Exploitation in the academy

A few months ago news broke that Jehuda Reinharz, the former president of Brandeis University, would receive millions of dollars in continued salary and benefits, including some 800,000 dollars in unused sabbatical leave and millions in what amount to consulting fees to assist the new president. The issue was raised again last month when Brandeis announced that they were giving him a 4.9 million dollar lump-sum payment. In the initial report, Reinharz (known as “Jehuda” around campus, at least when I was there) said that “this is what happens in America,” framing it that he had worked hard while professor and President and that he was just receiving what was owed him. In a more cynical light, however, his comments could be construed to mean that what happens in America is that a few people are put in a position to reap massive rewards that the vast majority of people cannot get.

At roughly the same time, the football players at Northwestern have filed to form a union, saying that they are being exploited. This follows in the wake of players from a number of schools this year talking about player solidarity and about refusing to play and a report from a UNC researcher that some athletes are practically illiterate (not that this is the first time such reports have come out). Basically, the athletes say that they produce millions of dollars in revenue for the universities in the form of donations, publicity, and so on in return for which they (many of them, anyway) receive scholarships and medical attention while they are in school, but the total sum of the benefits are a fraction of the value they provide.

The backlash has been extreme, with many people making the argument that the students receive an education and that providing stipends for the athletes would destroy the game. Of course, the scholarships are not guaranteed for four years, and, in a sport like football, there are life-long injury issues. Moreover, many schools invest heavily in and bring in huge amount of money from athletic programs (even if those ledgers do not always balance) and the schools effectively function as minor league programs for sports that do not have official minor leagues. Universities are enormous businesses, and the complaint that educators sometimes make is that their business is athletics, rather than education.

Of course, the exploitation is not limited to athletics. More and more of the teaching is being done by graduate students and adjunct faculty members on contingent contracts. Junior faculty members (and, sure, tenured ones, too) are subject to their own demands. Alumni, from the very wealthy who can underwrite the cost of a building, to the very poor who are buried under loan repayment and possibly unemployed, are called upon to donate, and the students are increasingly exploited for tuition and fees.

Universities employ thousands of people, from educators, to secretaries, to accountants, to janitors, to construction workers. They also require a lot of maintenance and upkeep, pay for a lot of internet, books, and access to journal articles (to name just a few things). This is where a lot of this money goes, but much of it seems to be going to presidents and deans in the universities.

I am sympathetic to the football players and I am a graduate student. The rhetoric that treats these issues as isolated are missing the larger picture. The entire structure of higher education is built on exploitation, with very few people who make exceptional profit off it.

CARS Report

Despite a glowing report, the academic review board at Brandeis University has decided that Classics is not important enough to justify a full department, nor enough to keep the faculty level even if divided among other departments. The text of the report follows.

“Classical Studies (Classics) is a vibrant, small department that consists of four full-time faculty members who each teach a variety of courses, including frequent overloads. They offer a wide range of courses in languages, literature, art, archaeology, philosophy, history, religion, and mythology. Classics has developed initiatives with Theater Arts, Fine Arts, Anthropology and other departments.

The prize winning faculty of Classics (all four members of the department have been honored, whether by the profession at large or at Brandeis for teaching) are interdisciplinary at the core, much like NEJS, AMST, and AAAS, but their overarching focus is to, in the words of one of its members, “preserve and study the roots of western civilization.” Unlike those other departments, however, each of the members of the department is interdisciplinary and teaches in several of these different areas. At the last BOT meeting in March a new, revenue-generating MA in Greek and Roman Studies was approved; this will target teachers of Latin and Greek in the Boston area. They already mount a successful outreach program, as well as a certificate program.

Classics offers some courses with high enrollments. They graduate approximately 8 majors per year. They teach over 300 students per year. Thus the small classes are compensated for by some larger ones. They have offered approximately three USEMs per year.

This department satisfies, amply and with distinction, most all of criteria that CARS has sought to apply to its deliberations. Classics contributes to multiple missions, to the undergraduate experience, to the general excellence of the university. Moreover, its discipline is essential to a university of our caliber. Its programs are distinctive and synergistic. However, it is clear to the committee that its organizational structure is not optimal, since a separate department of four is exceedingly small, and some important decisions must be made with committees that are enlarged by the Dean.

We therefore suggest that the Classics faculty, while keeping its excellent majors and minors intact, join another department or departments. Its major would continue to exist, although CARS suggests that it could become an even more broadly conceived program in Classical and Ancient Studies. Although no such move can be perfect, we could imagine them joining, together or individually, NEJS, ROMS, GRALL, Philosophy or Anthropology, or some other
department(s) of their choice. This decision should be made by the members of department in consultation with the Dean and with relevant faculty in other departments. We also recommend
that, over time, the faculty devoted to Classics be reduced from 4 to 3. We believe that their previous, heroic, USEM contribution of 3 courses per year in fact shows that they could continue to mount their distinctive program with one fewer faculty member. The committee recognizes the irony of this reward for a sterling contribution. But with a genuine need to reduce faculty, we are forced to come to this recommendation. We hope this reduction will occur either through
retirement or departure.

– Transform Classics from a department to an interdepartmental program and assign the
faculty to another department or departments
– Admit students to the new MA program
– Consider broadening the major still further with a possible new name such as Classical and Ancient Studies
– Reduce faculty from 4 to 3 over time with carefully managed retirements and departures”