American colleges and graduate degrees

Scientific American has a long and thought provoking article about the hierarchy of teaching professionals at American universities. Actually, the article appears to be excerpted from Higher Education: How colleges are wasting our money and failing our kids and what we can do about it.

Here is a list of the hierarchy of contingent faculty, with further details at the link:

Instructors and Lecturers

visiting Faculty -not the celebrity kind


Teaching assistants

The news is grim for these contingents or temps:

Given the implications of these figures, we think that senior professors should be having conversations with first-year graduate students that go something like: “In all honesty, you have less than a one-in-three chance of getting a full-time job as an academic. Your only motive for pursuing your doctorate should be your own intellectual development.”

To become a university professor, one doesn’t need to be a skilled teacher, but a skilled researcher.  The quote below emphasize the point:

Paul D. Umbach at North Carolina State University studied 21,000 faculty members at 148 colleges and found that at schools using lots of parttimers, the regular teaching staff put in fewer hours of preparation than their peers at institutions where adjuncts were rare.

Yet what amazed us is how many contingents are actually effective, a miracle considering the conditions under which they work. Indeed, at nearly every school we visited, when we asked students for the name of a favorite professor, they frequently mentioned a contingent.

We all fill our homes with inexpensive products that are fabricated overseas at Third World wages. At this point, we can’t outsource History 101 to be taught in Bangalore. (Although, as we’ll show in a later chapter, something akin to that is already being done.) What we do instead is hire our own citizens and give them Third World pay. What is ironic—no, it’s tragic—is that these bright men and women are so anxious to ply their profession that they are willing to toil in the academic counterparts of sweatshops and vegetable fields.


I must admit, I have considered a graduate degree specifically as part of increasing my employability when/ if I return to Canada.  I knew it probably wouldn’t help a great deal, but this article has really burst the balloon.


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