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  1. Vanessa
    Vanessa July 1, 2008 at 6:39 pm |

    Good point on the corporatization issue.

    My university has a Starbuck’s *in the library*.

  2. exholt
    exholt July 1, 2008 at 7:54 pm |

    To theorize the contemporary university is to recognize that there was nothing inevitable about its formation. It did not have to be, and it can still be dismantled. Set a $200,000 limit to faculty salaries and a $300,000 limit to upper administrative salaries. Limit coaches to $300,000 as well. At my institution, even the president’s assistants earn $300,000; I’d cut their salaries by 50 percent. Redirect the money saved to hiring assistant professors, raising part-timer salaries to parity and graduate student employee wages to the cost of living, and eliminating all tuition payments for poor and lower-middle-class students. Deny administrators the right to fund gratuitous pet projects at the expense of a principled campus salary schedule (Nelson xviii).


    I feel Nelson here is still privileging administrators and non-academic staff over those who actually do the teaching. My suggestions would be to increase the maximum cap on Professorial salaries to $300-400K while decreasing admins, President, and coaches to $200k.* If I had it my way, I’d also do a stringent audit to cut many administrative positions as there tends to be a lot of bureaucratic bloat that won’t be missed and attempt to streamline technology purchases to ensure they are purchased for legitimate educational/research reasons and not because it is the latest Gee-whiz! technotoy du jour which happens to mesmerize senior profs, undergrads, and the undergrads’ parents.
    More stringent accounting audits also needs to be implemented as I’ve often seen unconscionable waste in higher-ed institutions, especially at the private ones carried out at the behest of senior admins and the President.

    * One can also consider pegging their salaries as performance based on results/benefits gained as a result of their work….though it will never fly as that will definitely eliminate the deadwood bureaucrats who will scream bloody murder.

  3. Red Queen
    Red Queen July 1, 2008 at 8:04 pm |

    I am the walmart employee of public education.

    For 5 years I have been kept at 16 hours per week so that the school doesn’t have to pay for benefits, despite annual allocations from the student council (which funds my position) to increase my hours. It’s a state school. I make so little that my child and I qualify for medicaid. So the state is still paying for my health care, just form a different source. If I work more than 16 hours a week, I will be fired. Period.

    I haven’t had a raise in that time either. Though my duties have increased (that extra money that student council keeps allocating goes to new technology when it can’t go to increased lab hours, so I keep learning new software).

    I am one of the few classes of employees that is not unionized at my school, which plays a huge part in the pay discrepancies between myself and everyone else. Not to mention that it holds legal ramifications. When the school went through a year of not paying me on time (6 late paychecks) and I went to the Labor department to complain, I was told that state employees had to complain through their union, and since i wasn’t unionized I would have to hire a private attorney instead. I didn’t have the money for an attorney, so I sent an email to every single department head and the dean explaining that every time my paycheck was late was a violation of federal law and eligible for a $10,000 fine. They started paying me on time after that.

    But I shouldn’t have to go through that. I should be, like all other employees with 5 years of experience, be eligible for benefits and raises and an increase in hours when the students require (and are willing to pay for) it.

    Sorry, that was all kinds of ranty.

  4. JenLovesPonies
    JenLovesPonies July 1, 2008 at 8:05 pm |

    I myself pay fifty dollars a month for a Blue Shield plan that doesn’t cover maternity (but does cover abortions, in a not-so-subtle message to its customers).

    How strange. When I was under my old insurance, having a baby would have cost me $250 (for the delivery) while abortions were not covered under any circumstances.

  5. shah8
    shah8 July 1, 2008 at 8:10 pm |

    A data entry job that types numbers in a computer all day long, makes $25000 per annum. And that’s on the low scale.

    Really, this is true of all of the brain heavy jobs. Biology lab technicians makes less than what a secretary does. Paralegals in many places. Just about any job in which it takes some math/science brains to get an undergraduate degree from (other than engineering or accounting) are suffering from having their work valued lower than paper pushers.

    I find that bewildering.

  6. Terra
    Terra July 1, 2008 at 8:11 pm |

    Thats why when choosing between university and a job I thought a job would give me more time to pursue my studies.

    I can make little items like and because of technology there is no real glass ceiling it is simply whatever interest I can get in it.

  7. Sensible
    Sensible July 1, 2008 at 8:14 pm |

    I don’t understand where the objections to coaching salaries are coming from. At schools where coaches are paid high salaries, athletic department finances are usually kept completely separate from those of the rest of the school. So no money that comes in from tuition or research grants is siphoned off to pay coaches. And don’t forget, those highly paid coaches are almost invariably coaching revenue sports like football and basketball that bring in the money to fund non-revenue sports, notably nearly all women’s sports. Of course there are rare exceptions like Pat Summitt at UT but only a handful of women’s sports programs finish in the black across the country.

    Coaches getting paid what the market will bear is a very good thing for universities.

  8. Renee
    Renee July 1, 2008 at 8:22 pm |

    Because if universities don’t pay for essentials like health care, then you will. In fact, you already are

    What I continue to fail to understand is that in a country as rich as America that you don’t have universal health care. I think there would be a riot in Canada if that was ever taken away. It should not be considered a burden upon society to make sure that everyone is as healthy as possible.
    I am dealing with a major illness and I can report that I have paid nothing for the various cat scans, MRI’s or medication. When you are ill the last thing that you should ever have to worry about is money.

  9. Bitter Scribe
    Bitter Scribe July 1, 2008 at 8:23 pm |

    The problem is that in today’s economy, college educations have become so valuable—so necessary–that academia knows it has society by the throat. That’s why they can screw everyone in sight and stick undergrads with huge tuition-loan bills.

  10. Vanessa
    Vanessa July 1, 2008 at 8:37 pm |

    Also good point about the technology. Every classrom on my campus is equipped with fancy projectors and laptops designed to project power point presentations.

    Needless to say, the first 10-15 minutes of every class is spent trying to get the projector to work, or trying to get the instructor’s flash drive to be read by the laptop, or whathaveyou. Meanwhile, there is a pristine, ginormous chalkboard glaring back at everyone mockingly.

    For centuries students were adequately educated with chalkboards and good teaching. No student needs to see the images someone googled off the internet and put into an ameteurish power point *that* badly.

  11. Gayle
    Gayle July 1, 2008 at 9:13 pm |

    The author proposes suggestions that contradict economic principles. We live in a capitalistic society. Prices of items are set based on supply and demand, and so are salaries. Mucking around with the system by fixing prices / salaries generally has unintended consequences.

    Let’s delve into this further. If a university pays a coach $1 million dollars, it believes that the coach will bring more than $1 million (winning games -> donations, etc). What happens if a union says that the coach can only be paid $300,000? The coach works elsewhere. So that coach who could have brought in $1.5 million while only be paid $1 million. By paying a lower salary, the school has actually lost money. Now, how does that help the graduate students?

    Lower salaries are not necessarily a way to save money. You have to pay people what they’re worth – that’s how capitalism works.

    Now then, why is it that graduate students are paid $22,000? Because they can. The real question is, why do graduate students agree to work for so little? Because $22,000 per year is less than what the degree is worth to them.

    Remember – graduate students are students. They are not full time employees of the university. They’re getting free tuition – a $40k value – *plus* a $22k stipend in exchange for working. That’s what they signed up to do, willingly and eagerly, and it’s worth it for them.

    Seem surprising? Look at all those white house interns who are working for free.

  12. Arianna
    Arianna July 1, 2008 at 9:34 pm |

    Vanessa – my University has a Second Cup (Canadian version of Starbucks, though we have those up here too) in our library. Ever since it was put in, my fellow students seem to treat the whole library like a coffee shop/hangout rather than a place to do actual work.

  13. Jill
    Jill July 1, 2008 at 9:37 pm | *

    We have an NYU Starbucks, too — it’s on a corner and not in the library, so it’s disguised as a “real” Starbucks, but it’s run by the university and staffed by NYU employees. And the law school serves Starbucks coffee, of course.

  14. Vanessa
    Vanessa July 1, 2008 at 10:03 pm |

    We have two Starbuck’s actually, one in the library and one in the bookstore. The bookstore is a bastion of corporate profitmongering anyway (sometime I’m going to write that epic post about the scam that is textbooks) so that one doesn’t surprise me. But the library always struck me as somehow sacrosanct!

    I should note that I returned to school in 06 after a decade-long absence, and find the new technology in use pretty much a bunch of crap and not any kind of improvement.

  15. PseudoAdrienne
    PseudoAdrienne July 1, 2008 at 10:34 pm |

    Ha! My alma mater put a Starbucks in the all women’s dorm (my home during my last two years) and we already had one in the campus bookstore. Top that!

  16. Sensible
    Sensible July 1, 2008 at 11:36 pm |

    Girl Detective: Your creative writing program isn’t funded by football money and your tuition doesn’t go to fund football. It seems like a pretty fair setup to me.

    This discussion makes it clear that if you aren’t able to support yourself via fellowships, research assistantships, teaching assistantships, or a part-time job, you probably aren’t cut out to complete at PhD, much less pursue a career as an academic. You should probably find a different job that better fits your skillset. It seems that there are a lot of people who have childhood fantasies of a life of teaching, writing, and research and think they are deserving of their fantasy no matter what. In reality, those deemed worthy are fully funded and live the dream, while wannabes serve as slave laborers, first in graduate school and later as untenured, itinerant lecturers. If you find yourself in this situation, the tribe has spoken: you are not worthy. If you’re as smart as you think you are, you’ll be able to make a living doing something else and write and theorize on the side.

  17. tomemos
    tomemos July 2, 2008 at 12:30 am |


    For centuries students were adequately educated with chalkboards and good teaching. No student needs to see the images someone googled off the internet and put into an ameteurish power point *that* badly.

    I’m sorry that you’ve had bad experiences with technological classrooms, but as a college teacher my opinion is that they’re extremely useful much of the time, and simply essential some of the time. So much has changed in education in the last few decades—the rise of the internet and the importance of multimedia, to name the two most relevant developments— that your appeal to centuries of pedagogical tradition is beside the point; universities today that failed to provide technological resources would be failing to support their teachers. Consider, too, that these devices actually save time for instructors, who otherwise would have to put in a lot of unpaid time finding images, preparing photocopies, etc.

    To put it another way, this reminds me of the claim that we should de-fund NASA to fund the social safety net: while one could have a legitimate argument about the relative importance of these two things, NASA funding is relatively small, and has a unique and definite use, so it seems more productive to take the funds from areas that are genuinely not serving an important purpose.

  18. exholt
    exholt July 2, 2008 at 12:45 am |

    Ever since it was put in, my fellow students seem to treat the whole library like a coffee shop/hangout rather than a place to do actual work.

    Unfortunately, this is happening at my grad campus even without a Starbucks in the building. I just cannot understand how any undergrad/grad students thinks it is acceptable to chat in the library with each other or on their cell phones as if they were on a public street….and exhibit a sense of overentitled righteous anger at being called on it by library staff and/or ordered by them to take it outside. Where the hell do these students get off with that attitude?!! Is it too much to tell your friends/relatives that you sometimes have to shut off your cell so you can study and show due consideration to other library patrons?!! :roll:

    It is one of the things that shows I am old as if they tried pulling that at my undergrad, not only would the library staff toss them out and possibly bring them up on academic misconduct charges, but most of us students would have supported the staff in their actions. The last thing most of us want to deal with in the library is an inconsiderate loud student who is seemingly oblivious to the fact that most of us are trying to study/do research and loud noises usually impair such efforts.

  19. exholt
    exholt July 2, 2008 at 12:57 am |

    Needless to say, the first 10-15 minutes of every class is spent trying to get the projector to work, or trying to get the instructor’s flash drive to be read by the laptop, or whathaveyou. Meanwhile, there is a pristine, ginormous chalkboard glaring back at everyone mockingly.

    For centuries students were adequately educated with chalkboards and good teaching. No student needs to see the images someone googled off the internet and put into an ameteurish power point *that* badly.

    Not only that, but as someone who has worked with computing technology in startup and corporate settings and also seen how they are misused in the higher educational setting, Powerpoint presentation software is often used by corporate managers and Professors/TAs as a technological crutch to make up for poorly thought out ideas, lack of meaningful content, or just plain old bad presentation/teaching skills.

    In fact, the common joke among my friends in the corporate world or some TA friends in grad school is that the use of Powerpoint almost always means that we’re in for a dull boring presentation devoid of anything resembling a well-organized presentation/teaching with meaningful content. The best Professors/TAs/managers I’ve had never needed to resort to such software to get their presentations and teaching across effectively.

  20. exholt
    exholt July 2, 2008 at 1:24 am |

    Parents need to know that universities regularly replace seasoned instructors with first-year grad students.

    Hate to be cynical, but most parents of undergrads and the undergrads themselves I’ve met in college, the workplace, and in grad school tend to not care or be willing to understand what education in the sense that you and I are thinking about. Most don’t really care from my experience and the few that do are confused and thrown off by the academic environment which is often alien to anything they experienced unless they were academics themselves or were MA/MS PhD students in non pre-professional programs. Heck, even my lawyer uncle has admitted the only reason he could understand some of what I’ve experienced was the fact he was a PhD candidate before he bailed for law school due to being fed up with a toxic departmental environment.

    As Bitter Scribe has alluded, the vast majority only care about paying the tuition to get that piece of paper with the B.A./B.S. label on it with a perfect transcript to match so these undergrads can parlay them into some sort of a lucrative/prestigious job/grad school. This tendency is especially bad at many top-tier research universities where the priority of most undergrads from what I’ve seen is to land that highly lucrative job like ibanking/finance/business or to gain admission to topflight MBA/Law programs.

    So long as one manages to graduate with a decently high GPA whether gotten through one’s own hard work, browbeating Profs/TAs, or in extreme cases…cheating…few parents will be overly concerned. Unfortunately, this trend was already underway when I was an undergrad and has only gotten worse after I graduated from what I’ve heard from current Profs and TAs.

  21. Mandolin
    Mandolin July 2, 2008 at 1:50 am |

    This discussion makes it clear that if you aren’t able to support yourself via fellowships, research assistantships, teaching assistantships, or a part-time job, you probably aren’t cut out to complete at PhD, much less pursue a career as an academic.

    Systemic problems don’t exist! Individualism, individualism, individualism!

    What are you doing on a feminist blog again? I mean, really, if you can’t just solve all gender problems for yourself, then it’s clear you aren’t cut out to be paid an equal wage to male employees.

  22. Vanessa
    Vanessa July 2, 2008 at 1:53 am |

    I’m sorry that you’ve had bad experiences with technological classrooms, but as a college teacher my opinion is that they’re extremely useful much of the time, and simply essential some of the time.

    I have had exactly one professor since returning to school that used powerpoint and the internet effectively, and he used them *very* effectively.

    I’ve had several professors and instructors, using the good old-fashioned chalkboards and maybe a slide projector now and again, teach excellent classes that were interesting and edifying.

    But for the most part, either the equipment in the room was not in working order or the professor didn’t know how to use the equipment. If you’re unfamiliar with computers in general, than why are you trying to use a computer to instruct your students if you don’t have to?

  23. Vanessa
    Vanessa July 2, 2008 at 1:55 am |

    than why are you trying to use a computer to instruct your students if you don’t have to?

    By why I mean then why…etc.

    In my defense, I’m only an English minor. ;)

  24. exholt
    exholt July 2, 2008 at 2:29 am |

    In my defense, I’m only an English minor. ;)

    It is a relief to see an English minor stumble with the English language as I was neither an English major nor minor in college. ;)

  25. carson
    carson July 2, 2008 at 3:34 am |

    I am a woman (fairly privileged in all other regards – white, middle-class background, grew up in a major metropolitan area, etc.) who just finished her first year as a PhD student. I’ve seen and felt a lot of sh*t go down relative to gender and academia (how it feels to be the only female in an advanced mathematics class and knowing that *everything you say* will be not just *you* saying it, but The Girl saying it; listening to your fellow male PhD student casually mention that his wife – who works full-time – does “all the cleaning” at his house; being warned that a particular prof will assume that women “can’t cut it” in terms of doing a JD as part of a joint program; etc.).

    But what I want to say is this: I was a TA for an awesome female professor (yes, PROFESSOR) who managed to get a tenure-track position at a major university in a heavily male-dominated field, be a bit of an academic celebrity in her own right (I hear tons of people showed up for her job talk), and have a small child – while genuinely investing in teaching both her graduate and undergraduate students. Two observations:

    1. Four or five students commented on her end-of-term evaluations: “Prof. BLANK is hot(!!!)”

    2. Universally acknowledged as one of the best profs my students have ever had, nevertheless, she didn’t know the name of 75% of the students in my sections (whose papers I graded, etc.) and those she *did* know were predominantly male, and frequently those who challenged the idea that they might not have produced the most brilliant piece of writing ever read by a teaching assistant.

    In other words: While I am grateful just about every day for the extraordinary privilege of doing what I love and being paid (via fellowships and teaching) just enough to survive for doing these things, I am also acutely aware that I – and my fellow graduate students – are primarily responsible for the education (and grades) of undergraduates at most public universities in this country, that *not* getting a college degree is less and less an option for those who want the security of a “middle class job”, that universities CANNOT FUNCTION without graduate students dependent upon teaching positions to support their education, that college students probably deserve better than me in terms of instruction (at least based on tuition payments) but are actually more likely to get a committed graduate student instructor than “professor” who genuinely cares about teaching, that I – who want to have at least one child – have two plausible windows in which to do so and one is 2-3 years away, and that even if I make it – even if I am extraordinary and lucky and beat the odds – I will still have 19-year-olds commenting on my sexual attractiveness on teaching evaluations. (Even if, to be somewhat sympathetic to the assholes, that’s the only way they’ve been taught to translate intellectual respect for women into things they can say.) Which is to say that this post is right on about seeing women’s problems in academia as symptomatic of a larger dynamic relative to undergraduates that are both reinforced in their ridiculousness (they have very strong ideas about what grades they deserve, they feel entitled to comment on the physical attractiveness of their profs) and exploited in their need for an education that costs ridiculous sums of money. And we still, STILL don’t believe that women can be geniuses. It’s just not an available category.

    Alright – end rant. Not the most important issue in the world, but a very very personal one (obviously) and a post I thought I should support.

  26. Nia
    Nia July 2, 2008 at 4:35 am |

    I think this situation cannot be solved, among other reasons because of the very strong feeling of competition in many universities. For example, having several jobs is, in a twisted sense, a sign of status, as people can boast of how hard they are working. Having very few full-time positions makes people believe that if they are good enough, the best in the field, they will be the next ones to get one of those positions. The existence of a pyramid makes people wish to be at the top, rather than breaking down the system!

  27. charlotte
    charlotte July 2, 2008 at 10:31 am |

    Ok, pardon my English, but fuck that “worthy” crap that sets up two (or more) classes of academic employees; it’s one more reason why I opted out of academia as a fulltime career–intrinsic human value really shouldn’t be measured by the ability to obtain TAships, fellowships, etc., brownnose the administration into paychecks etc. (I also worked in grad student government for a while during my alma mater’s successful TA unionization efforts). What I objected to when I made my decision (and still do) is the discourse of victimization. Once you’ve got your degree, you have the power to decide where to sell your skills and thus influence the economics of supply and demand. If academia doesn’t qualify as a viable market, then it might be interesting to see what a cheap-labor shortage will do to college instruction, TA salaries, etc. because in the long run, such an exodus of qualified but dissatisfied workers will create a massive retention/ class coverage problem in a market that isn’t about to reduce its need for degrees; in some industries (like aerospace), this has already happened and led to numerous improvements. Granted, given the pace at which academia works, such a balance shift might take a few generations to accomplish, but just think how the power of choice could help fix a broken system.

  28. Jim
    Jim July 2, 2008 at 10:41 am |

    Public educational financing is extremely complicated, especially in major research colleges. But I have a few points about what you said, which was all intriguing.

    1) Coaches/assistants make a lot of money, yes. However, there is a reason for this – they bring in millions of dollars every year by running successful sports programs. In other words, the investment the university makes in having a successful sports program (even if only regionally) pays huge dividends in the form of high turnout, sales of sports memorabilia, etc. It is a net gain to the university. If you put artificial price constraints on coache’s salaries, the coaches would just go elsewhere and the university would lose money (I just scrolled up and saw another commenter made the same point)

    2) I’m not sure how one defines “fair pay.” Take an instance of an art history professor. What is the market value for their labor? Even if they’re a fantastic art history expert, there is not a shortage of people with that skill set (simply because society doesn’t value it as highly as, say, engineering). By giving government loans to art history majors, or by unionizing (essentially cartelizing labor and distorting prices in the union’s favor, at the expense of consumers – in this case students/taxpayers), or by exerting political pressure and mandating wages in the legislature, we are raising the salary above what the market would provide, and thus distorting the true social costs/benefits, resulting in a surplus of art history experts, siphoning away talent from more socially valued areas. Now I realize there is no free market in art history professors since so many colleges are public etc. But I think we should strive to approximate the market price as much as possible, simply so we don’t end up doing more harm than good by distorting the true social costs.

  29. J
    J July 2, 2008 at 12:37 pm |

    I wish people would stop repeating the myth that super expensive sports programs generate lots of money for schools. The cost of recruiting players, skyrocketing coaches’ salaries, and the cost of building and maintaining training facilities and stadiums far outstrips the revenue these programs generate. Even for Division I schools, the vast majority of athletic departments operate at a loss, and the situation just gets worse the lesser known the school and the program is. There are many comprehensive studies illustrating this fact, and a recent one just came out a couple years back.

  30. ripley
    ripley July 2, 2008 at 12:37 pm |

    the “economic principles” argument in relation to education is pretty much bogus, because in order to treat education as a purely economic enterprise you have to set up some pretty sweeping assumptions.

    What is the product being paid for? Who is paying for it? does that make them customers? Are undergrads “customers”? or their parents? or maybe taxpayers are (since taxes fund a good proportion of higher education, often more than tuition does)? what are students or taxpayers “buying”? Or Alumni (whose donations help fund a lot of schools)? what is the demand for and what is the supply of? Or is it future employers? how do you judge the “value” of education?

    not saying you can’t answer those questions, but how you answer them completely changes the incentive structure you might want to have in place. And answering them with any SINGULAR response also erases the many-faceted value that higher education can have, especially the values that many folks put on having their lives transformed, learning to be a critical thinker, meeting new people/making friends, or getting to be a better writer/painter/dancer/ etc etc. Even in the sciences, you can do work that ius meaningful but not imediately recognized as valuable – so at what point do you assign value? While you are broke genius or after you win the Nobel prize? and there is also a lot of social value that is difficult to parse out in individual terms.

    Also, I would put in a word for secretaries and administrators as very important parts of the university. Most faculty are not born administrators – that is a specific skill, and a good administrator is extremely important to a school’s success and stability and smooth functioning. Not to excuse enormous inequalities and salary, but if the business of higher education is teaching (which, by the way, many here seem to assume although at some schools the business is actually research), then someone has to take on the job of running the place. Something that secretaries (as a former department secretary) also have a huge hand in.

    again, I understand the salary inequalities are unfair and need to be remedied, but please let’s not just bash the people who make things go on a day-to-day basis on principle.

  31. exholt
    exholt July 2, 2008 at 1:26 pm |

    Also, I would put in a word for secretaries and administrators as very important parts of the university. Most faculty are not born administrators – that is a specific skill, and a good administrator is extremely important to a school’s success and stability and smooth functioning.

    No question about the importance of administrators and secretaries. My problem with the administrators, especially the ones at the senior levels is that they are seizing too much power and control away from the Professoriate and the students to the point where the universities seem to be run more by and for the most senior administrators. I’ve seen and heard this especially in the allocation of excessively high salaries and the excessive amount of bureaucratic bloat at the middle and upper-levels which not only does not add to the overall educational mission, but has often been quite detrimental to that mission judging my the experiences of myself and friends who are academics/researchers/TAs.

    In one extreme case of a high school classmate at an Ivy-campus, this very bloated bureaucracy was one reason why it took 2 full years to change his frosh year advanced calculus course grade from an F to the -A he actually deserved despite blatant evidence the calculus prof had a deep animus against engineering majors, his test and problem set grades indicating -A level performance, and with the deans of both the Engineering and Arts and Sciences divisions going to bat on his behalf because they also couldn’t believe the level of BS being pulled against him.

  32. carol h
    carol h July 2, 2008 at 2:09 pm |

    Recently, two friends of my husband – a graduate student at a major research university – had a baby. My excitement for them was tempered by the troubling question of how they were handling health insurance, since the university refuses to cover spouses and dependents. I myself pay fifty dollars a month for a Blue Shield plan that doesn’t cover maternity (but does cover abortions, in a not-so-subtle message to its customers). Grad students at this university make $18,000 a year after their fourth step increase. How in the world was this couple going to come up with the money to cover an infant’s health costs?*

    I’m a little confused by this post. The baby has two parents, one of which is a grad student whose stipend is $18,000/year. The student has health insurance that does not cover spouses or children and the author is wondering who they will cover the baby’s health costs.

    The answer is very clear to me, the parent who is not a student needs to get a job that has benefits including family health insurance. Is the author really arguing that a student should not only make enough money to support 3 people but should also get health insurance coverage for a family?

    The author did asterisk her point to try and head off the argument that this couple was not really in a great place to have a baby. I’ll make that argument: If this couple wanted to have a baby it is their responsibility to make sure it can get health care. If that means that the non-student parent needs to get a job with benefits or that the student parent need to take a leave of absence in order to work and provide for the baby, well sometime life works like that.

  33. CTD
    CTD July 2, 2008 at 2:20 pm |

    Graduate students and instructors are poorly paid for one reason, and one reason alone: There exists a relatively large pool of people willing and able to do a relatively small number of jobs. That’s it.

    Unless you change one (or preferably both) of those variables (i.e. greatly decrease the number of available graduate students or greatly increase the number of courses that need grad students to teach them), you’re simply never going to see much of a change in compensation.

    Increasing the incentives to become a grad student (like offering lavish health benefits) will only encourage more people to try that path, which will make the aforementioned pool even bigger. That will depress wages, not increase them.

    I do agree that universities are a broken system, though. By wildly overselling higher education to lots of people who really didn’t need it, they’ve created a huge surplus of graduates with near-useless degrees, many of whom goon to grad school because they have nothing else to do.

  34. Tapetum
    Tapetum July 2, 2008 at 3:41 pm |

    CTD – I’d almost agree, except that I’ve seen (multiple times), a college hand a TA job to a grad student who was entirely unqualified for the job. If you have so many qualified people banging down the door, then why would you give a TA-ship in Anatomy & Physiology to a marine biology grad student who’s never taken the course. She was literally one week ahead of the class all the way through, running as hard as she could to make sure she knew enough to be able to teach.

  35. miwome
    miwome July 2, 2008 at 4:28 pm |


    I agree. This continues to explain why the US is falling behind many other places in science and engineering, though.

  36. exholt
    exholt July 2, 2008 at 5:12 pm |

    I agree. This continues to explain why the US is falling behind many other places in science and engineering, though.

    That and our society’s priorities are quite messed up as some of the comments have shown. Instead of respecting and praising the accomplishments of scientists, engineers, and educators, we Americans place too much emphasis on heaping praise on professional athletes, corporatized movie/pop music stars, senior-level corporate managers, wealthy trustfund kids, and celebrities whose fame is often derived from actions/traits which are not only of dubious benefit to our society, but in some cases has a detrimental effect upon it.

    Ironically, this is totally the opposite in many other parts of the world, especially in the cases of East/SE Asia and South Asia where there is still much more respect paid to those in occupations considered “too nerdy”, “boring”, and/or “uncool” in the American popular consciousness. More interestingly, in the case of Asian societies strongly influenced by Confucian and Neo-Confucian thought, lawyers until very recently were regarded with far less social prestige than educators, scientists, and engineers whereas in our society, they are often privileged far above them. Don’t know about any of you, but I think such prioritization is screwed up and is a factor in falling behind in science, engineering, and many other fields.

  37. laurab
    laurab July 2, 2008 at 9:46 pm |

    I remember reading an article in the nyt quite some time ago which described research that showed that although academia is one of the lowest-paid options for people with Ph.D.s, university professors report some of the highest levels of job satisfaction, in part because they have a lot of control over how their time is spent.

    Universities — research universities, anyways — are not in the business of teaching. They’re in the business of research. Teaching is a side venture. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is up for debate, of course, but it’s a mistake to try and understand a university as a fee-for-service institution.

  38. Feministe » A Brief(?) Addendum
    Feministe » A Brief(?) Addendum July 3, 2008 at 2:17 am |

    […] left a comment on my last post that I thought warranted further discussion: Hate to be cynical, but most parents […]

  39. phoenix complex
    phoenix complex July 3, 2008 at 9:40 am |

    Grad students at this university make $18,000 a year after their fourth step increase. How in the world was this couple going to come up with the money to cover an infant’s health costs?*

    I see a lot of discussions of how underpaid grad students are for the work they’re expected to do; one thing I’m surprised not to see discussed more often is the summer funding gap. At all institutions known to me, even the most elite, students only receive summer funding for the first two years at most; after that, they’re on their own for three months out of every year (the famed “summer off”). I can’t imagine what it’s like being a parent and having a 3-month wage hiatus; I don’t have a good sense, though, of what the average grad student does over the unpaid summer. There are teaching opportunities, I know, but can everyone find teaching work over the summer? Is it common for students to wait tables or make lattes, or find some miscellaneous low-wage work around the university? People I know have chosen among those three options (plus applying for summer research stipends or year-round fellowships), but I actually couldn’t tell you what the vast majority of grad students do. I do know that “summer jobs” as such are not easy to find if you’re not keen on being a camp counselor— i.e., summer jobs for adults are not easy to find.

    My own answer, fwiw: during my first summer I had a nice, flexible year-round job; during my second summer I had to scrape together a short-term gig through personal connections, and it barely covered my expenses; I’m now on my first of two fully-funded summers as a Ph.D. student, so things are good for the moment, but I’m sort of dreading summers 3 through n…

  40. SLW
    SLW July 3, 2008 at 9:52 am |

    Wow. America’s college system sounds even more messed up than it seems on TV. Although, with the talk about coaches and money being spent on wooing athletes, I’ve always wondered why it is that that is associated with universities. The two things seem, to me, like they should be kept seperate because being good at sports and physically very able is not a guarantee of mental agility or intelligence. How did the two get conflated in the first place? From my perspective, I’m in the UK, it just seems… bizarre.

  41. SXSW
    SXSW July 7, 2008 at 2:14 pm |

    Thanks, ripley and laurab, for injecting some acute observations into this conversation. The tenure system Girl Detective is describing is, for the most part, that of a research institution. GD, while I applaud your analysis of gender discrimination in higher education, I don’t understand why you say that research is conducted off the clock: both grad students and tenure-track faculty at large state and private universities, in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences, are paid to do research. That this research can be conducted outside of a standard 9-5 schedule and in non-office locations does not make it off the clock. That kind of thinking contributes to the perception of academics as lazy, comfortable, heads-in-the-clouds. When you were completing a creative writing thesis, you were being paid to both write and teach, but, crucially, not on a fee-for-service model. Similarly, those completing dissertations aren’t paid by the word or the diagram or the chapter, but their funding is designed mainly to enable the production and transmittal of the knowledge contained in that thesis. Tenure-track contracts set out the requirements for tenure: for those in research jobs, mainly publishing books and journal articles, and secondarily teaching and service. In community colleges and other institutions where teaching is privileged, research is vastly downgraded as a requirement for tenure, and the situation is obviously different.

    The opposition set up in your first post between knowledge and action is, of course, a false one, since the two aren’t mutually exclusive. Having experienced both sides of the coin and found one or the other frustrating doesn’t give one the right to be dismissive of those who continue to labor for good and for change in either realm, as some of the commenters regrettably did. Research produces new knowledge across the disciplines–we can and should have lots of arguments about what constitutes knowledge and how to shift epistemological and compensation models so that they’re more equitable. And absolutely, academic salaries must be brought more into line with those of other professionals.

    But some historical context is necessary when considering the university as a corporation. Bemoaning the corporatization of the university actually contributes to those troubling salary disparities. As long as faculty are perceived not as professionals but as navel-gazers lost in the reveries of their own little narrow niche interests, salaries commensurate with other professional occupations are hard to argue for. The university has been, from the first, a corporation. Legally, Harvard College was the very first corporation, incorporated back in the 17th century. Have you checked the size of its endowment lately? It was, is, and always will be a business, albeit one invested in collective inquiry. Lamenting the intersection of the university and the marketplace only reinforces the second-classing of university personnel. The university has some important differences from the marketplace, but it is not, nor should it be, a rarefied sanctuary exempt from political economy. To say this is not to argue for the instrumentalization of knowledge, especially not in a knowledge economy, but for a deeper public understanding of theory and praxis converge.

  42. exholt
    exholt July 7, 2008 at 3:15 pm |

    That kind of thinking contributes to the perception of academics as lazy, comfortable, heads-in-the-clouds. When you were completing a creative writing thesis, you were being paid to both write and teach, but, crucially, not on a fee-for-service model.

    And right here we have an example of someone who most likely has little to no exposure to academia beyond being an undergrad/pre-professional grad student like most of the people outside of academia. Sounds exactly like something the anti-intellectual MBA types in my extended family with no interest in higher-ed beyond what credential will help them earn their next astronomical paycheck upon graduation would say.

    Please be advised that the Prof’s/TA’s time is not spent solely in the few hours of classes or office hours held each week. Much time is also spent in creating/revising course syllabi, prep-time for lectures/discussions, counseling academically or otherwise troubled undergrads, prepping TAs if applicable, and grading the mountains of problem sets, essays, tests, and exams….especially in a large survey course of 100+ students per class unless you want them to grade them in such a slapdash manner that the feedback to the students is rendered meaningless.

    Most tenure-track assistant Profs I know are required to teach at least three of these classes and oftentimes more which leaves little time for research even if they spend the rest of their waking hours and weekends working on their research. It is one reason why even tenured full Professors require summers off/year-long sabbaticals to conduct research….especially if it involves traveling abroad to conduct the necessary research.

    You have also forgot to account for highly reputed Liberal Arts colleges such as Swarthmore, Middlebury, and Oberlin where research is emphasized almost as much as teaching which makes them, in some ways, the worst of both worlds as they expect excellent teaching with heavier courseloads than research universities while the research requirements may be much less than your research U with more access issues to research libraries and other resources than their research university counterparts. I know of several excellent tenure track assistant Profs. in various fields who were denied tenure at these types of institutions despite excellent teaching evaluations because their research quantity was deemed inadequate by the tenure committee. This at a Liberal Arts college where the stated mission of the Profs was supposed to be centered on excellent teaching!!!

    Furthermore, my main problem with the commodification of education is the fact it seems to breed a ridiculous sense of entitlement in many upper/upper-middle class students and their parents where paying tuition automatically entitles them to a degree with an unblemished transcript while forgetting that the tuition only entitles the student concerned an opportunity to learn and achieve his/her greatest potential PROVIDED S(HE)’S WILLING TO PUT IN THE TIME AND EFFORT REQUIRED. If the student concerns goofs off and gets a poor/failing grade as a result, student/parent should first ask and carefully evaluate what did s(he)/his/her child do to end up with such a result….not immediately go off tearing into the Prof/TA for giving the poor/failing grade as too many tend to do to my TA/academic friends these days!! :roll:

  43. exholt
    exholt July 7, 2008 at 3:16 pm |

    Agg…I meant to say “research requirements may NOT be much less…”

  44. SXSW
    SXSW July 7, 2008 at 6:26 pm |

    exholt, speculating about people’s identities isn’t of much use on the interwebs. I’m a recently-minted Ph.D. going on to a post-doc next year. I am very well advised–and in fact well experienced–that teaching involves many more hours than just MWF 11-12 AM. In fact, that’s my point: that the time devoted to the activities you list (prep, office hours, grading, etc.) isn’t uncompensated. It’s compensated in a different way than by an hourly wage. There are no time cards, but that doesn’t mean it’s off the clock. As a grad student, I was expected to put in 15-20 hours/week on teaching-related duties, and 25-30 hours/week on research-related duties. I was responsible for maintaining that balance, and my compensation covered both parts of the whole, in addition to other academic activities such as presenting research at symposia. Do I punch a timecard every time I visit another researcher’s lab to educate myself about what’s going on there? Do they take attendance at job talks? Am I paid a set fee for every paper I grade? No: all that’s included in the job description.

    I didn’t forget about liberal arts colleges–I stipulated that I was addressing Research I institutions, and that I thought Girl Detective was too, implicitly. Regardless of what an institution’s “stated mission” is, employment contracts and faculty handbooks set out tenure requirements, which will vary from school to school. Even at liberal arts institutions, tenure decisions are not made on the basis of teaching evaluations alone. For many faculty (though of course not all), teaching, research, and advising are interlaced. Though we may devote more time and energy to one area at certain times, they all energize and reinforce each other.

    With respect to your point about entitlement: I absolutely agree that the entitlement bred by a fee-for-service model is noxious. That’s why I think it’s important to acknowledge and educate the public about the many and varied forms of labor that go into the university system that are not covered by hourly wages. But your story about fighting to have an F changed to an A-, apocryphal though it may be, exemplifies that very entitlement, doesn’t it?

  45. exholt
    exholt July 8, 2008 at 1:45 am |

    Most of the issues I’ve seen my grad classmates working towards graduation/Post-doc/tenure-track position and academic friends on the tenure track struggle with is more with the unstated expectations of the advisors/tenure committees and the gaps between expectations set out in employment contracts/Faculty Handbooks and the reality they end up working in.

    As with the corporate world with which I’ve have had some experience, expectations set out in one’s employment contract are often more of a rough guide and do not necessarily reflect the reality of the working conditions you will be working under….or even the job description you were originally hired for. Interestingly enough, however, nearly every grad student/academic I’ve known who have had prior corporate experience has actually said corporate employment contracts tended to be far more transparent and open than requirements for completing a Phd….or worse…evaluating one’s eligibility for tenure.

    But your story about fighting to have an F changed to an A-, apocryphal though it may be, exemplifies that very entitlement, doesn’t it?

    The big difference between those overentitled upper/upper-middle class students and parents browbeating my TA/academic friends and the case with my working class POC friend was that he actually had substantial evidence judging by that calc Prof’s own syllabus along with his saved problem sets and tests which indicated -A level performance along with testimony from him and corroborated by other classmates that the Prof had a substantial prejudice against engineering majors. It was such a blatant display of instructor animus playing an undue influence on the final grade that even the Dean of the Arts & Science division, the one that calc prof belonged to felt the need to strongly cooperate with the Engineering Division dean to fight on his behalf. Not a mean feat when those two divisions had long been at institutional odds with each other.

    On the other hand, those upper/upper-middle class students and parents I was referring to felt they can do it without having to show any actual evidence of numerical miscalculation, mismarked exam/essay, or instructor animus from corroborating witnesses. Instead, yelling at the TA/Profs and throwing their socio-economic weight around was the the immediate standard and only response. Saddest part was that those students and parents were not totally delusional about the power of their socio-economic privilege as the higher-ed admins often ruled in favor of the undergrad just to keep the peace and to ensure a future happy alum who will donate lots to the institution.

    I cannot believe you can see my friend’s case as one of entitlement when I made it clear that he fulfilled the Prof’s syllabus’ requirements by doing well on the problem sets, quizzes, and exams which all indicated -A level performance. When the Prof overlooked the class grading policy set down in his own syllabus to fail my friend because he had an issue with Engineering majors, he not only violated a contract he wrote himself, but also neglected his academic duty to grade according to that syllabus without allowing any non-academic prejudices to influence that. My working-class friend has done far more to argue his case seriously and convincingly to the deans and many officials overseeing the grading dispute than those overentitled students my TA/academic friends have had to deal with….especially in the years after I graduated from college.

    Basic question of my friend’s case is: should we have a Prof. who is so capricious to the point his/her own written contracts can be arbitrarily nullified that his/her trustworthiness and integrity as a Prof is called into serious question??

    If you cannot differentiate between a well-substantiated grade dispute case from a student with no socio-economic privilege and a grade dispute borne of upper/upper-middle class entitlement where often the only evidence needed is a temper-tantrum throwing student(s) and/or his/her own parents throwing their socio-economically privileged status around, then there is little more I can say…especially to someone who is educated at a Phd-level and about to embark on a post-doc assignment.

  46. Feministe Posts « The Girl Detective

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  47. Greenspun and Feministe talk in different directions about the Ivory Ceiling « The Eclectic Hedonist

    […] July 24, 2008 in feminism | Tags: academics, feminism, ivory ceiling, science, women in science, women in technology | by Stephen Malczin Phillip Greenspun has an interesting perspective.  The article’s old, but I’ve seen worse arguments. He’s not trying to make an argument per se, but put forth a hypothesis he’s not got the time to test. I think there’s been a lot of research recently that has said that there’s more to it than the mere hypothesis that all things told, Science is a Stupid Career, but his general venting of frustration with the value that is placed on science in America is echoed in a pair of recent Feministe articles, The Ivory Ceiling and The Ivory Ceiling part II. […]

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