Program Archive
Viewing convention Program information from 2011

Session Details

Friday, 07 January

204. Deprofessionalized?

8:30–9:45 a.m., Plaza III, J. W. Marriott

Program arranged by the Division on Teaching as a Profession

Presiding: Marc Bousquet, Santa Clara Univ.

Speakers: Kim L. Emery, Univ. of Florida; Lisa Jeanne Fluet, Boston Coll.; Monica F. Jacobe, Princeton Univ.; William Lyne, Western Washington Univ.; Bruce W. Robbins, Columbia Univ.; Jeffrey J. Williams, Carnegie Mellon Univ.

Perspectives on the forces and trends reshaping faculty work.

For discussion materials, visit after 15 Dec.

Author Comment
Subject: CSGSP Summary of Deprofessionalized?
For the 2011 Convention and in an attempt to help graduate students who missed sessions of interest, the Committee on the Status of Graduate Students in the Profession developed brief write-ups for said sessions. The following is a brief summary-style write-up for your use. For the 2012 Convention be on the look-out for real-time tweets and summaries of sessions of interest for graduate students.

Marc Bousquet opened this roundtable with the statement that for the last forty years, management has professionalized and become dominant, while professionals have become “managed professionals” (Gary Rhoades’ term). Professionals have had unions, but there hasn’t been a militant union for college faculty because faculty unions have tended to protect those with tenure at the expense of younger colleagues. According to Bousquet, this happens because of an assumption that tenure is a badge of personal merit. Further, he said, professionals tend not to use what power they do have. All this leads to a situation where the cutting edge of unions is now made up of “para-professionals, would-be professionals, and sub-professionals” (in academe, graduate students, undergraduates, and the untenured).

Cary Nelson spoke next, replacing Kim Emery, who was not present. He looked at how the deprofessionalization of college faculty has been accomplished by the biggest change that’s occurred in the faculty in this century: increasing reliance on contingent faculty, with non-tenure-track teachers and grad students now doing 80 percent of teaching. In Nelson’s view, faculty do not count as professionals if they do not have power over hiring and curricular decisions. The result of deprofessionalization is that the administrators can do whatever they want, and the tenured faculty thus becomes deprofessionalized too (an example is SUNY-Albany). Other problems he listed were public university pension cuts, online learning, and attacks on shared governance. For Nelson, the only solution is “inclusive, democratic” collective bargaining. He also mentioned the importance of the AAUP’s policy paper on contingency as being crucial for giving non-tenure-track faculty the security to organize and bargain for shared governance and other professional powers. He concluded by reinforcing his view of the distinction between professionals and other workers: being a professional means having autonomy within a group with group values, and being deprofessionalized means the group ceases to control its identity and work conditions, among other things.

Lisa Fluet’s presentation asked, “what form would a narrative of deprofessionalization take?” She looked at some recent academic films and found that they showed the workplace as a safe haven, a place where one could be invisible. This depiction called up for her an idea from Slavoj Zizek’s writings: how the insecurity of the post-welfare state gets repackaged as new freedoms. An example of that process comes in Stephen R. Barley and Gideon Kunda’s idea of the “itinerant professional,” the tech worker who chooses contract work (see their book, Gurus, Hired Guns, and Warm Bodies: Itinerant Experts in a Knowledge Economy). The academic films, however, are strange. Because, despite the fact that the academic workforce has had to get used to precarity, the films still show professors who don’t know that the workplace is insecure. Fluet concluded by asking whether the audience thinks that Louis Menand’s suggestion of a limit on PhD time-to-degree is a viable solution.

The CSGSP’s Monica Jacobe then discussed her work as a writing program administrator while in graduate school in a short paper called “What Rolls Downhill: Graduate Student Administrative Duties” [title correct?]. Her purpose was to blur the teacher/administrator (us/them) boundary a little and to ask, who is the “us” and who is the “them”? The goal of putting graduate students in administrative positions is usually said to be professionalization, so graduate students who take administrative jobs out of a desire to do some good at the university often end up being seen as privileged by fellow graduate students. This idea emerges because grad students sometimes conflate administrative and professional experience with a “golden ticket” on the job market. But Jacobe wants us to reflect on where the line is between preparation and exploitation and on the possibility that neither graduate student teaching nor administration are preparatory steps, but are instead a step only to deprofessionalization.

William Lyne began his presentation with a blog post he’d just written for Washington State legislators, which you can read here: It discussed a task force on education in Washington. Lyne used the task force to segue into a call for the need to organize and resist the neoliberal assault on the public and on public employees. He was most concerned about a transition to online education that’s profitable for the corporations who supply it and that requires busting faculty unions.

Jeffrey Williams questioned “professionalism” as the correct rubric for the panel, and began his comments by saying that deprofessionalization is actually a misnomer for what’s going on with professors. To correct the terminology and analysis, he said, we should look more and comparatively at the sociology and history of professions. The place to start, for Williams, is a concept from Andrew Abbott’s The System of Professions: “internal stratification,” which describes a process that occurs within one profession whereby routine tasks are subordinated and the front line of professional work is done by para-professionals. His example of a profession one could compare fruitfully to professors is medicine, where the number of nurses has quadrupled in the same amount of time that the number of doctors has only doubled.

Speaking last, Bruce Robbins began by commenting that in Bousquet’s book, How the University Works: Higher Education in the Low-Wage Nation, Bousquet is ambivalent about professionalism: he calls for unions (which are not usually an organizational strategy for professionals), but judges academic labor conditions by a professional standard. Professionalism has won us a kind of contingent autonomy, he said, and it’s worked well enough against managers for a few of us to wonder if the professional-managerial class might be an ideological construct. There is no reason that professionalism and unionism should be inherently antithetical, but Robbins wants us to think of the threat of antithesis (for example, teachers’ unions and “quality-blind education,” which relies on seniority, not meritocracy). Both professionalism and unions have to do outreach (for professions, this is because they constantly have to win public legitimacy). What he says we need is better PR, on the model of the AFL-CIO’s slogan, “we’re the people who brought you the weekend.”

The Q&A portion of the roundtable brought up issues like the defense of unions, non-tenure-track administrators, internal stratification between disciplines, remedial teaching being done primarily by non-tenure-track faculty, whether lower-level teachers need PhDs, whether non-tenure-track teachers should bother to get PhDs, and whether we might have contributed to our own deprofessionalization by deconstructing our body of knowledge and expertise.