Academia an Abusive Labor Market?

By Bill Glod

Last week Inside Higher Ed published“Confessions of a Tenured Professor” by Peter D.G. Brown. In the article Professor Brown talks about his own experiences pursuing a career in academia, changes in the system and the tough market he sees for new PhDs and those in the early stages of their careers. He’s especially concerned with the poor treatment and compensation of adjuncts, as well as the dearth of available tenure-track jobs. Professor Brown is quite scathing in his view that academic institutions are taking advantage of the younger generation of PhDs and stifling academic freedom. Megan McArdle of the Atlantic posted an article in response , wondering how the academic job market continues to exists, if it indeed treats its young talent so poorly. She states that academia “has one of the most abusive labor markets in the world.” Why are so many PhDs willing to work under these conditions, instead of taking a job outside academia? Many commenters on Ms. McArdle’s article seem to think this is because prestige is more of a motivator for academics than money. So people are willing to work for less money in return for the prestige of working for a university. Does this ring true? Or is this simply a matter of supply and demand? Are there are so many PhDs on the market that universities don’t need to offer expensive tenure-track jobs in order to attract quality applicants?