The New York Times, Slate and Al Jazeera have recently drawn attention to the adjunctification of the professoriate in the US. Only 24 per cent of the academic workforce are now tenured or tenure-track.
Much of the coverage has focused on the sub-poverty wages of adjunct faculty, their lack of job security and the growing legions of unemployed and under-employed PhDs. Elsewhere, the focus has been on web-based learning and the massive open online courses (MOOCs), with some commentators celebrating and others lamenting their arrival.
The two developments are not unrelated. Harvard recently asked its alumni to volunteer their time as “online mentors” and “discussion group managers” for an online course. Fewer professors and fewer qualified – or even paid – teaching assistants will be required in higher education’s New Order.
Lost amid the fetishisation of information technology and the pathos of the struggle over proper working conditions for adjunct faculty is the deeper crisis of the academic profession occasioned by neoliberalism. This crisis is connected to the economics of higher education but it is not primarily about that.
The neoliberal sacking of the universities runs much deeper than tuition fee hikes and budget cuts.