This Does Not Bode Well…

by Travis Pickell

I recently came across this graph at Pileus. It shows the relative growth of different types of employees in higher education institutions. As you can see that of all of the types of employees, the least amount of growth has been in the category of “Full-time tenure/tenure track faculty.” The author of that post was particularly concerned with the growth of “full-time non-faculty professionals” and the increased bureaucratic function that they hold, signaling large amounts of resources that do not result in teaching or learning.

As one who aspires to enter the academic realm and actually get a job, the more troubling comparison for me is the difference between the relatively slow growth of tenure-track faculty and the much higher growth of “full-time non-tenure-track faculty” and the “part-time faculty.” These positions are held by adjunct and assistant professors who have no promise of future employment (and therefore stability) and who are payed significantly less than tenured professors (not quite slave-labor… thats what doctoral students do).

There is no shortage of academic bloggers complaining about the broken academic system and the lack of job prospects, so this probably wont be news to most. But the truth is that it is getting harder and harder to get a job as a professor. My guess is that more and more people are getting more and more education because they do not know what they want to do with their life and because they believe that more education equals more opportunity (and conveniently, more time to discover what they are passionate about). The problem is that the effect of this is that more and more education doesn’t seem to lead to more and more opportunities… at least not opportunities that make money (but let’s be honest, if money were someone’s highest priority, seminary probably wouldn’t be the way to go anyway!).  Even for those hoping to go into ministry, the prospects are looking noticeably slim (at least for mainliners out there).

The good news of all of this is that it does force you to think about what you are doing, and why you are doing it. If I am doing what I am doing in order to give myself a passport to privilege, or simply to get a cushy job, I may want to rethink what I am doing. But if I am doing what I am doing because I love it, and because I am passionate about it, and because it is meaningful to me, then maybe (MAYBE) it is worth all the rigamarole.