A Look at the University Caste System

This guest post was written by Leemon McHenry, a lecturer in philosophy at California State University, Northridge. His article, “Of Brahmins and Dalits in the Academic Caste System” (co-written with Paul Sharkey), appears in the January-February 2014 issue of Academe.

In “Of Brahmins and Dalits in the Academic Caste System,” (Academe, Jan-Feb 2014) Sharkey and I blame the corporatization of the university for creating the academic caste system.  Clare Goldstene agrees when she notes that opponents of tenure began the slow and deliberate move toward academic contingency over the past thirty years under the guise of fiscal emergency. (“The Politics of Contingent Academic Labor.” Thought & Action, 2012.)

Derek Bok, past President of Harvard University, however, is less confident about a deliberate plot on the part of business leaders to create the corporate university, and offers what he considers a more plausible explanation that clergymen were replaced by business executives and lawyers on boards of trustees because they were better equipped to raise money and develop better methods of administration for larger and more complicated institutions.  (Universities in the Marketplace: The Commercialization of Higher Education)

So, was it deliberate or not?

As much as I respect Bok for his general complaint against the commercialization of universities, I think he is wrong on this point.  Business-friendly administrators and boards of trustees sought to divide the faculty and conquer.

2 thoughts on “A Look at the University Caste System

  1. I wonder why so little is known about this historic change in higher education toward the dominance of adjuncts. When did this rapid casualization begin, and in what periods did it happen the most? Was it concentrated at any particular types of colleges (public, private, two-year, etc.)? Were there any leading presidents or theorists or organizations who promoted this concept? How did this idea get transmitted so effectively from college to college?

    It’s almost as if higher education has undergone a massive bloodletting, but it happened so slowly and broadly that there’s no trail of blood to show where it started and who did it. It’s a great murder mystery (who killed the tenure track?) that no one is solving. Until we can identify the mechanism by which casualization spread across higher education, it’s hard to identify motives or discuss plots. Has anyone found good research or data on this topic? Has anyone ever interviewed former presidents (who were there when it happened) to identify this process and its causes?

  2. Pingback: ‘They’re Just Going to Punch the Clock’: The Faculty of the Future | Academe Blog

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