Preparation and Strain

“When you get right down to it, considering the long years of preparation and strain, it’s hard to find any position so poorly compensated as tenure-track college faculty—except, of course, most of the rest of college faculty, the majority who don’t ever become eligible for tenure and earn even less.”

“In the administration of higher education, this means a delicate balancing act, in which management continuously tries to seize control of institutional mission without killing the academic goose laying its golden eggs. The history of workplace change in higher education over the past forty years is a slow, grinding war of position or culture-struggle, with administration continuously pushing to see just how partial or inauthentic it can make the autonomy, integrity, and dignity of academic endeavor without inducing the faculty to fall out of love with their work. Likewise, the history of corporate management’s effort to imitate the success of higher education workplaces can be expressed as, “How can we adjust our corporate culture to resemble campus culture, so that our workforce will fall in love with their work too?” That is, the managers desperately want to know, how can we emulate higher education in moving from simple exploitation to the vast harvest of bounty represented by super-exploitation?”

These words are from Mark Bousquet’s 5 May posting, “My Credo: We Work” on his blog devoted to subject of how the university works (The title, by the way, of his book How the University Works).  Andrew’s response to one of my postings, “Beginnings and Endings,” reminded me why reading Bousquet is so useful. While I have not read his book, I have found in his ongoing critique of higher education much fertile ground for my own thinking. However as I try to explain in my response to Andrew, my interests on this blog move in a different direction. The words I cite above, to exemplify this difference, are for me an incentive to explore the challenges of doing the work one loves with all one’s energy and heart (read the blog posting for a very helpful comparison of the wages faculty accept to other public service jobs) while playing into a system that simply does not give a hoot about the costs of work done with honesty, integrity and heart. If Bousquet is even close to the mark (and I think he is), it is no wonder people harbor bitterness or cultivate resignation.

For me, right now, it’s back to work on the student writing I’ve been reading since 5AM this morning, and then more work on a piece of writing I need to complete, before climbing back up on the ladder to continue painting the house in the afternoon sun.

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