R.I.P The University, b. 1088, d. 2020, of Covid

By Lambert Strether of Corrente

I just read a very saddening story in the Wall Street Journal: “Hit by Covid-19, Colleges Do the Unthinkable and Cut Tenure.” The headline is a bit deceptive; the real issue is not doing away with tenure, but changing the governance structure of the university to a corporate model, where the administrators run the institution, with the President as CEO, and faculty are at-will employees. The first university as we know it was founded in Bologna, Italy in 1088; the Università di Bologna still exists today, so institutionally it must have something going for it; 2020 – 1088 = 932 years, a little shy of the Roman Empire’s lifespan. But all that is solid melts into air.

I am a child of university professors, and I grew up in university towns; my father got his doctorate thanks to the GI Bill, and as a family we rode the wave of mass higher education in the post-war Golden Age. I’m sure there’s a word for the cognitive bias where institutions like the university assume their ideal types in a child’s mind, and the adult experiences only decline from that high point, but I think in fact that ideal type was as real as an ideal can be. Big budgets and lots of students will do that.

Part of the ideal was stability, of course: A place to live and work. But central to the ideal were teaching and scholarship, two activities few are simultaneously good at, but, for the student, averaging out in the end. Central to teaching and scholarship are, or were, intellectual integrity: The freedom to tell the truth of the work as one sees it, whether of a student or in the library or the field or the lab. (The testing regimes pursued by the suppliers of cladding and insulation for Grenfell Tower were the opposite of all that.)

Freedom to tell the truth was built on the foundation of academic freedom, meaning in practice that the faculty governed itself — including hiring and firing and the curriculum — while the administration took care of the buildings and grounds, much as, in the Congregational Church at least, the minister handled the preaching and counsel, and the Vestry handled the roof and the boiler. (All this was the ideal, of course, and even as a child I knew the real fell far short of the ideal. My father called the office the “orifice,” a joke I didn’t understand until much, much later.) One way of looking at academic freedom is that you get to be a whistleblower all the time, with little consequence outside academic politics[1]. The life of the whistle in the corporate world, where all are slaves to profit, is very different. Again, an ideal, I know.

Which brings me to the Wall Street Journal article. Faced with a financial shortfall caused by Covid, here is what Kenneth Macur, President of Medaille College, did:

Dr. Macur saw what he considered an opportunity: With the approval of the board of trustees, he suspended the faculty handbook by invoking an “act of god” clause embedded in it. He laid off several professors, cut the homeland security and health information management programs, rescinded the lifelong job security of tenure and rewrote the faculty handbook, rules that had governed the school for decades.

In other words, the President of a university became the CEO of an institution we don’t yet have a name for. (A diploma mill?) Putting aside for now castigating the trusting fool who put let that “Act of God” clause slip by, Macur has turned the faculty into employees at will. He’s also taken over control of the curriculum by eliminating entire schools. Macur, in short, eliminated any institutional basis for academic freedom. You will note also that Macur did not cut his own salary, or slash the administration[2].

The Journal goes on:

Dr. Macur and presidents of struggling colleges around the country are reacting to the pandemic by unilaterally cutting programs, firing professors and gutting tenure, all once-unthinkable changes. Schools employed about 150,000 fewer workers in September than they did a year earlier, before the pandemic, according to the Labor Department. That’s a decline of nearly 10%. Along the way, they are changing the centuries-old higher education power structure.

The changes upset the “shared governance” model for running universities that has roots in Medieval Europe. It holds that a board of trustees has final say on how a school is run but largely delegates academic issues to administrators and faculty who share power.

This setup, and the job protection of tenure, promote a need for consensus and deliberation that is one reason why universities often endure for centuries

So much horse-shit. The small pile: The “tough personnel decisons” should be which administrators to fire first, and after that, scholars and teachers (ideally, I would say today, via sortition rather than seniority). The big pile: “react quickly.” Three hundred or so years into its existence, the University of Bologna survived the Black Death. The University of Paris was founded in 1150, and survived, albeit in abeyance, the Revolution of 1789. These medieval institutions survived crises far worse than Covid. “Tough decisions” and “react quickly” are trigger words for smooth-brained MBAs, not analytical categories.

As it has in so many other ways, Covid has accelerated processes already underway:

Today, about 30% of faculty nationwide are tenured or tenure-track, compared with greater than 70% in the 1970s. Tenured professors have been replaced with contingent faculty who often work part-time, cost the university far less, can be easily fired and typically have little or no say in how the school is governed.

In a generation, tenure and tenure-track professors will be reduced to about 10%, and more faculty will have multiyear appointments, predicts Adrianna Kezar, a professor of higher education at the University of Southern California.

Presumably there’s some precedent, somewhere, for a corporate model of the university that performs teaching and scholarship? Hamburger University? Disney University? Defense Acquisition University? Those institutions don’t teach. They train.[3]

* * *

Well, it’s sad. For me, anyhow. Corporate schools with lavish gyms, dorms, and dining facilities, where there’s no scholarship and classes are taught by an ill-paid underclass of over-qualified and precarious curriculum slingers, isn’t my idea of a place to go to hear the truth spoken. The University of Bologna was founded by students who wanted to be educated. Via (sorry) Wikipedia:

The university arose around mutual aid societies (known as universitates scholarium) of foreign students called “nations” (as they were grouped by nationality) for protection against city laws which imposed collective punishment on foreigners for the crimes and debts of their countrymen. ars dictaminis (scrivenery).[15] The lectures were given in informal schools called scholae. In time the various universitates scholarium decided to form a larger association, or Studium—thus, the university. The Studium grew to have a strong position of collective bargaining with the city, since by then it derived significant revenue through visiting foreign students, who would depart if they were not well treated. The foreign students in Bologna received greater rights, and collective punishment was ended. There was also collective bargaining with the scholars who served as professors at the university. By the initiation or threat of a student strike, the students could enforce their demands as to the content of courses and the pay professors would receive.

I don’t see any reason why a similar process couldn’t be initiated once again. Yes, there’s no tenure (tenure as we understand it today was invented in the 1940s) but I’d certainly rather take my chances with student “mutual aid societies” rather than vicious and reprehensible parasites like Macur. Both my parents were much-loved by students, despite being rigorous, so I know its possible.

The article concludes:

[Macur] said he has received about 30 inquiries from leaders at other schools who wanted to better understand his strategy.

I’ll bet. I would imagine, as corporate universities find real scholars and teachers increasingly surplus to requirements, there’ll be plenty of academics looking to do the work in a new way. Perhaps if they encounter today’s form of student mutual aid socities, a spark will be struck.


[1] In this post, I will take as read the convulsions of the 60s and onwards. Obviously, scholarly abilities have nothing to do with ascriptive identity, and to the extent that they are made to seem so, that’s an infringement of academic freedom, not its fulfillment. Yes, the horrors of bad mentors, tenure defenses, academic politics, and so on. Everyone has their own special delusion, as Catullus says.

[2] Macur might also have considered unloading the The Medaille Sports Complex, for which Google says the college is known for. Google also says the college isn’t known for giving value for money. So we’ll see what effect Macur’s actions have on that.

[3] University Board members like training, especially training for firms and lines of business they run, and most especially training that will not cause inventive minds to create competitors for them.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. DJG

    The Archiginnasio (the nucleus) of University of Bologna is a rather amazing place. Further, the U of B recognized talent. A remarkable woman, Newtonian physicist, and generally savvy person whom Americans should know:

    [Yes, it is pulled from Wikipedia, too]

    “Laura Maria Caterina Bassi (29 October 1711 – 20 February 1778) was an Italian physicist and academic. Recognised and depicted as “Minerva” (goddess of wisdom), she was the second woman in the world to earn the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (after the philosopher Elena Cornaro Piscopia, who had received doctorate in 1678) and the first woman to have doctorate in science.[1][2] Working at the University of Bologna, she was also the first salaried woman teacher in a university. In fact, at one time she was the highest paid employee. She eventually became the first female university professor in the world.[3] She was also the first woman member of any scientific establishment, when she was elected to the Academy of Sciences of the Institute of Bologna in 1732.

    “Bassi had no formal education and was privately tutored from age five till she was twenty. By then she was well versed in all major disciplines including sciences and mathematics”

    1. Dan

      I worked at the University of Bologna for a few years and the story of the University is indeed amazing. Bologna was at the confluence of the proto-industrial tradition of the north, but also in the papal states and part of the empire, so was able to leverage a lot of connections to build the institution. There’s even a student bar that goes back to the 1300s if I remember correctly. Still cheap and grubby, just like it should be.

  2. Sh

    “Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.”

  3. DJG

    Contrariwise, Lambert Strether, I will offer the case of my own near-ivy alma matter, known by its colors as the Maroons, as well as by its new branding as UofChicago.

    During this pandemic, I have begun to wonder why anyone would send a child to such a place–$70,000 a year in tuition and R&B for distance learning, Zoom, “Nobelist” economics professors, and a general atmosphere of bourgeois striving? Why not take a year off? Why not avoid the place entirely, now that most departments of the University of Laputa exist as excrescences on the Booth School of Biz and the “Nobelist”-laden department of economics. And one must not forget the Becker-Friedman Institute (and seminary training the economically ordained).

    Believe it or not, I was once asked to be part of the “career day” thingy for the College. When I was there, we didn’t have career-day thingies. What I found out is that economics is the largest major among undergrad–eleven percent.

    Why? {Not that I’m expecting them to major in classics.}

    Question: Now that the Chileans have thrown out the Pinochetist constitution inspired by “Nobelist” econ professors and the Chicago boys, now the laissez-faire capitalism has set up the United States of America to be known mainly as a vector for disease transmission, now that so many MBAs are mainly just looters, what purpose does such a university serve?

    Quistione (as Gramsci used to write): Should I really be the devoted alum, hoping that the University of Laputa will desist in being the finishing school for our corrupted elites and enforcer of intellectual and economic hierarchy?

    1. ChiGal in Carolina

      Yes, at UChicago (get your branding right!) and a number of other universities I am familiar with (including the public universities in North Carolina which take their orders from admins with backgrounds in business, not academia, and answer to the state legislature) there has been serious mission creep for a while–it’s just like in health care, where Roy Poses, MD has labeled it managerialism</em.

    2. eg

      I love the Laputan reference — I can see them in my mind’s eye, trying to reconstitute sunlight from cucumbers

    3. barefoot charley

      As with Harvard and NYU, so goes the U of C: a hedge fund with a university attached. Let there be FIRE!

  4. scott s.

    With respect to “training” vs “teaching”, I’m not sure the exact intention of this distinction, but I note that in the US at least, the model created by the Morrill Land Grant College Act seems directed towards the former.

    Meanwhile in Wisconsin at least, from the progressive era you have the concept of the “Wisconsin Idea” which is that the purpose of the state’s university is to advance the political goals of the government, in particular the governor (at least when that governor is progressive). And now student government wants to remove Lincoln’s statue because I guess “sifting and winnowing” for the truth no longer applies.

    1. NateM

      In the navy we had a saying (in reference to military training), “you educate humans and you train animals”

      1. vlade

        TBH, you don’t get reflexes by education, you get them by training. Training got a bad rap, but it’s imo valuable, in some cases more valuable than what passes for “education” at some so-called universities.

        The problem, as I keep saying, is that in the past universities had a few roles, one of which was a signaling device to employers. That was what drove the higher salaries and such, but that signaling is now gone, yet a lot of universities/studends behave as it was still going extremely strong (which is why the ranking includes post-uni salaries, a statistics famously manipulated).

    2. JBird4049

      Even junior colleges have inserted some liberal or classical education requirements, which help people learn to think, but I think that the grand efforts of the ruling elites to dumb down higher education into a credential trade school education is succeeding. I would note that the Ivies where the scions of the Elites mostly go seem likely to be fine. If not, then all those unemployed teachers will make a new living as tutors.

    3. JBird4049

      Even junior colleges have inserted some liberal or classical education requirements, which help people learn to think, but I think that the grand efforts of the ruling elites to dumb down higher education into a credential trade school education is succeeding. I would note that the Ivies where the scions of the Elites mostly go seem likely to be fine. If not, then all those unemployed teachers will make a new living as tutors. Either way tails they win and heads, we lose.

    4. vlade

      The reason why “liberal arts” are called liberal is because they were deemed (by Romans and Greeks) as the basis of personal education one needed to partake in his (wasn’t much of her at that time) role in society and politics more specifically.

      Which all free – hence the liberal – people (well, males, you get the drift..) were expected to, at least to some extent (more so in Athens then Rome but hey).

      I.e. it was to give you both the context (history, literature, science etc.) and the tools of thinking to deal with the politics.

  5. lincoln

    Very sad.

    I’m sure university administrators have been trying to do this for some time. They were probably emboldened because they were able to successfully argue for on-campus education, during a pandemic, without facing any consequences for the students and faculty who inevitably got sick. Online classes were always a viable alternative. I’ve always though this similar to when the EPA declared the air around Ground Zero was safe.

  6. meadows

    Thank you for the history lesson and personal perspective. We have lived for over 30 years in a medium size city with a university in Bellingham, Washington… Western Washington University, or WWU. There are a couple other colleges as well, so the combined student population is around 20,000. Population of Bellingham, about 90,000… so students have a significant impact on the city but not overwhelming as in a small college town where the students outnumber residents. WWU is also one of the top employers.

    My parents were both teachers, as were my maternal grandparents and great-grandfather, mostly in university settings. I learned from them, now nearing 70 and watching a generational shift in attitudes toward higher education as well as being aquainted with many members of the professorial class, I can only agree that universities are now run like corporations. The learning and credentials are generally worth less, while the bloat and bureaucracy of the administration acquires a life of it’s own.

    It’s financialization, students as consumers/customers.

    I remember my high school, The Meeting School in NH, now gone, where 50 years ago the 40 live-in students met daily to decide the rules, learned how to run the 200 acre farm, take care of children, milk cows and also study! We met in the teacher’s living rooms for math, science, literature… also shoveled manure and changed diapers!

    Size matters here… smaller is better… and if a bureaucracy exists the place is too large.

    1. Pelham

      That sounds about right — and perhaps ideal — for a liberal arts education. But what about research? I wonder whether the mega-bucks research function attached to major universities is part of the problem.

  7. Mel

    “plenty of academics looking to do the work in a new way. Perhaps if they encounter today’s form of student mutual aid socities, a spark will be struck.”

    Maybe built around something like Patreon for the material side. Blogs to publicize academic talent. The potential students would have to hack their way through the corporate filtering on their own to find the place.

  8. Amfortas the hippie

    “I don’t see any reason why a similar process couldn’t be initiated once again. “—re: the origins of universities.
    I don’t either.
    in fact,despairing of the state of education in general over the years, many a shiner y hogleg vacation has been spent under the Big Oak, looking at the “Mountain” a mile out back, and envisioning a redneck hippie version of Rodale’s or the Land Institute….tucked into an arm of that big ass hill that would protect it from the north wind in winter.
    I’d fantasise about it…”if a million dollars fell from the sky”…”tuition”= “working in the gardens and environs”, etc….which are activities conducive to the Peripatetic School of Philosophy, and education in general.
    prospective students who insist on IdPol assholery can sleep with the goats and pigs until they straighten up and fly right.
    no “accreditation”…in fact, point of pride to have fired all those useless parasites.
    that’s how the “Enlightenment” came of age, after all…by going outside the approved methods and proscriptions…and in spite of authority.
    dream a little dream, and all…
    this is a depressing topic.

  9. John Emerson

    DJV: Maclean’s “Democracy in Chains” (a better book than it’s given credit for being) shows the “Chicago Boys” arguing that there are too many college students and graduates and that they’re troublemakers. so government support of higher ed should be reduced. And that happened.

    After WWII , many resisted the idea of college education for more than a 5% elite.Not just know-nothings, but elitists too. 1945-1968 was a very special time. Even Penguin’s low cost classics for the general reader were controversial.

    My niece’s alma mater in Moorhead MN eliminated all foreign languages except quicky business Chinese and Spanish or French.

  10. cocomaan

    I did fundraising and now do fundraising / research compliance consulting for higher ed, so I have some skin in this larger game.

    Medaille College is one of those schools that has been on the edge of failure for a long time, with Covid just accelerating the process. 1600 students, virtually no endowment, they’re the kind of school that has been letting academic standards slide in order to boost enrollment and continue to get that sweet sweet undergraduate money.

    So it’s not a surprise at all that they’re on the way out. The past few years have seen a rash of small school closures.

    Here’s my perspective as someone who has been in the administration before: What needs to happen now in higher ed is to have the elder generations, meaning the full professors, the long-tenured, step up and restore the institutions and begin to protect younger colleagues. They have the power to do so. And they do not.

    These people have employment contracts, high salaries, more job security than virtually anyone else in the nation. Hell, I don’t know if they would have their contracts broken if they began to collectively bargain. Yet they have not organized in any meaningful way. There is no bravery, no courage.

    It’s the trend in every institution right now to be rotting, higher ed being no exception. The elder generations have failed in their role as leaders.

    1. Massinissa

      “It’s the trend in every institution right now to be rotting, higher ed being no exception. The elder generations have failed in their role as leaders.”

      I don’t think this is true, because most of this stuff is done purposefully as part of neoliberalism. As an example, like John Emerson wrote about above.

      1. Cocomaan

        I mean, junior faculty aren’t bringing in neoliberal thinking, nor in charge of governance structures that accept it.

      1. Cocomaan

        Local liberal arts schools like this are usually extremely expensive on top of the things you list. One of the schools I’ve consulted for, a SLAC like this one in question, has lost the most students to the large land grant unis. Kids are looking for convenient options and cheaper options now.

    2. flora

      Did you miss what’s happening with campus cancel culture. See the Brett Weinstein episode. It’s the latest admin sponsored faux ‘moral’ crusade against independent (of the admin) thought on campus.

      (And don’t dismiss the Federalist’s report just because it’s, you know, the Federalist.)

      I’ve seen this at work on my campus, used against one of the best academics we have, who was forced out by ‘woke social justice’ mobs who mysteriously melted away after the fact, unavailable for comment, after she’d been terminated based on their hearsay. The admin was happy to give them credence and discredit her defense and students’ acclaim.

      I’ve seen other wonderful department head candidates put on hold forever until they withdrew their candidacy. The only thing I can think is the uni admin did NOT want a strong, well regarded, and nationally respected person elevated to department head or unit deanship.

      The faculty are running scared everywhere, imo, tenure not withstanding.

      1. Cocomaan

        I’m familiar with Bret and this kind of incident.

        Rather than circling the wagons around the institution of tenure and seeing value in it, senior faculty governance has ditched it, seems to me. I don’t see anyone appealing to the value of tenure as a measure of preserving academic freedom. In fact, nobody talks about these virtues anymore. The senior faculty have either forgotten what they were taught when they were coming up, or don’t believe in it anymore, or are too lazy to defend it from a position of immense power and influence.

        Seems to me that the woke firing stuff comes into play late into tenure decay phenomenon too. A decade or two ago this didn’t seem to happen.

    3. nycTerrierist

      Amen from a recovering academic

      the ‘lucky few’ elders who enjoy tenure have pulled up the ladder behind them
      and refuse to use their privilege to protect vulnerable colleagues

      total failure of leadership

      1. cocomaan

        What a great way to describe it, “pulling up the ladder.” That’s exactly what it feels like.

        I was never on the tenure track but I helped write grants for researchers trying to get funding, and otherwise got scholarship money. It was a heck of a job. I watched a lot of people burn out.

    4. Brian Westva

      I’m afraid that the college that I teach at is in the same category. I think too many faculty try to cozy up to administrators and get along rather than be critical thinkers. There is certainly a lack of courage at my college. After our last president faculty are a little more cognizant that we have to stand up for ourselves and not let the admins push us around. I’ve worked there for over a decade and it has the feeling of being on the titanic. I continue to be amazed about how many possible combinations of deck chairs there are that can be rearranged. The newest Admins are happy as can be and have no sense to be on the lookout for icebergs.

    1. ambrit

      Good catch, and, what about the religious order monasteries and convents? They were teaching establishments for the clergy after all.
      Oh well. There is always the ‘Unseen University.’

    2. Cocomaan

      Al azhar in Cairo is pretty old too.

      But in general, the phenomenon of the monastic tradition seems to have crossed religious lines

  11. Thistlebreath

    An amusing distraction from the erosion of great universities and colleges:

    I know that the writers were a bunch of former Harvard Lampoon jamokes but enjoy a snort or guffaw at the original Animal House, set at Faber (it’s a brand of pencil) College. Talk about a worthless, marginal, pompous money siphon masquerading as higher learning.

    Rumor has it the script went through tens of drafts over a year. And it’s still explosively funny.

    The most expensive part of the production was hiring a stunt guy to do a runaway horse drag when Niedermeyer got conked by one of Otter’s golf balls.

    I went to Monteith college (long since dismembered by a rapacious WSU liberal arts dept.) that was in an association with Antioch, Bard, etc. in the late 60’s. A lot of the prof’s came from the Chicago sociology post WWII krewe. A couple had seen combat from Omaha Beach to the Rhine. They wuz gritty.

    All in all, an excellent experience. But there’s no reason it can’t happen again, just without all the rigamarole.

    BTW, great article.

  12. flora

    re: The headline is a bit deceptive; the real issue is not doing away with tenure, but changing the governance structure of the university to a corporate model, where the administrators run the institution, with the President as CEO, and faculty are at-will employees.

    Oh yes. This has been coming on for over 20 years. At first, we joked about it thinking it was a temporary academic admin fad and aberration. (Just as we thought the same about a neoliberal ascendancy.) We used to joke that a “For Sale” sign should be posted at the uni’s entrance drives. “See [stock broker of choice] for details.” We all laughed then, thinking the fad would soon blow over once its academic failures became obvious. Little did we know….

    My sadness that this development has endured can’t be expressed in a simple comment.

  13. John Emerson

    There was a junior college president something like 30 years ago (Portland Community College) who bragged about how his school was for the students, not the teachers, and didn’t even have a faculty lounge. IIRC 80% of the classes were taught by contract worker adjuncts. This president was highly admired.

    In fairness, this school was very affordable and had some excellent programs.

  14. ambrit

    The unspoken subtext of all this is what happens to the networking aspect of “higher education?”
    I watched the “networking” happen in ‘real time’ when I attended the Poison Ivy League University for a few years a way back when.
    How do the ambitious up and comers form networks and make alliances when face to face interaction is not available? Just think of Zoom Networking.

  15. Steve

    Just a little data point from Colorado: INTERM! Dean James White (a prof) wants to eliminate 50 TT positions at CU Boulder College of Arts and Sciences, replacing them with 25! lectures. There are currently 720 TT faculty and 200 lectures. Losing 50 TT lines is about a 7% decrease. Those new lectures (unemployed former profs?) represents a 25% increase.

    I don’t know the breakdown by schools and departments, but my own program (I completed MA in 2008, and Ph.D. in 2013) at CUB had not more than 10 TT faculty at any one time, despite our department’s large enrollment. Grad students were then teaching tons of recitation sections, and some upper division cores.

    It will be interesting to see if this goes anywhere, and, more importantly, which schools and departments lose TT faculty. I’m guessing many of the A&S faculty are housed in Boulder’s world-renowned Sciences programs, the rest spread out across the myriad little sectors of A&S. Sciences will be spared debilitating cuts because they generate a lot of research dollars and, with nod to Bourdieu, “cultural capital”. Smaller, less profitable, programs will be cut to bone, with the hope that they die a “natural” death so no one has blood on their hands.

  16. Diuretical

    I’ve worked as a clinical faculty member in a department of medicine for about 13 years now, and in that time the university does seem to evolved into a branding exercise, rather than a material support for either research or teaching. Support for both does exist, but for the bulk of the faculty, it’s a less than 10% side hustle to their clinical work. When I look at immensely talented MD/PHDs going hungry, I do wonder why universities haven’t gone MMT rather than MBA, and just agreed to provide sane and stable funding to everyone.

  17. Jeremy Grimm

    Training versus Education is a strange matter to consider in a discussion about college. Training was something learned on the job through experience working with older employees skilled at the task. Education was a reshaping of the mind.

    The first inroads on this separation between training and Education began with credentialing and licensing and other efforts to restrain entry into the so-called professions and some special trades. As jobs in the trades and factories along with the productive capital equipment traveled far far away, jobs in the professions became more specialized spawning ever more special credentials and licenses. Large monopoly sellers swallowed up the wholesale and retail markets and reshaped those jobs. Large businesses preyed upon smaller businesses in a long chain of big fish eating smaller fish turning small entrepreneurs into managers, franchise holders, or unemployed.

    Through these times the college system adopted the German system of Government supported research Universities to fund research supporting the Military Industrial Complex[MIC]. But as the Government diverted those money flows directly into the contracts that fed the MIC Cartels the money tended to remain in the MIC Cartels. The college system began selling its research capacities to Industry to make up for some of the lost cash flows. Around these times it became clear that all decisions were best made by Markets. This epiphany inspired the restructuring of our Politics, Economy, Education, Science, and our very concepts of Society and self.

    Why such concern now over a more refined Market organization of college? It is just a next step in Progress toward a totally Neoliberal World. [I hope the ‘/s’ hardly need be appended to my comment.

    1. JBird4049

      Purpose as said by vlade
      >>>I.e. it was to give you both the context (history, literature, science etc.) and the tools of thinking to deal with the politics.

      Currently done as said by Jeremy Grimm
      >>>This epiphany inspired the restructuring of our Politics, Economy, Education, Science, and our very concepts of Society and self.

      I think this rather explains why the bachelor’s degree in political economy is so bleeping rare. Getting a liberal arts degree is much harder than getting mindfraked with a degree in economics.

  18. Fresh Cream

    I am a graduate of the UChicago School of Business and I used to receive regular fund raising calls. The last time they called I said I would be happy to contribute if they would earmark my contribution for the costs of shutting down the school of business. i’ve not received any calls since then.

  19. Mike Elwin

    We know exactly what the new universities will look like. We have the model of the for-profit colleges and universities. With graduation rates so dismal they can’t even be called diploma mills.

  20. lordkoos

    I’ve mentioned the 2014 film “Ivory Tower” before but it bears repeating. Although it’s pre-COVID the film deals with many of the issues being discussed here, highly recommended for anyone interested in this subject. Probably the most infuriating part of the movie is the section detailing recent events at Cooper Union, when the slimeball MBA president of the college squandered the school’s endowment, which had allowed tuition to be free for over 150 years.


  21. Dick Swenson

    Lambert Strether left out one “university” name in the paragraph, “Presumably there’s some precedent, somewhere, for a corporate model of the university that performs teaching and scholarship? Hamburger University? Disney University? Defense Acquisition University? Those institutions don’t teach. They train.[3]” and the missing name is “Trump U.” Saying the name indicates its value.

    An honest discussion of the difference between training and education would be valuable. I prefer my electrician and doctor to be well-trained. Slip in a bit of education, and I am joyous. I prefer politicians to be educated. Too bad that will never happen. Jeremy Grimm (above) seems to have begun this discussion nicely.

  22. Darcy

    My late husband received a PhD in English, Linguistics, and Rhetoric from USC. His dream was to be a tenured professor. Unfortunately, by the time he was teaching in the early 1980s, those jobs were hard to get and schools in CA, both public and private, were increasingly hiring part time college professors (adjunct professors.) I saw many of his colleagues desperately scrambling every year to pick up three or four classes at one to three different schools in Southern CA. They were carrying the equivalent of a fulltime load of classes but were being paid poverty wages, probably 20% of what a tenured professor earned for the same number of courses, and most were getting no benefits too. By the late 1990s, it seemed that about 65% to 70% of the college teaching jobs were being filled by adjunct professors. My husband became the Vice President of his union, and tried to fight this, but it was useless.

    Today, I hear how almost 80% of the teachers at some of the most expensive colleges in America are adjunct professors. Some who manage to get four classes a semester, the equivalent of full time work, are making about $22,000 a year. Poverty wages. Many have big student loan debt that they worry will never get repaid. Some are forced to go on food stamps and other government assistance programs. Meanwhile, as tenured professors retire, many of these jobs are not being replaced. A woman who teaches at a college in Nebraska told me that her school has been hiring “substitute” teachers in order to pay them even less than the pitiful wages of adjunct professors, and blaming it on budget cuts.

    Most people assume that with college tuition so expensive, the money must also be going to pay generous salaries to teachers. We have wealthy parents in this country willing to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to get their sons and daughters into expensive, prestigious schools. They have no idea that many of the men and women teaching their children struggle to pay basic bills and may also be on food stamps. Thirty years ago college administrators didn’t make very much money, neither did coaches. But like we’ve seen with the skyrocketing salaries of corporate America’s CEOs and executives in the last 20 years, salaries of college administrators also have reached extremely high levels. Because sports is more important than academics today, many schools began to pay their coaches as much as $1 million a year. And the people who teach the students–who are the only reason the schools can exist–they’ve been given very little respect and value. Their wages have been lowered year after year. Now they are highly educated members of the working poor. Often I meet people who want to be college professors. I have to explain to them why they should choose another field.

    1. JBird4049

      The Professional Managerial Class leaches off the teachers, while others treat them with contempt, which makes me wonder not at all about the level of intelligent conversation seen in our society; most of my teachers have also been adjuncts and I admire the dedication often shown by them to teaching students like myself.

  23. Matthew Kopka

    I don’t know if others recommend this, but I wonder if you could begin to find images to accompany your in-house pieces so that when I and others share them on social media they will not just turn up with the NC kitten but something a bit more enticing. Got excited by three separate pieces, and shared them on my FB pages today. But there they all sit, looking for outward appearances each exactly like the other. . . Just a thought, and perhaps this is an issue of some complexity since your own think pieces are often responses to extant material. . .

  24. steve

    Part of every empire’s dissolution is the destruction of its money. The scene unfolding on college campuses is the higher ed version of the same old story. Finance teaches us that when the attitude of every man for himself is in evidence, the crash is imminent. Every comment on this topic is a riff on that reality. Most encouraging is the expression of a community approach to restoring real education. Start by accumulating good college-level books, to share and pass on.

  25. John Anthony La Pietra

    Missed this one the first time around; very glad I went back for it (and its commentary) when I saw Thursday’s follow-up.

    One note: I’m a little surprised to see mention of Faber but none of South Harmon Institute of Technology. I especially encourage a look at the “customer” reviews. . . .

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