 2003 10:39 AM

"I must admit, I am forever having to step-2-3-4 and ... dip with hiring committees that begin with questions like 'okay, can you tell me what's up with all this death of the author stuff ... I mean, I'm an author, and I'm not dead, am I'? That was my all time favorite, and man-oh-man did I have to bite my tongue on that last little bit."

Personally, I would love to teach at an English department that openly mocked the "death of the author" or at least didn't take it too seriously. I'm surprised you came across depts like that---I usually assume that Theory/Culture dominates even the small/'lesser' English depts. Nice anecdote.

Posted by: James at November 13, 2003 10:50 AM

IA: You seem to have a lot of hostility to the notion of a labor market. Not sure why, it actually says very little. For example, Han's evidence does not reject the importance of a labor market, simply because the mere existence of a labor market makes no real prediction of how jobs ought to be allocated. Nothing more than "those best suited for a job will tend to get it". Then it all depends on how you define and measure "best suited". Put another way, what do you think the world would look like if there were a "real" labor market in academia?

None of this is really intended as a defense of the labor market notion. I just have a rather difference criticism. Not that it is wrong as a model of the world, but that unless you add a whole lot of conditions and work hard at it, the idea/model is empirically vacuous.

Posted by: gerald garvey at November 13, 2003 12:40 PM

Gerald, I think that's backwards. IA seems to be asking how we can justify the fact that the academic job market is not a real labor market.

She writes, "I think the burden of proof/argument lies with those who would defend the current system to...explain how or why it's [a] good thing to have something that looks more like a class/status system than a labor market as labor market is conventionally understood."

Posted by: ogged at November 13, 2003 01:34 PM

Nope, I am just trying to figure out what is meant by a labor market "as conventionally understood". Only then can you say that it is a "fact that the academic labor market is not a real market". What do you mean by a real market? I suspect that by the definitions being used, there is no real market, anywhere.

Posted by: gerald garvey at November 13, 2003 01:51 PM


Perhaps it is the post-doc that seperates the sciences from economics in terms of the information available to the hiring committee. Post-docs are relatively rare in economics; candidates typically go on the market in their fifth year of graduate school, with only the rare candidate having a publication (typically joint with a more senior researcher).

Gerald is right that never is too strong a word (although for the record, his friend is in finance; the market for job candidates for business schools is a seperate market than the one for economics departments). However, it is certainly conventional wisdom in the economics profession that upward mobility is highly improbable. I circulated the paper around the office and the reaction was one of collective unsurprise.

I think that passing_through is right that DC might be a more collegial place for the mingling of economists - my research shop has a mix of young economists from the Ivies and agricultural colleges. It's a good mix.

Posted by: Matilde at November 13, 2003 01:54 PM

I agree with IA and ogged.

If the best people get the tenure-track jobs, then why do universities rely so extensively on the ostensibly "less qualified" to teach such a huge core of undergraduate and graduate classes, which practice I constantly refer to as "permanent contingency." Those who want to believe in ivy league grads as superior life-forms are simply perpetuating a mythology and a class-based system which hurts everyone else (but probably benefits themselves).

Posted by: Academy Girl at November 13, 2003 01:57 PM

" rely so extensively on the ostensibly "less qualified" to teach such a huge core of undergraduate and graduate classes "

Off the bat, I dont think there are many adjuncts teaching graduate classes. Those that usually do are often professors in other departments. For example, an engineering prof might be an adjunct professor at a computer science department, (actually this is rather common, especially guys dabbling in architecture).

I think the statement of adjuncts teaching teaching a huge core of undergraduate classes somewhat misleading. This can mean 2 things. Consider this #1:

1.Say in a university, all students are required to take 2 english classes.

2.All english classes are taught by adjunct profs.

3.All other classes are taught by tenured/-track profs.

Thus it is strictly correct to say that a huge core of undergraduates are taught by adjuncts.
Does this mean that on a whole, undergradutes are shortchanged? Well for undergraduates who just take the required 2 english classes, its not that bad.

Consider this #2:
1. 50 % of all undergraduate classes in the majority of deparmtment are taught by adjuncts.

Now again it holds that a huge core of undergraduates are taught by adjuncts. But this is a much worst scenario than #1.

So which is it?

Posted by: Passing_through at November 13, 2003 02:39 PM

No one picked up on my methodological comment above, so I'll just reiterate it. (You won't get rid of me that easily).

If there's a circular relationsip between the ranking of departments and hiring (the best department places the most graduates, graduates of the best departments get the best jobs) then the professions become intellectually defined by hiring choices, and the professional intellectual judgments of these "best departments" are locked in with minimal debate. I'm thinking especially of what I see as an extraordinary narrowing of philosophy over the last 40-50 years, with whole schools of thought being rejected out of hand and even analytic-philosophy subschools being squeezed out. But in English and history similiar narrowing takes place, with various forms of postmodernism (very loosely defined) getting a stranglehold.

On this board several have testified about their attempts, sometimes even their successful attempts, to jam themselves into a postmodernist mold (Erin O'Connor, as I understand, actually renounced some of her own work once she got tenure).

It's this kind of stiffening, fossilization, and "sedimentation" which made me bring up the bad example of the scholastic Sorbonne in the early modern age. I think that it has a lot to do with the way a lot of bright young students end up as Libertarians, Republicans, cynics, or even fundamentalist Christians. They just don't like what's being offered.

As for the Sorbonne in early modern Europe, Google up "Duns Scotus" + "dunce" and read what pops up.

Posted by: zizka at November 13, 2003 02:54 PM

To zizka's comments on "stiffening, fossilization and sedimentation" I think there is something missing.

To become the best means to leaders in a field, not followers. Thus talented faculties or newly minted PhDs who want to make a name for themselves will push the status quo, not just follow it. Thus the stiffening,etc will not occur, since the biggest prize goes to those who debunk existing conventions.

In economics there is the clark medel,awarded to the most promising economist under the ages of 40. Similarly in math, there is the wolf medel for the most promising mathematician under 40. Awards such as the Nobel or Turing have no age limits, but are essentially the same, in that they reward the ones who have pushed the boundaries science. The more talented faculty or ambitious young PhDs have every incentive to solve the difficult problems, to create new schools of thought, because the highest awards go to the trailblazers.

Departments then are aware of this. Thus they are tolerant of the mavericks who may someday be the pioneers of their discipline. An interesting enough, top tier departments are the usually the ones who have a larger share of these mavericks.

Posted by: Passing_through at November 13, 2003 03:23 PM

Responding to zizka's #37 . . .

I don't see this in English at all . . . or rather I don't see this as a new issue. At the start of the 1900s, you had English departments concentrating on a belles lettres approach to texts. Then you get a shift by the 1920s into old-school historicism, followed by a gradual move in the 1930s and 1940s into the New Criticism. The end of the 1960s and the 1970s see the arrival of poststructuralism and postmodernism, followed by a large-scale return to historicism (albeit a poststructurally inflected historicism) in the 1990s. And now we're told that aesthetics is coming back as well.

So there's really a history of temporally dominant intellectual formations in English departments over the approximately century-long tenure of their existance in the modern university. And you know what? The New Critical professors did their damnedest for the longest time to hire only New Critics--poststructuralist hostility to formalist approaches is in large part reprisal for New Critical hostility. Tit for tat. Doesn't excuse it on either side, but it's not like the poststructuralists invented it.

In fact, if you go back to the 1930s, there's a cartoon from the period in which a scrappy kid mocks a eggheaded Poindexter-type who is quoting New Critical jargon at him. So who invented jargon?

I would say that the present day situation in those English departments I know of is one in which dozens of methodological approaches are being practiced. People are taking the best of theory, the best of historicism, the best of formalism (which never really went away, no matter what the Culture Warriors claimed), and doing extremely interesting, extremely eclectic work.

And I think that the hiring situation reflects this: I reject the belief that you must be a theory maven to get a job. You certainly have to be familiar with theory (or theories), and you have to be able to show how your work relates to it. But that relation doesn't have to be one of servitude: it can be judicious adaption, informed rejection, etc. My own dissertation didn't quote a single poststructuralist theory and was full of formalist close readings of literary texts--but it was also informed by my reading of Marxian critics and by my study of historical texts. I never felt on the market like I was being rejected because I didn't fit someone's ideological straightjacket.

Well, except for the interview where my mention of how I made use of certain feminist concepts in a class led to the question: "I've read the Victorian novel and know the ways of men and women. Why do I need feminism?"

Posted by: Ivy League Grad at November 13, 2003 03:26 PM

I think the point of the economists research is that
the academic markets are less than efficient if prestige counts for so much. Assuming that economics departments are no more effective at selecting candidates for admission than chemistry departments, the emphasis on prestige/department status should be no more relevant in english than economics. The fact that economics is more stratified would indicate that ability/talent/achievement count for less than prestige in economics than in chemistry.

Posted by: realshazard at November 13, 2003 03:47 PM

Passing-through wrote:

"Off the bat, I dont think there are many adjuncts teaching graduate classes."

Well, maybe where you come from. . . .

Passing-through also wrote: "I think the statement of adjuncts teaching teaching a huge core of undergraduate classes somewhat misleading."

You presented two scenarios. Actually, both scenarios are true, depending on where you look. Some have a core of contingents teaching things like introductory composition or math. Others have contingent faculty teaching at all levels, including the graduate level. IMHO, both scenarios are bad. I am aware of schools where contingent faculty are the majority on staff, and both scenarios apply in various departments across the campus.

Posted by: Academy Girl at November 13, 2003 05:01 PM

Mathematics is probably less susceptible to the things I mentioned. (But see Mandelbrot complaining about "Bourbaki"). Within economics, as defined, they are looking for the movers and shakers, but there's an relative unfriendliness to economic history and political economy, and even more so to alternative or critical economics (Daniel Davies talks about this).

What I say about English is based on the amount of grumbling I overhear, plus one conversation with someone who absolutely loved her program, but who I thought was a trendy idiot.

I think that what I say is truest about philosophy. Matt Yglesias (I think) recently reported that you can be a philosopher without reading much of anything more than 20 years old. In his case, no Aristotle as I remember. I heard something similiar from a friend in grad school. The belief is that everything of value in philosophy fits into a definition of the field produced within American and British universities between about 1950 and 1975 or so.

If you look at what philosophy has traditionally discussed, a lot has been simply excluded: "I don't know what that is, but it's not philosophy". In general, the narrowing of fields is done by excluding certain kinds of questions, while remaining open-minded about new work done on established questions.

According to Rorty (who was not unhappy with the trend) the threshold was the professionalization of philosophy in the 30's, continuously exacerbated after WWII. The "find a paradigm and enforce it" application of Kuhn has also been mentioned.

My feeling is that this kind of thing is not new, but worse than before. And the academics I talk to are almost all looking over their shoulders a lot. (And I'm not sure where the "almost" came from.)

Posted by: zizka at November 13, 2003 05:10 PM

I have a comment, and I don't think this has been fully explored under the header "privileged" or "ivy league." Also, I think it might pertain to why "labor market forces" are a bit different in academia.

What about personal references? It seems to me, in the sciences, that having experience with a faculty member (either as a grad student or post doc) who is well-known and has a good reputation, and who gives a good reference to the candidate, is half the battle. That is to say, as a community, scientists meet in conferences, grant review panels, on editorial boards of journals, etc. There can be no denying the credentials of an Ivy-league education (because, strictly speaking, it WILL be a better education than po-dunk Univ.), but I think that has to be backed up by a solid reference (or 3) from faculty members who are known in the discipline. Yes, this is a restricted circle, but I'm not sure what would work much better.

Second, (at least as applied to tenure track positions), the instititution is banking on the "potential" of the candidate to the tune of 7 (or so) years til tenure review, and very often a quarter-million dollar or more start-up package (in the sciences at least). In non-academic fields, the institution/corporation can jettison a non-performer much more quickly, and with less invested at the individual level (I think, best case scenario in academia for tenure track is 3 years of extremely poor performance, and a terminal contract year). Also, post-tenure reviews require something like 3 years extremely poor performance, terminal contract year, and probably a guaranteed lawsuit. So I think the "labor market forces" are quite a bit different in academia than in other markets.

Posted by: cj at November 13, 2003 08:30 PM

I wanted to email this question to the webhost, but I couldn't find an email address posted (sorry if I missed it), so I hope he reads this comment and thinks it worthy of further debate.

I would like to know what those who have worked as adjuncts see as THEIR role in 1)perpetuating a second-tier of faculty with few(er) benefits and little input in governance issues, and 2)undermining the position of tenure track professorship.

It's been stated that, until recently, the responsibilities of adjuncts previously were fulfilled by tenure track professors. So, is what you have here a bean-counting administrative mentality that would rather pay part-timers in order to "maximize revenues" as long as higher ed "consumers" will tolerate it? What would happen if that pool of employees dried up? Wouldn't higher ed administrators be forced to higher more individuals into tenure track positions?

At least as I've witnessed personally at my Univ (and have read in the Chronicle of Higher Ed), it seems that tenured professors represent, in no small part, a group of individuals with freedom of speech (i.e., freedom to critique administrators with at least SOME protection against retaliation). I know of the evil of tenured professors who abuse the system, so I'm not as interested in that side as I am of the corporatization of the university, and the role of tenured professors in standing up for academic integrity. Isn't this ability weakened by a body of non-tenured adjuncts ready to step up to the plate to take on ever more responsibilities?

This may be difficult, but I'm not as interested in "but I have to pay my bills" type emotional arguments. I understand that side of the issue. And I understand that there hasn't necessarily been above-board career guidance as opposed to "grad stu recruitment" drives.

It seems to me, that, to a growing extent, academia is "cannabilizing" itself, by demanding fewer and fewer "tenure track faculty," which, I think, will ultimately lead to a few very prestigious universities (because there will ALWAYS be a small percentage of individuals who can write their own terms of employment, including tenure, etc.).

Sorry if this has already been discussed (I'm a new reader of this blog), and I'm not trying to insult anyone. I'm just interested in the growing corps of adjunct/non-tenure positions, the corporatization/commercializations of universities, market forces, and labor supply.

Thanks to anyone who wishes to discuss! (or pointers/links to references, if I'm beating an old horse).

Posted by: cj at November 13, 2003 09:00 PM

Cj writes (post #43): "the instititution is banking on the "potential" of the candidate to the tune of 7 (or so) years til tenure review." Very true. Part of the point I was making in an earlier post is that hiring committees substitute the prestige of the canidate's department for an actual evaluation of potential. In most fields in the humanities, any search will be full of people who have DEMONSTRATED their ability to succeed, because they have published widely while teaching as adjuncts or visitors for a few years (sometimes while running blogs on the side...). Yet major departments, the ones which provide the greatest resources for young scholars, persist in hiring new PhD's from prestige schools, justified by an appeal to their "potential." This tendency is a perfect illustration of market failure: objectively more qualified candidates are passed over for the most attractive positions because of their lack of pedigree. That's class based hiring, and little else.

In some ways, this trend works to the benefit of smaller departments. I've been at my liberal arts college for four years and served on 4 searches in a variety of departments. We have yet to interview a candidate from an Ivy League school, mainly because their graduates don't have the kind of publication and teaching records we expect before we are willing to hire. That is, we depend on demonstrated ability, not potential, and thus hire fantastic teachers and researchers from mostly second tier schools. This is not to say we are opposed to Ivy Leaguers, just that they seem less prepared to compete where the market demands peer reviewed publications (not chapters in a book edited by their advisor) and teaching excellence.

Posted by: anti-potential at November 13, 2003 09:03 PM

cj (#43 above) didn't read my post on the four gospels of the academy . . . .

Posted by: Academy Girl at November 13, 2003 09:40 PM

"Part of the point I was making in an earlier post is that hiring committees substitute the prestige of the canidate's department for an actual evaluation of potential. In most fields in the humanities, any search will be full of people who have DEMONSTRATED their ability to succeed, because they have published widely while teaching as adjuncts or visitors for a few years"

I agree this is one of the more bizarre features of the academic job system. I doubt there are many other labor markets where actual experience on the job can actually count against a candidate.
It's class-based hiring, yes, but I think it cuts even deeper.

To relate this issue to some of the points raised by cj, it's my belief that at some level many faculty do realize that "academia is 'cannabilizing' itself." Thus, in addition to the prestige factor which can make a newly minted PhD from an elite program more attractive than a more experienced and better published candidate from a lesser-ranked program, there is now an additional dimension to prestige: ie, a firmly entrenched two-tier system of the tenurable and untenurable. To put it bluntly, it's hard to wipe oneself clean of the stain of adjuncthood. The adjunct (which is to say, the increasing adjunctification of entire disciplines) is a blot on the academy's copybook, an embarrassment to the very profession from which the adjunct emerged. Better to look the other way, ie, only notice the newly minted nonadjunctified candidate.

cj, does the ready availability of cheap teaching labor undermine the status and bargaining position of the profession? Absolutely. What I've argued on this weblog is that graduate programs (at least in certain disciplines, the ones with large pools of unemployed and underemployed PhDs) need to take some responsibility for the future of the profession, stop thinking in terms of short-term problems and rather face the long-term consquences of an oversupply of candidates. There's little question in my mind that many graduate programs should be scaled back, and that some should be eliminated altogether. The professional organizations also bear a burden of responsibility. They should take up casualization the way they take up tenure: i.e., make it a central concern, something toward which they will devote considerable time, resources, and energy. This is not about being nicer to the adjuncts. This is about the future of the professions. If the gatekeepers to the profession do not assume this responsibility, we can be sure that nobody else will.

The problem with placing the responsibility on the adjuncts themselves: this is to expect the least powerful to take on a battle that requires the active intervention of those with power, prestige and status. In pragmatic terms alone, this is utterly hopeless.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at November 13, 2003 10:43 PM

Well IA, instead of reducing the number of PhDs produced, has any one thought about expanding the field to create more jobs these PhD?

This is what I mean. For example, economics used to be concerned with topics like inflation, trade, economy-type stuff. But along the way, it started to grow in scope to encompass subjects where emprical models can be used. Pretty much anything that has data and statistics you can find some economist working on it, be it measuring crime or school vouchers. These days, economists find themselves working in think tank and policy places, in additional to the traditional banks and financial institutions. On the academic front, some move on to public policy departments, business departments,law schools instead of the traditional economics departments.

So why shouldnt the same be for History PhDs? I am not a historian, but why arnt there history PhDs in the business schools teaching about coporate history or economic history? Perhaps in law schools or journalism schools for that matter? Perhaps more accurately, the questions is why isnt the discipline expanding to other otherwise unexplored ares?

Posted by: at November 13, 2003 11:28 PM

CJ, (44), the answer to your question about whether adjunctification is a cost-effective way to staff classes, which will last as long as "consumers" are willing to tolerate the present sytem, is yes. That is exactly the situation.

And I think you raise an important issue by emphasizing the role of the "educational consumer" in potentially brining an end to the over use of adjunct labor. The problem is that many "consumers" remain unaware of the issues, and adminsitrations are able to manage much of the information that is made available to their consumer base.

In a second question, you asked, "What would happen if [the] pool of employees dried up? Wouldn't ... administrators be forced to hire more individuals into tenure track positions?" Again, yes -- or at least, the logic of "supply and demand" would suggest this. However, there are innumerable ways to thwart the scenario you present. Administrations may eliminate courses, while at the same time lowering the number of sections of a given course. The result will be fewer courses offered, and at the same time higher enrollments in those that are offered. What will not come about as a result of this maneuver is the conversion of adjunct and part-time faculty to tenure-track.

And once again, until the consumer rejects this model -- fewer classes, larger enrollments -- the policy will run its course, and the adminstration will have bought itself another ten or so years of inflated income.

(sorry, this wasn't really about prestige)

Posted by: Chris at November 14, 2003 12:14 AM

An anonymous poster asks:

"why arnt there history PhDs in the business schools teaching about coporate history or economic history? Perhaps in law schools or journalism schools for that matter?"

Good question. I often ask myself that question as a B-School financial economist. I would love to have more real historians on our faculty or in the classroom. First, I got a lot more from undergrad history than from undergrad econ at UC Berkeley (although this may have had something do do with having a series of classes on medieval history from Peter Brown). Second, becuase there is some really awful faux-history being invoked by people in weak areas like business strategy. Last month I attended a lecture by a strategy guru claiming once again to have drawn deep business lessons from military history. He sagely told us that Homer was the primary source for the Persian Wars.

Posted by: gerald garvey at November 14, 2003 01:03 AM

cj (#44) is correct about contingents perpetuating their own abuse . . . something I call "causing your own doom." The answer to this problem is in collective action or multiple personal decisions to not stay in academia. What prevents this latter point from being effective is the ready willingness of other contingent faculty to take the place of those who leave their jobs instead of refusing or enacting job action and walking out.

Posted by: Academy Girl at November 14, 2003 02:08 AM

I'm not sure I like or agree with this "blame the victim" tone, which is what this sounds like to me.

Posted by: Chris at November 14, 2003 11:53 AM

Well, then don't become victimized -- act to create change.

Remember, this formula: it takes hope, courage, and people power. I wonder if IA would agree?

Posted by: Academy Girl at November 14, 2003 12:37 PM

I suspect she would agree. That said, beyond the obviously desirable, but sadly unrealistic strategy of collective actions -- work stoppages, striking etc. -- what sorts of strategies do you suggest to avoid becoming victimized by an unjust and exploitive labor situation?

As far as I can see I am limited to little gestures -- like sending IA's url to the dept. wide list-serve, along with an ironic note, or cobbling together a packet of essays and articles, and in some cases Blog threads that I then give to any student who even whipsers that s/he might be interested in grad. school.

(words like stunning, surprising, bleak, depressing, and phrases like 'I had no idea' and 'okay, plan B I guess' are common responses)

Posted by: Chris at November 14, 2003 01:15 PM

Sadly, I don't think there's anything that adjuncts can do to interest tenured faculty in changing the current system. Most full-time faculty members either don't care--they see gripes on a blog like this as sour-grapes whining by lesser mortals who deserve their failure--or they avert their eyes, because they're deeply invested in maintaining the existing system and have everything to lose

If, as Chris reports, they do respond with the claim that they "had no idea," I'm left to wonder why so many tenured professors--especially in the "humanities"--take so little time to get to know their adjunct colleagues as human beings. Actually, no, I don't wonder: Adjuncts are neither politically nor professionally useful to them, and they're embarassing reminders of the system's dysfunction.

Absolutely nothing will change until the professorate's economic interests are threatened. Nothing.

Posted by: J.V.C. at November 14, 2003 01:48 PM

Notice of meeting regarding methods for achieving change for contingent faculty

Today, my blog.

Everybody welcome.

Posted by: Academy Girl at November 14, 2003 03:07 PM

"The problem with placing the responsibility on the adjuncts themselves: this is to expect the least powerful to take on a battle that requires the active intervention of those with power, prestige and status. In pragmatic terms alone, this is utterly hopeless."

But if the adjuncts do not fight for themselves, who will fight for them? In this particular battle adjuncts have everything to gain and the least to lose.

It's hard to deny the logic - tenure track faculty, administators, and taxpayers (if you believe that the average taxpayer benefits from lower taxes than an increase in teaching quality) benefit from the status quo at the expense of adjuncts. Why would they stand up and fight for the rights of adjuncts?

However, if/when adjuncts fail to show up to work, the whole system falls apart, forcing administrators and faculty to confront the issue. I truly believe nothing will happen to change the current system until adjuncts as a group simply refuse to allow the status quo to continue, by either leaving the profession en masse, or engaging in strikes and labor negotiations.

Posted by: Matilde at November 14, 2003 03:22 PM

I tend to find tenured faculty complacent about almost every topic. Their security and comfortable lifestyle make all problems external.

Posted by: zizka at November 14, 2003 03:28 PM

This may be an unpopular place to state this, but is it possible that only some adjuncts are angry and/or treated with less respect by their peers in the department while others are quite happy with waht they are doing?

Some people DO teach adjunct classes because they have other things on their plate,ie family reasons or that they have a day jobs that prevent them from entering academia full time. Adjuncting allows them to continue teaching and keep ties with universities. Naturally asking them if they would want more money is silly. Everyone wants to be paid more. But this does not mean that they are exploited or unhappy.

Work stoppages and strikes was observed by someone else as "obviously desirable". But the truth is collective bargaining for adjuncts affects all adjuncts, both the unhappy ones and the happy ones. While this may cause the school to change their employment practices like offering better pay or longer term contracts, adjuncts who are already happy with what they are getting may be adversely affected. Departments may no longer afford to hire adjuncts to offer speciality classes that they simply have no expertice in. These already adjuncts will find themselves unable to teach. Students will find themselves one less opportunity to be exposed to bleeding edge work. So the notion that everybody is better off with collective bargaining by adjuncts is not true.

This reminds me of the recent wave of graduate student unionzation. There is informal evidence to suggest that the humanities/social sciences students were so caught up with graduate unionization that they fail to understand that their peers in the sciences were just not as interested. In fact, these students may well be worst of by unionizations.

Posted by: at November 14, 2003 03:33 PM

I think I'm a good person to respond to the anonymous comment above, because I'm a part-time adjunct. Teaching college isn't my full-time job. I do it because I love to teach, I love the material, and I love the students my school attracts. I'm not miserable with the gig; in fact, I love everything about it, especially the opportunity to bring more enthusiasm to my few hours of teaching each week than my jaded tenured colleagues often do.

Know how much I get paid? $1,875 per course.

And that's after two raises.

So let's do some math. Students pay at least $600 per class. I typically have between 15 and 30 students--an average of 23, let's say. So my university is grossing $13,800 in tuition from my students. And I'm seeing less than 15% of that--which comes to approximately $82 per student per semester...or, if you prefer, approximately $41 per hour for 45 hours of classroom time. That rate is diminished by taxes and by countless hours devoted to prep time, grading, responding to students' emails and phone calls, photocopying I often do at my own expense, and commuting.

Luckily, I don't need my adjunct gig to pay the bills, but some of my colleagues do, and my school is getting them at a jaw-dropping bargain. So don't ever let university administrators convince you that they care about exploitation, "social justice," or any of the other slogans their generation mouthed. Their own self-interest comes first. Within the sphere of their careers, they're selfish Randians who have convinced themselves that they're enlightened liberals. As long as university administrators are building empires founded on such transparent self-deception, nothing will change.

Posted by: J.V.C. at November 14, 2003 04:28 PM

Whether or not collective bargaining will shut some people out of part-time employment who may have been willing to work for less than the collectively bargained wage is a good question, and unfortunately there isn't a good answer. Classic partial equilibrium analysis (the stuff we economists teach undergraduates, remember those supply and demand curves?) suggests that raising the wage will decrease the total number of jobs; however, some labor research has found rising employment, not lower employment, associated with increases in minimum wages. The best answer may be that markets are more complicated than our models (or to be wary of any economists too invested in their own theories!). But the question is a good one.

This discussion reminds me of a conversation I had last night with some friends, one of whom is an economist at a small liberal arts college. In a recent college meeting the fact that the business and economics faculty had higher starting salaries than humanities faculty was raised. The business and economics faculty were accussed of market collusion by a member of a humanities department.

"But," my friend asked me, "it is their job market, not ours, that has so much excess supply.* Doesn't that in fact suggest that it is their wages that are fixed?"

* (Excess supply being economist-speak for too many applicants for too few positions. This occurs in market situations where prices (wages) are set too high relative to demand for those services.)

Posted by: Matilde at November 14, 2003 04:38 PM

Well J.V.C. the thing with such strong-arm tactics of collective bargaining is that it affects people who dont even want it, not just those who voted for them.

Say there is a place where adjuncts have a minimum of a 2 year contract.To have bite, such aggrements have to cover all adjuncts, not only those who choose for it. There are people who just teach one class and then leave to go back to their jobs. They dont want to have any commitments. In such a university, they are cut out from a job because the rules are as such.

This happends more often than one may think.There are some fields which are fairly uncommon and new. Universties cannot afford to hire someone full time to teach them. They may just have some expert on a break from other reaseach institues who is willing to teach just one semester. With such rigid rules, such valuable instructors will not be able to teach.

Is it fair to them? Perhaps it is because Im not familar with how humanities goes about their business, but the adjuncts I have am aware of have day jobs. Wont surprise me if they are actually richer than some faculty members. They are well respected by full time faculty as well. To me, they serve as a window into industry, giving an additional perspective besides the academic world. Will be a shame if they are gone.

Posted by: at November 14, 2003 06:00 PM

re: post 48

There are some legal historians. It's something for people to consider.

There are fewer business historians. First, most business faculties try to pretend to be "masters of applied economics". Economics intentionally tries to be extremely ahistorical - they're modeling the field after physics, and physics doesn't require history (well, economists pretend it doesn't). Most business historians work in the history faculty.

Second, business students don't want to learn history. They want to approach every situation with a hand-dandy preset toolkit of jargon that makes them sound semi-knowledgeable about any situation with minimal preparation. Usually, I duck and raise the bullshit protection field when I hear them start with "The industry economics clearly indicate....."

But, there is a business historians' association and a great journal, Business History Review. Take a gander at the work of Chandler, McCraw, Galambos, William Roy, etc.

Posted by: alex at November 14, 2003 07:07 PM

About those who like being contingent . . . there's always room for them to teach on a truly contingent basis. However, that is not what's happening on campuses today. Contingent faculty should be used for contingencies regarding enrolment or other special circumstances only.

Posted by: Academy Girl at November 14, 2003 07:24 PM

Matilde, I gather from some of your other post that you are an economist, which means that you may well possess more non-academic employment opportunities that many of us. So, when you write: "but if the adjuncts do not fight for themselves, who will fight for them? In this particular battle adjuncts have everything to gain and the least to lose," I think you may be overlooking the fact that many/some of us only have two alternatives: work as a adjuncts/one-years or Borders.

More importantly, when you say, with good intent:

It's hard to deny the logic - tenure track faculty, administators, and taxpayers (if you believe that the average taxpayer benefits from lower taxes than an increase in teaching quality) benefit from the status quo at the expense of adjuncts. Why would they stand up and fight for the rights of adjuncts?

I think that there's an important counter argument to consider. In some instances, the existence of adjuncts can hold down tenured and tenure track wages. There is a threat that the adminsitration could, if pressed, simply use more adjuncts and thereby either eliminate or not renew tenure lines.

Unfortunately, though, getting the tenure group to listen to this argument is a losing battle. Most are so wrapped up in themselves, and hold so strongly to the misguided notion that their's is a more noble and higher pursuit, that to consider such "mundane" matters as how to increase their own wages, as well as ours, is regarded only as an onerous burden on their time, and beneath their "dignity."

Ah Bartleby, ah humanity.

Posted by: Chris at November 14, 2003 07:40 PM

All the employers I know of who routinely hire part-timers and temps describe their jobs as being second incomes for families, or else jobs for students. This does NOT mean that most of their employees fit that description and don't want full-time work. It's just the company's official story.

One of the things that's happened in recent decades is that "true adjuncts" are lost in the sea of fake "new adjuncts". A "true temp" might be a credentialed wife who doesn't want fulltime work, or someone with unusual experience or knowledge who isn't credentialed. The "new adjuncts", probably more common now, are cedentialed people who are willing to (forced to) work for cheap.

I think that it's probably true that anything done to help the "new adjuncts" is at risk of harming the "true adjuncts", of who I am sometimes one. However, that's pretty much an outcome of the university's choice of hiring strategy.

Posted by: zizka at November 14, 2003 08:59 PM

The "true adjunct" versus the "new adjunct", there's an idea for a blog entry.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at November 14, 2003 09:09 PM

Chris, I know someone who makes more money working at Borders than as an adjunct. 1400-1500 per class (depending on the school) was not enough money to pay the rent. Not everyone can get a part-time teaching position at Big University which pays twice the rate of other schools in the area. The uncertainty of having enough classes every term and also holding down another part-time job was causing some stress. Ultimately, the individual left part-time teaching and pays the rent by working at Borders.

This has not hindered the ability to work on publications and continue to search for a full-time tenure-track position. But, it has eased a mind troubled by the economic situation of part-time faculty.

Posted by: A at November 14, 2003 09:10 PM

I was going to stay out of this, but someone suggested the sciences are free of the phenomenon because of post-docs. My impression is that all that post-docs do is move the prestige point. You acquire the status of your last institution. Just as your undergaduate college doesn't matter when your PhD is being assessed, so your PhD granting institution doesn't matter when you're coming on the market after a post-doc. Residency works the same for doctors: no one has ever cared which medical school you went to, but everyone cares where you did your residency, which is why there's a lawsuit about allocating residencies.

Posted by: jam at November 14, 2003 09:38 PM

"About those who like being contingent . . . there's always room for them to teach on a truly contingent basis"

Well Academy Girl, to my knowledge that is usually not how collective bargaining works. With collective bargaining, groups that seek employment are bound by the same rules governing that entity. The rational is that if too many exxceptions are made, then the employers will simply hire people who "volunteer" not be held under those contracts. Therefore the option to "teach on a truly contingent basis" might not be open.

Posted by: at November 14, 2003 10:49 PM

jam -- I made the original point about postdocs. I completely agree with you that they "prestige point" is moved to the postdoc level. But the point was that people have a lot of time to develop a record and position themselves by the time they are postdocs. There are chances to move up the prestige ladder before getting locked in to a faculty position.

I'm not defending the postdoc system -- I think the way the job market works in the sciences, with multiple uprootings of self and family, is incredibly disruptive, and chases many great people out of academia.

On unionization, I reluctantly agree with those who are suspicious. We've been unionized here for a couple of years, and while it might have helped many it has been a disaster for our graduate students, who are now paid far less than we would like to pay them. I've had humanities students TA my astronomy course because I can't legally offer a wage that interests an astronomy student who would rather do research at a higher wage. As an adjunct, my wife makes $7500 per class (as do all the adjuncts in my department, except a handful who work for free because they are 100% time in a lab and we can't legally pay them extra). A standard union contract at $4k per class might be great for a humanities lecturer now making $2k, but would be a disaster for her.

Posted by: an astronomer at November 15, 2003 01:38 AM

A (#68): that may well be the most stinging indictment of adjunctification I have ever heard. I'm shocked and dismayed. It's a thoroughly draining anecdote. Dear God, we can make more money as book clerks at Borders than as college professors.

Posted by: Chris at November 15, 2003 11:07 AM

The "true adjuncts" I remember from only 20 years ago were people from the community with specialized knowledge and no credentials. They were hired in order to provide students with classes which would otherwise be unavailable. One example was be a local lawyer who taught Norwegian, whose course was subsidized by the local Scandinavian-American society. Another example was a State Department lifer who was expert on modern Chinese history. Another was a credentialed retiree who didn't want full time work. I think that a lot of the instrumental instructors in the music dept. were adjuncts. And I think that occasionally a lawyer businessperson, or journalist would teach a class aimed at people planning non-academic careers (the vast majority at Urban U. -- my second alma mater where I actually got a degree.)

Posted by: zizka at November 15, 2003 03:49 PM

Well zizka,
The adjuncts I had in mind when I mentioned earlier are the ones in some technical departments like engineering or policy-type departments like public policy or some business type departments say management.

They have rather impressive credentials and a day job in a related discipline. They teach classes in their speciality areas like programming methods, or foreign relations where an industry/non-academic focus is very valuable. These are more of the research guys who could have made it in academia or were even faculty in some cases who just decided to have a change of jobs.

I suppose the same goes in say journalism or music departments where adjuncts have day jobs in their respective fields and just teach to keep in touch with academia. Not sure about this though. Not much experience with these people.

Just wanted to give some perspective that these "true adjuncts" are not necessary something from yesteryear, or retirees, or people who dont have formal training in what they are doing. They have the credentials and specialized knowledge.

Posted by: at November 15, 2003 05:04 PM

[blank] wrote:

Well Academy Girl, to my knowledge that is usually not how collective bargaining works. With collective bargaining, groups that seek employment are bound by the same rules governing that entity. The rational is that if too many exxceptions are made, then the employers will simply hire people who 'volunteer' not be held under those contracts. Therefore the option to 'teach on a truly contingent basis' might not be open.

Actually, the rules you abide by are the ones you have collectively bargained for. You can bargain, for example, for caps on the number of congtingent faculty allowed. You can bargain for shifting current, long-standing contingents to full-time status. Basically, the sky's the limit for what you can bargain for.

One good option is to set rules for how employers use contingents. For example, if there is an x% increase in enrolment for one year, then perhaps an x% of contingents could be hired. However, if that enrolment value stays up for two years, then in the third year, provisions have to be made for the course to be dropped or for it to be taught by someone in full-time status (or for the person teaching to be moved to full-time status) so that your contingency isn't becoming permanent. There are lots of ways to change the system. The problem is that contingents don't fight for change and most tenured folks don't care about this issue at all.

I'll just mention that my open meeting is still going on . . . suggestions for HOW to enact change being made, but few people actually speaking up so far.

Posted by: Academy Girl at November 15, 2003 05:14 PM

A few brief points:

1. clearly there are not enough of these so-termed "true" adjuncts to staff the classes.

2. If these "true" adjuncts are just doing it to stay in the classroom, or keep a foot inside academe, and not for the money, then why should I care about how unionization may affect them? They've got money. I don't.

3.Beware of merely placing caps on contingent faculty. I know of a school that got rid of many of its adjuncts who taught comp. by soliciting faculty from other departments to teach a section of freshman writing. The enticement was some course relief to be given at a later date.

Straight forward cause and effect models do not always work when bargaining with the devil.

Posted by: Chris at November 15, 2003 06:02 PM

Chris wrote (#76):

2. If these "true" adjuncts are just doing it to stay in the classroom, or keep a foot inside academe, and not for the money, then why should I care about how unionization may affect them? They've got money. I don't.

Nobody asked you to care. But by the same measure, why should the tenured faculty care about you? They've got jobs.

Once you've bought into (or been forced into) the us versus them idea that you are "bargaining with the devil," it seems to me that the game is over and the academic life isn't worth pursuing anymore. Might as well go make some money somewhere.

Posted by: at November 15, 2003 08:09 PM

Chris (#72): I agree. As someone stated in an earlier post, the adjunct stain is difficult to remove. It doesn't matter if you are an excellent teacher and produce quality publications, if you swim in the adjunct pool for any length of time, you become "tainted" in the eyes of a few.

I know some have discussed unionization and adjuncts, but this proposal is challenging in a right to fire state.

Posted by: A at November 15, 2003 09:08 PM

I would imagine that one who has to temp at Borders for two to three years will call it quits and move on. Not doing so will be like throwing money after bad investments, with some hail mary chance of breaking even. Bad thing to do in general. Lots of wealthy/happy people with phds dont work in academia. After all, coporate work may not be as prestigeous as acdemia, and proberbly more restrictive, but at least the pay is usually better. Salaries in universities are usually not very high, at least in the beginning, but compensates by giving the person more freedon to do what they like. If adjunting combines bad salary and lack of freedom, no point wasting more time in it.

Posted by: at November 16, 2003 03:21 AM

I'm not going to say that I was right in attempting to hijack this thread. Nonetheless, there were very few posts (after the initial few) addressing the issue of WHAT ROLE adjuncts play in the current climate of higher ed.

From what I've seen of my (admittedly limited) view on this blog, it seems to be a lot of b*tching about the lack of acknowledgment of your exceptional teaching skills, and a concomittant poor pay scale.

I'd REALLY like to see a debate on how adjuncts perpetuate the current system.

Or at the least, while you're bemoaning your second class status, could you let us know WHY you continue to function under the same?

Posted by: cj at November 16, 2003 05:46 AM

CJ asks: "Or at the least, while you're bemoaning your second class status, could you let us know WHY you continue to function under the same?"

It's of course impossible to speak for all who adjunct, so all I can do is speak for myself and hope that my reasons at least partialy intersect with others. A Ph.D. (in the humanities) makes one qualified for one professional venue: academia. The extent that one can transfer or apply their Ph.D. to qualify them for some other professional venue is largely a result of their efforts to supplement the Ph.D. with either experience or further credentials. Many of us betwen the ages of, say, 35 - 40, and this includes myself, did not do this. Why? The reasons are varried. In my case it's because I didn't realize soon enough that I should have been doing this. And by the time I did realize it I was $60k in debt, over 35, and have experience tending bar, moving furniture, and working as a delivery driver -- and being a colege professor. And none of these, including being a professor, are exactly stepping stones to a professional career -- in anything.

And so I find myself at 42 with a bad knee (which disqualifies me from furniture moving, and probably bar tending as well), and a few other generic health issues which, while not overly serious, nevertheless require (absolutely require) at least minimal health insurance. If I have to pay for this insurance out of pocket, I'm afraid that Borders etc. will not even come close to covering the cost -- remember, like many others, I have rent to pay, and the electric bill, and the gas bill, and alas, I need to eat occasionally.

And so, ironically, because Borders/Kinkos isn't a good option, and because corporations will rarely hire someone my age for an entry level position (all I'm qualified for), a "career" as a contingent academic professor is the ONLY thing for which I am qualified, and is the only venue in which I can make a low-grade professional salary. (this is the real irony)

Last point: while I would like a tenure-track position (who wouldn't?), I would actually be content to remain at the full-time non-tenure track level at which I've managed to scrape by for several years now. The problem, however, is that the tenured see me and those employed like me as an economic and institutional threat, and so they are forever enacting limits and restrictions on how long I/we can be continuously employed, what we can teach, and what kinds of salaries we are permitted.

I realize this is not a popular position, but I for one would cease "bitching" and settle in if the tenured would just leave me the f*ck alone and just let me ride out the rest of my life at the $40k or so rate. In other words, for permament, or even semi-permanent full time status, I would happily trade the possibility of tenure.

I take it by the spleen that has been vented at me for stating this position in the past, that this stance is viewed, by both the tenured and the contingent, as utterly heretical. That said, to end on a more general note, I truly feel that the only way we -- the contingent class of academic labor -- will ever succeed in gaining any kind of decent wage and job security is by conceeding the possibility of tenure.

More than anything else, the battle line between faculty and adminsitrations is the issue of tenure. It has to go.

Posted by: Chris at November 16, 2003 11:15 AM

"Nonetheless, there were very few posts (after the initial few) addressing the issue of WHAT ROLE adjuncts play in the current climate of higher ed."

Grant that only a few posts have specifically addressed the issue that you would like to discuss. Still, a few people have replied to your comment, and you have yet to respond to their replies. Frankly, I'm a little bit puzzled by your complaint.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at November 16, 2003 03:41 PM

Apologies for my second comment (#80). At the time I wrote it, I thought it was "provocative." Needless to say, when I came back and re-read it I realized it was just an a*ssholey thing to do.

Mea culpa.

Posted by: cj at November 17, 2003 08:15 PM

Cj, it wasn't as bad as all that! But apology accepted. Thanks for returning. You might be interested in this entry from mid-June.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at November 18, 2003 10:42 AM

By no means are all "prestigious" university faculty and graduates are better than those from "less prestigious" places: just look at the wide distribution of memembership in the National Academy of Sciences for example.

That being said however,
the "prestigious" places have sustained their prestige by attracting a wider variety of applicants
to their institution, and thus they naturally
have a wider selection from which to choose, and
on average attract better quality scholars.
Its simple supply and demand.
They obviously dont get all of the best people for a wide range of reasons, but
statistically speaking they do.

Posted by: at February 15, 2004 05:20 PM

Market for new Econ PhDs:

Maybe of interest.

Posted by: moom at February 15, 2004 10:35 PM