Recently, I encountered two essays by leftists who are simply living in a leftist bubble. I talked about the first (by Susan Bordo) the other day, and now it is time to talk about the second. See here for the link (it can be tricky to access the actual article). What is striking about both these essays is the sheer distance they represent from what I now consider as normal. Look, the media is dominated by liberals and leftists, except for a few entities like Fox News and the Wall Street Journal. Academia is dominated by liberals and leftists, and they have an enormous amount of power to control things even beyond academia, as this pronoun business shows. Yet, this writer, Richard Grusin, talks as though the humanities are barely surviving in academia. All he can think of is their economic problems; that he and his friends control the humanities does not occur to him, and that their problems might have been self-inflicted does not occur to him, either.
The claim I made in my latest book is that as academia became more politicized, and politicized to the left, people on the right stopped supporting it. Not only did their own personal contributions dry up, but they were able to get state legislatures to reduce funding as well. This has meant much higher rates of increase in tuition – that is, higher than the rate of inflation – which of course impacts the poor negatively. In addition, leftists have pushed for various changes that have resulted in many more administrators on campus than were present when I was a student: the affirmative-action officers, the diversity coaches, the environmental overseers, etc. All of these people have to be paid, and as Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit has noted, they are never mere adjuncts but have high salaries with benefits. None of this helps either the students from modest backgrounds or the humanities. Let me also add that the fear of a population explosion, again from the left, together with pressure from feminists to refrain from having children has meant many less students available as actual paying customers. So, these various forces that leftists themselves put in motion have not helped the humanities at all.
As for the plight of “temporary and insecure labor” in academia, otherwise known as adjuncts, I have argued again and again that this is in part a maldistribution problem that could be solved by people like Prof. Grusin and his friends. If they don’t want to force a formal change in academia that would redistribute money more equitably, then they could do it informally by demanding that every tenured professor contribute to a kitty that would be redistributed to the adjuncts. The fact that tenured leftists are not promoting either a formal change in how money is distributed nor this informal one shows that they don’t really give a damn. Yes, it means less money for tenured professors, but so what? It’s really time that people like that make some sacrifices instead of always demanding that everyone else make a sacrifice.
There are also some stray remarks about twenty-first-century capitalism and how it too is afflicted with “temporary and insecure labor.” But of course it is, so long as the Prof. Grusins of this country insist upon bringing in as many immigrants as possible. (Ok, I’m jumping to a conclusion here that he supports such a policy, but he says nothing against it at this point, so I’m assuming he does support it.) This is an elementary exercise in supply and demand: when the supply of labor goes up, the demand goes down, and with it wages.
As for the idea that somehow academia has been “corporatized,” I have no idea what he is talking about. I’ve heard academics talk this way before, but have never seen any actual evidence that corporate America is somehow influencing what these people are doing. If anything, the influence goes the other way: what happens in academia seeps out and affects corporations. The only thing I can think of is that he means that the dire economic straits of the humanities forces administrators to make harsh decisions.
Finally, he complains that administrators think of the humanities in terms of marketable skills that it will give the students. But this is a natural consequence of the bad job market for everyone, which again is partly due to the country being flooded with immigrants.
In my latest book I espoused job creation as the way to help the poor. But it would also help the humanities. So long as college grads have lots of opportunities for employment once they graduate, they aren’t going to be worried about whether they have marketable skills, which means that administrators won’t be so interested in focusing on such skills, either. Students could spend their time in the humanities actually studying the humanities and not worrying about what they will be doing next. Many adjuncts, too, would simply go to work outside of academia instead of hanging on hoping for a lucky break (which means academia would be forced to pay those remaining higher salaries no matter what tenured leftists do or don’t do). But the Richard Grusins of the world never want to think about job creation. And so long as they don’t, things won’t change for the better in the humanities.