Today is the second day of the professors and adjunct professors strike at University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). The underlying reasons for the strike are described nicely here the press release from the union is here. But the basic part is the uncertain futures of the untenured & adjuncts and the low pay. Kevin Lyles writes:
Today, adjunct/part-time instructors “make up about 75 percent of ALL college instructors…” Many do not have health insurance. “They work for low pay and under conditions that hinder their efforts to help students.” Many of the lecturers at UIC are paid $30.000 a year.
From the European perspective it is almost strange to hear of Americans striking and particularly disheartening to hear of underpaid and uninsured university professors. Most of the time the information about the US universities is all about the impressive one: the ivy leagues and the overly endowed. We are often made envious of tales of funding and working conditions which do not exist in our reality.
The problem is that many large and small universities over here are not taking care of their main assets. It’s a story we are used to hearing all over the world. Universities are hiring more and more administrators at higher and higher salaries. These positions work to take the skill out of universities and attempt to bureaucratize teaching and research. More on this by Benjamin Ginsberg.
On the one hand, task of teaching and researching is farmed out to the lowest desperate bidder and on the other hand the universities attempt to charge as much as possible for their services. What is rarely considered in this strategy is the long term disintegration of a standard, reputation and trademark. Not to mention the damaging destruction of the knowledge based workers within the industry.
All academics should support the strikers. Tenured professors may be sitting pretty but they are part of the system of abuse and therefore responsible for their inaction in its decline. The untenured and the adjuncts must support it because they may be next in the race to the bottom. On the other hand asking those who have the most precarious positions for support is difficult because they are vulnerable.
Students, parents and the rest of society should support the strike because this is a hollowing out of an important part of society. No matter whether you are attending university, sending someone to university or hiring someone from university the decline in the way in which we educate impacts all of us.