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Oh, the Serious Crisis in Higher Ed

By Harriet Staff

For poets in today’s economy, joining the academic ranks is a fairly common trajectory. Certainly there’s no shortage of love for pedagogy, knowledge, and research; but ah, what demands of the poetry marketplace, should you care for it, and lack of cultural support we contend with, at times. Really, poets need employment (among everyone). And the corporatization of the academy that persists in deterring such employ is not a new matter—in fact, a piece breaking down disparities among college tuition and job security recently shut down the n+1 website on which it appeared, due to the massive amount of visitors.

In an article published in the new issue of The Nation, Wiliam Deresiewicz offers more cause for concern, emphasizing not only the destruction of postwar social mobility and public favoring of the kind of education that defines the class system, in addition to such “wholesale slaughter of the humanities” that occurred at SUNY–Albany last year (and all over), but that:

“Over the past twenty years, in other words—or really, over the past forty—what has happened in academia is what has happened throughout the American economy. Good, secure, well-paid positions—tenured appointments in the academy, union jobs on the factory floor—are being replaced by temporary, low-wage employment.”

So a fact that most pointedly stands out here is the glut of non-tenure-track, part-time, and adjunct faculty members that are increasingly taking on the teaching load, sans the rewards of institutional support. “From 1991 to 2003, the number of full-time faculty members increased by 18 percent. The number of part-timers increased by 87 percent—to almost half the entire faculty.”

Interestingly, a potential solution for Deresiewicz lies inside the department:

“For all its pretensions to public importance (every professor secretly thinks he’s a public intellectual), the professoriate is awfully quiet, essentially nonexistent as a collective voice. If academia is going to once again become a decent place to work, if our best young minds are going to be attracted back to the profession, if higher education is going to be reclaimed as part of the American promise, if teaching and research are going to make the country strong again, then professors need to get off their backsides and organize: department by department, institution to institution, state by state and across the nation as a whole.”


Posted in Poetry News on Tuesday, May 10th, 2011 by Harriet Staff.