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Overpaid Professors

June 13, 2013

David C. Levy’s “Do College Professors Work Hard Enough” (Washington Post 23 March 2012) is a red herring.  I don’t know whether tenured professors work hard enough because I’ve never been one.  What’s more to the point, it’s difficult to believe that Levy, an experienced college administrator, is unaware that the majority of college teachers are not the well-compensated tenured professors whose privileges he decries.  Most college teachers are now “contingent” faculty, part-time, temporary, and even contract workers.  Their salaries are in many cases less per hour than fast-food workers.  Contingent faculty often have no benefits such as health insurance, so that a colleague of mine worked with an untreated broken ankle for weeks.  Contingent faculty often have no job security, not knowing from term to term whether they will work, unable to resist censorship of their teaching, and encouraged to inflate grades by administrators’ overreliance on evaluations by students.  Another colleague of mine is slated for dismissal after 20 years of service because the college has changed the qualifications for the job.  I didn’t know that I would be laid off this term until it was too late to find another job.   

Surprisingly, Levy is not wrong about everything.  I would welcome the opportunity to teach during the summer, but that’s seldom available to contingent faculty.  Running all American schools year-round is an idea which deserves careful scrutiny.

Although Levy disassociates himself from “the political right,” his prescription shows how far to the right political discourse has shifted.  As usual, the elite answer to economic problems is to reduce labor costs.  But high teacher salaries are not the major drain on college budgets.    

Levy says, “increased public support has probably facilitated rising tuitions.” He has it backward.  It’s really significant that Levy admits that it has been for the last three decades that college costs have outstripped inflation.  According to the World Bank, the United States’ public spending on education in 1980 was 6.5% of GDP, but by 2010 it had fallen to 5.5.  For three decades, i.e., since the inauguration of Ronald Reagan, public expenditures on education as a fraction of the GDP have shrunk because “the political right” has succeeded in reducing taxes on millionaires, billionaires, and the corporations which they control.  This has shifted the burden to students, who are now being crushed by debt while the corporate elite haven’t had it so good since 1929.  What a coincidence.     

The increasing cost of education, as that of health care, housing, food, and transportation is because for the past three decades, conservative politicians have convinced ordinary people that it is best for them if the government is small.  What that really means is that the world is increasingly controlled by big business.  Our present economic distress is the result of three decades of an unrestrained market which has concentrated power in the hands of a few multinational corporations, all controlled by the same people who sit on the boards of directors of multiple corporations.  Blaming workers for high costs is just part of the continuing program to shift money and power to the managers of multinational corporations.  Whether or not Levy knows this, that is the effect of his argument.    

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