American #Precariat: #HigherEd edition | #LostGeneration on Blog#42

This article is the second in my series on America’s new social class, the precariat. It takes the reader on a tour of the degeneration of our education system, as a part of the creation of America’s precariat, and the deconstruction of the middle class.

Higher education, as a vocation and field of employment, has gone through some pretty radical changes in just the last seven years. Some of those changes had been in the making since the Reagan Revolution. But a lot of what we are seeing now is the product of an accelerated degradation schedule that is dictated by moneyed interests and forced austerity. A history, by way of relevant press clippings, is documented here. I wrote an introductory essay on the precariat recently.  In it, I used the following definition:

Precariat: a class of people who live just above the poverty line when, according to their professional experience or training, they should be well above it, somewhere along the spectrum we know as the middle class.

The definition of precariat most definitely includes the significant sector that is education, and higher education in particular. Up until the Great Recession, teachers and college professors were easily included in any definition of “middle class,” whether one believed they were fairly or overly compensated for their work. This has changed completely for tens of thousands who used to work as full-time educators.

Education, in general, has been in the sights of ALEC for a very long time. The Koch-backed organization, in tandem with other Koch Brother-created or affiliated groups actively participate in state, local and national lobbying to effect changes to the way our children’s education is planned, funded, and carried out and in certain states, even participate under the guise of promoting entrepreneurship.

On the higher education front, the Kochs have long been active in their attempts at dictating how economics, the social science, is taught, through direct interference and micro-management via endowments, to a far greater degree than any other known wealthy donors. At the core, however, Charles and David Koch’s philosophy consists of doing anything and everything that will achieve the decimation of as much of the education system as possible, and the refashioning of what’s left to reflect their ideological credo. They’ve been busy doing this from the bottom up and top down. If there is an aspect of education that exists, the Kochs have it covered.

And, indeed, over the last few years, we’ve seen at first a gradual multi-pronged attack on the middle class, using various means, including education, culminating in the severest of higher education cuts in states like Minnesota and Wisconsin.  But those are hardly the only states affected by this. Governor Jindal in Louisiana has spent his entire tenure as governor, with the help of a Republican legislature, engaging in the social experiment of dismantling his state’s education system, leaving higher education for dead last.

Those affected the most are professors, in addition to the students who are graduating into a job market that can’t support their needs or repaying their loans and do so under the weight of crushing debt. Adjuncts are given so little work at any one college that they’re fighting among themselves for whatever work they can get, for near minimum wage pay or less, as you will see from Salon’s Matt Saccaro “Professors on Food Stamps:”

Over three quarters of college professors are adjunct. Legally, adjunct positions are part-time, at-will employment. Universities pay adjunct professors by the course,anywhere between $1,000 to $5,000. So if a professor teaches three courses in both the fall and spring semesters at a rate of $3000 per course, they’ll make $18,000 dollars. The average full-time barista makes the same yearly wage. However, a full-time adjunct works more than 40 hours a week. They’re not paid for most of those hours.

“If it’s a three credit course, you’re paid for your time in the classroom only,” said Merklein. “So everything else you do is by donation. If you hold office hours, those you’re doing for free. Your grading you do for free. … Anything we do with the student where we sit down and explain what happened when the student was absent, that’s also free labor. Some would call it wage theft because these are things we have to do in order to keep our jobs. We have to do things we’re not getting paid for. It’s not optional.”

Merklein was far from the only professor with this problem.

So, why is this happening, especially at a time when STEM is touted as the wave of the future, even though we have high unemployment among experienced STEM professionals and are bringing in H-1B workers? It is undisputed (save for the likes of Rick Santorum) that in order to get a “good job” in today’s society one must have a college degree.  As stated in the New Republic article curated below:

The chancellor will now have much greater power to raise student fees and use them as he or she wishes.

The new model won’t just make faculty, staff and students subservient to their chancellors — it will also make the chancellors more subservient to the politically appointed Board of Regents (16 of the board’s 18 members are governor appointees).

Now, chancellor search committees will be chaired by a board member instead of a faculty member and the majority of committee members will be non-faculty.

This is about control by the moneyed few and the fashioning of our society into a modified feudal order, named “precariat” by economist Guy Standing, and as described immediately below by Nobel economist Robert Solow:

Nobel Prize-Winning Economist: We’re Headed for Oligarchy

REBECCA J. ROSEN

Robert Solow on powerful families’ threat to democratic institutions.

In a recent interview at the Economic Policy Institute, Nobel Prize-Winning economist and MIT professor Robert Solow riffed on the political effects of increasing inequality and concentration of wealth at the very top. “If that kind of concentration of wealth continues, then we get to be more and more an oligarchical country, a country that’s run from the top,” he said.

Solow’s sentiments echo a point he made earlier this week in his review of Thomas Piketty’s book in The New Republic. (Solow, it should be noted, is not the only Nobel Prize-winning economist to use the o-word in discussing Piketty’s work.) Having examined and explained the trends Piketty identifies, Solow turns his attention to the possible measures that could be taken to ameliorate the inequality, and rejigger the system to favor merit over inheritance.

Read the rest of Nobel Prize-Winning Economist: We’re Headed for Oligarchy at The Atlantic


Susan Jacoby’s 2008 book and interview with Bill Moyers gives us a look back at how long these societal changes have been in the making, how far-reaching they’ve been, and what they entail:

Susan Jacoby on American Ignorance

February 15, 2008

In her new book, Susan Jacoby, one of America’s most prolific and provocative free thinkers, says Americans are in a “flight from reason” that puts us at great risk. She sits with Bill to discuss the rise of ignorance in our classrooms, our culture and our politics.

“It remains to be seen… whether Americans are willing to consider what the flight from reason has cost us as a people, and whether any candidate has the will or the courage to talk about ignorance as a political issue affecting everything from scientific research to decisions about war and peace.” Jacoby’s book is The Age of American Unreason.

Curated from BillMoyers.com


Scott Walker Is Undermining Academic Freedom at the University of Wisconsin

By June 2015

A “heartbroken” faculty member on the legislative threat to public education

The University of Wisconsin (UW) system could, within the month, no longer have a nationally recognized tenure system.

Recently Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and the legislature’s Joint Finance Committee announced a plan to slash state spending on education in the 2015-2017 budget (UW System will receive a $250 million cut) and modify the state laws on tenure and shared governance.

Walker has said that the proposed tenure changes will provide “more autonomy” for the UW system’s Board of Regents (the governing body that oversees the UW system) and for chancellors to manage the cuts. It would do so by allowing tenured faculty to be laid off at the discretion of the chancellors and Board of Regents.

As a faculty member at UW-Madison, I am heartbroken that my state government has seemingly decided to undermine, instead of prioritizing, the K-16 education system.

Read the rest of this article at The New Republic.


Millennials Won’t Fall for the Koch’s ‘Generation Opportunity’

Joy Lawson
August 21, 2015

Despite attempts to label millennials as unengaged and apathetic, there’s no denying the younger generation’s vote means a lot in elections. A-list celebrities like Lena Dunham and Lil’ Jon are the new faces of the Get Out the Vote movement, and reports from 2012 reveal the youth vote was decisive in President Obama’s victory.

So it’s no surprise that the Koch Brothers, notoriously right-wing billionaires, are using their fortunes to promote radical, conservative priorities to millennials through their organization, Generation Opportunity.

However, reading through American Bridge’s report about the group, it’s clear that they’ll face an uphill battle. That’s not just because young people tend to disagree with the priorities the Koch Brothers are putting forth, but especially because young people are actually working against the very issues that GenOpp stands for.

Curated from HuffPo.


Sources/Notes:

From Professor Standing’s article for the ASA:

Jargon: Key Concepts in Social Research: The Precariat, by Guy Standing

“Since the 1980s, a global transformation has been unfolding in a manner analogous to the dis-embedded phase of Polanyi’s Great Transformation. The construction of a global market system is a painful process and has given rise to a global class structure that is quite unlike what prevailed for most of the twentieth century.

We can now talk of a plutocracy or oligarchy striding the world with their billions—global citizens without responsibilities to any nation state. They are the top 0.001 percent. Next is a larger elite that possesses millions. Below them on the income scale the old salaried class has splintered into two groups: the salariat, with strong employment security and an array of non-wage forms of remuneration, and a small but rapidly growing group of proficians. The latter, which includes small-scale businesses, consists of workers who are project-oriented, entrepreneurial, multiskilled, and likely to suffer from burn-out sooner or later.

Traditionally, the next income group down has been the proletariat, but old notions of a mass working class are outdated, since there is no common situation among workers. The earlier norm of this diminishing male-dominated class was a lifetime of stable full-time labor, in which a range of entitlements called “labor rights” was built up alongside negotiated wages. As the proletariat shrinks, a new class is evolving—the precariat.

Who are the precariat?

One defining characteristic of the precariat is distinctive relations of production: so-called “flexible” labor contracts; temporary jobs; labor as casuals, part-timers, or intermittently for labor brokers or employment agencies. But conditions of unstable labor are part of the defi nition, not the full picture. More crucially, those in the precariat have no secure occupational identity; no occupational narrative they can give to their lives. And they find they have to do a lot of work-for-labor relative to labor, such as work preparation that does not count as work and that is not remunerated; they have to retrain constantly, network, apply for new jobs, and fi ll out forms of one sort or another. They are exploited outside the workplace as well as in it, and outside paid hours as well as in them. This is also the fi rst working class in history that, as a norm, is expected to have a level of education that is greater than the labor they are expected to perform or expect to obtain. This is the source of intense status frustration. Few in the precariat use their full educational qualifications in the jobs they have.”

Click here for the full pdf text of this article.


Published on September 6, 2015