January 05, 2004

"Lynne Cheney of all people"

I've just finished reading Marc Bousquet's "The Rhetoric of 'Job Market' and the Reality of the Academic Labor System" (College English 66 no. 2 [November 2003]). The main argument is a restatement of the thesis put forth in his "Waste Product" article: namely, that the fiction of a job "market" obscures rather than uncovers the reality of a system organized around the ongoing and increasing casualization of academic labor (for discussion of this and related themes, see Oh Sh*t: Marc Bousquet's Excremental Theory of Graduate Education, along with What is a Labor Market? and What is a Guild?).

As in "Waste Product," in "The Rhetoric of the 'Job Market" Bousquet once again takes aim at the Bowen report of 1989, which projected a substantial shortage of PhDs across the humanities and social sciences by the mid-1990s.* Bousquet reads this very wrongheaded assessment as an attempt "to vigorously impose the ideology of 'market' on data that virtually trumpet the structural reality of casualization." In particular, he points to Bowen's decision "'to define 'faculty' quite carefully'" -- which, as it turned out, was not very carefully at all. By including only full-time tenure-track and tenured faculty in his analysis of employment trends, Bowen sought, in Bousquet's words, "to understand the employment system as system while ignoring the largest categories of its working parts."

And as in "Waste Product," Bousquet here seeks to account for the (in hindsight) amazingly uncritical reception of what was clearly a deeply flawed document:

Given the dramatic and startling nature of the conclusions of Bowen and Sosa's 1989 'job market' study, Prospects for Faculty (that faculty jobs would soon appear like manna in the desert), and its origin in an unusual collaboration between a sitting university presdient (William G. Bowen, Princeton president) and an undergraduate student (Julie Ann Sosa, then the editor of the Princeton student newspaper), it's more than a little surprising that almost no one seems to have questioned the Bowen study before a 1994 blurb in the Chronicle of Higher Education -- with the interesting exception of Lynne Cheney, who wrote a scathing New York Times editorial regarding the assumptions guiding it.

For Bousquet, the fact that "Lynne Cheney -- of all people -- was essentially alone in attempting to debunk the Bowen projections shows the staying power of the positivist market fantasy even in the most well-meaning and politically committed quarters of the academy."

Well, I do think Cheney an interesting exception. And I mean to look up the article (an op-ed entitled "The Phantom Ph.D. Gap," from September 28, 1989), as soon as I get a chance.

*From the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation website, a description of the infamous report:

This thought-provoking study of academic job markets over the next quarter century uses rigorous analysis to project substantial excess demand for faculty starting in the 1997-2002 period. Particularly severe imbalances are projected in the humanities and social sciences. Contrary to popular impressions, however, these projected shortages are not caused by any unusual "bunching" of retirements. The authors' discussion of factors affecting the outlook for academic employment includes information on changes in the age distributions of faculties, trends in enrollment, shifts in the popularity of fields of study, changes in the faculty-student ratio, and the continuing increase in the time spent by the typical graduate student in obtaining a doctorate.

This work will appeal to a broad audience. It will be essential reading for those who are responsible for determining the size and character of graduate programs in universities, for aspiring academics who are looking for a sense of their job prospects, for college and university faculty members and administrators who must recruit new colleagues, and for those interested in the federal role in higher education.


Posted by Invisible Adjunct at January 5, 2004 10:15 PM

Job growth predictions seem to be almost always wrong. I recently ran across a prediction from the 1980s (perpetrated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, if memory serves) predicting that there would be very few job opportunities for air traffic controllers because it was all going to be automated, somehow. (Of course, the opposite happened and there was a shortage) No one should take this kind of "what's hot/what's not" predictions seriously without understanding the underlying logic used by the predictor.

Posted by: David Foster at January 6, 2004 10:59 AM

Please post Cheney's comments, when you get a copy. I'm interested in the reasons that she gave.

Posted by: Barry at January 6, 2004 11:10 AM

Excremental theories are always to be supported. Early Modern Europe was the great age of the excremental theory -- Erasmus, Luther, Cervantes, Quevedo, and especially Rabelais made these central in their oeuvre. When people go all adult and quit laughing at toilet jokes, they don't realize that they are depriving themselves of an important critical resource. Purely genital critiques don't get to the fundamental problems. That's where Lacan ultimately fails.

More later.

Posted by: zizka at January 6, 2004 12:07 PM

Why is the academic job market a "fiction"? Traditional economics seems to explain the adjunctification process very adeptly.

Posted by: JT at January 6, 2004 01:48 PM

Perhaps someone could pass along to Bousquet that an editorial is the institutional view of the newspaper, usually (and specifically in the case of the New York Times) unsigned, and written by the newspaper's staff. If the NYT published a signed opinion piece by Lynne Cheney, it was an op-ed, not an editorial.

Posted by: linsee at January 6, 2004 05:53 PM

I believe "editorial" also refers more loosely to an opinion piece that resembles that of an editor/publisher in that it appears in a newspaper and expresses an opinion. I don't see any reason why Mr. Bousquet should slavishly follow the protocols of the NYTimes and carefully distinguish between an editorial and an op-ed.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at January 6, 2004 08:28 PM

IA, I did a Nexis search for Cheney's op-ed but couldn't find it; it may be a bit too old for their database. If you manage to track it down, could you please let us know?

Posted by: J.V.C. at January 8, 2004 03:17 PM

I also did a Lexis search and came up with a response to the Cheney piece (by Bowen) but not the piece itself. I guess I'll have to get it the old-fashioned way.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at January 8, 2004 07:38 PM

"Lynne Cheney -- of all people"

Obviously couldn't be smart. She is a Republican and we all know that they are as dumb as a box of rocks.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at January 8, 2004 09:36 PM

There's no question (in my mind) that she's smart.

I think the "of all people" is more a reference to her anti-PC anti-academy campaigns (e.g., and esp., while head of the NEH). I don't like her politics. And as for her stance as the outsider who can clean up the academy, I find it, well, troublesome. At the same time, I believe someone outside the system can sometimes see things that are not at all apparent to those within. That's why I want to read her op-ed: from the sounds of it, she got it right.

I also kind of like her James Madison book award (for American history books aimed at elementary and middle school readers).

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at January 8, 2004 09:53 PM