This lack of solidarity among tenured professors with their more precariously employed peers is one of the starkest similarities between the situation in Europe and the United States. (The situation in the developing world, with even fewer resources for higher education, is even more precarious.) Even at my home university, the University of California, allegedly a hotbed of left-wing radicalism, it’s proven nearly impossible to unionize faculty — despite the ability of our unionized colleagues in the California State University system to negotiate better packages for health care and pensions, among other issues). Meanwhile, the system leadership has just put forward a new policy which puts half of a 3 percent faculty pay raise in the hands of campus managers to distribute as they see fit to favored individual faculty, outside the existing system of peer-governed merit reviews.
The reality is that the majority of permanent faculty don’t understand that they are in fact part of the laboring classes. Even full professors (those not serving in a management or administrative capacity) have far more in common with the adjuncts they often barely know and for whose fate most have shown too little concern than with the overpaid administrators who increasingly control their future. The Wisconsin vote is the clearest evidence of their common lack of autonomy and security.
In this context, the voluntary surrender by tenured faculty of collective bargaining is weakening the very fabric of the profession beyond repair, allowing the corporatized university to assimilate more and more components of academic life, and put efficiency and profits ahead of providing a sustainable working, teaching and research environment for teachers and students alike. In this scenario the woes of the professoriate are but a canary in the coalmine of the fatal undermining of middle class across the West, from Athens, Georgia, to Athens, Greece. The decline of American higher education is part of a global process, and as with most labor struggles, it will be the rank-and-file of the academic world who must join together across disciplinary, economic, social and even national divides before higher education can again fulfill its crucial function as a foundation and wellspring for the greater good.