December 03, 2003

What is a Guild?

An "outside observer" named Ted has left a comment ("Who's Minding the Store") that deserves to be highlighted in a separate entry:

It seems that many of you are members of guilds that are so weak and dysfunctional that you can't even think straight. I'm a physician, and the difference between the guild(s) I'm in and academia are astounding.

Of course, the number of PhD.s should be capped. Going through a period of low-pay apprenticeship only makes sense if a good career awaits and the end. When I was in academic medicine I would have considered it grossly unethical to train physicians who didn't have easy access to excellent jobs. However, we didn't have a choice; slots in training programs are tightly regulated by accredidation agencies. Johns Hopkins can't add an extra resident in order to lighten the load on attending pysicians because that resident could not become board certified (or, in many states, even licensed).

PhD. candidates are not commodities; they are human beings who are being inducted into a guild. I don't understand how department chairs who are training PhD.s who don't get several tenure track job offers can look at themselves in the mirror.

What am I missing?

I think it's what are we missing. I've argued this point many times before on this weblog, but I'm going to state it again: the guild that allows an oversupply of members, and that permits -- nay, even encourages -- the use of cheap, contingent labor to perform one of the basic and central tasks of the guildmembers (ie teaching) is not behaving like a guild.

The above comment focuses on the ethical dimension to overproduction. And while I happen to agree with Ted, I realize that many academics don't. They rather adopt a caveat emptor approach. It is not the responsibility of the profession to ensure jobs, or even to inform prospective candidates of the actual job prospects in the field. Let them in, and let them find out on their own.

But there's also a pragmatic dimension. Leaving aside the ethics of encouraging young people to spend years of their lives in low-paid apparenticeships that do not lead to full-time employment, there is also the very real and very important matter of the long-term effects of overproduction on the status and strength of the profession. Failure to cap enrollments is pauperizing the profession. The signs are everywhere, for anyone who cares to read them. To repeat what I quoted yesterday from Finkelstein's The Morphing of the American Academic Profession,

Quite beyond the surge in part-time faculty appointments over the past quarter century, the majority (i.e., over half) of all new full-time faculty hires in the past decade have been to non-tenure-eligible, or fixed-term contract positions (Finkelstein and Schuster 2001). Put another way, in the year 2001, only about one-quarter of new faculty appointments were to full-time tenure track positions (i.e., half were part-time, and more than half of the remaining full-time positions were 'off' the tenure track).

To repeat: an untenured majority now performs the bulk of college teaching. And in some disciplines, I believe we have reached the point where the bargaining power of the "guild" has been so weakened that it is difficult to imagine how this trend might be halted, never mind reversed.

A couple of people have recommended that I read Marc Bousquet's latest article in College English, entitled "The Rhetoric of Job Market and the Reality of the Academic Labor System." I have not yet done so, but I'm told he takes issue with the notion that we are overproducing PhDs. I've already encountered a version of this argument in a couple of his earlier pieces, and I have to say that I basically disagree with it. It is true, of course, that there really isn't an oversupply relative to the demand for teachers. That is, it is not the case that students are no longer signing up for courses in English and history. As a matter of fact, adjunctification has occurred alongside increased enrollment, and contingent faculty are most likely to be found precisely in high-demand teaching areas (introductory survey courses, e.g.). So from one perspective, it does make sense to say that there isn't an oversupply of PhDs but rather an undersupply of full-time jobs.

But the new reality is that the "guild" no longer has the power to command full-time positions with decent salaries and working conditions ("easy access" to "excellent jobs" is raising the bar way too high: I'm more concerned with realistic prospects for half-decent to decent jobs). I don't know exactly how the profession could regain the strength to bargain effectively for better positions, but I'm pretty sure that the best thing that could happen to fields like English and history would be an undersupply of PhDs to meet the existing demand for teachers in those areas.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at December 3, 2003 10:57 AM

There is a guild in both academia and medicine, but you're misapplying the bounds of the guild in the case of academia.

The guild of medicine includes all physicians. Interestingly, the guild of medicine has always tried to control the entire medical system, which includes creating numerous classes of non-guild members (nurses, nursing assistants, hospital and office administrators, technicians and many more) and consistently tries to reduce these non-guild members' salaries and power, while increasing their own pay and power partially at the expense of these classes, as well as increasing their power with respect to players outside the industry (government, insurers, corporations, individuals).

On the flip-side, the academic guild actually only admits members once they've been tenured. Therefore, the adjunct thinks they're a member of the guild when they're not (that the guild has managed to convince numerous persons that this is the case is an excellent piece of marketing). The adjuncts are playing the same role as the non-doctors within the medical system - but:

1. they don't realize it and nurses do - so nurses try to build their own unions and power-bases.
2. there is no independent hierarchy for the academic to climb outside of frantically trying to join the guild. Since the non-doctors better realize their situation, they try to build internal professional hierarchies that are semi-independent of the physicians (i.e. the hierarchy of nursing managers, the hierarchy of hospital administrators, etc.)

Just my thoughts.

Posted by: alex at December 3, 2003 12:11 PM

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. I've read many wise things on this blog, but this is, by far, the wisest and most succinct. To the degree that an education in the humanities is treated as a commodity, a fungible good (as opposed to, say, health care, which is not), then it will be utterly subject to market forces, and the power of the "guild" to protect the unfungible good which such an education offers will be undermined--so much so that, eventually (as IA has long showed us to be the case) the guild itself will internalize its lack of power, and abandon its "guildness." Adjunctification (the bottom line) follows.

This is not to say that guilds are not and should not be cognizant of market demand--of course they should. That's called wisdom. There is a limit to the real need, in the world, for history, philosophy, literature, theory, and so forth. That's not anti-intellectual; that's simply recognizing the facts of particularity. Everything has its practical limits--even medical care, as Ted's missive implicitly acknowledges (good health would not be necessarily increased by allowing anyone and their dog to become a medical doctor). Guilds--real guilds--set boundaries, establish requirements, institute limits. Ours doesn't.

Posted by: Russell Arben Fox at December 3, 2003 12:15 PM

Remember that guilds exist both because of the guild-members and their customers. Unqualified doctors can most definitely inflict severe damage on a patient. Patients therefore have a strong incentive not to attempt to circumvent the medical guild. A qualification such as an MD serves everyone involved. (I'm not denying that the current system probably needs some reforms, but I'll leave that aside for now.) What exactly is the benefit to the consumer of treating the professoriate as a guild? Will they receive better teaching? Unlikely. In fact, many very good expositors are not PhDs.

Alex's post above is another good take on the situation, different from mine.

Posted by: JT at December 3, 2003 01:07 PM

Tim makes a very good point, not the least being that PhD candidates are human beings. We do seem to have arrived at the point where education is a commodity and the product of such education is the candidate- just another commodity to suffer the ups and downs of the marketplace.

Much has been devalued in our economy - products and services. Why should higher education be any different? Those who follow to the end with a PhD must think otherwise. Does one pursue a PhD to get the highest paying job? Is that their primary motivation? Perhaps and not.

Financial accessibility to higher education is not a bad thing. The question used to be 'Are you going to college,' now it's, 'Where are you going to college.' Reality almost dictates that to get the leg up and out of where one is, one has to go on ever higher in the edu-game.
However -
Tim's point about 'entry in the guild' might be the antidote to a PhD glut and low paying edu-jobs, but it also conjures up the idea of higher education based on meritocracy - and THAT I have not witnessed in my edu-travels. Sure, I believed it - to be the best, to be awarded 'entry into the guild' would be the end result with all those implied benefits. The 'guild' I initially got a peek at, however, reeked of corruption with an eye to the students as the commodities they have become.

As a result, we buy our degrees and find that the payoff isn't worth the cost of receiving the high honors. Higher education may indeed have devalued their own products. It may not be in the number of degrees but more in the way they have been awarded. Rising enrollment and the hiring of contingent faculty to accommodate the increase might be part of the problem. This, naturally, will take us off to another issue as to how these students are pushed through the system from beginning to end.

Limiting the number of PhDs will not end the problems that Higher Ed. faces. Why hire a PhD when the many MFAs can do the job 'good enough'?

Societal and economic trends? 'Good enough' is how we live these days.

Posted by: cesek at December 3, 2003 01:14 PM

Hold on there. The fact that 3/4 of new faculty appointments are not tenure-track does NOT imply that a majority of new faculty are not on the tenure track. Tenure-track appointments often last for decades, and non-tenure-track appointments often last for just a year or two. Thus, even if tenure-track appointments are rare, it could still be that nearly all faculty are tenured or tenure-track.

Don't get me wrong: I find the statistic worrying.
It may indicate that faculty often go through three or more non-tenure-track jobs before landing onto the tenure track. It oughtn't be that way.

Posted by: matins at December 3, 2003 02:23 PM

I wonder the data used to calculate this number. How and from who the data was collected from is important. If its just surverys then its likely that disgrunted people are over-represented. Also, the composition of the data is important to prevent any one discipline to skew the results. If one were to take some survery of faculty salary and has a disappropriate number of law school professors in them, the average will go up. This is an inaccurat indicator. Numbers by themselves are not very useful. The methods used are far more illuminating.

Posted by: at December 3, 2003 02:50 PM

To #6: the following link may offer some clarity on the question you pose.

It's probably true that certain fields or academic disciplines do indeed skew the statistics some, but perhaps not as much as one might expect. The most obvious culprits are English and History, where one can often find a department of tenured and tenure-track faculty of, say, 20, but an adjunct and contingent one-year corps of 125. And then, when you add on, say, 45 graduate students, you have a rather substantial imbalance between the tenured/tenure-track and the all the rest -- known in some circles as the "also rans."

But at the same time, one can encounter smaller departments -- e.g Slavic Languages -- in which therea re only 4 tenured/tenure-track, but in any given semester, owing to need etc., there may be 8 part-time and/or one-year contignent employees. The isue here is that the numbers are not stable. In English and History, however, the ratios remain rather alarming.

(can't comment on the scinces, but I gather that they too have their ways of working the numbers)

Now, as for this: "The fact that 3/4 of new faculty appointments are not tenure-track does NOT imply that a majority of new faculty are not on the tenure track. Tenure-track appointments often last for decades, and non-tenure-track appointments often last for just a year or two. Thus, even if tenure-track appointments are rare, it could still be that nearly all faculty are tenured or tenure-track."

I want to say what I often dearly want to say on my student papers -- but don't except in the most eggregious cases -- which is: "Huh?" The last sentence makes no sense whatsoever. "All faculty are tenured or tenure track"? Or, on another reading, it does make sense, but only if I allow for a rhetorical slip that makes my skin crawl: are you claiming that tenured/tenure-track are the conditions to be labeled faculty? In other words, there are faculty (i.e. tenured/tenure-track) and non-faculty (all the rest).


Posted by: Chris at December 3, 2003 03:59 PM

Alex (#1), I think you're off-base about the differences between academic and medical guilds. A major part of a guild's responsibility is apprentice training. Nurses don't apprentice to learn how to be physicians; in contrast, adjuncts and tenured profs receive identical training. They compete for the exact same positions, unlike, say, technicians and surgeons. Your observation that "the academic guild actually only admits members once they've been tenured" wouldn't apply to a real guild. A real guild comprises all the levels of membership from apprentice through journeyman through master. I think Ted is spot on: If the guild only works on behalf of the masters, it's consuming itself. If it doesn't stop, it will perish.

Posted by: Rose at December 3, 2003 04:39 PM

Just to clarify my point above--I don't think nurses and doctors are in the same guild; they're in different guilds, although they may be affiliated by interest (and divided by that same interest).

Adjuncts and tenured profs and graduate students *are* all members of the same guild; they train identically and for the same positions.

Posted by: Rose at December 3, 2003 04:44 PM

Re #7
Thanks Chris. I have seen the numbers for economics and the propects look rather good, nothing like what I have read around this website. Here, check this out.
Ignore the advice bits and look at the tables 5 - 11.

Thus I wonder about the conflicting picture painted.

Posted by: at December 3, 2003 04:58 PM

Thanks for your comments.

I would agree with Rose. I don't think doctors and nurses are in the same guild. That's why you see doctors getting so upset when people make the (reasonable) suggestion that individuals with medical training other than medical school should be able to prescribe medications. Academicians would be better off if this is the way tenured faculty behaved when adjunctification was in it's infancy. That is, if the guild were truly tenured faculty, then tenured faculty should have resisted allowing others (adjuncts) to perform their core functions.


Posted by: Ted at December 3, 2003 05:26 PM

"I have seen the numbers for economics and the propects look rather good, nothing like what I have read around this website."

I should clarify that I am mostly thinking and writing about the humanities. The econ. job market is a different animal.

"That's why you see doctors getting so upset when people make the (reasonable) suggestion that individuals with medical training other than medical school should be able to prescribe medications."

Excellent point. I should add that I'm not trying to romanticize the guild as something pure and noble. Sometimes guildlike behavior is not so nice, at times it even gets nasty. But that's how a guild or profession maintains itself as a guild or profession.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at December 3, 2003 07:05 PM

Chris, no need to "ugh" -- you just missed the point matins was making. Imagine a department of ten full-time lines, in which eight places are held by tenured people. Let's say the ninth and tenth are given to terminal appointments, and the people who take them don't hang around long. Over the course of a decade, it could be that that department makes fifteen hires, every single one of them on the adjunct level. But that would not mean that all the courses in the department were taught by adjuncts; in fact, 80% would be taught by tenured people. That's why matins says that "even if tenure-track appointments are rare, it could still be that nearly all faculty are tenured or tenure-track." Note that he or she says nearly all, not (as you have it) simply "all." The point is not that there's no problem -- there's a HUGE problem -- but that when Finkelstein writes "the majority (i.e., over half) of all new full-time faculty hires in the past decade have been to non-tenure-eligible, or fixed-term contract positions," he hasn't put his finger on the problem. It's still clear that the adjunctification of the profession is happening, and that it's wrong; but those particular numbers aren't as alarming as they sound.

Posted by: Ayjay at December 3, 2003 09:16 PM

Apologies to Tim Ted.
I beg a predetermined typo excuse on his name.
They were laid out wrong in my brain before my fingers ever touched the keyboard.
So, for the public record - sorry to Tim, whoever he is, and kudos to Ted for making some very good points.

Posted by: cesek at December 3, 2003 10:11 PM

A couple of thoughts.

First, the members of the guild (and yes, I suspect that like many of the skilled trades, academia has divided into those who are guild members and those who are unskilled workers -- same start, but different ends) have arranged things so that non-members teach the classes they do not want to teach.

That is a fascinating look at self-governence and where it leads.

Second, when there are twenty tenure track faculty (a new hire every other year) and 125 adjuncts (being replaced every 2-4 years) the %tage of non-tenure track hires looks more like in the 90s, not the ratios discussed. I'm really curious how they put the numbers together.

Finally, reading this led me to a number of places, some of which were disturbing.



51. The reason we think about our working conditions, freak out, and reach for the absurdly-inappropriate intellectual toolkit of the market is the soothing logic of laissez-faire. The idea of the "market" tells us that an invisible hand will magically intervene and resolve the problems of our working conditions without any intervention on our part. Which is wrong, hugely wrong, but really very appealing.

If people think this, they've missed the point of whatever econ classes they've had.

On the other hand, the author is spot on for a number of things, and has a great mastery of images.

Finally, don't professors have some sort of fiduciary duty to those they teach? The idea of anything else is amazing.

These visits I've had here have been amazing.

Posted by: Steve at December 3, 2003 10:25 PM

To Steve: I'm not sure that a department that has twenty TT spots will be hiring every other year -- though perhaps that is the average these days -- but in any case focusing on the number of hires (as I tried to say in my earlier post) is confusing and unhelpful. In a given academic year, TT people teach the same number of hours as terminal-contract full-time people, but over the long haul they're more likely to hang around and so the opportunities to replace them are fewer. Adjuncts are yet a different case, since they can teach anywhere from a single course to a full load. The question we want to focus on, if we're trying to understand just how adjunctified a given department (and ultimately a given discipline) has become, is what percentage of the course hours it offers are taught by non-TT faculty. And we would also need to know how that percentage has changed over time. Other numbers are more misleading than helpful -- I think. But I welcome corrections.

Posted by: Ayjay at December 3, 2003 10:56 PM

"I should add that I'm not trying to romanticize the guild as something pure and noble. Sometimes guildlike behavior is not so nice, at times it even gets nasty. But that's how a guild or profession maintains itself as a guild or profession."

I agree, IA. But I think it is necessary--if anything like a truly humane education (in the sense that inspired many of us when we were just students ourselves) is to survive--to recognize that the good and the bad of forming a guild, of conveying a body of knowledge through the maintainence of a vocation, are of a piece. Moreover, perhaps it's not impossible to also recognize that what you rightly call "nasty guildlike behavior" is not only sometimes understandable in terms of simple self-preservation, but also may not necessarily be all that "nasty" (vindictive, arbitrary) outside of the sort of worldview that makes "vocation" sound like an antiquated concept in the first place. If one can make space, difficult as it may be, for the concept of a vocation or "calling" in the midst our general (and, I agree, valuable) disposition to level out the differences between what people choose to be, then perhaps one can also see the old saw "many are called but few are chosen" as (occasionally) more meaningful than simply as a cover for old fogeys protecting elitist privileges.

Posted by: Russell Arben Fox at December 3, 2003 11:21 PM

Ayjay--point taken, and yes, I did miss that interpretation. I see it now, though. So, apologies to matins.

And by the way, the scenario outlined by you and matins is what a lot of small (usually elite) liberal arts colleges do.

Posted by: Chris at December 3, 2003 11:31 PM

I wonder if we actually are closer to a functioning guild system (at least in many fields) than it appears. Most guilds really have two kinds of members. There are those who practice the profession (e.g., doctors), and those who train new guild members (e.g., doctors who teach in medical schools). This works really well when what the guild members want to do is practice their profession, rather than train new guild members. This is certainly the case for doctors, who can have a high salary and good quality of life practicing medicine.

In academia, our real profession is to teach. At least, that is the profession for which our "customers" are willing to pay. But many of us aren't that excited about teaching undergraduates; we want to be the trainers, not the doers, or at the very least use the excuse of training to teach more interesting seminars and talk about our research.

We've got our equivalent of the big teaching hospitals: they are the tier one departments which are selective in their intake (my own could easily take a factor five more students than we do) and are successful (we place a good 90% of our PhDs into tenure track jobs). In most fields, there is really a group of departments that functions somewhat like the trainers in a guild, producing both the next generation of trainers and the practitioners.

The problem is that many of the practitioners that we train end up in "non tier 1" departments. Many (though far from all) are frustrated by this, and feel that teaching undergrads (i.e., practicing their profession) is an unappealing alternative to training graduate students. The result is a bunch of departments that are far less selective and also far less successful in placing their students. It isn't always clear to a somewhat naive applicant that they've already gotten into difficulty with their choice of graduate program--they think they are apprenticing in the guild, but have actually signed onto a dead end.

Now, I've greatly overstated the case: the real world doesn't divide cleanly into "guild" and "nonguild" programs, and there isn't a clean split between "tier 1" departments and the rest. And I'm completely sympathetic to my colleagues who don't want to spend their careers teaching in a program without PhD students. Unlike in medicine, the academic reward system is heavily weighted in favor of those who train new academics. To them (and to a small group at high end liberal arts colleges) go the nice salaries, the interesting students, the invitations to meetings, the time to think about our research interests. If life is so much better for PhD programs, how can we blame a department for accepting students who want to attend, simply because in our heart of hearts we know they won't get tenure track jobs? It isn't as if we haven't warned them that the academic life is a hard road....

Posted by: Astronomer at December 4, 2003 01:26 AM

I really agree that "The question we want to focus on, if we're trying to understand just how adjunctified a given department (and ultimately a given discipline) has become, is what percentage of the course hours it offers are taught by non-TT faculty. And we would also need to know how that percentage has changed over time. Other numbers are more misleading than helpful" is correct.

Especially knowing the change over time, though I think of the "service" courses that are taught outside (e.g. when faculty in one program teaches classes outside of it, such as in some schools where all the statistics classes are taught by one set of faculty).

Which, I just realized, was the only set of classes I took that were taught by adjunct PhD students (on loan from another college, even) -- and which were quite good.

I also found Astronomer's comments interesting, the idea that having PhD students is part of what departments do because they are so pleasant to teach. The last time I taught a couple of courses I was teaching post graduate students and I have to admit that it was a lot of fun. They are a delight to teach (though we were paid closer to three thousand dollars a class for ten classes, which does not appear to match up with the time/etc. ratio I'm reading about).

Anyway, I've really enjoyed the perspectives here, though a lot of it just hurts to read about.

Thanks again.

Posted by: Steve at December 4, 2003 06:37 AM

Continuing my little thread-within-a-thread: the liberal arts college where I teach is somewhere on the borderline between "highly selective" and "elite" (we are usually, but not always, in "Tier 1" of the U. S. News rankings). Here are the relevant numbers for the English department next semester: 62% of the courses will be taught by TT faculty, 27% by term appointment but full-time (and full-benefits) faculty; 11% by adjuncts.

Of course, in many other English departments (especially in universities, where the pool of graduate student labor is available) the percentage of term faculty may be similar, but the other proportions are reversed. I'm sure some previous post on IA has presented some of this data, but I can't turn it up at the moment.

Posted by: Ayjay at December 4, 2003 10:01 AM

Count me with Bosquet. This issue goes a lot further than the PhD/job ratio. Why is the ratio at the level it is? Once you start asking about that, you're beyond the Purity of Numbers.

Considering the negative comments the term'union' elicits around here, the warmfuzzies about 'guild' seem wierd to me. What are ya, bunch of medievalists or what?

Posted by: che at December 4, 2003 04:07 PM

Astronomer #19 nicely lays out the conflict of interest in the guild. Members want to train new members, teach interesting upper level courses, and talk about their research. They can only do this if there are a lot of PhD programs. But then there are many, many more PhDs graduating than there are "interesting" positions. And many more PhDs than there are positions at all.

To cut back on PhD programs would be to make it much less pleasant for many who are already in the guild.

To attain a "steady state"--where the supply of new PhDs and the supply of new tenure track positions is equal--would require a drastic and permanent reduction in PhD programs.

Posted by: Roger Sweeny at December 6, 2003 08:16 PM

Perhaps it is one of the quirks of luck at being a relatively "new" field, but mass communications is a surplus employment field for PhDs. Part of what makes it so, I think, is that students have to go out and work for a living before they pursue a graduate degree (most of the time), and after they've worked for a while, it's unattractive to start up the academic mind again. Add to that the amazingly small number of PhD programs, and you have tenure track positions that are literally open for three years.

Additionally, in the field of Mass Comm, at least, numerous adjuncts are used precisely because they are still working in the field. They don't want to be full-time faculty, but they do want to give back to train the next generation of practitioners. I wonder how much of the "adjunctification" of the professoriate is actually representative of this population?

I learned the hard way not to take all the "doom and gloom" first person scenarios from the Chronicle (and here) as evidence for the academic market in my field.

Posted by: bryan at December 9, 2003 03:40 PM

One does realize that the success of the medical guild makes health care more expensive than it would otherwise be, and is part of the reason adjuncts (among others) have such bad health care?
Also, the medical profession is having it harder than before, also.

Posted by: Jonathan Goldberg at December 10, 2003 06:12 PM