Friday, June 20, 2008


What If...

A commenter to yesterday's post about compensating staff made a point I've wondered about before. It's worth contemplating – not advocating, just contemplating – at some length.

Given the crazy-high ratios of applicants to full-time faculty jobs in many disciplines, why not lower the wages to a 'market clearing' level?

Or, to make the same argument from the left, why not give adjuncts salary parity? Right now, higher-than-market full-time faculty salaries are subsidized by astonishingly low adjunct salaries. As a result, there's a chronic surplus of applicants for full-time roles, and a chronic scramble for good adjuncts. If we established both 'parity' and 'market-clearing levels' as guiding principles, I'd expect to see per-course salaries fall considerably higher than current adjuncts get, and considerably lower than full-timers get, depending on the field.

(Of course, in fields with a shortage of full-timers, something like this happens already on the high end. I'm talking here about the fields with far more applicants than jobs, like English or history.)

Over time, the uninspiring salaries for full-timers would probably lead fewer people to get graduate degrees in those disciplines. This is probably a good thing. It's 'pricing' as 'signaling,' which is how a market is supposed to work. Eventually we'd have fewer underemployed Ph.D.'s, which strikes me as a humane change.

Different disciplines would have very different pay scales, much more so than they do now. For example, professors who teach Broadcasting would make much more than professors who teach Composition. Those who teach Nursing could command substantial premiums over those who teach French.

Of course, to make the market a market, tenure would have to be banned as cartel-like restraint of trade. In a competitive marketplace, there's no such thing as tenure. Your monetary worth rises and falls with both the market value of your discipline and your relative standing within it. Resting on laurels wouldn't be an option. Is seniority worth what we pay for it? Let the market decide.

I could see an easy attack on this position: “this is yet another attempt to impoverish faculty.” Well, no. That attack only makes sense if you ignore what adjuncts currently get paid. If you count adjuncts as faculty, the objection evaporates, since they would almost certainly get more than they get now.

(I read somewhere – Freakonomics, maybe? -- that most criminal gang members make less than the minimum wage. The reason they work for so little and accept such horrible risks is for the shot at the big payoff. It's a sort of winner-take-all tournament. I think that's a reasonably fair description of the academic job market. Why are so many people willing to adjunct for so little? Many of them do it to stay in the game for the shot at the Golden Job. If the Golden Job suddenly tarnished, many adjuncts would probably walk away altogether. Supply and demand being what they are, wages would have to rise to compensate.)

Another easy attack: “students don't know what they want. Trendy stuff would supplant The Classics.” There's some truth to that, but honestly, that ship sailed some time ago. (Undergraduate business majors, anyone?) And as long as employers want students with actual skills, I suspect there's a market-based limit to the number of people who will major in YouTube Studies.

A more thoughtful attack: “graduate school takes years and years, during which time the market can change. How are people supposed to know what will be hot in seven years?” That strikes me as a damn good argument for streamlining graduate programs, and forcing them to pay some actual attention to the realities of their fields. It might also dissuade people from piling into overcrowded fields, which would make the endless reproduction of the reserve army of the underemployed much harder. That's a good thing.

Another thoughtful attack: “specialized study requires extended time and minimal disruption. This would privilege the quick-and-dirty.” Again, there's some truth to that, but there's also a difference between 'specialized' and 'actually good.' They aren't mutually exclusive, but they aren't synonyms, either. I'm constantly struck at the ratio of crap-to-quality published in my scholarly discipline, and it's hardly unique in that. And the private sector seems to do 'specialization' pretty well, one way or another, so market conditions obviously aren't fatal to it.

This is all much less hypothetical than it might seem. Yes, the transition within existing tenure-based institutions would be wrenching, if it happened there at all. Instead, the transition is happening with the emergence of new institutions – proprietaries, notably – increasingly at the expense of traditional ones. Which means that those of us who care about education as a public good – who don't just want to cede it to the Apollo Groups of the world – need to get serious about questioning how we do things.

That's a long response to a short comment. Wise and worldly readers – what do you think?

How will this impact tuition? If computer science professors make 250K then the degree will cost more to provide. Do you charge CS majors more to compensate. Or do the keep tuition flat and have the history major subsidize the CS degree?
If only graduate programs reflected market realities. To some extent, potential applicants have a sense of the market, but given that applicants are 4, 7, 10 years from being in a position to apply, having developed professional networking, etc, they definitely don't have a *good* sense of the market.

What they see: open spots at interesting programs, willing mentors, and adequate funding. So they apply and enroll.

Unfortunately, the school is interested largely in filling seats. Space and funding for graduate students varies with the needs for TA slots.

My school, for example, just launched a massive expansion of their graduate program (+25% in terms of numbers of students, across all disciplines). The school is for it, the legislators are for it, and heck, the incoming students are for it. Yet I have heard not one -- not one! -- call from any potential job market for more MS/MA/PhD graduates.

It makes me sad.
(Warning: personal umbrage taken)

Normally, I love reading the practical, yet community oriented, point of view presented here-- it balances my pie-in-the-sky ideologue instincts. But some of this "brainstorming" is ridiculous. Sure, graduate schools are pumping out too many (including myself) grads for too few jobs-- but to suggest we give up on the idea of offering truly rounded educational options borders on the academically criminal in my mind. Find me a grad student in discipline like Art History who doesn't know that the market is going to be tough? So the answer is to crush them underfoot until Art History virtually disappears because of "market demand." Paying Comp Sci profs 3x as much as a Phil prof is asinine. CS PhDs, should they not like the job market in academia, can easily go get a job in industry-- making 3x as much as the average programmer, let alone a French prof. How will paying them more help academia?

I think what really burns me here is the line-- "For example, professors who teach Broadcasting would make much more than professors who teach Composition." -- if we are really worried about "the market" how will turning out more Broadcasting majors (an already over-crowded field in its own right) better than turning out all our graduates with improved writing skills (One guess what I am studying)?

I would rather "overpay" an Art History prof, just so a handful more undergrads could be exposed to Dadaism (and accept that this may fuel a few unreasonable dreams of being able to support oneself in a life of luxury as an art critic), then bow to market pressure.
One of the reasons it is structurally necessary to have as many students enrolled in graduate programs in English is because graduate students in English teach composition. Eliminate the number of grad slots, and you cripple composition programs *across institutions* - and that's without worrying about how many will have to go on to live as adjuncts for years after getting their degrees - including at shops like mine where we don't *technically* have grad students teaching (this is a lie, it's just we don't have our *own* graduate students teaching - they come from the R1s across the river).

So, you say, but no, it's an over-supplied field, we should start by cutting grad school slots. Ok. Great. This also means no more freshmen writing. Anywhere. Fine by me. Probably not fine by that Broadcasting professor that you want to compensate more highly, but hey, whatever.

And then let's say that you make t-t salaries even lower than what they already are, in order to dissuade people further. (I know people who've been offered starting t-t salaries in the low 30s, which is less than my high-school-educated mom makes. How much lower are they supposed to get exactly?) Great. Of course, if such a move works, it probably means eliminating any sort of literature requirements from a general education curriculum. That's not a problem, right? Why would a CS major need to have read literature in college? Totally unnecessary.

Let the market decide, I say. No reason why anybody needs to learn, well, anything, in order to become a more thoughtful, aware, engaged person. College degrees are really just job-training degrees, right? Especially for those loser kids who go to places like regional 4-years and CCs - I mean, god forbid that somebody without a privileged background care about something like learning Latin or taking an art history class or whatever. No, they just want to get jobs, so screw bothering them with things that don't up their status in the market.

I'd say more, but really, I'm left speechless by pretty much the entirety of this post. And not in a good way.
I know you're only brainstorming, Dean Dad, and I know that you're at a CC with quite drastic economic pressures, but I think it's quite unfortunate that you seem to have dismissed the role American higher education plays in not just training Americans (and others) for work but also for living full and happy lives, becoming interested in the lives of others, voting responsibly and in an educated manner, etc., etc., etc.

You make one brief comment that might be connected to this issue: "Another easy attack: 'students don't know what they want. Trendy stuff would supplant The Classics.' There's some truth to that, but honestly, that ship sailed some time ago. (Undergraduate business majors, anyone?)" I just don't think this cuts it--there used to be a notion in this country that higher education was about more than just jobs and money.

I can't help thinking that if we in higher education don't advocate for the ideas and ideals of the liberal arts education despite its lack of utility, our culture may become quite bleak.

What's the market for philosophy? For French literature? For Art History? Even for history? For any Humanities field?

Come on, we need a little idealism, folks.
DD's proprietary college roots are showing. I imagine they could do exactly what he is suggesting without much fuss.

This is already happening to a certain extent at most colleges. CS profs do make more money than English profs at my school - up to 20k more in some instances - because we all know they could scamper out the door to the nearest Apple facility at the drop of a hat. Science profs make more in general because they are good at getting grants that pay summer salary - two additional months of pay anyone?

The real problem with this model is that it addresses the supply side of things but ignores the financial reality of subsidized education. Our income is in no way related to our ability to increase our output or productivity (if you will). Even people that work hard and produce good product for the organization do not increase the income of the place (in fact, frequently it's when we're being most efficient that the legislature in its infinite wisdom smacks us down.) This makes it impossible to reward people who work hard or are scarce with higher pay because acquiring them does not increase our income.

Furthermore, I also don't think people choose grad school because they think about the outcomes of going. They choose grad school because they underestimate the cost of doing it and I think everyone assumes that they will be one of the lucky few that gets a job. Grad schools do nothing to dissuade people from thinking that everything will all work out because they are dependent on having a certain (unsustainable) number of grad students to fulfill their research mission (here - you go teach while I'm esoteric and erudite over in the library.) They never talk about prof salaries – too depressing.
1) What Dr. Crazy said is so true. DD, please quit buying into the “worth” of a field being determined by some immediately gauge-able “market value of your discipline.”

2) This post and many other commenters that I’ve read discussing T-T vs. adjunct salaries seem to think that the difference in salaries is attributable to t-t faculty getting a higher pay rate per class. I’m t-t and teach well and enthusiastically. But I calculate that the part of my salary that goes to instruction is about what our PhD-in-hand adjuncts make. The rest of the salary difference is for the rest of (majority of) my job: supervising 15 theses and being a reader on a dozen more; mentoring student conference presenters, and student book reviewers; doing graduate admission and registration advising to 40 MAs; grading dozens of comprehensive exams per term; faculty mentoring; and work on 5 or 6 university committees. Oh, and if I want to keep this salary let alone get a raise again, I am also expected to keep publishing a couple articles per year, and keep applying for outside grants. These are all job requirements regardless of my field.

The fact that adjuncts get no benefits or job security is a rotten situation and needs to be changed. Noting that adjunct teachers’ per-class pay is less than t-t salary, however is a diversionary rhetorical ploy.

It's really sad that in all of these comments, as well as in the original post, nobody has yet mentioned the idea of simply getting to do what you love for a living. Now, maybe since this will be my first year on the market, I haven't just yet become callous and cynical. However, when I started graduate school, I researched salaries, cost of education, hiring numbers, etc. I *knew* going into this thing that only about 1/3 of PhD's ultimately land t-t jobs. Why didn't this dissuade me? Because I can't imagine doing anything else in the world. Obviously, I want to be one of that 1/3, but I know there's only so much I can do. If I end up having to *settle* for something else (lecturing, administration, cc job, etc.), I'm okay with that because there's no other career that would make me happy.

Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't think any new graduate student in the humanities goes into this profession for the money. I'm here because this is where my talent lies; this is what I'm good at. A big paycheck wouldn't do me any good if I was miserable every day (and I would be).

Could graduate programs help the market by lowering their caps? Sure. Should they keep an eye on fields that are becoming overcrowded, etc.? Absolutely. Would a few graduate students run for the hills if they *really* knew what they were in for? Probably. But for candidates like me, as long as I can pay the bills and still do what I love, I'm in this for the long haul.
"For example, professors who teach Broadcasting would make much more than professors who teach Composition."

ROFLMAO. Yes, because broadcasting is a HOT field. Hahahahahaha. Mass comm departments with no understanding of new media is where dreams really go to die. Unless you were assuming the broadcasting prof understood how to use a computer. More laughing.
Grad student cuts wouldn’t be the only way DD’s plan reduces faculty numbers. Lots of us would jump ship for the private sector—and not just in “high demand” fields, us quantitative social scientists have plenty of options too.

It seems to me there is something much larger than salaries lurking beneath the plan. Tenure and faculty independence means that faculty work is almost completely self-driven. The Ph.D. degree—as it stands now—is above all a test of self-motivation. Classes and quals aren’t the hard part, it’s having the discipline to finish a dissertation with no one monitoring or driving you. People who succeed tend to be the kind that (rare exception aside) continue to work hard even after tenure because that’s what they’ve always done.

DD offers a completely different package. A terminal degree that doesn’t require self-motivation combined with no tenure would revolutionize the faculty work experience, because it would remove that core ethic of self-motivation. It would bring faculty departments in line with the private sector, with hierarchical structures, supervisory oversight, promotions, and pink slips.
I suspect that DD’s background in proprietary universities laid the seed for this idea, and my first reaction would be to suspect that this model might be better suited to vocational fields than liberal fields.
Well, not at unionized institutions. They (mostly) have salary scales fixed by rank and length of service. So discipline based pay differentials (to the extent that they exist) show up somewhat differently.

And, to be frank, discipline-based pay differentials may not even have to show up directly. At my institution, faculoty in the "hot" disciplines generally can have as much summer teaching as we allow (two courses, two month's pay), while some departments have to develop very arcane rules for allocating summer teaching (and no one gets more than one course).

Reassigned time (from teaching to research, for example) is much easier to get in some disciplines than in others. Other research support--RAs, lab andmaterials money, travel--is also highly variable.

I suspect that, if we measured total compensation, not just contractual academic year pay, we'd discover differentials at some institutions that are already quite large.

But, still, there is a point here. If starting salaries in my discipline (economics, which pays well compared to many A&S disciplines) of $60K or so attract 100+ serious applications at second-tier Masters II (Carnegie classification) institutions like mine, then it seems clear we have a surplue.

The question is, however (speaking as an economist now), what would happen if we lowered the starting salaries to, say, $50K? Which potential graduate students would no longer find the trek worth it, the best or the worst? I suspect that question answers itself...
WTF? Seriously, this is dumb. AcadeMama is right: who decides to be a professor because of the MONEY?!


I can't help thinking that if we in higher education don't advocate for the ideas and ideals of the liberal arts education despite its lack of utility, our culture may become quite bleak.

What that person said!

I plan to get a Ph.D. in history if I can get the funding, but it's not because I am holding my breath that I'll be able to get a professor job. In fact, I recognize going in that I'm probably unwilling to make the, IMO, ridiculous and unreasonable sacrifices that are demanded of people for that career. But, I am sure I will be able to get a job doing research for someone, somewhere. And even if not it'll be worth it because I'll have had 5-10 years more of doing history before starving in the street or whatever. I am doing this because when I finished the grueling process of writing my senior thesis - I mean /right/ after, in the moments when I was hitting "save" and "print" I thought to myself "Damn that was hard." And then the very second thought I had was, "I want to do that again!"

So, you know, whatever. You want to cut the salaries and drive off all the people who would teach me and help me become a better historian? Eff that, seriously. That's just - who'd want to live in a country whose universities didn't bother to pay their history professors because it didn't pay to study history? Ugh!
I'm assuming you're being somewhat tongue-in-cheek here, DD, because I think you're at least a little more idealistic than this post might suggest. But to play along, there are some practical problems--how would all of this get past the faculty unions, for example? And how would especially community colleges, with limited budgets subject to economic cycles, respond to the changing market value of these various fields?

And, finally, lower pay for comp instructors (showing my roots here) would result in instructors of any quality going into the private sector or into another field altogether. And then the people left to teach comp classes would be, shall we say, of lesser ability. And since colleges would still be able to find people to teach the classes, even if poorly, the wages wouldn't go up and student writing skills would decline even further.

So "what if?" A system that would fail to serve our students well, I think.
I detect a touch of Swift in DD's post. Or at least, I hope it's a modest proposal, or I'll have to share the outrage expressed by Dr. Crazy and others.

Let me add a couple of points: first, after six years on the tenure track in a humanities discipline, my salary is pretty close to "market clearing" already. Second: while some parts of the country are oversaturated with unemployed PhDs (the coasts, the Big 10 midwestern states, etc.), I've worked at two different schools in the rural heartland, where there is a clear credentials distinction between tenured/TT faculty and adjunct faculty. TT folk have PhDs; lecturers have Masters or MFA degrees. Would DD's plan offer no kind of "market premium" at all for holding the terminal degree in one's discipline? (Ick-I hate free-market-corporate-speak.)
If sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, then let's pay deans, vice-presidents, and college presidents on some kind of "parity" basis.

At my SoCal CC, we've been going through presidents pretty quickly. We always hire an interim (at $180-200K) while we're looking for a new one. I've written several letters to our Governing Board offering my services as an interim president at 75% of the going rate, but I've never gotten a response.

I guess "the market" doesn't mean much if we're talking about high-level administrators.

How is it a "good thing" to squander the talents of the individual on activities that are not valued by society?

The homeless man is more a tragedy not only because his potential is wasted; but because in wasting his potential he is unable to serve his fellow man.

"Following Your Inspiration" sounds really lofty until you realize you are cheating both yourself- and everyone else in society- unless your "Inspiration" somehow enriches the lives of others.

Bill Gates is a rich man because he substantively added value to the lives of literally billions of his fellow human beings.
Dr. Crazy and the other outraged commenters missed DD’s reasons for discussing the ideas

1. There’s a huge gap in pay between TT and adjunct.
2. Publicly funded universities are under a large budget crunch.

The outrage and demands for ideological purity all ignore both of these in favor of the status quo.

I’ve noticed something else. When people talk about how little adjuncts are paid they always say the adjuncts are excellent instructors and worth far more than they get. When people talk about reducing the compensation of TT faculty through pay cuts or the elimination of tenure they worn that instructional quality will be lowered as the tenured flee to the private sector.
I don't buy the most recent post by "yet another confused professor." His argument apparently approaches everything free-market manner that is sickening.

It's simply not true that "enriching the lives of others" always comes with appropriate monetary remuneration. There are many fields that emphasize enrichment of lives that are seen as vocations, with pay lagging far behind what the workers might earn in other jobs. Education is one of those fields.

"Bill Gates is a rich man because he substantively added value to the lives of literally billions of his fellow human beings." No, it's not that simple. A is not the necessary result of B. History is filled with people who "added value to the lives of literally billions of their fellow human beings" who lived in poverty.

Has anyone written a solid, definitive smack-down of the coarse econo-speak of our current American culture?
I'm a bit confused. What is the "market" here? Is the assumption that the market is external to the university - and that if I cannot find an equivalent job in the "private" or business sector, I have no market equivalent - or my skills and knowledge are worthless? I ask because of the following: "For example, professors who teach Broadcasting would make much more than professors who teach Composition." A previous post has already made fun of DD's assumption re. the supposed desirability of broadcasting. And I assume that DD assumes that since there's no market equivalent for composition (i.e., whereas the broadcasting professor can go out into the market and broadcast, the composition professor cannot go out into the market and compose), a composition instructor has less or little market value. But in my institution, a number of external forces have mandated the teaching of writing - my department runs hundreds of writing courses each year. Composition is far more in demand than broadcasting. Frankly, there's more demand for Shakespeare than there is for broadcasting - and again, from external forces. Finally, in my experience, students want the courses that you see as having less market value. Thanks to Showtime I had a surplus of students begging to get into my Tudor period literature course last spring. Like many others who have posted, I think this entry's insistence on assigning value according to the market rather scary in a Swiftian kind of way - but I also think its depiction of the market highly simplistic.

Finally, didn't Bill Gates become a millionaire in part because of a "free market" - and in part because of business practices that sought to limit the free market so that Microsoft could prosper?
Ya know the old saw about how in internet flame wars "The first person to make a comparison to Hitler Loses" (from the confucian principle of "the man who raises his voice has lost the argument").

Let's add "the first person who equates having to actually earn your living by doing something valued by others to eating babies loses" to the rule set, shall we?

It appears as though this has struck quite a few raw nerves out here in academe.

It also appears that a certain fear springs from the dawning realization that perhaps some ill-chosen life's work would go away because, well, nobody cares about it.

Isn't that fear kind of an exercise in self-absorbed thinking?

I mean really- isn't that where these "Art For Art's Sake" arguments spring from after all?

(And yes- Society At Large *does* value "Composition" as a key lement of "Effective Communication" quite a bit more than some posters here apparently assume. Also Yes- Society At Large probably *doesn't* value "Broadcasting" as much as one might think initially. Let Society At Large decide perhaps?)
I think the proper term is "WTF?"

Really. c'mon. Being the M-G-M-T. is starting to get to you.

I've never met any faculty who thought his/her pay was lucrative - maybe some R1 star or something. Most of us at CCs feel like we've sacrificed income for service. Who is the Comp Sci Prof who makes 250K? I make 1/5 that and I make more than everyone I finished grad school with.

And adjuncts, would they have access to the doctor's office when their semester-semester salaries go up? Could YOU push that through the CC president's office. I know my dean couldn't.

Seems to me the insane applicant ratios are generated from near-starvation adjuncts desperate to land something that will justify their acceptance of abuse. If they drop out now, what was all that sacrifice for? End the possibility of comfort, and you won't be able to fill your classes. Even if you double adjunct pay, it's not equivalent to managing a Burger King.

And, I can't think of a better way to sap the last drop of breath out of the already anemic humanities in American culture.

The "market" thing... ALL markets are influenced by factors external to the market. (Ever heard of "marketing"?) Markets are what you make them. You could just as well argue that if you forced enough poor schmucks through programs that couldn't land them jobs, then they'd create a market for them, and then you'd have to raise those faculty salaries...

C'mon, what kind of world do you WANT - and WHAT are you going to DO to MAKE IT COME ABOUT. Market fatalism BAH!
Why not try to shape the market to value a liberal arts education? That's what happens now at most 4-year institutions in the form of general education requirements.

I haven't yet heard the argument in favor of higher education abrogating its millennia-old duty to help shape society in favor of "letting the market decide." After all, one way economics has sought to take over the world is by making every decision an "economic" one (weighing the "costs" of one decision vs. another).

I say we refuse to get pulled into surrendering to the "free market." Let's indeed let "society" decide, but let's not forget the vital role higher education plays in society.
I can't pretend to like or even understand a lot of economics principles very well, but I wonder how we figure out "market value" of teaching at the college level. Everything here seems to be from the incoming side (professors coming in with certain degrees), but wouldn't we need to take into account the students going out with certain degrees?

I am a staff member in a career services department at a SLAC, and from what I hear from employers hiring our graduates, the ones that are sought after are ones who can read and write. A local pharmaceutical marketing/educational organization (who hires many doctors and nurses for what they do) recently told me that they would rather hire English majors at this point because they can teach the science to those grads. Many of their science major hires have come to them without the communication skills needed and have been let go.

My point is, how do we determine market value when there are so many determinants involved? If we go by what employers are telling me, we should be paying the Humanities professors a higher salary because the skills taught in those classes are what employers are looking for...
In pondering this more I realize that at least part of this experiment has already been done. The salary of adjuncts is already terrible. But that does not stop people from teaching on that basis after grad school. So low salaries alone won't stop people from going into grad school. And lowering faculty salaries won't do anything except make everyone more miserable than they already are.

The free market arguments are interesting though....what would a free market curriculum look like? Would students choose the classes they need or the ones they think are fun? Would there be any more composition classes?
"CS PhDs, should they not like the job market in academia, can easily go get a job in industry-- making 3x as much as the average programmer, let alone a French prof."

3x as much as the average French prof (outside of academia), perhaps. 3x as much as the average programmer, no. The skills to be a decent CS prof are fairly different from the skills to be a really good programmer. I'll concede a 10x productivity difference between a "good" programmer and a "poor" programmer, but a PhD in CS doesn't automatically make one a good programmer (though may are good CS profs). The typical CS prof wouldn't be making $150K/year outside of the academe.

"The question is, however (speaking as an economist now), what would happen if we lowered the starting salaries to, say, $50K? Which potential graduate students would no longer find the trek worth it, the best or the worst? I suspect that question answers itself..."

I suspect that could be a problem. I think part of the problem in primary and secodary ed is that as opportunities to make more money outside of teaching expand, we get less qualified high (and elementary) school teachers. Lowering salaries in higher ed might take care of supply/demand imbalances, but to assume that quality would remain constant is wishful thinking.
The job market for English PhDs is not universally horrendous. The market for comp/rhet PhDs is quite strong, actually--the demand for them exceeds the supply. It's been that way for many years (well before I started grad school nine years ago), and I don't see it changing soon.

With some rare exceptions, it's not comp/rhet PhDs who are adjunct composition instructors--it's literature PhDs. The only adjuncts in the English department at my institution are literature PhDs or people with MAs. That statement is true of my MA and PhD institutions as well.

I can count on one hand (three fingers, actually) the number of comp/rhet PhDs I know who adjunct, and all of them are adjuncts because they were bound to one particular location. If they had done a national--or even a regional--job search, they would have gotten a tenure line position.

I happen to know quite well (cough, cough) a comp/rhet PhD whose number of MLA interviews were in the double digits. In fact, that statement is true of pretty much every PhD coming out of my alma mater's comp/rhet program. Again, the people for whom that was not true only applied to six or seven positions. Even those people got tenure line jobs. Such is the demand for comp/rhet PhDs from my former program and many other programs in the field.

But that's just anecdotal evidence. Look at the JIL and some of the MLA's publications about the numbers of PhDs produced and the number of comp/rhet jobs in the JIL for the numbers. You'll see what I mean about supply and demand.

In short, don't make assumptions about the entire field of English studies.
The *only* relevant metric in higher education:

What salaries do your graduates command upon graduation?

And if they aren't hired at least 30 days *before* graduation, that is counted as a -zero-.

And "public service" salaries (military, government, Peace Corps, etc.) shouldn't really be counted either.

The quality of this discussion is getting better every minute.
I'm all for efficiency as the next guy...but that's just silly.

fwiw I'll bet that once you account for the tenure college professors *are* paid close to the market clearing price.
Seriously, DD, please tell me that you're being Swiftian here and have not actually sold your soul to this kind of nonsense???

If not, then I'd just like to echo what Dr. Crazy said. Boo.

Perhaps more succinctly this time-

Where is the honor in throwing away human potential?

If you are not preparing your students to contribute to society, in a way valued by that society, you are throwing them away.

Corollary: Liberty is not the exercise of your being able to indulge yourself in your own desires; Liberty is putting up with your neighbor indulging in desires you don't particularly agree with.
One point that hasn't really been addressed yet is that eliminating tenure, or reducing it to a rolling contracts, will require more in salary.
If you lower your salaries to weed out an excessive number of applicants, you're preferentially weeding out the better applicants. Duh.

I don't like suggestions to the "Graduate student overabundance problem" that treat students like they're too dumb to realize the pay is going to suck compared to other career options. A lot of us actually enjoy our field, and making it even more economically unfavorable to continue on in it is only going to worsen the pain.
As a couple of readers have suggested, I think the problem with DD's proposal is that many academics get onto the track when young and idealistic. They don't give any serious consideration to the financial opportunity cost -- an attitude that is proudly cultivated in PhD programs -- and it's often only later that practical concerns get any attention, for instance, when family responsibilities come over the horizon... and given the lives we lead that's often quite a bit later. If wages were to drop to a market-clearing level, it's *these* folks you'd lose: those who are just starting to give thought to the mundane aspects of making a life. Disproportionately the ones that leave will be the talented ones with initiative.

In the end, on any realistic timescale you won't affect the supply of PhD's as much as the quality of thosel that stay in the game.

On longer (generational) timescales perhaps this would feed back into the supply side as
the public image of professors as creative professionals with enviable positions morphs into the reality of the overworked and underpaid. This scenario looks to me like a general collapse of academia -- which administrators are supposed to be *preventing*.

To create a more humane professional culture, I can think of a couple of better options. Things like
expressing actual enthusiasm for ways that PhDs can contribute to society other than by teaching instead of stigmatizing those who choose other paths as dropouts or failures. And recognizing that all of us should have lives, i.e., value and be responsible for our own happiness, instead of in a thousand little ways holding up the ideal monastic devotion.
I agree entirely with setting market- based compensation. I'm an economist, so I guess that makes sense.
A couple of comments:

1) The real problem with this market is the supply side - and that is largely driven by the demand for incredibly cheap TA labor. To put it bluntly - it's the addiction to grad student labor that creates the overpromising of the economic potential of the professoriate. In short, your proposal would force all sorts of hiring in the evergreen disciplines at PhD granting institutions to make up for the shrinking number of graduate students.

2) There's another market problem, which is the problem of "undesirable" locales being forced to compete with more desirable ones. To some extent, this problem exists now, but in a tighter open market, I suspect the bigger differential would be between institutions based on location, rather than on discipline based on demand.

3) The last thing I'll say is that in the long run, the easy answers about which discipline will be more "valuable" will be wrong. In the end, there are very few broadcasting majors versus humanities majors. In a sense, my humanities discipline at a large CC and TC subsidizes the nursing program which loses money. Ask politicians which area has more value, and the answer is predictable. When I make money for my institution by teaching five full large cap classes, and the nursing instructor supervising the practicals of 15 RN's in training loses it, what does the market say about that?

In conclusion - it's an interesting thought experiment - more interesting than the easy answers would suggest.

Interesting use of tautological reasoning (with respect to a couple of points, but the "nurses vs. humanities majors" most egregiously).

Reminds me of the whole "Communism has never been proven not to work, because it has never been tried" arguments that were a bit more popular prior to 1988 than nowadays.

Since we have never even tried (let alone come close to) an actual "free market" with respect to graduate and terminal degrees vs. undergraduate degree output, all sides of the current discussion are indeed an "Intersting Thought Experiment."
usually wouldn't bother to comment on an old post - but I have no idea why my point about the profit margin of higher class caps in humanities disciplines constitutes tautological reasoning.
And BTW, the redbaiting is unseemly, and rather uncalled for, IMO.
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