Saturday, June 18, 2016

Modern university life

Here are two articles on modern academic life that might interest you.

The first is on grad student unionization. I have heard many people argue that grad student unions would severely negatively affect the mentor-mentee relation that lies at the heart of grad education. How? By setting up an adversarial relationship between the two mediated by a bureaucracy (the union) whose interest is not fully in line with that of the grad student. I have never been moved by this, but I have been moved by the observation that grad student life if currently pretty hard with a less than stellar prospect of landing a job at the end (see here for some discussion). The piece I link to goes over these arguments in some detail. His conclusion is that the objections are largely bad. However, even where it true that grad student unions would change the prof-student mentoring relationship, it is not clear to me that this would not be a cost worth bearing. Grad students are in an extremely exploitable position. This is when unions make sense.

The second piece is about how the composition of university personnel has changed over the last several years. If confirms the observation that tenure track faculty has shrunk and that part-time faculty has risen. But, it notes that the problem is likely not the growth in admin people or other non-prof personnel. It seems that this group has stayed relatively stable. This said, the paper does not investigate funding issues (are non-profs sucking up more of the money than the used to?) nor does it discuss how much money at universities is now being diverted from the core missions of teaching and research to the “entertainment” part of current university life (i.e. new gym facilities, art centers, fancy dorms, support staff for entrepreneurship, etc.). Here is the conclusion. I will keep my eye out for the promised sequel.

The results of this analysis suggest that the share of employees at colleges who are administrators has not been much higher in recent years than it was in 1987. There has been growth, though, in the other professionals employment category. This growth is potentially related to a growth of amenities and other programs outside of the teaching and research that have been the traditional focus of colleges and universities, although this is difficult to ascertain due to the broad nature of this category. An additional result in the analysis is that the share of faculty who are full-time employees has been declining. This decline has occurred within the public sector, the private sector, and the for-profit sector.

One limitation of the analysis here is that it considers only employment and not spending on salaries, amenities, or anything else. However, I plan to address spending by colleges and universities in a future Economic Commentary.

No comments:

Post a Comment