Academics Respond to Wall Street Journal Op Ed Calling Academia "Sweet Racket"Historians in the News
tags: Wall Street Journal, higher education, academia
Hearing politicians mischaracterize and discredit faculty work is par for the course in academe. It’s much more surprising to hear someone with actual teaching experience do it. So professors shared a collective "WTF?" moment last week when Joseph Epstein, writer and emeritus lecturer of English at Northwestern University, published an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal stating that it’s not uncommon to make $200,000 per year for “essentially a six-month job, and without ever having to put in an eight-hour day.”
The premise of Epstein’s piece is that “if government is going to pay for college, at least it ought to try to bring down the cost,” and that he knows where to start cutting because he taught for 30 years. He doesn’t just attack faculty work -- Epstein also suggests reducing the salaries of university presidents by 90 percent, curing administrative bloat and slashing athletic coaches’ pay. But “at the tonier universities,” he says, “professors in the humanities and social sciences might teach as few as three or four courses a year, the remainder of their time supposedly devoted to research.”
Under proposed free higher education plans, then, Epstein says, “perhaps it would make sense to pay university teachers by the hour, with raises in the wage awarded by seniority. Surely they could not complain.” After all, he continues, “the two most common comments (some would say the two biggest lies) about university teaching are, ‘I learn so much from my students’ and ‘It’s so inspiring, I’d do it for nothing.’ A strict hourly wage for teachers, as free university education may require, would nicely test the validity of that second proposition.”
Among other things, Epstein’s essay ignores the structural shifts that have occurred since he began teaching -- most significantly the transition to majority-non-tenure-track work force. This means that many professors don’t make a salary at all, but are paid on per-course basis. (In this sense, he’s closer to his “strict hourly wage” reality than he thinks. But adjuncts say that the $3,000 they often get to teach a course vastly undervalues the actual work they do to plan it, teach it and be available to students taking it while staying current in their fields. And that shift, in turn -- along with public funding cuts -- has led to a greater overall workload for tenured and tenure-track professors.)
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