There are comments on Lee Skallerup’s Bessette’s essay suggesting the blame lies with the individuals pursuing these jobs, for not seeing the writing on the wall, or recognizing the PhD glut, or thinking that they’re “special snowflakes” when they’re not.Here’s the thing though. Someone like Lee Skallerup Bessette has already proved she’s a “special snowflake.” She has a full-time job. She’s a dedicated and even innovative teacher. The problem is that she, like so many others, has a job in a system that doesn’t provide sufficient or equitable compensation and it’s wearing her out.Who can blame her?By accepting that the jobs we want are the result of a “lottery,” we give a pass to the fact that we’ve created a system where anything short of winning that lottery is unsustainable.
This description of the current situation seems right to me; as others have pointed out, our problem is not so much a shortage of work as a shortage of decent, sustainable jobs. The result is an increasing class divide in higher ed. Unfortunately, those outside (and to some extent inside) the academy who are trying to "disrupt" the current system (did anybody see this description of 2018 utopia which sounds more like a dystopia to me, penned by Randy Best, and Jeb Bush, who is apparently now dabbling in edupreneurship/higher ed "reform"?!?) seem to envision an even more stratified system, all in the name of "efficiency" and serving underserved populations, of course (even though there's good evidence to suggest that underprepared, first-generation college students are precisely the populations who are least likely to benefit from scaled-up, homogenized approaches, and most likely to benefit from individual attention and a curriculum created and regularly revised by faculty who know them and their needs well).
I wouldn't mind seeing the present structure of the academy disrupted myself, but in the opposite direction, (back?) toward a system where most professors are both full-time and tenure-track. I suspect that might entail somewhat heavier teaching loads for the average tenure-track professor, and the acceptance of differing and/or variable loads for tenure-track professors in many departments (a situation which sounds stranger than it probably should). I also suspect that the impact on research might not be as great as those who have fought for lower teaching loads fear, since the current stratified system means that TT faculty are increasingly overloaded with service shared among an increasingly smaller proportion of the total faculty, including the need to find, hire, supervise, evaluate, occasionally fire, replace, etc., etc. an ever-growing, ever-churning contingent work force (using a lot of contingent faculty may be cheap in strictly dollar terms, but there are hidden costs, and not just to the adjuncts).
And, of course, it would be expensive (even with higher teaching loads), and I have no idea where the money would come from. Higher tuitions clearly aren't an option, and a return to substantial subsidies from state legislatures doesn't seem like a realistic option, either. A call to fire a significant proportion of the administrators might have political legs, but probably isn't as practical as it sounds. Insisting that the great majority of administrators hold Ph.D.s, be fully qualified to teach, and experienced in teaching, in an actual field -- not "higher ed administration," but something that fulfills a core undergraduate requirement -- and do so regularly, might be a valuable weeding technique, though, not to mention a way to reconnect faculty and administration to each other (and administration to the on-the-ground reality of teaching actual students). But that probably isn't all that realistic, either. I guess it's harder for me, positioned as I am in an actual university, to imagine a level of disruption that would be great enough to fix the current problems, but not so extreme as to tear the institution entirely apart.
Still, like Maybelle, I still want to see a real place at the table (a nice big table, or perhaps a series of medium-sized round ones, with frequent table-hopping and decent, well-cooked plain food for all) for more of us, not the present situation, which has all too many subsisting on cheap, mass-produced slop (while striving not to dole out same to students), another group looking longingly into the windows at even that scene, a few partaking of a hurried but half-decent meal in a reasonably pleasant environment (while discussing how to improve conditions in the food court below, but finding they have little real power to effect change), and a very few hidden away in some private dining room, making the actual decisions while dining on far more sumptuous fare than the rest.
At the moment, however, I notice that most of the commenters on the original IHE post are much more interested in talking about job searches, and to what degree the selection process in such searches is fair and/or based on merit, than on addressing the larger context described above. That strikes me as about par for the course (and a pretty good indicator of how hard the problem will be solve).