What do Academia and Drug Gangs have in Common?
|January 2, 2014||Posted by Staff under Inequality / Concentration|
This 2013 excerpt of of the London School of Economics’ blog, EUROPP – European Politics and Policy – Dec 26, is by Alexandre Afonso, Lecturer in Comparative Politics at King’s College London. It also appeared on their sister blog, Impact of Social Sciences, Afonso’s own blog, and was presented on November 19 at the European University Institute’s Academic Careers Observatory Conference.
The academic job market is structured in many respects like a drug gang, with an expanding mass of outsiders and a shrinking core of insiders.
Academic systems rely on the existence of a supply of “outsiders” ready to forgo wages and employment security in exchange for the prospect of uncertain security, prestige, freedom, and reasonably high salaries that tenured positions entail.
“Why drug dealers still live with their moms” was based on the finding that the income distribution within gangs was extremely skewed in favor of those at the top, while the rank-and-file street sellers earned even less than employees in legitimate low-skilled activities, let’s say at McDonald’s, calculated at $3.30 an hour, well below a living wage, so they still live with their moms.
Consider the risk of being shot by rival gangs, ending up in jail, or being beaten up by your own hierarchy. Yet, gangs have no real difficulty in recruiting new members. The prospect of future wealth, rather than current income and working conditions, is the main driver. It is very unlikely that they will make it (their mortality rate is insanely high) but they’re ready to “get rich or die trying”.
Because of the increasing inflow of potential outsiders ready to accept this kind of working conditions in academia and drug gangs, this allows insiders to outsource a number of their tasks onto them. In academia, where there are increasing pressures for research and publishing, it’s teaching. The result is that the core is shrinking, the periphery is expanding, and the core is increasingly dependent on the periphery.
In the United States, more than 40% of teaching staff at universities are now part-time faculty without tenure, or adjunct lecturers paid per course given, with no health insurance or the kind of other things associated with a standard employment relationship. The share of permanent tenured faculty has increased substantially, but it has been massively outpaced by the expansion of teaching staff with precarious jobs and on low incomes’ some adjunct lecturers rely on food stamps, as could the $3 hourly rate of the drug dealer.
The average age of the PhD, between the 1970s and 1990s, hasn’t changed substantially but the age of the first professorship has increased by about 5 years.
Ed. Notes: If academics are to supply the rest of society with useful findings, is this the best way to go about it? What if academia were not subsidized at all and all wannabe academics — the young and the old — had to make it in the real world like everyone else? Then learning would become student-driven — the ideal of George Bernard Shaw and many others. And why not? Isn’t the customer always right?