Adjuncts + part-timers, part I (WAS: Relevance?)

Mike Salovesh (t20mxs1@CORN.CSO.NIU.EDU)
Fri, 9 Feb 1996 04:49:16 -0600

This is a very long answer to a passing comment by Mike Cahill, yesterday.
It got so long, in fact, that I'm breaking it into TWO long messages.

At the end of a discussion of adjuncts, part-timers, etc. in the world of
teaching anthropology, Mike said:

================== Quote ================================

Howsoever this may be, there appears to be a feeling in certain quarters that
the quality of academic output, generally, is down, and that there's been a
dilution of talent in post secondary education as a whole -- students and
teachers -- at least in the middle reaches and below of academic
institutions. The issue of the _Wilson Quarterly_ I referred to earlier
details the indictment. This is the setup for real downsizing in which whole
departments could be lopped off. Under these "extraordinary" circumstances,
tenure will be no defense.

Complex reverberations indeed. Mike Salovesh, what do you think is going on

Mike Cahill

=========================== End of quote ================================

What I see is a headlong retreat from higher education as a place to make
a career and as preparation for careers outside academia. This is clearest
in government-supported universities all over the world, but it is also
happening in private universities. The U.S., which once led the world in
investing in higher education, is now a leader in the retreat.

To talk about what I think is going on here, I have to take a long
historical detour. My apologies for long-windedness -- I just don't have
enough time to write a short piece on this.

In the 1950's, there weren't a lot of grad schools in anthro. The few
dozen schools that actually offered an anthro Ph.D. were extremely
selective. They consciously planned on seeing around 80% of those they
did admit drop out before completing the Ph.D., and the average time from
BA to Ph.D. was something over ten years. In the best of circumstances,
there wouldn't have been many of us coming out of that setup. We didn't
have the best circumstances, however.

When I started taking grad courses in anthro, there were something on the
order of 80 grad students in anthro at the U of Chicago. Some 8 of us had
direct financial support from the university and another 8 or so had
outside fellowships. A few of us still had some leftover time on the
Korean GI Bill, but the benefits I was paid as a married man only came to
about half the cost of tuition and didn't leave anything for books or
living expenses. Well, at least I had the GI Bill. Two-thirds of us had
no financial assistance of any kind. When I began dissertation fieldwork,
I was the envy of my classmates because I had a $600 (that's six hundred)
fieldwork grant. It was supposed to pay my way from the US to southern
Mexico and keep me and my wife alive in the field for three months. Many
of my classmates did their doctoral research with no grants at all. The
financial conditions alone explain a large part of the dropouts.

So there were comparatively few of us available to teach just at the time
when Teachers Colleges were expanding to become Universities, and
Universities had visions of an exponentially-expanding Universe going on
forever. In the 60's, the National Defense Education Act made generous
support available to unprecedented numbers of students. Draft exemptions
were granted to students, while men without exemptions were being drafted
for the Viet Nam war. That actually was part of a conscious policy to
steer people into going to college who otherwise would have gone into the
job market. Pushing people into higher ed with the draft and pulling them
in with financial support was supposed to be build the nation's security
by providing a growing reserve of highly educated citizens.

There was an unintended side effect of all this. Before 1960, more or
less, most women were not expected to go to college at all. The most
popular degree objective of those who did go was the Mrs. degree:
college was a great place to hook on to a husband with a future. A woman
who went against the tide was encouraged to get, and keep, secretarial
skills so that there would be something to fall back on just in case.
There were only a limited number of "acceptable" career objectives, in
such traditionally "female" fields as education and nursing.

The combination of the advent of The Pill, the end of the expectation of
the high population growth that came to be called the Baby Boom, and the
new availability of good financial support for higher ed led to fantastic
breakthroughs in the entry of women in what had been traditionally male
fields. After all, if you could get support to go for a Ph.D. in
something seen as intellectually challenging, why settle for a BA and the
female ghetto of classroom teaching, K-12?

(Aside: Although this was a great advance for women, IMHO it was a
horrible tragedy for the quality of K-12 education in the U.S. Lots of
highly qualified women who would have become 3rd grade teachers said to
hell with that. They started knocking down the doors of law schools and
Ph.D. programs and med schools, instead. All that was left to fill the
student chairs in prep for teaching was the absolute dregs of the
educational world. They never would have made it into colleges of ed
against the competition of their sisters of a decade before. Those
bottom-of-the-barrel students, since they were all that went into ed for
a time, are today's "master teachers" -- and they're still the bottom of
the barrel. End of highly prejudiced aside.)

All of this worked to produce unprecedented numbers of college grads, and
of graduate students, both male and female. It worked too well, in fact.
The first smell of overproduction began to appear. Another change of
course was inevitable.

The transition began with Richard Nixon's accession to the presidency. It
was politically easy for him to start cutting higher ed off at the knees
because campuses had been the center of opposition to the Viet Nam war --
and to Nixon himself, for that matter. The National Defense Education
Act got lots less generous, and cut down on the number of students given
support. Research budgets for NSF, NIMH, and other non-defense agencies
were cut to the quick, and repeatedly cut year after year from then on.
As the Viet Nam war ground down, there really was an oversupply of men to
make into soldiers, and pressure to remain in college to stay out of the
draft lessened. As a result, enrollments started to drop.

The change in the academic employment market for anthropologists was
sudden and blatantly palpable, coinciding with Nixon's first and second
years in office. The bottom dropped out of the market in academic 1969-
1970. Things have gone downhill ever since.

Simple demographic trends haven't helped, either. If the Baby Boom ended
in 1960, more or less, Baby Boomers hit traditional college age before
1980. The college market has been shrinking ever since, at least in part
because there have been many fewer people in the traditional age cohort.

The overall economic trend of the nation hasn't been very good for
academia, either. Average family earnings have been at a virtual
standstill or declining since the early 1970's, while the cost of going to
college and grad school has shot up much faster than anything else in the
economy except medical care. At the same time, there is less and less
money made available for student aid -- even in the form of student loans,
whose conditions get more and more onerous each year. So enrollment,
naturally enough, is falling even when measured in terms of the proportion
of college-age people actually in college -- not to mention absolute
numbers of students.

It is becoming more and more obvious that the gap between the very rich
and the rest of us has been growing at an accelerating rate ever since
Ronald Reagan became president. One way the rich have been getting much,
much richer is by the increasing profits of corporations. Lots of that
comes from downsizing and by cheapening the cost of workers. The victims
were factory laborers in the 70's; they have been white collar workers and
middle management since the 80's. In particular, the *relative* salaries
in academia have been declining precipitously. They have gone down much
faster than the average wage, even as average salaries have been declining
across the board.

That handwriting was visible on the walls way back in the 70's. More and
more people who might have gone into academia in the 60's opted out and
went into Yuppiedom, instead. I have two impressionistic views of the

First of all, in self-defense recent arrivals in the academic marketplace
have been forced to produce paper trails that are considerably more
impressive than anybody would have imagined possible a couple of decades
back. This is particularly visible in their publications lists -- which
probably helps account for the fantastic proliferation of journals,
reviews, and other places to publish in recent years. (It also probably
accounts for the decline in quality visible in what our journals publish.)

Second, the market forces that have been shaping anthropology have been
dismal enough that there has been a kind of negative selection. I think I
see a tendency for those who in other times might have become outstanding
academic anthropologists to take a look at the prospects for a future in
the profession and say "no, thanks".

Let me be very clear about this: The negative selection does not mean
that ALL those with the potential to make outstanding contributions to
the field have gone elsewhere, thank God! Neither does it mean that
anybody who has been damnfool enough to stick with anthropology is a
damned fool about anything else, including anthro itself. But I do get
the impression that there has been an overall *average* decline in the
intellectual quality of new arrivals in the academic end of the
profession, decade by decade if not year by year. I think it can
reasonably be argued that anthropological theory, too, has been
comparatively stagnant since the intellectual ferment of the 60's.
On days when I feel good, I tend to say that we have moved into a period
of consolidation, rather than innovation. Today, I say stagnant.

So much for my very biased view of history. All of this is background to
the comments I really wanted to make about what's happening today -- but
this message is too damned long already. Watch for Part II in your
neighborhood INBOX anytime soon.

mike salovesh, anthropology department <>
northern illinois university PEACE !