It’s always good to see an end of the year piece in the Chronicle (“The Crisis of the Public University” by Nancy Scheper-Hughes) acknowledging the ongoing realities of higher education as well as its current crises. Scheper-Hughes offers a succinct outline of recent history and its impact on the public university system with one glaring and telling exception: she underplays the complacency of tenured and tenure track faculty.
It’s one thing to support the Occupy movement and to decry the invasion of consumerism into the university and the rising costs of education and expanding student debt. That’s the sort of thing you might expect, especially in California. We can only hope that this sort of resistance spreads elsewhere in the United States. It’s also a very safe place for full time faculty since it doesn’t address their own status.
Full-time faculty are in no way super privileged; most of them are clearly not doing well. Tenure has been weakened and salaries nearly frozen for much of the last decade. But the entire system, as it has evolved over the last three decades, finances the shrinking numbers of full-time positions though an expansion of part-time positions. As long as that cloister remains in place, nothing else can change.