On the Issues—Graduate Students and the Future of Higher Education

Today’s graduate students are caught in the swirl of several current trends that, if unchanged, lead toward a difficult future for them and for higher education.

As students, they shoulder their share of the growing $1 billion in student loan debt and the daunting problems that burden carries.

As the next generation of higher ed faculty, they face a grim job market and the prospects of joining the burgeoning ranks of part-time, abysmally-compensated contingent faculty, who are now the majority of the American professoriate.

The recent agreement, after an eight-year struggle, between the NYU administration and the UAW Graduate Employee union to extend collective bargaining to all NYU graduate employees is a welcome acknowledgment that this group in higher education deserves a better deal.  Allowing all graduate employees, who do significant teaching and research work for our universities, to collectively bargain is certainly a step in the right direction.  As the joint statement released by the parties puts it: this move will “improve the graduate student experience” and “sustain and enhance NYU’s academic competitiveness.”

That sounds like a “win” for everyone at NYU and for the future of higher education.

For more information, see:

http://uaw.org/articles/uaw-graduate-employees-reach-historic-agreement-nyu-after-eight-year-struggle and



Previous “On the Issues” Posts are available at the CFHE website or here:

“MOOCs, Pearson, and Profits”: https://academeblog.org/2013/05/01/moocs-pearson-and-profits/

“The Cold Facts about Higher Education and Contingent Faculty Appointments”: https://academeblog.org/2013/05/07/the-cold-facts-about-higher-education-and-contingent-faculty-appointments/

“More Bad Ideas on Higher Education from Florida”: https://academeblog.org/2013/05/09/more-bad-ideas-on-higher-education-from-florida/

“Who Needs a Liberal Education These Days?”: https://academeblog.org/2013/05/10/who-needs-a-liberal-education-these-days/

“Who Says College Can’t Be Free?”: https://academeblog.org/2013/06/07/who-says-college-cant-be-free/

“MOOCs: Are They about Access or Money?”:  https://academeblog.org/2013/06/08/moocs-are-they-about-access-or-money/

“Adjunct Faculty Need Far Treatment in the Implementation of the New Healthcare Law”:  https://academeblog.org/2013/06/28/adjunct-faculty-need-fair-treatment-in-implementation-of-the-new-federal-healthcare-law/

“The ‘Business Model’ for Higher Education”: https://academeblog.org/2013/07/01/the-business-model-for-higher-education/

“Udacity/San Jose State MOOC Experiment Fails”:  https://academeblog.org/2013/08/27/udacitysan-jose-state-university-mooc-experiment-fails/

“Big $$$ Foundations Are Driving the Policy Train”:  https://academeblog.org/2013/08/28/big-foundations-are-driving-the-policy-train/

“American Higher Education: Separate and Unequal?”: “Pay It Forward”:  https://academeblog.org/2013/10/25/on-the-issues-pay-it-forward/

“The End of History?”: https://academeblog.org/2013/12/12/on-the-issues-the-end-of-history/

“Unintended Consequences in the Race to Improve College Completion Rates”: https://academeblog.org/2013/12/21/on-the-issues-unintended-consequences-in-the-race-to-improve-college-completion-rates/

Other posts related to the CFHE are available here:


4 thoughts on “On the Issues—Graduate Students and the Future of Higher Education

  1. Several decades ago it became clear to this commenter that the short-sighted failure of the AAUP to prioritize the education and organization of graduate students into and within the organization would contribute to the wane of the AAUP — and the demise of academic freedom in the profession, as well. This realization came as a moment of “epiphany” at a Modern Language Association annual meeting in the nineties.

    At that time, the MLA’s Committee on Academic Freedom in the Profession had organized a panel discussion on the role of tenure in higher education for the annual meeting. One of the then panelists, a female “junior” faculty member who was also a member of the committee, was more than outspoken about the fact that tenure meant nothing to her and her generation, that the driving force was concern about compensation (for which increase she stated she would gladly trade the prospect of tenure) — exhibiting no understanding of the historic and necessary link between academic freedom and tenure, either in her presentation or during the question and answer period.

    Observing this panel discussion was more than persuasive in highlighting that the period of graduate study needed to be the focus of serious AAUP efforts to instruct the future professoriate in the legacy of academic freedom and tenure and how central they are to the mission of the university. This has historically not proven to be a priority of the organization, however, and, despite the “guild”-like structure of the professoriate, has not been a part of its rites of initiation in universities, either. Indeed, this commenter tried to improve this education by being one of the prime movers for the MLA’s delegate assembly motion which mandated the printing of the AAUP censure list in each of the MLA’s Job Information List issues.

    This lacuna in graduate education and its aftershocks further underscore the tragedy of the now endemic weakness of the advocacy chapter/conference/Assembly of State Conferences nexus which, along with the collective bargaining chapters and their mandated agency fees, now serve primarily as “cash cows” for the national AAUP. Any number of conference officers could attest to the siphoning of conference dues by national, while the funding of the ASC is capped at what amounts to a token small fraction of total annual dues receipts (if memory serves correctly, the ASC budget is under $300K per annum).

    The untenured adjunctification of the university and the fast-paced demise of individual academic freedom have thus been ironically indirectly assisted by this lack of familiarity and understanding of the AAUP’s foundational principles among the nation’s graduate students as well as its faculty. With the centennial of the AAUP fast approaching — even as the total number of members of the organization remains steady or dwindling as an erosion of former enrollment — these sad chickens are coming home to roost….

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